Monday, October 30, 2006

Burgh Castle

Where curlews cry, looking west across Breydon Water to the Berney Arms and Windmill and the marshes beyond, stands four-square the walls of Burgh Castle. Here they have stood for over 1600 years! Within these walls a young Irish abbot and his wandering monks built their home sometime around the year 632 AD. The castle was the gift of Sigbert the first Christian King of East Anglia. From here, the faith spread upriver, westwards to the North Folk and along the Waveney Valley. You might say Burgh Castle is one of the cradles of Christian faith!

The Fursey Pilgrims ( came into being to remind people of these, all but forgotten, fathers in Christ. On the first Saturday in October they make an annual pilgrimage to the site. But you could go any time! Canon David Abraham, who led the 2006 pilgrimage tells that, it was a series of visions of the afterlife that so fired the saint that he became an evangelist. “They profoundly affected his teaching and preaching, and gave him a passionate concern for the salvation of souls!

The most enduring memory of the pilgrimage is a sense of Burgh Castle as a holy place. In Canon David’s words “ ...a thin place, where we felt again the presence of this man of God. A monk committed to the service of God, a priest with a deep love of people, an evangelist who ceaselessly proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. Ecumenically, he is a saint that all denominations can own and unite behind. The Venerable Bede much admired Fursey and wrote of how he “inspired by the example of his goodness and the effectiveness of his teaching”. Fursey still has the power to inspire!”

How to get to Burgh Castle:

By car: Leaving Great Yarmouth on the A12 turn right at Southtown and follow the brown signs to Burgh Castle, park by the church then walk a little over half a mile. Alternatively the management of Church Farm Free House are happy for pilgrims to park in their car park. You’ll find a warm welcome there and it’s a great place for refreshments!

By bus:- Route 7 and 7 a from Great Yarmouth go to Burgh Castle

By boat: Moor at the 24 hr free moorings at Burgh Castle and follow the way-marks on the wooden posts marked with the castle icon

By foot: Follow the way-marked Wherrymans’ Way from Great Yarmouth Station. Distance 5 miles.

© 2006 Richard Woodham

Friday, October 06, 2006

Of Beavers, Skylarks and Cats

The Babingley River has long been tamed, but in days gone past it was treacherous! It was a tidal estuary where, the story goes, St. Felix, the first person to evangelise the East Anglians, was shipwrecked – shipwrecked and then rescued by beavers!

Apart from the (now dilapidated) village sign celebrating Felix and the beavers, farm buildings, a ruined 15th century church and a charming “tin tabernacle” there’s not much left of old Babingley! But there is archaeological evidence of a once bustling settlement around the church. Knowing the way missionaries operated in the early days of Christianity in East Anglia, it is safe to guess that Felix established a monastery and evangelised the whole area from here.

There is nothing to see at the church but a well marked permissive path takes today’s pilgrim 2 ½ miles in a circular route around the church, through wide meadows and open skies. The walk begins opposite the place where the B1439 joins the A149. It follows the farm track past the farm, turns south towards the river after a small wood and then comes back along the river. Finally, it returns to the start along a metalled driveway.

I walked along the river bank on a grey March day, enjoying the thought that in Felix’s day I would have been under water. The words of the psalm came to mind, “And whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea….”! As I went I contemplated the possibility of beavers bringing Felix to safety. Just then the song of a rising skylark drew my eyes and heart to heaven! As if to remind me animals do help in the Christian life!

At the metalled drive I chose to turn right to Castle Rising. Norman Fahy, who looks after the Castle, is convinced that the castle had an earlier life before the Norman conquest. He thinks it began life in Saxon times, as an extension of the imagined Babingley monastery. If you go to Castle Rising, check out the font in church just above the castle gateway. You’ll see Felix’s sign, the cat! ( In Latin cat is felis, and luck, felix!)

Q: Was it luck that allowed Felix to bring us the faith?

A: that really was,” more than lucky!”

Access – Buses run along the A149 between Kings Lyn and Hunstanton. Castle Rising Church has good wheelchair access!

© 2006 Richard Woodham

Mannington July

In early July the Rev’d Jane Durell visited Mannington Hall’s boardwalk and bird hide.

We arrived as the light was beginning to fail. Coming from noisy Norwich, the great stillness impressed me - just the whisper of the wind in the mature willows surrounding the wet meadow. All the colours were muted and harmonious, almost as if a mist was beginning to rise. We were privileged to see a Barn Owl slowly and silently beating it’s way back into the trees. My friend said it was carrying something - I wondered if it was taking supper home to a hungry nest full?

We had passed the sign announcing parking for “the less able”, and ventured down a narrow, grassy and overhung path to find a neat parking place cut in the undergrowth conveniently close to the board walk. From there it was an easy push to get among the marsh flowers and grasses. Hundreds and hundreds of them in all directions – beautiful! Some I knew - others I did not! Red Campion; and shyly peeping out, Ragged Robin; Orchids, some singly, others in groups, and one hanging out into the board walk all ready for close inspection - a Spotted Orchid, I was informed; and there were lots of what as a child I knew as Eggs and Bacon (Bird’s-foot-trefoil), or rather it’s larger cousin, which favours boggy ground.

