William Dutt was responsible for bringing the outstanding beauties of East Anglia to the public through his travel books on Norfolk and Suffolk, which were first published at the beginning of the 20th century. The following extract is taken from his account of a voyage he made in the sailing boat 'Gypsy to Horsey Mere and the countryside between Winterton and Palling in his 'Guide to the Norfolk Broads'.


Horsey Mere
As the voyager approaches the Horsey end of the dyke, he becomes aware of the presence of a rare feature in Broad-land scenery. Before him, in the distance, he sees a long, ragged ridge of maram-hills, the sandy sides of which, when lit up by the sun, stand out in striking contrast to the green of the marshlands in the foreground and the blue of the sky beyond. When he reaches the Mere, he finds these sand-hills clearly outlined on the horizon, but little else, except perhaps the salt savour of a sea wind, to indicate that he is within a mile and a half of the sea.

The Mere, though smaller than Hickling and Barton, is wider than Wroxham, whose beauty, compared with that of this lovely lagoon, seems somewhat commonplace. Like Heigham Sounds, it continually reveals fresh loveliness and weaves new spells of enchantment. It is an almost circular Broad, fringed with reeds, beyond which, in one direction, is a narrow belt of woodland. Innumerable coots nest among the reeds, and their cries are often the only sounds which break the silence of the placid waters ; for yachtsmen, daunted by the difficulties of the Old Meadow Dyke, seldom visit the Mere, and the only rowing boats seen on it are those belonging to its owners.

With the exception of a private fishing-house on a little wooden promontory almost opposite the mouth of the Old Meadow Dyke, hardly a human habitation is visible from the Mere; and as a rule the cruiser who visits it finds no one afloat on its waters. This was the case when, in the twilight of a summer evening, I sailed on to Horsey. The little Gipsy, gliding before a dying breeze, crept slowly through the water, which, although the sun had set and the sunset's glories faded, still had the sheen of a silver shield. A pale mist almost hid the bordering reeds and magnified the coots on the open water so that they looked like the large gulls seen at night on the Breydon flats. Above the mist, in the direction of Hickling, a tall windmill loomed like a phantom guardian of the Mere. The coots were silent ; not a whisper was heard among the reeds, which the failing breeze scarcely stirred ; not a sound came from the hidden village behind the trees, not a murmur from the sea. The Mere slumbered like a lake in Dreamland, over which the night was drawing a dewy coverlet, white and smooth except where a little islet of sedge and sallow ruffled its filmy folds, and the Gipsy's white sail, slackly waving from the mast, swept aside the ethereal gauze. There was something suspensive in the stillness and silence: earth, sky, and water seemed to be breathlessly watching and waiting. Such absolute quietude was almost weird. One could fancy the world so waiting, hushed and awed, for the final cataclysm.

But it was only the calm before the storm. Next morning, when, with little more than the peak of my punt's sail showing above her decks, I ventured out on to the Mere, a wild wind was whipping the surface of the water into white-crested wavelets, and robbing some of the alders and sallows of their as yet green leaves. The sun was shining brightly, except now and again when, for a few moments, a flying cloud darkened it and cast a shadow on the distant sandhills. Not a coot was to be seen where the evening before there were a hundred ; but over the flashing water some seagulls were wheeling, their white wings gleaming in the sunlight. On the marshes the tall grasses tossed and gleamed amid a foam of meadow-sweet, the sheen of their slanting stems suggesting the spears and lances of a hidden army of fays. From every side came the varied notes of the wind's song—from the grasslands a sibilant " sishing," from the reed-beds a shriller symphony, from the sallows a whistling of lashing wands, and from beyond the sandhills and the deep-breathing woodlands the incessant roaring of the surf on the shore.

