We haven’t had a field trip for exactly one month, so it’s time to start them again! We took our graphic communication students and their tutor to Herringfleet Marshes and Geldeston today to learn about these two locations and what each had to offer.

Herringfleet Marshes

Herringfleet Marshes is located just off the main road between Lowestoft and St Olaves and has free parking. There is a walk that you can do from the free car park down to the marshland itself. Whilst not directly on the Angles Way, it is located very close to it and our historian was telling us how the Broads Authority have plans in place to create a circular walk, several miles long, from Somerleyton (nearby) to Herringfleet Marshes and back again. There are some interpretation boards and signage in place on location, but there would likely need to be more installed.

The initial view from the car park – beautiful, or uninspiring?

The main problem with the path at the moment is that is incredibly muddy at this time of year with no bridges or proper footpaths to allow people to get over muddy puddles. Jumping over the mud, walking through it or walking over some carefully positioned planks are the only options at the moment. In addition to this, there are some fences that walkers must climb as well as stiles to go over. These would either need to go or be made more accessible if this walk were to be developed.

There were several ‘mud baths’ on the path between the car park and Herringfleet Mill.

 

My shoes after walking to the mill! Most people would probably not want to get their shoes this muddy!

 

There is some signage in the area, but interestingly only public bridleways are really referred to.

 

Access from the car park to the marshland is via a steep hill in a wooded area, which is a nice walk but may be challenging for some walkers.

The area has some interesting history, for example it was drained using its one key landmark, the mill, which was constructed in 1820 by Robert Barnes of Millwright, Great Yarmouth, to become arable land and then a railway line from Norwich to Lowestoft was built on it to make Lowestoft a more prominent location on the railway network. There was also once a railway running from Great Yarmouth to London which ran across this land, but this does not exist anymore. This leaves the mill as the one thing which visitors may want to see. It is a unique ‘smock mill’, called so because the shape of it resembles ‘smocks’ that farmers wore in early periods and are often found abroad in countries such as Denmark and Holland rather on the Broads.

Herringfleet Mill is not a corn or wheat mill, rather it is a drainage mill that is designed to drain the land around the area to make it suitable for farming. The mill is only open on very specific days, most notably on ‘National Mills Day’ (second Saturday in May) and on the odd day in the summer and autumn and there isn’t really any information about the mill at the site, so we felt that it might be a good idea to develop an animated infographic showing how the mill worked. The infographic would need to be simple and also explain the reason for the mill’s existence, therefore satisfying not only the cultural heritage theme, but also the landscape heritage theme too. Furthermore, there could be some kind of infographic or timelapse showing how the area has changed over the centuries. Of course, it began being on the Isle of Lothingland and with sea level changes it became marshland and connected to mainland England, then it became busy farming land with a lot of agricultural activity going on here. Whilst that was happening there were railways built and these would often have freight trains on them, carrying goods and cargo from the factories in the area (one of which we visited – the nearby Somerleyton Brick Factory). Herringfleet Mill stopped being operational in 1956, but there was another mill close-by called Mallet’s Mill which ceased operations in 1893 and was demolished the same year. It was also a drainage mill and was replaced by a tidal sluice gate. This could also be shown in the timelapse.

An animated infographic showing how Herringfleet Mill worked could be interesting and satisfy several different themes.

 

Mill approach through the reeds.

 

Classic ‘big Norfolk skies’ over Herringfleet Marshes, which today is mainly covered in reeds with little arable land. Note also a Norwich-bound train in the distance.

This project is all about bringing seemingly boring or uninteresting places to life and Herringfleet Marshes presents several good opportunities to do that – just like the 360 degree image experience at Burgh Castle would. As long as access can be improved by means of a footpath, or a small bridge above the marshland to the mill and perhaps some steps cut into the hill at the beginning of the walk, then our idea could help this become a popular tourist attraction.

Mobile broadband speeds at the car park are pretty poor with just 1.69mbps down and 1.19mbps up on Vodafone UK on my Samsung Galaxy S8, however at the mill the speed is considerably better with an impressive 10.9mbps down and 2.42mbps up. These speeds should be adequate for any kind of experience here.

Broadband speeds at the mill were very adequate.

