Lose yourself exploring the timelessly beautiful Waveney Valley
PUBLISHED: 12:11 26 August 2016
It's one of the county's jewels, made beautiful by the river that gives it life and still provides a reason for people to live, work and visit Suffolk's border lands
The border between Suffolk and Norfolk is fluid . . . literally. The River Waveney marks the boundary between the two counties and gives its name to what is one of the most beautiful, unspoilt, yet ever-changing, parts of East Anglia, the Waveney Valley.
Here you’ll find the Suffolk Broads, a series of interconnected rivers and lakes that forms part of the Broads National Park. This landscape with its meandering waterways, iconic mills, bustling market towns and villages makes the Waveney Valley one of the county’s most fascinating places to visit.
The journey through this watery world starts at Oulton Broad in Lowestoft, the largest lake in the Suffolk Broads, and the southern gateway to the Broads National Park.
North of Oulton Broad is Somerleyton, a delightful village that’s home to the Somerleyton estate, with its hall and gardens.
Travelling inland, there are the fine riverside market towns of Beccles and Bungay, and the Saints, a cluster of isolated villages and medieval churches. Other towns not to be missed include Halesworth, Harleston, Diss and Eye. Several have got together as the Waveney Valley Market Towns Group to commission a series of audio walks that help visitors explore the towns, each a potent blend of history, memory and gossip.
Lovers of wildlife won’t want to miss the Carlton and Oulton Marshes, Redgrave and Lopham Fen, and Knettishall Heath. It’s an area teeming with fascinating flora and fauna, including the rare fen raft spider.
Beccles and Bungay
If you want to know what’s so special about the ‘Waveney twins’ then just ask the people who live there:
Hugh Taylor and his wife, Angela, decided to make Beccles their home in 2010. It’s where Angela was born and having been in the forces for many years, moving around, Hugh wanted to settle in his wife’s home county. His introduction to the town was, appropriately enough, from the Waveney.
“We were sailing down the river with a friend who keeps a boat at Oulton Broad,” he recalls. “I just liked it from the word go.” At first Hugh commuted to his work in London, but the couple now run a holiday accommodation business.
Hugh quickly got involved with local life, becoming a councillor and then mayor of Beccles last year. For him, the attraction of Beccles is its vibrancy and energy. It’s full of people who want to get things done, he says, and describes the town as a place of ‘heroes and jewels’.
“Beccles prides itself on the number of volunteers who put huge amounts of time and effort into helping others within and around the town – the ‘heroes’,” he says, “while pride of place in the centre of the town overlooking the river and the outlying marshes is the parish church of St Michael’s, with its iconic, landmark tower – one of its many ‘jewels’.”
For Hugh, Beccles retains all the attributes of a traditional market town – great independent shops and businesses, graceful streetscapes and lovely green spaces – but also meets the needs of modern life with excellent schools, lots of sports clubs and other interest groups, theatres and, controversially, a Tesco. Although there was a lot of opposition to Tesco developing the site of the former printers, Clowes, Hugh praises the town for taking a forward-thinking approach. A deal was struck in which the superstore would provide free parking close to the town centre, proving that big business and independents can work together.
“It’s been brilliant,” he says. “It means a lot to the town that people can park for three hours free of charge.” Time indeed to enjoy everything the town has to offer by way of shopping, eating and drinking in a selection of restaurants and cafes, visit banks and other services, use the library, go to the theatre, swim at the lido, and of course, enjoy time on and beside the river.
Ollie Barnes has lived in Bungay for 20 years and has seen his children grow up in the town. What’s not to like? he says.
“I know everyone’s going to say that about their town, but living here for 20 years I’ve seen a lot of change and the town’s really started to become a very vibrant place to live.” It has a wealth of high quality shops that meet everyday needs, as well as restaurants, cafes and pubs. There are lots of clubs and activities to get involved in, the Fisher Theatre, beautiful countryside and, of course, the River Waveney.
Ollie, a boat builder and wood worker by trade, was mayor of Bungay last year. It was while he held that office that he became involved with a major heritage project to develop Bungay Castle as a significant visitor destination.
“I’ve always been very keen and proactive about promoting the town’s history,” he says, “so this was an opportunity to push it forward.” Bungay Castle was built in the 12th century as a fortress by the powerful Hugh Bigod, one of the most important and influential figures in medieval English history. No wonder then that the Castle Trust wants to raise money through the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project that will create a museum and education centre, provide better disabled access to the site, high level walkways, and apprenticeships in traditional skills such as stone masonry, and green oak work. It’s early days, but the trust has the backing of Historic England and, if the bid is successful, it’s a project that the whole town will be involved in.
“It will make the town even more vibrant than it already is,” says Ollie.
• Granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584
• The town was established because of the River Waveney – evidence of riverside settlements date back through Roman to Prehistoric times
• Beccles’ motto is ‘Prosperity through Fidelity’.
• Famous former residents Adrian Bell, Martin Bell, David Frost, Ronnie Ronalde, Filed Marshal Auchinleck and the parents of Admiral Lord Nelson
• The town was almost destroyed by a great fire in 1688
• The central Buttercross was constructed in 1689
• Bungay was important for the printing and paper manufacture industries
• St Mary’s Church was struck by lightning on Sunday, August 4 1577, when Black Shuck was said to have dashed around the town attacking members of the congregation