‘A Marish Underworld’
Landing near the entrance to the Old Meadow Dyke, I strolled along a marsh wall which led to the nearest windmill. At times, when wind-gusts swept down upon me, I could hardly make headway ; at every stile and marsh gate I was glad to rest a while and regain breath. Nowhere along the footpath was there shelter from the furious blasts ; and at length I abandoned the path and trespassed on a swampy marsh which lay a few feet below the wall. There, as there was no chance of further cruising until the storm moderated, I wandered amid waving tufts of white cotton-grass, and sought for sundews on the brilliant-hued patches of bog-moss. I could not find them ; but there were beautiful little pink-belled bog pimpernels trailing over the moss, adder's tongues sending up their slender spikes, thistles nodding their purple heads, and moneyworts creeping amid the grasses and sedges. Fragile eyebrights hid amid the long grass, where, too, the tiny starwort lurked ; but the straggling purple-blue marsh pea was conspicuous in several places, and there were signs that the lovely grass of Parnassus would soon be in bloom. Among the fragrant spireas a swallow-tail butterfly fluttered, and innumerable five-spotted burnets were abroad in spite of the wind ; but most of the insect life of the swampy marsh lurked among the sedges, grasses, and bog-moss. There, in a dense jungle of stems, blades, leaves, and blossoms, thousands of minute beetles and ephemeral midges were living their little lives, never venturing out of the green twilight of their marish underworld. They had their enemies, animal and vegetable, but the wild wind left them as undisturbed as it did the inhabitants of the depths of the sea.

Reminiscences of a marshman
Returning to the wall, I met a marshman on his way to the mill. Talking of the weather reminded him of the November gale of 1897, when the sea broke through the sandhills and overflowed the Horsey marshes.

" If yow'd ha' sin th' sea come in," he said, " yow'd ha' thowt we wor all a-goin' to be drownded. It come in acrost th' Warren for nigh three hours—till th' tide went out ; an' if it hadn't ha' bin for th' deeks bein' pretty nigh empty at th' time, I don't know what would ha' happened. An' mind yow," he went on, " sich a thing never owght to ha' happened. There's th' Cornmish'ners ; it's their bisness to luke arter th' merrimills, an' if they'd a-done it as they should ha' done, th' sea 'ud never ha' got tru. Kapin' th' sea out ain't a one-man-an'-a-boy job, as some o' th' Commish'ners fare to think 'tis. Why, there was one Commish'ner he say to me, What's wantin' is plenty o' faggots.' Says I to him, Sir, there wor faggots enow all riddy to be used long afore th' storm come, but no one was towd to use 'em.' Ah,' he say, ' that was werry wrong ; it owght ter taach us a lesson.' Says I, ' Some folks take a daal o' taachin',' an' he larfed ; but, thinks I, it ain't no larfin matter. But he didn't own no land out this way ; his property wor all out Norwich way. Another man what come to hey a luke
round when th' mills wor a-clearin' th' deeks fared a sight more consarned about th' fish bein' killed by th' salts than he did about anything else.

Shockin',' he say, shockin' ! '

“That 'tis, sir,' says I ; 'some o' us mash folk stand a gude chance o' bein' drownded if suffin ain't done.' Ah,' he say, ' that 'ud be werry sad, but I wor a-thinkin' about th' fish ' ! "

Waxham Dyke
After leaving the marshman, I rowed back across the Mere, having a hard struggle to reach the entrance to the narrow reedy dyke leading to the staithe and the big turbine pump-mill. I then rambled down to the village, formerly, before the road to Somerton was made, one of the least accessible by land on the East Norfolk coast. The church, which is only a few minutes' walk from the Mere, contains a fifteenth-century screen and some old poppy-head benches.

Shortly after midday the gale moderated, but there was a strong breeze blowing when I again crossed the Mere and entered Waxham Dyke. This dyke, sometimes called the New Cut, is a very narrow channel leading from the north side of the Mere northward to Waxham and Palling. Until lately it was in a very neglected state, owing to the wherries having temporarily ceased trading with Palling ; but a revival of the carrying trade has led to its being bottom-fyed, and it is now possible for shallow draughted yachts to follow in the wake of the wherries. When I last sailed up the dyke, however, the bottom-fying had not been completed, and just beyond a rough driftway leading to the hamlet of Waxham a dam was placed across the dyke, barring further progress towards Palling. So, leaving the Gipsy in the hands of a millman whose mill and cottage stand on the bank near the bottom of the driftway, I set out for a stroll towards the coast.

