Wednesday, 1 July 2020

On A Wander From Weeting

Smack dab in the middle of East Anglia is a strange, ancient landscape known as Breckland. We're going on a five-mile stroll through this area and I'll tell you a bit about it as we go. We'll start off beside an unmade farm road in the village of Weeting, just on the Norfolk side of that county's border with Suffolk.


And on the bank bordering the dusty track is a fine show of wildflowers. Although this is not the most traditionally scenic landscape in Britain it is not without its charms and, as is true almost everywhere, much of its character is ultimately down to the underlying geology and how we've exploited it over the centuries.


Raise your eyes from the flowery display and you'll see one of East Anglia's hundreds of interesting village churches. This one was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century but with a traditional round tower. Round towers are a feature of churches around here and probably were built this way because there's a lack of local stone suitable for constructing the corners of such a high building. Of course there are all kinds of folk explanations, including making no corners in which the devil might hide and, even more preposterously, that they were in fact the linings of old wells before the surrounding soil blew away!


This is the stone that we do have to build with - flint. It is of course the material that was favoured for making axes and tools back in the stone age, but it has its limitations as a building stone. You can see that some of the stones have been "knapped", or split, showing the dark, shiny interior. I think flint walls are full of interest, texture and colour - very beautiful in their own way.


Perching innocently on an old gravestone is a just-fledged Robin, as yet unaware of the dangers in the world.


Right next to the church are these old ruins which are known as "Weeting Castle", though what we actually have here are the remains of a twelfth century manor house, built to impress but never fortified. It even had a moat, but again this was just for show. You can see why it was long thought to be a castle though. We'd better start walking if we intend to get anywhere today!


Just behind the farm are some buildings of a very different kind: these are "arks" used for outdoor pig-keeping. I rather liked the repeating shapes and mix of colours and textures - beauty in unexpected places!


The ground here, being sandy and free-draining, is ideal for free-range pigs and there are many herds throughout Breckland. Pigs can turn any other type of ground into an endless mudhole which, though they enjoy it, is ultimately bad for their health and makes farming impossible. They also naturally enhance the fertility of this poor soil! If you peer into the distance of this and the next shot you'll see that this is a regular Pig City, but they all look incredibly healthy animals.


The soil here was wrecked back in the Neolithic Age as early farmers found these soils easy to work and totally exhausted them. That's the meaning of the term "Breckland" - broken or impoverished land.


We carried on past more farms and smallholdings, making a living in every way they can.


I rather like traversing this kind of countryside, probably because the village where I first saw the light of day was like this; every household seemed to have a few pigs, chickens, geese, rabbits, goats - you name it!


Maybe my brother Les was thinking something similar; he certainly looks lost in thought as he walks along the sandy track. On his right is what looks like a field of corn, an unusual crop here as the growing season is only just long enough for it to ripen and only then if it's a warm, dry summer. I suspect that if it fails to ripen it will be fed to pigs anyway, as pigs are perhaps the only animal that is truly omnivorous - when I worked on a farm they certainly once ate the boss's jacket, including his pipe and tobacco tin!


On the other side of the track is a show of the wildflower Viper's Bugloss, which is something of a speciality of the Breckland.


We made an early stop for a cup of hot chocolate just inside the wood, where there was a handy fallen tree trunk for a seat. A man in a pick-up truck drew up beside us and got out to see what we were doing. When he saw that we were armed only with binoculars and cameras rather than rifles we had a friendly chat during which he told us that he'd just spotted some ash trees that were being affected by ash die-back disease and also that Goshawks had been seen nesting in the wood recently. Surprisingly perhaps this land which has been exploited and abused for a few millennia and recently swamped with commercial forestry is home to several species which are rare elsewhere - Woodlarks, Stone Curlews, Nightjars and indeed the mighty Goshawk.

And there we'll leave us chatting away and sipping our hot chocolate. I'll be back with the rest of the walk in the next post.


Take care.




22 comments:

  1. Thank you.
    I like the no corner for the devil to hide in explanation for the round tower best. And yes, flint as a building stone does have beauty and charm.
    How wonderful that birds have not only adapted but thrived in used and abused land....

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  2. It looks to be a very peaceful and bucolic area, like stepping back in time.

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  3. It’s interesting to see the variety of farming. Cornfields are something we see a lot here though.

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  4. A very entertaining narrative, John. You have a way of bringing your walks to life in a very pleasing way. Free range pigs sounds like a progressive step in animal husbandry. Perhaps the pork chops taste better!

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    1. Yes, I'm sure the meat from outdoor pigs is better - the butchers certainly sell it at a higher price.

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  5. John - perfect walk. Never seen Vipers Bugloss since I came to live up here - beautiful. Interesting church tower - never seen one like that. Those poppies are a delight. The fledgling robin is beautiful and the pig arks make such an interesting pattern. I think we are on the same wavelength (not sure what it is though!)

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  6. Nice to see the pigs out and about. I'm sure getting sunshine helps to keep them healthy.The poppies and bugloss are lovely. So much diversity of land and buildings on your island.

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  7. What a beautiful place for a wander. So much to see. Love the first and last photos especially.

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  8. Enjoying the very interesting walk, beautiful wildflowers, piggy diet (amazing!) stories, and the possible reason for the round tower which immediately caught my eye as being quite unexpected.
    We are surrounded by cornfields in this area - good fresh ears now plentiful everywhere - groceries and roadside farm stands - if one is brave enough to leave home!

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  9. A lovely walk there. The ruins of the "castle" are so interesting. I'd love to look around there.

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  10. I'm enjoying this walk so very much. I love all the beautiful wildflowers and the animals. I also love the old buildings. That flintstone is really interesting. Now I can't wait for the rest of the walk. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

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  11. Fascinating as always. I seem to recall that flint walls have some very sharp edges. They must be quite tricky to build.

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  12. What an interesting area for a walk. I loved the knapped flint used in walls and buildings that I saw in the Cromer area when visiting my friend there a several times.

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  13. Looks like you had good scenery, good company and then hot chocolate on this walk, John. At first, I wondered about the beverage choice since this is summer but then chocolate is good anytime of year!

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  14. I enjoyed this walk...as well as the bit of history you shared.

    We always raised 4 pigs every year...in the summer, one of my jobs was to cut big armloads of what we called horse weed, but is actually giant ragweed. About once a week. Also, believe it or not, they like coal. There was a railroad that hauled coal that ran by our house/ through our land. And coal would fall off the railroad cars. at least once or twice before they were butchered in the late fall, we would pick up a gallon or so of the small pieces of coal and they ate it like it was candy. I have often wondered what was in it that they liked...

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    1. I'd always heard that pigs were fond of coal but in thirty years of being around farming pigs and coal were never in close enough proximity to confirm the story. Now I know that, unlikely as it sounds, it's true.

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  15. Another wonderful walk. Love the baby robin.

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  16. The landsacpe is stunning, John. Beautiful photos and narrative. Thanks for taking us along.

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  17. Hi John - wonderful to have the history of Breckland - I hadn't heard about it. Those Viper Bluglosses are magnificent ... just gorgeous ... interesting to see all the small holdings - good for them. Take care - Hilary

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  18. A lovely walk. I like the round towered flint walled church and the colourful pig arks also the bright blue of the Viper's Bugloss:)

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  19. It’s hard to get outdoors to explore (COVID, tourists, mosquitoes and gnats, heat and humidity ...) so your lush green walks through the countryside are wonderful substitutes. You have such an eye for capturing the simple beauty of an area or town. All those pigs together though — I’m surprised you didn’t mention the “aroma”!

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