Friday, September 26, 2003

Walk 86 -- Hopton, via Great Yarmouth, to Caister-on-Sea

Cecilia, Jay and Kate joined us for the first nine miles of this walk, making it a B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. walk once more!Ages: Colin was 61 years and 141 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 283 days.
Weather: Overcast, but remaining dry.
Location: Hopton-on-Sea to Caister-on-Sea, via Great Yarmouth.
Distance: 11½ miles. Total distance: 644½ miles.
Terrain: Clifftop path then along the bottom of the cliffs, but mostly concrete and roads in Great Yarmouth. Sand dunes at the end.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: No.30, the Yare, at Great Yarmouth.
Ferries: None. Piers: Nos.20, 21 and 22 at Great Yarmouth. The first was derelict, the second was a fishing jetty, and the third had a café and amusements on it.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None, we stopped at a café instead.
‘English Heritage’ properties: Nos. 22, 23 and 24 in Great Yarmouth – Row111 houses, an old merchant’s house and a greyfriars priory. (We just had a cursory glance, then went on guided tours the next day when we had more time.)
Ferris wheels: None. (Cecilia was very relieved!)
Diversions: None – though we took a short cut avoiding the end of the South Denes peninsula because it was industrial (in accordance with additional rule no.3).
How we got there and back: We were staying with Kate and John in Hopton-on-Sea. We walked out of their house, through Hopton village to the clifftop and continued our walk from the spot where we left it yesterday.
The others had had enough by the time we reached Great Yarmouth, so they caught a bus back from there. It was only a quarter past three, so Colin and I walked on to Caister. There we walked to the main street where we found a bus stop, and we only had to wait ten minutes for a bus back to Hopton.

Again, it was fun to have company for this Walk! We strolled along to the end of the caravans where we came to a sunken path which ended in a set of steps leading down to the beach. According to the map, the public footpath continues along the top of the cliff past a golf course, but all we could find ahead were brambles hiding a fence. We assumed – with the coast eroded the way it is in these parts – that the actual path had long since fallen into the sea. The Golf Club certainly weren’t giving up any of their land, so we had to descend and walk along the top of the beach where the sand wasn’t too soft. Further on we passed the remains of concrete steps which were slewed sideways due to erosion of the soft sandstone This confirmed our surmise that the original path is now somewhere under the waves.
At the Gorleston end of the cliffs, there was a notice which read:

PRIVATE LAND
THIS IS NOT A PUBLIC
FOOTPATH
WARNING
YOU ARE IN DANGER OF
BEING FATALLY INJURED
BY FLYING GOLF BALLS
Also PARTS OF THE CLIFF EDGE ARE
UNSTABLE AND ARE LIABLE TO COLLAPSE


We somehow got the impression that the Golf Club was not open to compromise!As soon as we reached Gorleston-on-Sea, we were able to walk along a concrete prom. Kate told us that she comes to Gorleston for her everyday shopping as it has a number of useful little shops. She also remarked that it was a pity we were walking along the lower prom because there were some quite nice houses which we couldn’t see. Later, Jay, Cecilia and myself did go up to the top, but this was only to find a loo. Then I had a nosebleed, and had to sit on a bench for about ten minutes until it had subsided.
(I am rather concerned about the severity and frequency of nosebleeds I have been having in recent months. Earlier in the Summer I had my blood pressure checked – but it was normal. Still the problem continued, so next I visited the Doctor – first time in two years I’m delighted to say – to ask if they were a symptom of anything nasty. He said that if my blood pressure was normal, then no. I must just have a weak lining inside my nostril. That put my mind at rest, but they are still a wretched nuisance when they occur. I have noticed that I tend to have them when the weather is very hot, or when I have done a lot of physical exercise. Since both these circumstances have happened frequently, and often simultaneously, over the past six months – I’m on to a loser, aren’t I?)When I had recovered, we continued along the lower prom adjacent to a wide sandy beach which looked very attractive. It had a large paddling pool which is filled with water every high tide. On the prom we came across a Rotary Club wishing well with the following rhyme on the lid:
THIS CONCRETE TOP MAY NOT LOOK GOOD
BUT KEEPS YOUR MONEY WHERE IT SHOULD
DROP YOUR COIN DOWN THROUGH THE LID
IF NOT A PENNY TRY A QUID
MAKE A WISH BUT DO NOT TELL
FOR YOUR HELP WE WISH YOU WELL

