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Should you happen to be navigating the River Waveney during the long glorious days of summer ahead, then take time to moor at Cove Staithe, midway between WRC and Beccles on the south bank of the river. From here you are a very pleasant thirty minute walk from two of Broadland's finest public houses which you might not have heard of, let alone visited. A green road, known as Cove Dam leads from the staithe across the marshes to Marsh lane and in to North Cove. Take care crossing the railway line, a hundred yards or so after which the lane bears left ignoring the farm track to alder carr to the right. At the end of the lane turn right still Marsh Lane and follow this road past Covehall Farm until you reach the entrance to North Cove Hall on your right next to which there is a footpath which leads on to a closed section of the Old Lowestoft Road where you will find the Three Horseshoes. A delightful pub which caters to all tastes and a real example to anyone modernising a pub on how to do it properly. The interior is very smart without being "sterilised" as other pubs in the area have been. Always several real ales available on hand pump, good range of bottled beers and ciders and a decent wine list. Food is excellent with Thai cuisine on selected nights, but you can still get a fishfinger sandwich or cheesy chips if you prefer and prices are very reasonable. Occasionally have live music especially on Sunday Afternoons and if you are lucky enough to be in the vicinity on August 18th then the wonderful Tosh Ewins will be along to entertain you, between 4 and 7. Leaving the Horseshoes retrace your steps along the footpath to Marsh Lane which you cross and proceed along The Street opposite which will take you into Barnby. As the road turns right to join the bypass take a left turn into Swan Lane, past the garden centre and the farm and you will find the Swan on your left hand side as you come to The Green. This is more of a diner's establishment with occasional Thai Nights (must be a poplar cuisine in these parts) but the highlight here is afternoon tea, available in three forms. Cream, Savoury or High Tea but must be booked 24 hours ahead, and the excellent seafood restaurant. There is a full menu for those who prefer something a little less fishy and whilst prices are higher than the Horseshoes they are still good value. From the Swan, turn left along the Green and onto Sidings Lane which becomes Wadehall Lane, past Fairfield Farm (two lovely holiday cottages here btw) then turn right down a track marked Public Footpath, Wadehall Old Dam. Again, take care crossing the railway line then a footpath takes you back across the marshes to Six Mile Corner on the river 400 yards or so down stream of the staithe. Turn left along the river bank back to your boat. Distances? From the river to the Three Horseshoes about a mile and a half along well laid green roads, lanes and footpath. From the Horshoes to the Swan about a mile and a quarter along footpath and village lanes. From the Swan to the staithe around a mile and a half along country lanes, farm track and river bank. The walking is generally flat and quite easy, just the section along the riverbank can be a bit squishy in place during wet weather. Allow thirty minutes for each section. http://www.thethreehorseshoesnorthcove.co.uk/index.html https://thebarnbyswan.co.uk/ ma1_pmw.pdf
Across the Great Divide I was only nine; everything looked so big and awesome; but no, this wasn’t actually the sea. That would come later. For now, this present challenge was big enough. Through the box girder rail bridge the thin line of the horizon was indistinct – maybe shrouded in a light mist – but it was there, somewhere out there.... On the left hand side there was an opening – an opening in that wide, expansive swing bridge; it was as if it was beckoning to me – to us – to go forth, the way the Saxon ships had gone sixteen hundred years before. Dad had the mast up, now; we cast off from the decaying triangular dolphin, caught the nor-westerly on a comfortable close reach and headed for the opening. In the cold, pre-dawn gloom alongside that rusting quay heading on the banks of the lower Waveney, there is that mixture of trepidation and excitement as the wet warps are coiled and you push off into the unknown. It sometimes has to be this way because of the tides: bridge height and air draft are critical; and there is always that slight apprehension as to whether or not, once past the yellow post, there will be enough headroom.... But, long before that, on reaching the confluence where the Yare joins in, there is always a bit of confusion in the darkness because the posts are close together and the channel is narrow. It takes a few moments to sort things out and acclimatise; always best to take things slowly here, while the brain fully wakes up.... The wheelhouse on Broadland Dream was warming up nicely, Mary was at the helm while I stowed the fenders out in the cockpit - and then, out of the darkness astern sped the Broads Authority launch. They briefly dropped to our speed as they came level – and I could see that they were grinning at us; well, grinning at Mary, anyway. Then I got it! She was still wearing her flowery pyjamas! I waved across in friendly acknowledgement of their humour and they peeled off towards the lights of Great Yarmouth. Out here, it was still pretty dark – but the dawn was starting to lighten the sky ahead and to starboard. You could just make out the higher ground to the south – and the thin dark line of the castle.... ******* It was a message – a message for the supreme commander. Nobody knew his real name; they just referred to him as ‘the Count’: he was in charge – in sole command – of the Burgh Castle garrison. His full title was Count of the Saxon Shore – and therein was