The shout reached me a hundred yards down a rutted track, plashy along its edges where the water table rose up. The caution from my husband came just in time to stop me from stepping over a sagging chicken-wire fence to follow the dog walkers ahead of me into a stand of pines, forest-dark and upright as a Japanese etching against a sky the colour of porridge.
Ahead of me, a semi-circle of straw bales mouldered and sagging after a wet summer, and underfoot, discarded grain hulled by the sharp beaks of the thousands of young pheasants which are released from their pens into the countryside. They are now ready for the lucrative meets which will soon pepper our skies with shot.
Slades Covert, where I stood, lies next to the village of Gt Livermere and acts as an elementary school for game birds, a place for them to clatter around until they pluck up the courage to venture forth onto the open fields which surround their feeding pens.
This time of year country roads become the avian version of a crap shoot, as these immature birds have yet to become wise to what happens when feathers meet car bumpers: they burst out of hedgerows, putter about in the middle of the road and change their mind mid-crossing meaning our roads soon become decorated with brightly coloured smears as pheasant meets car.
We’d only stopped here so I could boost some dandelions, couch grass and assorted other weeds to take home for my rabbits from the road side but I’m a sucker for field-edge footpaths and cannot stop myself from wandering up them, even at dusk when the chances are high that I will have to navigate back using my phone torch and wearing the most unsuitable shoes.
I’d spent half the journey mourning the passing of every creature splattered on the tarmac and the other half delivering lectures on road safety to the partridge families that were scratting about in the washes of grit that are left after a cloud burst, those channels of yellow mud and tiny stones that braid the road verges. It wasn’t just game birds either; a kestrel was eating its fill of roadkill and another was further along the road, pecking at grit, perched on the verge and reaching down over the edge. He was clearly older and in possession of road wisdom. The surrounding field, clodded in brown and devoid of crops operate as a partridge fight club where the birds went for it, hell for leather, their wings rayed and furious as they flew at each other until one surrendered and ran away, head extended, a feathered stealth bomber in retreat.
Walk the back lanes of Gt Livermere in the late afternoon and the noise is deafening as hundreds of water birds return to the mere and settle down for the night on waters turning mercury grey as night approaches. The clamour rises for a time then starts to fall: ‘In a conversation expected to continue all afternoon…Where is? I’m here? An upward inflection in query and in response’, Alice Ostriker calls it, in her poem ‘Birdcall.’
Silhouetted against the risen moon were an inbound wedge of geese and ducks who skillfully wove a flightpath through the thick brush that lay between mere and us. The splashes as the geese settled onto the waters into a tight plump bounced around the fields. There was no wind at all to stifle the noise down on the ground, unusual for this exposed part of the county although up high, their powerful wingbeats rebuffed the wind, hurling and gliding.
Binoculars do nothing to close the space between us and birds in flight and seeing the mechanical struts and bolts of their extended wings only amplifies the essential mystery of flight. I know how the science works, but I am still wondrously unknowing at the same time. Staring up at the geese, my head tilted back as far as it will go, I turn slowly, 360 degrees and then again until dizziness overtakes and feel like I might swirl through the thick viscous grey of the skies, shedding the magnetic grounding in time and space which keeps me pulled tight against the sticky cracked clay of the field.
Up high, the birds looked down in flight and watched the world swing into shadow as Sunday evening draws the weekend to a close.
Some well known, others not so, here are some of the loveliest places to visit either en famille or for some much needed down time alone by the water, in it, above it or doing things on it.
(1) Blakeney Point in Norfolk
The best way to arrive at Blakeney Point, a sand and shingle spit stretching out into the sea from the heart of Blakeney national reserve, is on a boat trip from Morston Quay. You not only get a chance to see grey seals basking on the sandbanks, but you leave the boat at the blue Old Lifeboat House, home to National Trust rangers and now a visitors centre packed with information. From there, you can explore the rare habitat and its inhabitants, which range from sandwich terns to otters and yellow-horned poppies. The more energetic might opt to walk back to Morston , a worthwhile though demanding tramp across four miles of shingle back. Nearest train station: Sheringham, then get the CH3 bus to Morston. There is restricted access to the western end of Blakeney Point from April to mid-August, to protect birds nesting on the shingle, and from November to mid-January during the seal pupping season.
(2) Lackford Lakes, Nr Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
A man made landscape of reclaimed gravel pits in the valley of the river Lark, Lackford Lakes is owned and managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and boasts a year round programme of family events. Walk around this ever changing landscape of reed beds, meadows, pastures, woodlands and wetlands and watch Kingfishers, bitterns, otters, cormorants and many other creatures as they go about their business from one of the bird hides cleverly positioned to give access to different habitats. The sailing club SESCA is based here too should you wish to learn in one of the UK’s most beautiful environments. We often come here at dawn or dusk, a time of great animal activity and sit quietly watching bats pour in and out of their converted pill box home overlooking meadows full of grazing cattle and Jacob’s sheep. A well equipped visitors centre offers drinks, cakes and ice creams plus a bird viewing window and also sells bird food and other equipment.