At the end of the boardwalk we found the hide over looking a pond - empty and welcoming I did not need to transfer to a bench as the viewing slit was at a good level for wheel chair use. We watched a Grey Heron catching frogs. Some were swallowed easily, others appeared to take some arranging before they went down in a great gulp. I was fascinated to watch how the heron’s neck shorten and almost disappear as it prepared to pounce on another frog. At one point a mallard joined the heron. He was totally ignored! They did look an incongruous pair standing side by side on the small artificial island. The Water Lilies must look lovely when they open in full sun - pink or yellow I wonder - but for atmosphere and the birds a summer’s evening is best.

Mannington is signposted near Saxthorpe by the B1149 Norwich – Holt road. Turn left (towards Holt) at the roundabout and soon after turn right towards Matlask. The Car Park and Walks are open every day from 9 a.m. until dusk. Parking costs £2.00. There is a wheelchair accessible lavatory.

© 2006 Richard Woodham

Spixworth in Spring

“Consider, the flowers of the field” says Jesus. As Winter gives way to Spring, it is the flowers of the woodland that lead the way but it’s the same idea! Aconites, snowdrops, primroses, bluebells, orchids…… Snowdrops were being celebrated at St. Peter, Spixworth on Sunday 12th February 2006 with an open day and walks in the churchyard and the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately the heavens were open that day too and February Fill-Dyke lived up to its name! St. Peter’s repeated the exercise on 26th February. On Monday 1st May between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. it was Bluebell Day at Spixworth. Beginning at the church there were walks of various lengths - ¾, 11/2 or 3 miles - with prayer stations on the way, as children’s environmental activities and refreshments.

Jesus’ spiritual practice led him away from the towns and villages. Many of us need to go “apart from the world” too. At bluebell time one of the places worth retreating to is Foxley Wood. It is a true sanctuary, Norfolk’s largest area of ancient woodland, under the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The wood is open daily, except Thursdays. You’ll find it signposted from the A1067 Norwich to Fakenham road at Map Ref TG 049 229 . Buses stop a 15-minute walk away. Entry is free. Apart from bluebells in early May a visitor can expect to see early purple orchids, a host of other wildflowers, birds and butterflies. Perhaps you will catch a glimpse of a deer passing silently through the trees! Dogs are not allowed in the wood.

Wheelchair users will find the tracks and paths at Spixworth, Foxley at best quite bumpy and at worse impassable but its worth knowing that Norfolk Wildlife Trust is very serious about disabled access. Details of opening times, disabled provision etc. at all their reserves can be seen on their website or in their reserves handbook which can be ordered on 01603 -625540 . In addition there are 67 Roadside Nature Reserves in Norfolk some with a spectacular number of species. For example, try Backwood Lane. It runs to the east of Brooke Wood (Map Ref. TM 270979 -268990)

© 2006 Richard Woodham

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Considering the Birds

For those who first brought the Christian faith to Norfolk the wild goose was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The creator spirit that brooded over the face of the waters in the beginning, continues to hatch out things out today! The mighty rushing winds, fiery sunrises and sunsets and hundreds of thousands of over-wintering geese suggest that north Norfolk in winter could be a place of extended Pentecost!

At the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (R.S.P.B) Reserve at Snettisham you may be lucky enough to see thousands of Pink Footed Geese fill the air at dawn and nightfall on their way between roost and feeding grounds.

Waiting for the birds can teach much about the dynamics of what it is to watch and pray. Sometimes the birds don’t show for some reason. When they do, how the heart skips! Responding in praise one cannot avoid joining in the hymn of the universe as Creation sings the praise of the Creator. Psalm 148 provides words for the experience – “Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and birds on the wing; kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; Young men and women, old and young together; let them praise the name of the Lord. In the order and chaos of our built environment, against the background of traffic noise and the two-tone call of emergency vehicles, Psalm 148 makes little contemporary sense. Away from 21st century comforts, on the edge of the inhabited world, even the discomforts of Fire and hail, snow and mist, and tempestuous wind” are experienced as fulfilling God’s word and doing his will

Beyond praise, humankind’s stewardship and consideration of and for the created order are frequent biblical themes. Consideration (con-sider from the Latin to sit down with) suggests prolonged, quiet attention and friendliness. In another sense it means taking thoughtful care. Is it possible to pursue these matters in a consistent way? No organisation has more consideration for the birds of the air than the RSPB! And they provide many opportunities for people to engage with the birds they aim to preserve. Even without leaving home you can take part is their Big Garden Birdwatch on 27/28th January! Get further details from the local RSPB office on 01603-660066. On the internet go to .

Snettisham RSPB Reserve car park is 200 yards inland on the Beach Road on a sharp bend! A footpath takes visitors a little over 2km or 1 ¼ miles to the hides between the beach and a series of lagoons. For disabled access to the reserve, phone 01485 542689 for a permit.

Another place to see Pink Footed Geese in their twilight spectacular is Holkham.

Don’t go looking for them on nights with a full-ish moon. They may stay on the feeding grounds all night!

© 2006 Richard Woodham