the reason why they were all there: ‘Saxon Shore’, the northernmost coastal frontier of the vast collection of the Romans’ conquered lands before Hadrian’s Wall took over as a land frontier to seal in the very top of the largest empire the world has ever known. The message from the sentry was urgent – you could see that from the way the long shadows of soldiers moved rapidly in the early dawn light. The count had to be raised from his slumbers; delay was not an option. On the battlements, soldiers squinted into the low sun.... In his spacious quarters within the castle walls, the Count roused himself, sat up and stared at the messenger as he uttered the feared and fateful words: “Saxon Longboats!” The huge round lookout bastion projected out from the castle walls, fifteen feet above the hilltop. Within minutes, the commander was up there staring anxiously to the northeast across the Great Estuary that separated Lothingland from the Isle of Flegg to the north - and his sister-fort at Caister. For over half of a century, these two fortifications had staved off every Saxon raiding party that threatened the valuable cluster of ports that traded within the Great Estuary: they had grown large and prosperous; rich pickings for these Germanic pirates! The Count strained to count the number of ships against the strengthening contra jour glare. To the west, the warning beacon on the high bluff at Reedham was already burning in the dawn light; and already the soldiers around him were talking in anxious tones – for this was clearly no ordinary raiding party; this one was massive.... ******* Sontay slowly approached the Haven Bridge, her engine rumbling at low revs. We were wondering if we’d left it a tad too late and would have to spend the rest of the day alongside the town quay. There wasn’t much current – but the plain fact was that the bridge clearance was now falling. We should’ve used the last of the ebb as we’d planned; too much after-breakfast chit-chat.... I couldn’t look – even if I’d actually wanted to – because I was inside the wheelhouse – but I did hear Mary gasp. “Three inches!” she shouted in at me. Probably a slight exaggeration – but it did seem close. I felt the adrenaline start to rise; heart beating faster. The river was high. The two Bure bridges were next – it would be a close call. I steered slightly away from the east bank to avoid a nasty mud bank just before the yellow post. It seemed strange to ‘cross’ Breydon Water from this direction – and I wondered, momentarily how many times we would be coming in this way in the future.... but then it was time to line up for the next two. It was going to be close; and the relentless tide kept coming.... Made it! Another gasp from Mary; phew! Close one. Four years previously, in our first Broads boat, the centre-cockpit Lady Emerald, we’d had our first pre-dawn departure from Burgh Staithe: it had been blowing a near gale outside – and the crossing was boisterous with the flattish hull slamming into the young flood with a following wind making for a choppy wind-over-tide situation. I could hardly believe the Bure gauge: six and a half feet – and still nearly five hours to go! In the time we’d take to get the wheelhouse down in the driving rain, it would probably have dropped to six. Besides, while we were dithering, we we’re being driven onto the eastern bank with its notorious mud flat. Time to beat a hasty retreat! I couldn’t help wondering, as we turned into the dawn wind and back through the spray under Breydon Road Bridge, what it must have been like when all this was a wide open estuary and ships could sail in from the North Sea, straight over the bar and far inland.... ******* The year was 367AD. The Burgh Garrison Commander stared out to sea – almost in disbelief. The once mighty Roman Empire, already weakened from within by political squabbling, was now facing mounting attacks from the barbarian hordes along its north-eastern flank. The Count’s orders from Rome were short and to the point: Hold the Line at All Costs. He closed his eyes, trying to figure out a way to carry out his orders – to keep his honour. Already, as the sun rose, he could feel beads of sweat under the rim of his helmet. Breathing hard, he tried to form a battle plan. Directly below him - and to the northwest - lay the ship harbour, an expanse of relatively shallow water that would one day become vast mud flats at the confluence of the Yare and Waveney Rivers. Right now, though, the harbour was full of merchant ships, coasters, barges.... a whole wealth of vulnerable transportation that needed protecting. Over to the east of the hilltop fortifications stood the timber-built ‘vicus’, the trade-support colony: a mix of local tribes and Roman civilians; equally vulnerable. ‘Soldiers, soldiers,’ the Count muttered to himself. If only he could have more soldiers! But it was a hopeless demand. Already the legions were spread too thinly – and he was lucky to have his Equites Stablesiani, a crack cavalry unit of five hundred highly trained horsemen seconded from the Rhine Valley, where they had cut their way through battle after battle with the Germanic hordes intent on crossing the Rhine and ultimately marching on Rome itself! As for his infantry support, that comprised a tough, loyal band of fierce tribesmen from the Slav eastern region of the Empire. By now, the garrison was on full battle alert. The castle had been well sited on an outcrop of glacial till surrounded by sand, unlike the typical marshy, peaty fringe bordering other waterways in the vicinity. The barracks, kitchens, infirmary and his private quarters occupied much of the six acre site on the firm, high ground; the castle walls were eight feet thick – with bastions broad enough to take the giant ballistae catapults so feared by the Saxon invaders. ‘Some comfort’, he thought; that would