(3) The Little Ouse at Thetford & Santon Downham, Norfolk and Suffolk borders.
The River Little Ouse, a tributary of the Great Ouse, once had more than one natural course and runs alongside a popular walking trail that runs between Thetford and Brandon and traverses Thetford Forest via Santon Downham. To the North is Grimes Graves, the amazing Neolithic flint mining site which is reachable via forest tracks or from Santon Downham Village. These same forest tracks lead to High Lodge and Go Ape!, both popular places for activities, picnics and family fun.
The Little Ouse runs through the Brecks, one of the most fascinating and unique habitats in the country- tranquil forests, open sandy heaths ablaze with sulphur yellow Gorse in the summer and a patchwork of agricultural land. The Brecks cover 370 square miles, has the rare nightjar and stone curlew as residents and bears the marks of the Ice Age that created this landscape of Pingoes and scrubby low growing plants, ancestors of those which were once all that could grow in the Permafrost that characterised the Ice Age.
Alternatively, stay in Thetford and sit or walk by the river from St Mary’s Priory to the fishing lakes (photographed above), watching skeins of electric blue dragonflies dart above the riverbank. Occasional kayaks and row boats pass by too, trailing ducks in their wake. A beautiful place to take a picnic, a sandwich and a book, we often come here just to relax and get away. Ten minutes is all it takes to recharge.
(4) The Lido at Beccles, Suffolk
Sadly becoming an endangered species, outdoor pools are something to treasure and we encourage not only their patronage, but donating whatever spare change you have to their funds for upkeep. We have such warm memories of the sadly defunct Sudbury swimming pool with its competition height diving boards, pool side tiers of concrete sun decks and hut selling post swim cups of hot cocoa.
Beccles Lido is run by a community run charity who bought the Lido from Waveney District Council and re-opened it in 2010, restoring the 1m springboard, installing a slide, all-weather awning and a fun giant inflatable aquarun. Canoe hire is also available and there are separate toddler and paddling pools, also heated. With paved and grassy areas for sunbathing, as well as picnic tables, chairs, sunloungers and a covered outdoor eating area, families are well catered for and a well stocked Splash Pool Bar sells hot and cold meals and snacks, cold drinks, icecreams, delicious Fairtrade teas, coffees and hot chocolate.
(5) The Kings Lynn Ferry Ride, Norfolk
Got a boat mad child or fancy a trip across river yourself? A trip on the Kings Lynn Ferry after exploring the towns maritime trade, its fishing communities and its famous navigators via the Maritime Trail, will give you a different take of the architecture of the town from the west bank of the Lynn. This town with its royal links was originally known asLin and in 1101, Bishop Herbert Losinga (the same Bishop that established Norwich Cathedral) founded St Margaret’s Church and the town became known as Bishops Lin.
Trade built up quickly around the waterways and a few years later a second settlement was established to the North, each with its own church and marketplace. In 1537 King Henry VIII decided he would take control of the town from the Bishop of Norwich and it became known as King’s Lynn; the town growing rich from trade within Britain and abroad. By the middle ages, the town ranked as the 3rd port of England and was considered as important as Liverpool. Although the town’s importance then declined, King’s Lynn today is a still an important regional centre for a largely sparsely populated part of England.
Fishing has always been a strong part of Lynn’s history. Queen Elizabeth I granted Lynn fishermen the right to “free and uninterrupted use of the Fisher Fleet for ever and ever.” Lynn’s whaling ships would sail to Greenland every March and return back here in July with their catch. On their return this quay would be full of excitement; today it is an attractive place to sit and watch boats sail by from wharfs converted into bars or restaurants and a visitor centre. Mid-way along King Street you will find Ferry Lane leading to the ferry service.
(6) Sea views from the summit of Muckleburgh Hill, Norfolk
Got children who enjoy a physical challenge? The hill may only be a few hundred feet high, but it is a spectacular view from the summit of the coast and glorious Norfolk countryside in all directions, making it a great adventure to climb for people of all ages. Dense woodland, at the base of the hill makes finding the path to the top a bit of a puzzle, but when you do find one of the network of woodland paths and climb it, you are rewarded with views over Weybourne andSheringham to the east and Salthouse and Cley next the Sea to the west. Immediately below Muckleburgh Hill is the Muckleburgh Collection, a museum of military hardware.