Fragile dunes
At Waxham the sandhills rise to an impressive height, constituting a barrier through which it seems impossible for the sea to break. Standing on their summit, one sees stretching towards Horsey on the one hand and Palling on the other, a long serrated ridge of sand hillocks, rising in places to a height of fifty or sixty feet. But high as is this ridge, its breadth, compared with that of the denes or dunes between Yarmouth and Caister, is inconsiderable, and so insubstantial are its sandy slopes, that every exceptionally high tide scours away tons of sand. Inland lie wide levels of marshland, shimmering in sun haze or checkered with light and shade. They have been won from the sea—won by a process largely natural—but the sea seems bent on winning them back again. For the character of the coast has changed since the days when the lowlands were reclaimed. Then, the wearing away of cliff promontories to the northward resulted in the forming of natural sand barriers lower down the coast ; now, the promontories are gone, and the wave-scour is felt to the southward, where, whenever a strong wind from the westward swells the sea tides, the sandhills are weakened. Old landmarks are disappearing ; Eccles church tower, which a few years ago stood amid the sandhills about two miles from the Town Gap at Happisburgh, is gone, just as the village went which once clustered about its walls. Thousands of acres of land, too, are gone into the sea, which, unsated, continues its incessant siege. Sea Breach Commissioners make feeble attempts to withstand this siege, but the enemy is far too strong for them. Their successes in the past were chiefly due to the assistance of natural forces ; their failures in the future—for everything seems to point to failure—will be through lack of that assistance. Lyell, in his Principles of Geology, suggests that the protection afforded by the sandhills can be only temporary. " Hills of blown sand," he writes, " between Eccles and Winterton have barred up and excluded the tide for many hundred years from the mouths of several small estuaries, but there are records of nine breaches, from 20 to 12o yards wide, having been made through these, by which immense damage was done to the low grounds in the interior. A few miles south of Happisburgh, also, are hills of blown sand, which extend to Yarmouth. These dunes afford a temporary protection to the coast." And again, after dealing with the reclamation of the marshlands, he remarks, " Yet it must not be imagined the acquisition of new land fit for cultivation in Norfolk and Suffolk indicates any permanent growth of the eastern limits of our island to compensate for its reiterated losses. No delta can form on such a shore."

Waxham
Waxham is now only a small hamlet without a boat on its beach ; formerly it was a considerable village, with large tracts of cultivated land extending eastward beyond where are now the sandhills. These lands belonged to the Hall, an old home of the Wodehouse family, a member of which, Sir William Wodehouse, who lived here in the reign of James I., is said to have been the builder of the first wild-fowl decoy constructed in Norfolk. Near the ruined church, a short distance from the sandhills, from which it can best be seen, stands the Old Hall. It is now a farmhouse, much altered and modernised, but it is surrounded by its original turreted wall, in the midst of which is a square, pinnacled gateway. Traces of fine old doorways and windows, of good carved work, and of a paved pond, are still to be seen ; and the Wodehouses' old barn, said to be the biggest in Norfolk, quite dwarfs the dilapidated church which stands beside it. An ancient inhabitant of a neighbouring cottage climbed through a gap in the sandhills while I looked down towards the Hall. " Ah," he said, " that's a place as has seen some changes. They say as how there used to be miles an' miles o' land betwixt that owd Hall an' th' sea." Local tradition may exaggerate the acreage of the land the sea has encroached upon since the Hall was built, but no one can doubt that the old house has seen some changes.