Ashby St. Mary’s church

After visiting Herringfleet Marshes, we visited Ashby St. Mary’s church. Round tower churches are synonymous with the Broads and East Anglia in general – much like windmills. They don’t often appear anywhere else in the country but do appear abroad in parts of Germany and Holland. There are thought to be 126 remaining round tower churches in Norfolk and 42 in Suffolk. There are also 6 in Essex and 2 in Cambridgeshire (also in East Anglia), but outside of East Anglia there are only 5: 3 in Sussex and 2 in Berkshire. Nobody is really sure why round tower churches are most commonly found in East Anglia, but some historians suspect the following:

  • Defense: round tower churches could have been used as defense mechanisms. The Broads was of course susceptible to invasion being on the North Sea and very low-level land where Vikings and other foreigners could come and invade. The church towers could act as watch towers and then bells could be rung to inform of invasion. However, there are no free-standing watch towers – perhaps it made sense for church towers to ‘double up’ as watch towers rather than build specific watch towers? Furthermore, East Anglia is extremely flat, so visibility from the top of church towers would be very good in the right weather conditions. Churches in East Anglia tended to be built on hills, so this further supports this theory.
  • Easy and cheap to build: this is generally the most accepted reason – there is little good building material in East Anglia. Most of the buildings in North Norfolk are constructed from flint, which would have been the primary building material of most of the region. It is not easy to build square structures out of flint, so a round tower would be easier to build and stronger – linking back to the idea of defense. Most round tower churches have naves that are also constructed from flint, but the corners of the naves are often made from brick or larger stone that would have had to have been imported. Building a tower out of this stone would have been expensive because of the amount of stone needed to build a high square tower is of course more than the amount needed to build the corners of a nave. The import costs would have been prohibitive. Also, note how parish churches of large Norfolk towns such as Cromer, Wymondham, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and even Norwich Cathedral are all square – in fact the church towers of many Norfolk towns are square, but the round towers tend to be found in rural areas and in the ‘less important’ settlements such as villages. This could suggest that round towers were cheaper to build.
  • Time period: it has been suggested that round tower churches are simply older than their square counterparts. Round tower churches could date from the Anglo Saxon period, whereas most Norman churches have square towers.
  • Fashion: building from the last point, square towers may have just eventually come into fashion and be seen as being more prestigious. There are several round tower churches that were reconstructed as square towers at some point in time. Let’s not also forget that the primary purpose of a church tower is to house bells – it is easier to fit bells into a square tower than a round tower because the frames to hold the bells are easier to construct. It is also possible to fit more bells into a square tower than a round tower.
  • Continental Europe: some historians question why there are also round towers in certain parts of Germany and Holland and Denmark which date from the same kind of time period as these churches in East Anglia may. They also note that there were links between these areas of Europe and East Anglia via the North Sea and various invasions and trading that went on. Perhaps it was a style brought over the sea by invaders?

There are some examples of octagonal towers in Norfolk too, a great example of which is Old Buckenham church (where my parents got married!) There are even some ‘hybrids’ which have a circular base and an octagonal top – and a good example of one of those is Ashby St. Mary’s, which we visited.

Ashby St. Mary’s church in the hamlet of Ashby in Suffolk, photographed by me.

Our historian suggested that we visit this church because he wanted us to see a church that was associated with the area and also because it may be something that we consider including in our solution. There are after all well over 150 round tower churches in East Anglia, so the chances are that you will see at least one whilst on a walk in the area. This particular one is actually situated directly on the Angles Way – which is fortunate. We were extremely lucky and whilst we were visiting the church and learning about its history some walkers came right by, so we took the opportunity to conduct some ethnographic research.

In short, the walkers were:

  • All ‘early retirees’ (likely late 50s or early 60s in age).
  • Two men and two women.
  • One from Lowestoft, one from Bury St. Edmunds and the others were from the Great Yarmouth area.
  • Walking from Great Yarmouth to Bungay along the Angles Way in a single day – they said that the walk was approximately 30 miles.
  • Were using public transport to travel back to Great Yarmouth after they had completed the walk.
  • Were navigating using an OS map app on an iPhone – but did also have a paper OS map and even a special edition map produced by the Broads Authority of Norfolk County Council (not sure which) which was less detailed, but much smaller and focused only the Angles Way and did also give some brief information about specific points of interest.

This was also not the first time they had completed the Angles Way, but some had not done it for as long as 15 years. They all really like the route and would suggest it to other avid walkers.

When we asked them if they’d use technology to enhance their walking experience, initially some were quire reluctant but the woman who was leading the group and using her iPhone to navigate was very interested and said that by using the OS map app she already is. They all agreed that a map would be helpful and that along the way points of interest could be shown and the user could find out more information about them. They said that not all points of interest on the walks had interpretation boards or signage explaining what the sites were or what had happened there.

