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  Norfolk Field Trip July 2008 - Strangers in the Village
 

 

4th - 7th July 2008

Welcome to our notes, thoughts and general diary of our travels on our away weekend 2008. This year Ghost Connections traveled up country to the wilds of East Anglia. This is Kim's childhood and an area where some of the team had never visited so we thought this a reasonable weekend out. Kim had some of the sights of her youth to show us and a few unexplored locations were added to the list as we went along.

As previously we will include a little history, some links and some personal thoughts along with a few of our favourite photographic memories. We hope you enjoy the trip.

A warning of dire weather had been in our thoughts all week and with some joy we all got up smartly Friday morning to find that the sun was shining and it looked like being a beautiful day. We set off at 7am from Kent to make the most of the day and made good progress with the journey. We paused for breakfast at the Little Chef on the A11 and made it to our first destination just after opening time. Our first stop was essentially our earliest visit to the history of the area.

The landscape of Thetford Forest is just as described in its title! Miles and miles of roads through coniferous trees. Suddenly a break in the fauna and a detour off the beaten track leads to Grimes Graves, a Neolithic flint mining area. An open area of meadow riddled with the scars of flint working pits. The surface scars are what is left of the infill after the mines were sunk. Reminiscent of our Kent deneholes but on an incredibly larger scale. A few have been excavated in the last few hundred years and one remains open to visitors. Entering what appears to be a fibreglass shed on the surface one is donned with a hard hat and descends a precipitous ladder into the darkness. As your eyes become accustomed to the darkness the subtle illuminations within the pit allow you to see the extensive workings off of the main shaft that extend for several meters away from you. Only a about a metre high these tunnels are not open to the public and present a wonder of how prehistoric man actually constructed this mine using just antlers to extricate the most important tools of his era.

 

 

Of the same age as Stonehenge the wonders of neolithic never fail to impress and for its price this is a site worth visiting whilst in the area. Maintained by English Heritage, the area also includes a variety of wildlife on the surface including Adders for which you receive a helpful warning about on arrival!

 

From Grimes we were off to Rougham for some family respects to be paid and to take in the air of this tranquil estate village. Rougham is owned by the North's, a family who have owned the manor and the village for generations. The whole of the village appears well maintained and yet is clearly still another world. It exists as though in a time warp with very few visible vehicles and is itself hidden away up single track roads.

 

A beautiful church decorated with the arms and armorial symbols of its many owners and none more pronounced than the carvings on the west door or on the pew ends.

 

By now our first public house was beckoning prior to setting up camp. Out of the village of Rougham and back onto the A1065 at Weasenham we found the Fox and Hounds. Imagining that we may find our first local landlord with a distinct accent the congenial host here is from Canning Town in the deepest East End of London!

 

The local ales as always were going to be supped on the trip and we started with Titanic Steerage. From the Titanic brewery it is a golden ale which was not particularly to our palate and neither particularly local.

Onwards and upwards! To our home for the next 4 days. Fakenham Racecourse is just outside the town of the same name and for value it had some of the most excellent facilities we have found on our travels. Catering for caravans and tents we were allocated a plot which meant we had pretty much the choice of anywhere in a field unmolested by other people. A bar and sports facilities on site catered for most eventualities. We recommend it.

An early rise for a call of nature caught the rainbow bright over some trees. Looked like a good start for 5.30am. Not everyone relished being woken to see it! By the time we got organised and out the weather was looking changeable and would be bright sunshine interspersed with thunder storms and torential rain thoughout the day. It was to be a predominantly medieval day!

First stop was the village of Castle Acre. Here the village retains its middle ages layout and has one of the most complete motte and bailey castles to be found at one end of the village and an equally impressive ruined priory at the other. Both under the management of English Heritage the castle is open with free access and the priory is great value for the beauty it holds in its setting and architecture.

Both are from the same era and the castle is on an ancient trackway and consists of a large outer earthwork and remains of wall and gatehouses with the remains of the keep at the centre of the motte. The keep wall thickness has to be seen to be believed as it was made from converting the originally existing manor house oh the site. Unusually the bailey has not been ripped apart or built upon since and presents the most complete picture of what would have stood here with its existing foundations. You cannot help but stand within the bounds of any part of this castle and immerse yourself in a sense of what it was like 900 years ago.

Across the village, the priory is the most complete example of a Cluniac Priory and shows a great degree of architectural expertise and even possesses complete buildings amongst its ranges. The west wall is a beautiful example of the art of masonry. Here is solice and peace all wrapped in one. It sits in the valley surrounded by fields. In fact what can we tell you about it that isn't best served in photographs?