Since they had asked so nicely, we all dropped a few coins in!
We sauntered on to South Pier – which is really just a concrete jetty where the River Yare comes out into the sea. Like so many rivers on this east coast, a shingle spit has formed southwards from where the river’s mouth should be, but in this case it is only two miles long – not ten miles as was the case with the River Ore. Great Yarmouth’s shingle spit is covered in buildings, it is the industrial part of the port. As we started to walk up the western bank of the river, we realised we were not in a very nice area. It was a mixture of old and modern industrial buildings, and it all looked tatty and forlorn. Across the river it was even worse – chimneys and storage tanks seemed to be the norm. Secretly I was rather glad because, following additional rule no.3, we could miss it out thus saving ourselves at least a couple of miles.
According to my internet map, there was a ferry across the river which would have saved us some mileage. We saw no sign of it (unless you count part of a very derelict jetty behind a high wire fence) and there was no way we could end this Walk on one side of the river and start the next Walk on the other because we had only done three miles. So we just had to walk round. It wasn’t very interesting – through car parks and past industrial units – and I felt a bit embarrassed for my friends who are used to tramping over the South Downs with all its glorious rural views.
After two miles we got to the busy road bridge which crosses the river. Next to it is a large and interesting-looking thatched building. We were rather strung out by then (me at the back, as usual – I just cannot seem to walk as fast as other people) so I passed it with barely a glance in order to catch up with the others across the bridge. We were then in the old part of Great Yarmouth, and fortunately the eastern bank of the river had recently been refurbished with tourists in mind. That meant that there were benches to sit on, badly needed because we hadn’t had our lunch and we had been wondering where we could stop and eat it. (The only problem was, there were no toilets – we just had to hold it!) It was while we were sitting there that we noticed the attractiveness of the big old building across the water. Suddenly Colin said, “I’m going to find out what it is!” and he stomped off. When he came back he reported that it was a 19th century ice house – in other words, a fridge!
We continued south along the east side of the river, and turned off to visit Greyfriars’ Cloisters and a Row111 House. We could only look through a locked iron gate at the cloister which is just a fragment remaining of a Franciscan friary, but apparently contains some early medieval wall paintings which were only discovered when they were trying to repair bomb damage after the Second World War. Entry is by pre-arranged appointment only, which we hadn’t made so that was that. We would have had to wait an hour for a guided tour of the Row111 house and the Old Merchant’s House, so we posed for photographs by an old water pump, and left. (Colin and I visited the two houses the next day after we had left Kate’s.)

Row Houses, Great Yarmouth

In the 13th century there was a flourishing herring trade in Great Yarmouth. A unique housing development evolved on the shingle spit between the river and the sea – a pattern of main streets linked by closely spaced parallel alleys. These were known as the Rows, and there were 157 in all. The town became very prosperous, and the Row Houses were rebuilt in brick, flint and tile. They were the homes of rich merchants. In later centuries, as prosperity declined, permission was refused to build beyond the town walls, so the populace built in their gardens and divided their houses into vertical tenements. The Row Houses became the homes of the poor.
By 1939, few of the Row Houses remained. The house in Row111, which we toured, was occupied by three families at that time, up to seven people in one bedroom! Great Yarmouth was practically flattened during the War, and now the house in Row111 is the only one left. Even that was badly damaged by bombs, but it was later restored. At one time it was a lodging house for herring girls from Scotland. Later that day we overheard some local children playing, and they were yelling at each other in a distinct Geordie accent! The house also had a 17th century Dutch influence – one of the fireplaces was surrounded by tiles of the Delft style.
The Old merchant’s House, situated in a nearby street, also survived the bombing. It has the most beautiful plaster-work ceilings. Part of the house was latterly lived in by a dressmaker, and the exhibition included life-size mannequins with tape recordings of their supposed conversations.

We carried on southwards alongside the river, but the smartened up touristy bit ran out quite soon and then it turned horrible. We really had had enough of grim industrial buildings, and I declared the rest of the peninsula an industrial complex which we didn’t have to walk through if it was quicker to miss it out. However, marked on the map was an intriguing feature which I didn’t want to miss out – Nelson’s Monument. So we decided to take the quickest route to it, then turn north. We turned away from the river, and suddenly came upon ancient town walls which weren’t marked on the map. A notice explained the history. Some of the words were obliterated, but this is what I think it said:

