Day Four – Thurne to Great Yarmouth
We awoke early, hungry but dry, our tent still quite alone on the extensive and high-hedged campsite, like a single ball on a giant pool table. An early start would have been good as this was to be the longest day, but we succumbed instead to the lure of hot drinks and random carbs at the friendly Thurne village store which although ideally located directly on the trail doesn’t open especially early. It then seemed advisable to get a bit of a wiggle on.
Which was all very well, but there were numerous distractions. Just south of Thurne village the River Thurne flows into the Bure which, as you’ve been paying assiduous attention, you’ll recall we previously encountered (twice) on day one. Now, as promised, it’s much bigger. Several more variously derelict windmills adorn the view.
At Clippesby there’s a large and impressive windmill right next to the trail. A chap was repointing its brickwork from an alarmingly minimal ladder and in a relaxed manner suggesting the absence of any particular time constraint – both factors that would have instantly disqualified him from any ‘reality’ TV building restoration programme.
His name was Orrin and, pleased with our interest, he kindly invited us to have a look inside the mill which he had recently bought at auction for what seemed an astonishingly reasonable price. Mind you, it needed a bit of work…
After one look at the even more minimal ladders involved in any interior exploration, my companion politely declined, so I found myself wobbling alone up and over increasingly ramshackle rungs and rafters into increasing darkness, wishing I had my headtorch, not to mention a top rope.
On my eventual, slightly shakey, return to ground level, I found I could have just switched the lights on as the mill has electricity, a clinching factor, said Orrin, in his purchase decision as it would make restoration infinitely easier. No mains water, though, and bringing officially-approved drinking water to a building about ten metres from an enormous river was going to be an expensive business.
Another reason for buying the mill, Orrin explained, was that the regulatory climate has eased, to the point that repurposing these amazing buildings is now being more or less officially encouraged. It certainly seemed to us that since we were last in Broadland more of them have been adopted and rescued, not before time. Orrin was at pains to stress that, so far, all his encounters with officialdom had been very positive despite his mill being, unsurprisingly, a listed building.
Having slept in the tower itself for a while, Orrin had now even been allowed to import a large caravan onto site for himself and his family although he firmly intends that they will all eventually live in his mill, like the Dutch mice in the children’s song. A café is envisioned, even glamping. ‘Informal camping for backpackers??’ I asked, hopefully. He didn’t seem to have thought of that one, despite his mill being directly on a National Trail. It’s hard to imagine a mill being owned by a nicer, friendlier man and we wished him all luck with his ambitious project.
At Acle Bridge the Bure is crossed by the A1064, a major artery by Broadland standards between Norwich and the California caravans (as opposed to the better-known California Republic). There’s a useful loo here and a friendly little cafe where, looking ahead to the bleak expanse of Halvergate Marshes, we wisely had a snack.
This comprised a pleasant pasty and some egregious coffee from one of those dreadful instant cappuccino machines that looks fancy but in fact simply squirts lukewarm water through a plastic sachet of unholy industrial chemistry. The kindly proprietor had charitably tried to redeem this ‘coffee’ by accompanying it with crystal sugar swizzle sticks, but for trekkers on a mission these simply added further irritation as they took half an hour to dissolve in the toxic gloop they were supposed to enhance. Pasty scraps were scrounged by the intimidating but soft as old boots Acle crumbhound, whose begging technique involved standing stock still as if carved from stone and crossing her eyes bizarrely.
Directly on the trail just south of Acle Bridge is a large pub incorporating what can only be described as a family catering complex – imagine what this must be like on August Bank Holiday!
Past Acle Dyke the trail crosses the busy and not unscary A47, in the form of the Acle Straight, some eight miles of dead flat single carriageway which is dead straight except for just one bend, and upon which by driving dead fast endless people kill themselves dead dead. Consequently we hear nothing in Norfolk but petulant demands for this road through a unique, fragile and irreplaceable landscape to be dualled, even though it would seem much cheaper and easier to me to rather than adapt the road to the driving, adapt the driving to the road.
Now an extraordinary thing happens to Weavers Wayfarers. The trail pushes, for a few brief metres, through an authentic Norfolk reedbed, only kept open I assume by regular cutting for which walkers are most grateful. Having spent many mornings ringing birds in reedbeds, to me the vigorous, swishing confinement of their green mazes seems much more quintessentially the Norfolk marsh experience than the wide open spaces and vast skies typically encountered.