 

After some time spent studying the flora and fauna and Paddy almost smuggling the cat out, we had a bearable machine coffee in the gift shop and then made our way to the next destination.

Fortified villages in these parts seem to be named after the castle and then add the castle again afterwards just to make sure you know there is one there! So making the most of the good weather prevailing after a soaking at the priory we made our way towards Kings Lynn.

Next stop was a more intact keep and ringwork castle that became the home for Queen Isabella after the somewhat gruesome death of her husband Edward II and her imposed exile by her son Edward III. Castle Rising Castle Stands secluded from its surroundings by an enormous 30 feet high embankment. The keep stands proud in its ringwork defenses and is virtually externally complete. Owned by the Howards (yes of Katherine Howard and Arundel Castle fame) but maintained by English Heritage this is a gem of a place. The level of carving on the outside is a symbol of power and equal almost to any priory remains. The inner walls are gone apart from the dividing wall down the centre.

After the rush around three sites it was time for a break so a local hostelry was sought. The Black Horse Inn in the village of Castle Rising serves some fine ales and the popular local Wideford Wherry was a smooth exceptional ale. The pub stands in a huge car park backing onto the church which would be the next point in out trip.

Castle Rising Church has some deceptive Victorian Gothic additions which replicate the original patterns of the west wall which is a gem in itself. The church contains the original font believed to have come from the older church now excavated in the castle grounds. There is some interesting early normal arches cut into the west tower arch wall which goes through to an unusual walkway around the tower.

 

The next destination was a seek out mission to find a church who's origins had been hotly debated amongst the team!Even after getting back it took some searching to be able to name what we now know to be Appleford Church. A ruined round tower church of a type familiar to Norfolk and using roman tile in its construction. Somewhat overgrown it sported a protective wooden cover over a grave slab that would originally have been in the nave so someone clearly looks after it.

Having covered our quota of ancient monuments (as if you can ever get enough) it was time for tea. Hunstanton was nearby and was likely to harbour fish and chips. Tam's Plaice on the sea front – recommended fish and chips. Nice fresh moist cod and perfectly cooked chips with lashings of salt and vinegar mmmmm.

From the seafront we went to Old Hunstanton and parked the car for a fossil hunt on the beach. There are plenty in the chalk here but we couldnt find any washed out ones even though the tide was out. The cliffs here have a unique red chalk layer under the white which makes the cliffs brightly striped. The wide shallow sands of The Wash make the North Sea seem far way.

 

From Hunstanton we went back to camp for the night and sampled the wares of the site bar. Very pleasant and nice kept ales although on such a nice night it would have been nice to have sat outside on a table for us smokers. We did find a table some distance from the bar we did watch some grouse with some amusement running around the race course and some golfers on the green who were paractising (I think thats what its called).

Sunday was Norwich Day. The day dawned fairly bright and then got progressively worse so by the time we were on foot in Norwich after visiting the Cathedral we were a bit damp. Getting to Norwich wasn't too much of an issue however finding the nearest car park seemed to be a bit of an impossibility as we found when we parked near a large religious structure only to find it was the Catholic Cathedral at the opposite end of the city! After a bit of a hike and bemusement over the elephant art that pops up all over the city we eventually found the Anglican Cathedral.

Why were we to feel the elephants were a taste of things to come?

Anyway, the Cathedral close is entered by a magnificently carved gateway and then the Cathedral appears like some hidden giant that is, unfortunately, currently shrouded by large cranes for the building works next door.
Substantially original it was completed in 1145 and has the highest Norman tower in England which is surmounted by the second tallest spire in England at 315 feet and after being lost to various weather conditions the present one dates from 1480. The cloisters are complete and mainly original and the view of the tower from there is one of the best to be had of this magnificent feat of Norman engineering.

The entire cathedral is decorated with carved and painted bosses throughout the roof arches in Nave and Choir and also throughout the Cloisters.

In fact those in the Nave are hardly visible from the floor. They do however tell the story of the Old and New Testaments and were carved and painted in situ. The view along the nave is cleverly increased by allowing the west doors to remain open and facilitate the photography of what is normally a difficult and gloomily lit vista.

Our facination with the architecture here ate drastically into our time and suddenly found that we had to move on to get to our next destination.

Colmans mustard is one of Norwich's greatest exports and they have a souvenier shop within the centre of town. This took a little seeking out (its in the arcade opposite the castle) only to find that it is not open on Sundays! If someone can explain how all other tourist attractions and most shops were open yet a shop that is itself a tourist attraction was not please let us know. To us it defies logic!