Palling
A straight road on the landward side of the sandhills leads from Waxham to Palling, a little fishing village, which, if the visitor have patience and plenty of time to spare, can also be reached by the New Cut. The road journey, however, is one of a very few minutes, and as a pleasant stroll back to Waxham can be taken along the seashore, it is perhaps preferable. Palling, with its quaint old cottages, drawn-up yawls and beach boats, and roads and footpaths leading down to the beach, is a typical Norfolk coast village. Its beachmen are considered to be very expert boatmen, and the frequency with which they have rendered aid to vessels driven on to the dreaded Hasboro' Sands has gained them an enviable reputation. Among the men to be encountered at the village inns and on the beach are some who, when their characteristic reticence has been conquered, can tell stirring tales of wreck and rescue.

Beauty of sand dunes
A well-known writer of powerful but pessimistic romance has suggested that the time is close at hand when the orthodox beauty of smiling champaign country and the obvious loveliness of many famous landscapes will cease to appeal to thinking humanity, who will find the severe simplicity of heathland scenery and the " chastened sublimity of a moor" in greater harmony with their moods. When that time arrives, he adds, places like Iceland may " become what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe" are to us now, and Heidelberg and Baden will be " passed unheeded " as we hasten " from the Alps to the sand-dunes of Scheveningen." When the time which this writer considers imminent arrives, the attractiveness of such a line of sandhills as lies between Waxham and Palling should be fully appreciated. At first glance these sandhills seem barren and dreary ; and one might well imagine that the seasons' changes have no effect on them, that they are impervious to the influence of spring showers, summer sun, and winter frosts and storms. But the field botanist knows that on these apparently barren ridges the rose - tinted sea convolvulus blooms, and close beside it the prickly sea holly, the pink-flowered restharrow, and the yellow-horned poppy. And even the rambler who is not a botanist finds a certain fascination in the long line of broken ridges—a fascination like that of a bleak moor or barren mountain-top. The irregular outlines, like those of a mountain range in miniature, seen against the dawn-light or sunset's golden glory — or, perhaps, looming through a mist of rain or wind-blown spray—are singularly impressive. In the twilight, when the hillocks' sloping sides are in the shadow, but the sparsely grassed crests are clearly defined against an afterglow of daylight, the sandhills assume a primeval and even awesome aspect, yet one which attracts and appeals more than simple loveliness.

Somerton Broad
After cruising on Hickling Broad, Heigham Sounds, and Horsey Mere, the voyager may perhaps be disappointed when he sees Martham or Somerton Broad, the only other Broad connected with the Thurne. This was formerly a fairly large Broad, but its open water is now inconsiderable. To see it the yachtsman must ascend the Thurne about two miles above Kendal Dyke. Should his yacht draw much water, however, he will do well to moor it in the neighbourhood of Martham Ferry, which he passes a little way above the dyke ; for the narrow channel by which the broad is reached is often so weed-choked that only rowing boats can pass through it. The Broad is surrounded by dense reed jungles, in which the black-headed gulls have lately established a colony. Westward are marshlands stretching away to Heigham Sounds and the Old Meadow Dyke ; northward and eastward, too, are marshes ; but southward the land rises gradually towards Martham, whose church tower is the most conspicuous feature of the landscape.

