The Jumbles reservoir, part of the Jumbles Country Park, lies in the Bradshaw Valley in the Bromley Cross area on the northern outskirts of the town. Details of the reservoir itself are unfortunately very sketchy; at one time a large bleachworks, one of the oldest in the town, was situated in the valley though it ceased trading in 1937 after over 150 years in business. The buildings gradually became derelict and in 1964 the land was purchased by what was then the County Borough of Bolton, to enable the reservoir to be built to guarantee water for the Croal-Irwell river system and its associated industries.
The reservoir was constructed between 1967 and 1970 and was officially opened by the current Queen in March 1971; at the northern end was a large quarry and this and the remains of the bleachworks were flooded during the reservoir’s construction. The remains can now only be seen in times of drought; I can remember about fifteen or so years ago during a long period of hot weather when the reservoir dried up, walking with my partner and our dogs along the very bottom of it – it was strange to think that under normal circumstances we wouldn’t be able to do that. Bradshaw Brook, which flows into the reservoir through the quarry and is normally several feet under water, was little more than a trickle at the time and the remains of the works were clearly visible, sticking up out of the dried-up mud banks. In times of exceptional rain however the water level rises so much that in some places it almost overflows onto the path.
The country park itself is a very popular walking area and is home to many forms of wildlife. A path goes all the way round the reservoir, a distance of just over two miles, and there are car parks on both the east and west sides. My bench is one of a few set near the cafe and information centre close to the car park on the east side; the view looks across the water to the west and takes in a couple of private waterside houses and the clubhouse of the Jumbles Sailing Club with the countryside beyond. It makes a great place to chill out and watch the boats on the water or to rest for a while if walking all the way round from the far car park.
The tourist village of Portmeirion just off the A487 and on the Dwyryd estuary not far from Porthmadog in North Wales is an Italian-style place designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in two stages, first from 1925 to 1939 then again from 1954 to 1975 after post-war building restrictions had been lifted. Supposedly based on the Italian fishing village of Portofino Williams-Ellis always denied this although he did say that he had a great love of the Italian village – and having been to Portofino myself I can say that, for me at least, there’s very little resemblance between the two.
Portmeirion was built bit by bit, incorporating fragments of various stately homes and other demolished buildings. The plaster interior of the village’s Town Hall is a Jacobean masterpiece illustrating the twelve labours of Hercules – Williams-Ellis bought it for £13 at an auction then had it dismantled and rebuilt at Portmeirion. Most of the buildings are very colourful and quirky, and a first visit can produce a feeling of unreality and surrealism although the place is very real – the main building is the hotel down by the shore, with many of the cottages being used as hotel rooms or holiday lets. There are several shops and places to eat, and the village is also the ‘birthplace’ of Portmeirion pottery which, although based in Stoke-on-Trent, was founded in 1960 by Williams-Ellis’s daughter who commissioned several designs to sell in the village’s gift shop.
Although Portmeirion has had several famous visitors over the years, including Noel Coward, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Paul McCartney, it’s most famous for being the setting for The Prisoner, the late 1960s tv series starring Patrick McGoohan. Known only as ‘The Village’ Williams-Ellis requested that Portmeirion wasn’t identified as the filming location until the credits of the final episode of the series. The building used as the lead character’s home currently operates as a Prisoner-themed souvenir shop and many of the locations used in the series are virtually unchanged to this day.
The village and its surrounding grounds contain an important collection of rhododendrons and other exotic plants in a wild-garden setting which was begun by the land’s previous owner before Williams-Ellis, and has continued since Williams-Ellis’s death in 1978. Visit Portmeirion in late spring and summer and the whole place will be a riot of colour with flowers and plants everywhere; my bench is one of several placed at intervals around the very colourful central piazza (converted from a tennis court) and overlooking the pond and ornamental fountain. There’s a large free car park close to the village’s entrance; the entry fee isn’t exactly cheap – £12 at the time of writing – and dogs aren’t allowed, but there’s more to this quirky place than meets the eye so it’s well worth a visit on a sunny summer’s day
The Norfolk village of Reedham lies along the north bank of the River Yare. The main residential part of the village sits uphill from the river and has a small general store and a fish and chip shop on the road above the riverside and a railway station on the line between Norwich and Lowestoft. A short distance from the village is Pettitts Animal Adventure Park with its many animals, rides and shows, and next door to it is the Humpty Dumpty Brewery, a micro-brewery with its own shop which also sells locally produced jams, chutneys and honey.
Downhill from the main village is Reedham quay, a popular mooring place lined with pretty cottages, a tea room, shop and the Lord Nelson pub with an outside area overlooking the river. At the eastern end of the quay is Reedham Swing Bridge which takes the railway line over the river and another riverside pub, The Ship, which has an attractive garden overlooking the water. At the western end of the quay and about half a mile from the village is the Reedham Ferry, a chain ferry which can only carry a maximum of three cars at once and which is the only vehicle crossing point on the river between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Adjacent to the ferry is a small camp site and the Reedham Ferry Inn which has very a pleasant riverside beer garden and boat moorings, making it a great stop for a pub lunch.