It was time for a pub break! A search for a pub found us at the Bell Hotel which is a Wetherspoons establishment and has all the usual attributes of cheap, close to sell by, beer along with non-communicative staff and the local specimens who are out for a session, even on a Sunday, on the cheep booze. Anyway Golden Jackal was the selected ale at 3.8% from the Wolf brewery. A summery ale and not particularly to our palate we moved on.

Somewhat refreshed we went for the ancient again and off we trudged to the castle. Now here is a Norman keep like Castle Rising and it looks a treat outside. It was the city gaol from the 15th Century and as such the interior was converted into lots of cells. Further buildings were later erected within the walls later. It has been the city museum since Victorian times and houses local exhibits and those connected with the prison. It does contain an interesting amount of Norman architecture but is so dark inside that it is difficult to admire the original building. Frankly it has been so messed about with that it is difficult to envision what it was like. The charge is broken down into access to museum/keep and additional charges for battlements and dungeons which are extra. The admission seemed expensive for what we got. We return to a previous theme of how unspoilt the outer defences at Castle Acre Castle were and consider what has happened at Norwich where as late as the 1990's the outer bailey was destroyed to create a shopping centre. The brochure even boasts that the excavation was the 'largest hole in England'. Shame on you Norwich. A wanton destruction of heritage for gain!

We left the Castle, more than a little disappointed it must be said, and trudged forth in the rain back to the car. Feeling somewhat disillusioned we thought we would dine out this evening and pub meals seemed a good plan. From Norwich to Fakenham do you think we found a vast array to chose from? No. The closest we got was a big sign on the roadside pointing to the Royal Oak in a village called Bintree.

Knowing that the time was about six o'clock and some places may have stopped cooking we thought we could at least inquire and have a pint. The trusty Wherry was ordered and we were offered Sunday lunch only without Yorkshire Puds. The Wherry was very off indeed. A return of the pint revealed that the landlord was aware that it was at the bottom of the barrel and another choice was offered. Thinking that you can't ruin Abbot we were educated! A few sips and we left. The day was not going well and this is not a pub for ales!

Eventually we arrived in Swaffham and had an exceptionally good value Sunday Roast and nice beers at the Red Lion. Thumbs up Red Lion in Swaffham!

Day four dawned with changeable weather again. With no great plan other than to pack up half way through the day and make our way back we set off on an impromptu explore.

Part way along the road to Cromer was a brown sign stating Baconsthorpe Castle. Bemused looks around the car and a consensus to have a look saw us touring country lanes in search of signs covered in vegetation to point the way down a farm track expecting some abandoned hillock in a field. Suddenly a moated 14th Century castle loomed into view in a well maintained ruinous state. The gatehouse was inhabited into the 1920's amazingly and we were at home.

Whilst making the most of the fabulous ruins we were subjected to a downpour but the moody skies made for some great photography.

Regrettably leaving Baconsthorpe we headed to Cromer but actually decended on West Runton and found some fossils on the beach (Belemnites for those interested) and a rough sea breaking in spectacular fashion.

 

Four four days we had persevered against the most severe withdrawl from tat shopping. Sherringham did not disappoint and is your traditional seaside resort but on a villagey scale.

From Sheringham we returned to camp and dismantled and packed. All in the car we started home but could not resist the impulse to deviate slightly after a few miles.

 

This is home of the 'Brown Lady'- Raynham Hall. Possibly the most hotly debated and famous 'ghost' photograph ever. We produced our own analysis of this picture . Taken by Country Life in the 1930's the current Marquess Townshend was there when it was taken. Prior to travelling we wrote to the Marquess and requested to be allowed to view the staircase. We were politely refused although you can walk through the estate as far as a bold 'Private' sign so we had to relish in this moment. The estate includes a beautifully maintained church full of generations of Townshends and the nearby West Raynham has a ruinous church.

On high note we began the perilous journey home driving through four torrential thunderstorms.

Our four day trip complete there were unanimous votes for the best and worst of the trip. Easily scoring highly was Baconsthorpe Castle closely followed by Castle Acre. Easily bottom of the list was Norwich.

It just remains to say that we admired the flora of Norfolk photographing some exotic plants not so well known in the South East.

We reduced a healthy carrot to a fireball in three days.

 

 

 

We also snapped some locals for prosterity as is now becoming our custom and a gallery is produced here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norfolk – we bid you farewell and thank you! 'Til next time.

It just remains to thank Kim for driving us again.

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