IN AD 1260 KING HENRY III GAVE A CHARTER TO THE BURGESSES OF GREAT YARMOUTH CONFERRING UPON THEM THE LIBERTY TO ENCLOSE THE TOWN WITH A WALL AND MOAT. THE WORK COMMENCED IN 1284 IN THE REIGN OF EDWARD I AND COMPLETED IN 1396. THE WHOLE WALL WAS ABOUT 2200 YARDS IN LENGTH AND 23 FEET HIGH. IT HAD 10 GATES AND 16 TOWERS AND ENCLOSED 133 ACRES. A MOAT PASSABLE WITH BOATS WAS ADDED MAKING THE FORTRESS VERY STRONG AND COMPLETE.We walked alongside the wall for a bit, then exited through one of the towers. I could tell the others were getting tired because they just wanted to speed on and not look at things. Besides, we still hadn’t found that elusive toilet! (Colin and I had a closer look at the medieval remains the next day.)We hurried on through dull and tatty streets until we came to it – Nelson’s Column!! Yes, an exact replica of the London one – except that this one was built first! Horatio Nelson – of Trafalgar fame – was born in nearby Burnham Thorpe and first went to sea from Great Yarmouth. When he won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 – losing his life on the battleship ‘Victory’ – the townspeople erected a statue in his honour. They put it on top of a 160-foot column so that it could be seen from all parts of the port. A few years later, it was decided to honour his name in London by clearing a number of hovels and making a large open space which they called Trafalgar Square. They then copied Great Yarmouth’s column, making it a few feet higher because London was considered to be more important. Whereas London’s Nelson’s Column is regularly maintained and cleaned, and is known and loved by all, the original column at Great Yarmouth fell into decay. You would have difficulty finding any reference to it in guide books. We found it derelict, surrounded by fencing telling us to keep out because of the danger of falling masonry, and located in the centre of a tatty industrial estate! It really did look as if it was in the middle of a factory, and was surrounded by car parks. Nelson stood high on his shaky column, yesterday’s hero forgotten and unloved! Sad, isn’t it?We walked across to the seafront which was nearby. Lovely beach, but we were still surrounded by industrial units. There we turned north – south there was a power station which we were glad to turn our backs on. Even so, the prom we were walking along had an air of neglect about it with cracked stones, sand blown all over the place and tufts of weeds sticking out here and there. The beautiful sandy beach was utterly deserted. We passed the Pleasure Beach – it was closed and looked very run down. Yes, I know it was the nether end of the season and the children were back at school, but the weather was still summery and other places were open. Colin and I remembered coming to that very Pleasure Beach in 1990 when we camped in Norfolk over the May half term. Then it was up and running, and Great Yarmouth had been buzzing – it was only 13½years ago. (In actual fact, Cecilia was very relieved that there was no Ferris wheel – she had been dreading that I might insist she ride on one because it is in our ‘rules’!) Next we came to Wellington Pier with a lovely theatre at the shore end – both closed and derelict. We all felt gloomy. What a dump!
Our B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. friends had had enough. We came to a café on the prom which was actually open – and that was it! Trouble was, it was only a booth and so had no toilets. I went in and asked where the nearest ones were, and was directed to a nearby building which had a kind of jungle inside(!) We found them – what a relief! We went back to the café and had a cup of tea. Kate was all for leading us to the bus station there and then, and Cecilia and Jay wanted to go back too. But it was only quarter past three, and we have never packed in a day’s Walk so early. So we parted company by mutual agreement. They went home, and once more Colin and I were on our own.
Great Yarmouth seemed to brighten up from there on. We walked out on to a little fishing jetty which had several fishermen with rods at the end. Further on we came to Britannia Pier, and this one was much more lively! It wasn’t very long, but it had a small funfair on it with children buzzing round on little roundabouts. (No Ferris wheel!) The beach was absolutely deserted, though. It got very wide after the pier, a vast expanse of beautiful golden sand. We passed a new swimming pool complex (indoors) with happy splashing sounds emanating from it. After that there was a ribbon of gardens for about half a mile. There were lots of pools, streams and bridges in them – very pretty and an ingenious use of a marshy area.
We came to the dunes. They were pretty flat with tussocks of grass and lots of paths leading through. We started to take a straight course cutting off the corner, but the sand was too soft to walk comfortably so we made towards the road on the shore side. This ran out when it reached a caravan park, and we were stuck with the sand then. We waved at all the CCTV cameras which seemed to be everywhere, and continued ever northwards. There was a sort of path along the top of the beach, and the sand was a bit firmer there so we coped. We passed a golf course and a small race course (it wasn’t for horses, could have been dogs – or people!) and were laying bets as to whether the rain would hold off until we finished the Walk.
Eventually we came to Caister-on-Sea. We passed a lifeboat station and came to the end of a road where there was a shed-type ice cream booth on the beach.


That ended Walk no.86, we shall pick up Walk no.87 next time at the ice cream shed at Caister-on-Sea. We walked inland until we came to the main street where we found a bus stop. We only had to wait ten minutes for a bus which took us back to Hopton-on-Sea. The rain just about held off until we got back to Kate’s.

PS When Kate read this post, she pointed out that Nelson's column in Great Yarmouth has Britannia on top, not Nelson! Whoops!!


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