First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The River Thurne went chuckling round the boats moored at Potter Heigham. We watched a beautifully restored Norfolk wherry, with mast folded flat, preparing to pass under the arch of the 14th-century bridge, now that the ebbing tide had left just enough squeeze room there.
The banks of the Thurne were lined with little dwellings, some smart, others weather-beaten old shacks. The sun shone on the white cap and tall brick tower of High’s Mill, one of dozens of windpumps built in times past along these waterways to drain the sodden fen fields for agriculture.
Reed buntings creaked and reed warblers chattered in the reedbeds. The feathered heads of the reeds tossed and whispered together in the wind. A big new area of reedbed is being planted and nurtured for wildlife here, a good example of farming and conservation in Fenland making easier bedfellows than in the past.
Two large birds sprang up beyond the water, black and white, slowly flapping their big wings – cranes, aliens until recently, now domiciled and breeding here.
The path passed through a gate, a portal into a different world, the sedgy fields left behind for damp oak woodland and the vast reedbeds of Hickling Broad. Remarkable noises came from the reeds, a mixture of chicken clucks and porker squeals – a water rail, skulking like a naughty child where it could be heard and not seen.
Hickling Broad, like the other Norfolk Broads, is a flooded medieval peat digging. The big inland fleet of water lay masked by reeds. Hugh clouds moved with stately gait across the windy blue sky, casting an elephantine calm over the landscape.
Potter Heigham’s church of St Nicholas is a flint-built chest of treasures – a magnificent hammer-beam roof, a rare medieval font of brick, a rood screen painted with saints, and a 14th-century wall painting showing the good deeds a charitable lady ought to perform – giving a loaf to a starving old man, handing coins to a fettered prisoner, spooning soup into the mouth of a sick man.
Our way back lay along farm tracks where larks went up singing over the pastures, a stolid bull eyed us across his ditch, and a great dark marsh harrier, a female with a golden head, went flapping along the hedges while every crow in Potter Heigham hopped and skipped and cursed her to hell.
Start: Latham’s car park, Potter Heigham Bridge, Great Yarmouth NR29 5JE (OS ref TG 419185) – £8.50 all day.
Getting there: Bus 6 (Great Yarmouth – North Walsham)
Road: Potter Heigham Bridge is signed off A149 between Stalham and Caistor-on-Sea.
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL40); Walk towards old Potter Heigham bridge; just before, left along bank of River Thurne, then Candle Dyke, passing alongside Ground Plantation and Wagonhill Plantation. After 3½ miles, pass bird hide opposite Rush Hill lagoon (423209); in another 350m, left (421206, fingerpost) through Coll’s Plantation, then on south to T-junction of hedges (421201). Right (‘Weavers’ Way Circular Walk’, green arrow) to road; left to St Nicholas Church (419199). Retrace steps to edge of Coll’s Plantation (421204); right for 1 mile along south edge of wood, and past Glebe Farm (428197) to T-junction opposite High’s Drainage Mill (429193). Right (yellow arrow) along Middle Wall; cross A149 (419187) and on; in 200m, left to car park.
Lunch: BridgeStones* café, Potter Heigham Bridge (01692-671923, www.Wayfordbridge.co.uk)
Accommodation: Wayford Bridge Inn, Stalham, Norfolk NR12 9LL (01692-582414, norfolkbroadsinns.co.uk)
Hickling Broad NNR: 01692-598276, norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk