Monday, 21 April 2014

A river of surprises

Early morning on the Wissey at Hilgay
 After a quick shop for some 'home made meat pies' at the excellent little village butcher in Hilgay we headed off up river on another bright sunny day. The river continued its meandering course through scenery that though largely flat was never dull with overhanging trees, marshy banks and plenty of birdlife, including kingfishers and a sandpiper.
Lopped branches from felling provide clever bank protection
It was a completely rural landscape unbroken even by a walker, let alone a tractor or a farm house. Then in the hazy the distance the towers of the Wissington sugar beet factory began to loom over the trees. Built back in 1925 in the heart of the beet fields, there was not even a road to it and everything came by an extension of the local railway line or by boat. The road link was finally built by Italian prisoners of war in WW2.
Today it's a huge sprawling site, bewildering in its complexity – there's even a vast array of greenhouses on the opposite bank. It's quite a place so it will get its own blog post later.
As the river exits Wissington  under the latest bridge it undergoes the most extraordinary transformation and opens into wide lake that makes Tixall Wide at Great Haywood seem like Tixall Narrow (though this one is only navigable near the upstream left bank.)
Wissington sugar beet factory looms into sight
Even after leaving the lake the river remains far wider than before until, after a half mile or so, it suddenly has second thoughts and reverts back to its narrow wandering path. Still there's nothing to impinge on the empty landscape, bar the occasional ruins of some local pumping house.
Crossing the lake section after Wissington
The pretty but un-navigable Methwold Lode eventually heads off to the right and through the trees one can see it merging into the marshy Breckland with its rough grass and low gorse.
The Wissey then reaches an aqueduct that carries it over the cut-off channel from Denver (built to supply water to the Essex reservoirs). Beyond this a control sluice across the river can be closed in times of flood to divert water from upstream via a separate channel into the cut-off and eventually back out to sea via Denver and the tidal Ouse.
Breckland marshes across the bank from the river
Stoke Ferry, a mile upstream from here was apparently a prosperous inland port and trading centre in the 18th and 19th centuries. The village is a little way back from the river and modern houses with moorings for their plastic cruisers are built where there used to be mooring staithes.
We're nearly at the end of the navigable river; another half mile took us under the main A134 Kings Lynn/Thetford road to GOBA moorings alongside a quiet (adults only!) caravan site.  But first we went past them to wind a few hundred yards on at the junction with a drainage channel.
Boy did I make a mess of that! My excuse was that the wind was blowing fiercely at us, pushing us sideways at every manoeuvre. "Use the wind when turning" they say "that's why it's called 'winding'" Yes, well, like how? Poling and revving got us nowhere. Then a nearby moorer popped his head out and when he'd finished chuckling gave us the top tip of getting into the deep water on the left hand bank and poling the bow round from there. From that point on it was easy.
Handsome house in Stoke Ferry but what's that behind it?
With supplies running short we walked back to Stoke Ferry where the guide promised a 'licensed general stores'. Hmmm. Put it this way: we bought a bottle of milk.  Stoke Ferry itself is another of these sleepy, lost in time villages. The old Victorian and Georgian houses are surprisingly substantial and handsome, speaking for the place's stature in the past. There's a rather fragile looking village church which apparently is no longer in use but owned by musical performer and lyricist, Kit Hesketh-Harvey.
However overshadowing the village, literally as well as figuratively is the monstrous bulk of a sprawling and ugly factory. It sits right behind a line of the finest houses in the village which, presumably as a result seem to be either empty or used as offices.
But what company owns it and what do they do? Perhaps embarrassed by their sheer ugliness and hideous incongruity they hide in anonymity. Nowhere could we find a name or a business type.
More fine houses but the lurking chimney tells a different story
It turns out the place is an agricultural feed mill, once owned by a local family and called Favor Parker, then sold to the Grampian Foods congomerate who in turn sold it on a few years back to a Dutch firm Vion. It exists where it does because it set down roots in the days before planning controls prevented such things and large family firms could exert a sort of feudal control over local councils. Since then it's just grown. Sadly, the damage is done and even if the place died tomorrow what would happen? Probably a housing estate.
Tomorrow we head back towards the Ouse and contemplate another of its tributaries.
And finally...Brian enjoys an ice cream on this hot afternoon

1 comment:

  1. An idyllic to remember. Brian gets his just reward for all his hard work looking after the crew