Nearby Weybourne, a pretty village, is home to the North Norfolk Railway station and goods yard. The station has a workshop and is home to various railway vehicles that adults and children will enjoy looking at. Steam trains regularly pull into the station and you can ride the “poppy line” to Holt in one direction and Sheringham in the other. It is easy to stop off at the villages and towns along the route, catching a later train back. This means adults can leave the car behind and enjoy some libations at some of the excellent village pubs, many spectacularly beautiful with corresponding views.
(7) The Rodbridge Picnic Grounds, Nr Long Melford, Suffolk
A proper river side tramp where kids can run amok over the scrubby grassy paths and fields, splash through the muddy woodland tracks and paddle, it is best to put the littlest one in the back carrier or fit mudguards to the all terrain buggy when you come here. Walking boots or wellies are also advisable. Rodbridge Corner is a place we adored as kids where we’d hurtle up and down the hummocks dotted with rabbit warrens (a kind of mini race track), eat our fish and chips in the car park then walk the river path, stopping to smell the scent of the river as it bumps over the weirs. A wonderful place and free to use. Might be an idea to avoid the car park from dusk where local people have reported a problem with it being used for more nefarious purposes (dogging) although we haven’t had any problems yet, have seen nothing and wouldn’t advise walking along an unlit river path at night anyway.
The nearby towns of Sudbury and village of Long Melford will provide those fish and chips should you not have brought a fancier meal!
(8) The Croft in Sudbury, Suffolk
An embarrassment of riches awaits the river lover in Sudbury, embraced in a loop by the famous river Stour. Captured so often by famous artists and possessed of many bucolic stopping off points for paddling, boat sailing, water sports or simply musing or walking along the path, the railway walk (the railway line follows the river for many miles) or water meadows also offer hours of outdoor exercise and beauty. Just keep an eye on the cows that graze the common lands and don’t let your dog worry them.
The Croft offers an old boating lake, the ‘washing machine water’ aka Weir, a cow pond around which you will find groups of picnickers and the old bridge populated by generations of ducks kept fat by generations of locals. Park quality grass for sunbathing (although keep an eye out for duck poop before you sit down), stands of trees and bench dotted tarmac paths make this popular because it is less then 400 yards from the town centre. A short walk down the riverpath leads you to The Mill, now turned into a hotel and complete with walled up cat (an ancient practice), or you can walk along the Railway walk in the other direction to Brundon Mill where the swan feed, resplendent with a hundred or more swans, awaits. The meadows around Sudbury are the oldest continuously grazed land in England and are crossed by many footpaths, making them excellent for walking.
The Croft is just off the Sudbury one way system, past the fire station and St Gregory’s church and can also be reached from North Street. Turn left at Argos, pass the short stay car park and turn right by the entrance of the Waggon and Horses pub. The Croft is across the main road. As you cross the bridge at the Croft, keep an eye out for the poignant memorial to the left, set with flowering plants. A tribute to a family from nearby Great Cornard who died in the Yugoslav air disaster in May 1971, we always stopped here to lay flowers because our grandmother taught the children at playschool. Roger and Margaret Green and their sons, Simon and Ian, were on board the Tupolev-134 which crashed at Rijeka airport when attempting to land in a heavy rainstorm; 78 of the 83 people on board were killed. Simon was a member of the Round Table and his fellow Round Tablers cleared the land of bushes and scrub.
(9) Sea Views at Wiveton Hall Cafe in Norfolk
Slip off your shoes, sit yourself down on one of the candy coloured outdoor seats, exhale and look out to sea from this playful cafe which is nonetheless deadly serious about the quality of food it serves. The views out over the marshes to the sea are superb and, under the pine trees; sand and pebbles underfoot, you will think you are in the Med. Take a walk along the beautiful Norfolk coastline before or after your meal, pick fruit on the estates fruit farms or wander around flint faced, Dutch gabled Wiveton Hall, built in the 17th century on what had been monastic land where the sea once came almost to the door. Should you decide never to go away again, the hall offers accommodation in either its spacious wing or self catering farm cottages.
(10) Wild Swimming in the river Waveney, Suffolk
The Waveney was much beloved of the nature writer Roger Deakin who used to live in Mellis and who was one of the ‘pioneers’ of the new Wild Swimming movement. A two mile loop around Outney Common starts and returns from Bungay, one of Suffolk’s tiny towns where you will still find independent stores and good places to eat. With its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street that are ideal for a swim and a riverbank picnic, there is also canoe hire at the Meadow Caravan park, next to the river itself. Should you swim at dawn or dusk, keep an eye out for the otters- they live happily here. Grid reference: 52.4572, 1.4413
(11) Peer at the view from a Pier
Fly over the coastline of East Anglia and you will see venerable examples of the quaint Victorian habit of building out to sea; a perfect example of follies on a grand scale for what else would you call a pier- those curious testimonies to holiday frivolity on stilts? From Cromer and Gt Yarmouth in Norfolk to Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Aldeburgh and Southwold in Suffolk, our counties have worked hard to maintain and develop their piers resulting in yet another generation of coastal visitors who enjoy their very British charms.