West Somerton
Not far from the south-east corner of the Broad is the village of West Somerton. In this village the celebrated Norfolk giant, Robert Hales, was born. He belonged to a family of giants, each member of which was over six feet in height. He himself stood 7 feet 6 inches in his stockings, and weighed 452 lbs. In 1848 he was engaged to go to America in company with Tom Thumb at a salary of .8,:x) a year. His family is still represented in the village by some stalwart farmers and farm - hands. But the chief attraction West Somerton has for cruisers is the fine series of mural paintings discovered in the parish church during its restoration in 1867. The largest of these paintings, depicting the Day of Judgment, is thus described by Mr. T. H. Bryant in his valuable work on the Norfolk churches : " Our Lord is represented seated, with the globe beneath His feet, upon a rainbow ; . . . but of the figure of Christ nothing but the feet remain, one of which has the mark of the nail. The central upper portion of the painting had been destroyed at some time, when part of the nave was rebuilt. On either side of our Lord is a seraphim presenting to Him a kneeling figure. The one on His right hand, perhaps the Virgin, bares her bosom and holds her right hand to her breast, as if pleading her maternity ; lower down are two angels, habited in albs and wearing the usual type of angelic crowns, summoning the dead to judgment, the right - hand angel being (the) more distinct, his trumpet having a crossengrailed banner upon it. Below are eleven more or less nude figures, rising in various attitudes and with varied expressions of countenance. Amongst them are a king and queen, mitred and tonsured ecclesiastics, and two knights, whose sharp-pointed bascinets suggest circa 1350 as the date of the picture. S. Christopher occupies a space on the south side of the nave ; he is represented holding in his right hand a staff; and bearing the Infant Saviour upon his left arm. Opposite, upon the north wall, and enclosed within a border of decorated work, is a small painting of the Resurrection ; this has faded somewhat, but the figure of the Lord is represented habited in a green vesture, stepping out or the sepulchre, holding in His left hand the cross-banner of the Resurrection and His right in the attitude of benediction. One of the soldiers' bills is lying upon the ground fairly distinct. There are also representations of the Entry into Jerusalem and the Flagellation. Indications exist of the walls having once been covered with paintings." The church also contains a Perpendicular pulpit and a bell cast by Thomas Belyeter at the Lynn Foundry in the fourteenth century.

Winterton and Martham
Two other churches, Winterton and Martham, are well worthy of the attention of the visitor who devotes some time to exploring the surroundings of Martham Broad. Winterton is a coast village about a mile east of West Somerton ; with its church, a fine building in mixed styles, the yachtsman who has cruised on the Thurne Broads will for some time have had a distant acquaintance, for its tower, about 125 feet high, is a striking feature of the wide view obtained from any slight rise in the neighbourhood of Hickling, Heigham, and Horsey. On closer acquaintance, however, the south porch proves to be more interesting than the tower, though unfortunately its fine carvings are much mutilated. Daniel Defoe, who visited Winterton in 1722, remarks upon the dangerous character of the coast between Winterton Ness and Yarmouth, where, he says, the cottage-garden railings, the pig-stys, barns, stables, and sheds were all built of ships' timbers, " the wreck of ships and ruin of mariners' and merchants' fortunes." And he goes on to tell how, in the year 1692, during a terrible storm, two hundred ships and a thousand lives were lost off the coast in one night. A
lofty lighthouse, from the lantern of which a good view of the neighbouring Broads can be had, warns the seaman off this treacherous shore.

Martham can be visited from the Broad, but is more easily reached by the road from the ferry above Kendal Dyke. It is a large and pleasantly situated village, famous for containing the finest church in the Flegg Hundreds. This church is a splendid Perpendicular building, built at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The windows, some of which contain old stained glass, are particularly interesting ; the font is good Perpendicular ; and the south door is decorated with some fine medimval carvings. The chancel was rebuilt and the nave restored in 1855 at a cost of £4,8000; this was done as a memorial to the Rev. Jonathan Dawson of Rollesby Hall. There was at one time a chapel in the south aisle dedicated to St. Blithe or Blida, the wife of Benedict and mother of the farm-hand Saint Walstan, who was born at Bawburgh, near Norwich. St. Blithe was probably buried in a Saxon church which stood on the site of the present one, and when the latter was built her tomb was embodied in it. In 1522, Richard Fuller, a Norwich tanner, gave ten shillings towards the repairing " of the church at Martham, where St. Blithe lyeth." The church register contains some curious entries. In 1619, "John Smyth, servant to Nicholas Cootes, brocke his legge at the footbaull, one the 6 day of ffebruary being Sunday, and was buried the eleaventh day of the same month." The "footbaull" at which this unfortunate man was injured was probably a camping match played on a Sunday. Another entry states that a certain woman had two children at a birth " which, through the mistake of two or three good old women, were baptized Edward and Robert, when the aforesaid Edward was a daughter and Robert a son."


Dutt, W.A. (1923) A Guide to the Norfolk Broads Methuen & Co.