hold them off initially.... The Count was aware of the presence of his forces assembled ready for battle on the parade ground behind him: the scrunch of footwear on gravel, the snort of horses readied for battle. He turned to face them all with his orders for the defence of the castle - but there was a slight tremor in his voice as he spoke.... Later, when the soldiers had all dispersed to their appointed places, he took a trusted cavalry man aside and issued him with orders to ride for the Reedham outpost with a sealed message. ******* It was late October; daylight was in ever decreasing supply and shooting the Bure bridges at Great Yarmouth before nightfall was becoming more of a compromise. Lady Emerald sped on towards Stracey Arms as the twilight closed in on lonely marshes where isolated dalek-type forms stood derelict across the bleak landscape - as if the casualties of some forgotten war. It was difficult to realise that we were travelling along an ancient sea bed; above us once sailed the Saxon herring fleet bound for the fishing port of Acle. Even today, houses built on the eastern side of the present-day village - near the old North Sea shore line – can find sand in their front gardens and flints in their back! A fresh sou’westerly had come up as we closed the dark quay at Stacey. We secured the bow smartly before the wind could take hold but the stern post was loose in its hole – probably the result of more of that old shoreline sand again - so we warped up a good boat’s length to the next set of posts. We were on the point of leaving the next morning when a large cruiser charged in under the full force of the flood - alarmingly close to our stern - and took a bow warp ashore. I was about to warn them about the dodgy post but was severely distracted by the commotion aboard. As their tide-born stern swung round ominously towards us, a young woman of generous proportions grabbed the bow warp and walked it back down the quay heading in an effort to turn the boat into the stream. I think she must have lost it because she was yelling to a rather diminutive helmsman to drive ‘full ahead and to the left’ as she hauled. This had the effect of accelerating the pivoting motion of the tide. I watched helplessly as their propeller plumed the water at an ever closing angle and, predictably, they clobbered us squarely on our port quarter! Ok, it was an accident – but no apology or words of contrition came from the hire cruiser; just a smug grin from the helmsman and a nonchalant shrug of fleshy shoulders from the woman; but that wasn’t quite the end of the story, for as we pulled away up the Bure we glanced back, alerted by cries of alarm and surprise from our brief mooring neighbours. The reason for this was clear: the reattached bow warp was now on the very same mooring post that had caused us concern the previous night - while the ever-increasing flood tide was in the process of pulling it clean away from the bank.... ******* The horseman pulled up at the ferry point, his lathered mount’s breath condensing in silvery clouds against the remains of the evening light. He peered across to the lookout post, waving the sealed document that he had carried all the way round from Lothingland; but the soldiers of Reedham had little concern for the messenger, or his message. They were staring with horror at the large red glow on the high ground the other side of the estuary. ******* As we surged up the channel between the avenue of posts, Dad was singing sea shanties – or, more accurately – parts from them! The sails stretched, the spars creaked – and David and I were at once amused and excited at the sing-song mix of skipper and rigging. It was, to us, our first ‘sea voyage’; well, at least the water had salt in it! As soon as we had moored, the four of us went on a family outing to the ruins. It was exciting, visiting a seriously old castle, especially in the balmy late-afternoon light of a glorious summer’s day. The next month, back at primary school - at the beginning of the autumn term – a classmate proudly showed me an ancient coin that he had found while searching the dusty soil beneath the castle walls. This was at a time before official excavations were begun in the late fifties. I was impressed. That little coin made me realise just how close in time are the events that shaped our history when compared with the age of the ground on which they happened! ******* The struggle for power at the castle continued long after the Romans had gone. The Saxons had their reign of seven hundred years before the Great Invasion from the South changed the course of history yet again. In the interim, there are tales of bloody fights with occupying Danish warlords and of the slain displayed on posts along the castle ramparts – and of a white flag of truce being used to strangle its bearer before the body was thrown savagely from the top of the castle walls. These stories have been handed down from generation to generation down the ages. In Victorian times, quarrying for the nearby brickworks ate into the foundations of the crumbling west wall and it fell away completely; the remains of the wharf that served the brickworks can still be seen along the river bank. Today, unwary cruisers can end up using their props as shovels on the shallows that once marked the Roman Harbour entrance. Many travel on by, often oblivious to the heritage that overlooks them: past the crumbling walls with their blood-soaked stones washed clean by the rains of history. Perhaps, one day, with the ever changing patterns of climate and the inexorable rise in sea levels, the castle remains might once again look out over an inland sea; and if you peer closely past the red and green channel posts on a bright summer’s day, you might just catch the glint of a warrior’s helmet on the battlements, sparkling there in the sunlight....