For those of a more conventional Broadland bent, the said spaces and skies now quickly follow, after a line of attractive willows leads the trail along a brimming dyke to a spot where on old OS maps a ‘camping barn’ is denoted – sadly there’s now no sign of any such facility on the ground (July 2017).
Tunstall is famous for its vast and mostly ruined church, of which just the choir is still weathertight and in use, but I was just as impressed by the phone box which has endearingly been converted into a miniature public library.
A mile or so east off the trail as the crow flies is a cool-sounding campsite at Moulton St Mary but how you’d ever get to it from the Weavers Way without the advantage of wings is a mystery. Along the road from Halvergate, I’m guessing, which would be at least a three mile round trip.
From Halvergate the trail wanders vaguely out past assorted rustic shacks and shambles’s across four miles or so of fairly wild and woolly marshes. In fact, in a winter storm this would be the only section of the entire Weavers Way that could be glorified as mildly adventurous. Skies are definitely a thing on Halvergate Marshes. And cows. And wind.
After crossing another railway line, at which it is allegedly possible to flag down a train to Norwich or Yarmouth, the trail finally arrives at the broad and busy River Yare. All we do now is follow this river into Great Yarmouth, starting at the Berney Arms Mill which is particularly impressive in size and isolation.
Back in the day, the Berney Arms pub was a legendary watering hole for the waterborne (and for walkers) but in July 2017 it was closed and seemingly derelict. A somewhat inactive-looking burger place was the only extant facility here but this too was closed when we passed by, so I wouldn’t rely on it.
Shortly afterwards the Yare meets the Waveney and their conjoined flow expands dramatically into the mobile, mutable and mysterious Breydon Water, which is at least four miles long by the way so you’ve still a fair hike remaining. A long hike as well, in total, from Thurne – our feet were tired, the wind was strong and the trail quite overgrown in places. At Berney Arms the tide was flooding in, by the time we got to Yarmouth it was ebbing again.
About a quarter of the way along Breydon Water is Lockgate Mill, again curiously derelict although not very long ago someone has capped it in what looks like aluminium foil. Recently too the fallen sails have been cremated in situ, you can still see the iron ties and ashes if you hop over the fence and nose around, not that you’d do such a dangerous and illegal thing of course. Ahem. Not least because if you do, the angry resident Barn Owl might poo on your head.
As the tied ebbed so did our energy and we were keen to reach the Vauxhall Holiday Park. By the time we rounded the north-east corner of Breydon Water we could see it, an enormous and lavishly signed holiday park tantalisingly on the far side of several railway lines, mostly derelict but one most definitely active, and a very busy-looking road.
There was absolutely no way of crossing these from the Weavers Way, so we had to soldier on, casting sad glances at the Holiday Park as it receded behind us. Eventually we came to some waste ground from which, on the other side of a bramble thicket, a steep embankment led up to the A12, gridlocked with what passes in Norfolk for rush hour traffic. We scrambled up. The climax of our peaceful, rural Weavers Way experience was buses, bollards, fumes and a timorous scamper across the A47 between lines of accelerating traffic. The swimming pool, for which we’d carried our cossies all the way from Cromer, had just closed. We pitched our incongruously tiny tent among the vast encampments of enormous extended families, most of whom seemed to be from Romford. It was a strange but very friendly place, the staff were all absolutely lovely.
Our plan to swim healthily foiled, we instead ate an enormous amount of competent, good value family grub in the bar, which was full of rather loud gentlemen, most of whom appeared to be from Romford. Camping here seems dear until your realise it includes not only swimming (check pool hours!) but evening entertainment in both ‘family’ and ‘adult’ variants. Not being brave enough for the latter, we checked out the under-11s talent contest. There were two entrants, two sisters from Romford. One played the clarinet, the other recited jokes. With Solomonic wisdom beyond her tender years, the vivacious MC awarded them both joint first prize.
The climax of the children’s programme was ‘Louie’s March’, Louie the Lion being the mascot of the Vauxhall Holiday Park. It was genuinely heartwarming to see the unalloyed joy brought to some very small children by a once in a short lifetime opportunity to march around a dimly-lit bar, jigging their little arms to generic pop, behind what was probably a Romanian teenager in a dodgy lion suit. To see such big smiles on such tiny faces fair brought a tear to my eye, unless it was just the trail dust and the fizzy beer. I hope that, some day, some of them will graduate to a slightly longer, if only marginally more adventurous, march along the Weavers Way.