Southwold Pier boasts the the famous ‘Under the Pier Show’, an assortment of bonkers Tim Hunkins creations- Steampunk crossed with Victoriana; a penny arcade, the Clockhouse cafe and pizza place plus those wide planked boardwalks to walk along and sit on, looking out onto those stupendous Suffolk sunsets and sunrises. Tasteful to attract the Notting Hillers, this pier doesn’t have that brash gaudy seaside appeal of other resorts (which we also love) – think Enid Blyton as opposed to the local fair.
Gt Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier carries on another great British seaside tradition- that of the live show, amusements and carney style food- candy floss, doughnuts, rock and hot dogs and is none the less enjoyable for it. Attracting hordes of visitors all year round, the piers original wooden structure was designed by A.W. Morant, opening in July 1858. A wooden construction leaves piers at risk of fire and Britannia Pier has certainly had a fair share of these- the first in 1907 and the second in 1914, badly damaging the newly built pavilion. Ironically, both the ballroom and pavillion survived the war, only to be both destroyed by yet another blaze in 1954 and subsequently rebuilt where they thrive to this day. Felixstowe Pier is very similar with amusement arcades, a lovely boardwalk, plenty of food and proximity to safe clean beaches.
Cromer Pier boasts and end of the pier show and claims this to be the last remaining true show of its kind. Opened in 1902, Cromer Pier was damaged by the 2013 storm surge and is newly repaired in time for summer where the famous Cromer crabs can be caught from the sides. The decks are lined with buckets and lines and on fine days, fringed with children and adults all hoping to net the big one!
Lowestofts Claremont Pier can be found between Lowestofts Award winning beaches to the south of the town and has an award winning restaurant, a family-orientated amusement arcade and luxurious casino area. The latest additions include a large wooden floored roller skating rink and a contemporary multi-purpose venue. Like all piers, it was seen as a possible security threat during the Second World War and in 1940, with the Axis Forces sweeping across the Continent, the Royal Engineers blasted a hole in the pier to stop the Luftwaffe using it as a possible landing place. Visitors will be relieved to know that this hole is now repaired!
(12) Or look out from high from a Lighthouse
Due to its long coastline, East Anglia has always had a strong connection with the sea, and this has led to the building of some fine lighthouse. Many of these have been adapted over the years and not all have survived. Some lighthouses have been converted to private homes and are no longer available for public viewing from inside. However, some classic examples of these famous seaside icons still exist and they are well worth seeking out.
Although Happisburgh Lighthouses (there are a pair of them) are privately owned, they do open on particular weekends to the public – Easter and Bank Holidays. Built in 1791, the pair formed leading lights marking safe passage around the southern end of the treacherous Happisburgh Sands but it was not always effective, as the graves in the churchyard show. Inside, the 96 stone steps wind their way up the inside to the light at the top (134 feet above sea level) and when you reach the top, you can see the working lamp, some 500 watts of light, and visible for about 18 miles. The views of the coast and village are spectacular – on a clear day you can see for about 13 miles.
Other great lighthouses to visit are Southwold Trinity Lighthouse which can be explored and one in Hunstanton which is now a private holiday home and sits near to the ruins of St Edmunds Chapel on the cliffs.
(13) A steam launch ride through the Broads
The lovely Museum of the Broads offers rides in their own steam launch down to Barton Broad, giving visitors a taste of Arthur Ransome style nostalgia. The only museum to be actually located on the waters of the Broads, the museum can be found at Stalham Staithe. Find out about the boats of the Broads and see how peoples working lives shaped the landscape with activites for all the family and a cafe to keep them well fed too. ‘Falcon’, their Victorian steam launchruns hourly from 1030 – 1430, conditions permitting and because she is an open boat, you will need to dress warmly in waterproof clothing. Booking ahead is advisable and toavoid disappointment, please telephone 01692 581681 to book seats. The photo is courtesy of the Museum.
(14) Or be ferried across a Suffolk river
The Walberswick to Southwold Ferry is a much loved Suffolk institution, carrying locals and visitors across the mouth of the River Blyth for decades. The route is understandably a seasonal one and the timetable is available on the link- dogs go free of charge too and adults only pay a pound. The seaside here is backed by a thousand acres of heath and marshland and is protected as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB). The seaside town of Southwold is a short stroll away with its quirky cinema, ice cream and cake hut by the dunes and a plethora of independent shops. Walberswick is famous for its crabbing and used to hold a well attended festival. Both will provide you and the kids with an unforgettable day out.