Set at intervals along the quay itself and overlooking the river are three parking areas interspersed with pleasant grassy sections, and this bench is one of several which make a great place to relax in the sun for a while and watch the riverside activity
The ruins of St. Benets Abbey lie close to the River Bure not far from Ludham village and are a well known landmark for boaters. The main ruins themselves consist of a 14th century stone-and-flint gatehouse with an 18th century brick windmill tower built into it – although a 14th century stone archway and wall running through the middle of a brick windmill seems rather odd the whole place and its history is fascinating. Across the nearby field are the rest of the ruins, mainly broken sections of wall, and a wooden cross which stands where the High Altar once was. The cross, presented by our current Queen, is made of English oak from the royal Estate at Sandringham and was erected in August 1987.
Situated not far from the cross the first bench has expansive views across the fields towards the main ruins and the river, while the second bench is set in a secluded corner close to the ruins, which are very popular with artists and photographers. A short walk along the path behind the second bench leads to the riverside staithe and the third bench, and on a sunny day it makes a lovely place to enjoy the scenery and watch the boats go by.
Potter Heigham, set on the River Thurne almost 13 miles north of Yarmouth, is split into two by the main A149; on one side is the main village which is mostly residential and has a lovely church while on the other is one of the major boating centres of the Norfolk Broads. As well as boat hire the riverside part of the village has a post office and pub, a couple of gift shops and cafes, a small camp site, a good fishing tackle store and Latham’s, the famous Norfolk discount store. No visit to Potter Heigham is complete without a visit to Latham’s – they stock most things including clothes, shoes, toys, food, household items and homewear and even have a garden centre. At the front of the store is Flour & Bean, a nice cafe/restaurant and bakery, and their cream-filled Belgian buns are personally recommended.
The 61-mile Weaver’s Way footpath, running from Cromer down to Yarmouth, passes through Potter Heigham and is a good place for a riverside walk. Along the path on one side of the river is a long row of timber bungalows, many with private moorings, and these are fairly unique in that they are situated in the only place on the Norfolk Broads where the Broads Authority have allowed residential buildings directly on the riverbank, and they can only be accessed by boat or on foot from the path behind.
There are two bridges over the river – the modern one which carries the A149 and the medieval one which dates back to 1385. This is a low-arched structure which is so narrow that there’s only room for one vehicle so it’s controlled by traffic lights at each end. On the water it has a clearance of only 7ft at its highest point and a boat pilot will help novice boaters to navigate safely through in summer. A warning sign on each side of the bridge says ‘CAUTION – Lower windscreen, Keep off deck, Sound horn’ but over the years there’s been more than one boat that has sustained some damage or got stuck underneath.
Alongside the river between both bridges is a wide and very pleasant grassy area with several benches set to make the most of the view, and on a grassy area at the far side of the old bridge are two more benches with views down the river and across to the boat moorings – both great places to sit for a while and watch the world, and the boats, go by. With its reputation as a top boating centre, a top discount store and lovely riverside views it’s easy to see why Potter Heigham is a very popular place.
Although the bench in this photo doesn’t have much of a view as such (what you see is what you get) I wanted to include it because of its location close to the picturesque River Ant.
How Hill House is a large thatched Edwardian property built in 1904 as the architect’s family home. It remained in the same family until 1966 when it was sold, and in 1967 it became a study centre providing residential courses for young people to try their hand at thatching and other crafts. Surrounded by a well-tended garden and acres of land including woodlands, a secret garden and a large grassy field ideal for picnics or ball games, the house isn’t open to the public although the immediate gardens are open on special days each year and the rest of the estate is open all year round.
At the far side of the field a path leads down to the riverside and towards the end is Toad Hole Cottage, the tiny marshman’s home set up as a museum to show what life was like for a marshman and his family over 100 years ago. With just a handful of very small rooms and a tight staircase the museum is open every day from Easter until October and entrance is free. A few yards down the path from the cottage is the River Ant and the picturesque How Hill Staithe, a popular mooring place for boats and with a good footpath which extends along the river bank to Ludham Bridge about two miles away. Also along the river and close to the water is Turf Fen Mill dating back to 1875, and the staithe is the starting point for the 50-minute Electric Eel boat ride through the reed-fringed dykes not normally accessible to the general public.
While the bench itself may not have the greatest of views the staithe on the river does, and there are lovely photos to be had at any time of day. And when riverside exploration is finished then the bench is a good place to sit for a while before travelling on to other places.
The village of Scratby lies along the coast about six miles north of Great Yarmouth, with the hamlet of California, where I usually stay, being just down the road. The two are connected by Rottenstone Lane where there’s a couple of holiday parks with chalets and static caravans, a small amusement place, a take-away, a small cliff top parking area and public toilets; a zig-zag path and steps lead down to the beach from the parking area. The north end of Rottenstone Lane joins Beach Road on a right-angled bend which turns inland, and set back on the corner is a small area of grassland with the first bench looking out to sea.
A hundred yards or so along Beach Road from that corner is The Promenade, a narrow gravelled lane leading past various houses and bungalows to a wide, open area on the cliff top with more houses facing the sea. Many of these houses started life as quaint and simple, four-sided timber chalet-type homes but over the years have been rebuilt with bricks and extended upwards and outwards to give the larger and more modern homes which are currently there. Eventually The Promenade becomes The Esplanade which continues north to Hemsby; some parts of the grassy cliff top have been claimed as ‘garden areas’ by residents who live facing, and although these are kept well mown they aren’t fenced off in any way so can’t exactly be classed as private. It was on the edge of one of these areas that I came across the second bench – and who wouldn’t want to spend time gazing out to sea on a glorious day like that?!