After this, we let the group continue walking because they had targets to meet, but it was a fascinating piece of research and great to speak to a group of avid walkers walking the Angles Way. Over the past month I’ve said that a limitation of this project has been that the user base is very wide, or ‘broad’ (pardon the pun), so conducting research has meant that a wide range of groups and people have had to be interviewed and considered. Although avid walkers are not necessarily our target audience (really, the Broads are targeting families in Lowestoft and Yarmouth who would be ‘casual’ walkers), their input is extremely valid because at the end of the day, they are the ones most likely to be using these footpaths.

Their input put the map suggestion right back ‘on the map’ (another pun, pardon) again. We first considered mapping when we did the post-it note exercise over a month ago to determine what kind of thing our app could do, but we never really developed any prototypes or ideas for it because we felt that the 360 degree image experiences and the fact-finder would be more interesting to develop as prototypes. We did however develop a map showing how Breydon Water had changed over time, but it’s not the same as a map that helps you navigate in the present day. We had been concerned about creating an app that means that the user is glued to their phone screen and is not taking in the environment and the surroundings, but maps have always been a common suggestion. Upon talking to my peers after the small research session, we felt that perhaps the map could form the centre of the app and then users could enter experiences based on their location on the map and if they wanted to. This would help the app appeal to more people because it would be more useful to more people, but the downside of this is that you’d always need a decent mobile broadband signal in order to use the app – because now it would have to work over a much larger area rather than just at one site. However, my broadband testing research since January shows that on the whole, mobile broadband speeds these days are pretty good, even in rural areas, and that this probably wouldn’t be a major concern.

Bigger stone bricks can clearly be seen on the corner of the nave, further proof that maybe round towers were cheap and easier to build out of flint than square ones.

Using this church as an example of a point of interest that could be included on such an app, the walkers would be walking on the Angles Way and when they reach this church a push notification or popup could come up and inform them of where they are and give some history about the church. There are likely many churches on the route and a lot of them will be round towers, so it could be annoying to inform the user of why the tower might be round each time they pass one, but this church also has another interesting story.

During World War II, a lot of RAF bases were constructed in East Anglia for several reasons. The land was flat, so ideal for runways and East Anglia lies on the North Sea – which would be a key invasion route for Germany and other Axis or occupied powers (much like it had been for the Vikings and other invaders that the round church towers may have protected against). This also meant that the quickest way to fly from the UK to occupied Europe was from East Anglia and over the North Sea. As the US was an ally and transatlantic bombing raids from the US to Europe were not a possibility in WWII, a lot of RAF bases were ‘loaned’ to the USAF to deploy raids from – and several in East Anglia are still like this, notably RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall which are still both operated by the US Air Force. On May 7th 1944, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress of the USAF 100th Bomb Group was flying a sortie from RAF Thorpe Abbott (just south of Diss – another town on the River Waveney and Angles Way! Today the base is a museum) to Germany when it crashed very close to the site of the church at Ashby due to a signal flare igniting inside the plane which in turn set off others. All five crewmen were killed. A memorial is erected outside of the church commemorating this and another unfortunate incident also happened close to this church on April 8th 1945. Two P47 Thunderbolts of the USAF collided with aircraft participating in a mock dogfight over nearby Fritton Lake and sent both Thunderbolts into the lake. The depth of the lake drowned the pilots.

 

The memorial to the plane crashes outside the churchyard.

 

B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ performs during the Royal International Air Tattoo 2017 (photographed by me). This demo simulated an engine failure. This B-17 is similar to the one that crashed at Ashby St. Mary’s on May 7th 1944.

Our historian explained how military aircraft form a large part of East Anglian life and how RAF bases are always associated with the area, this could be something that could be brought into the app under the ‘cultural heritage’ section. There are no active bases close to the Broads now, RAF Coltishall was probably the final one, but there is clearly a small bit of history with the incidents at Ashby and there are probably others too since the area was covered in bases at one point. Just the day before we did this field trip I had spent the afternoon at RAF Marham (West Norfolk) photographing the (soon to be retired) Tornado GR4s and the cutting edge F-35 Lightning II, so there is still an association. Apparently the nearby Fritton Lake may have also been used as a testing ground for flying boats.

An RAF Tornado GR4 takes off from RAF Marham in Norfolk on February 28th 2019 (photographed by me). Military aircraft are still associated with Norfolk.

Using Ashby as an example again, the user would approach the church and could be told the information about the round towers and the plane incidents. This information could be presented in a number of ways:

  • Animations – requires little bandwidth and possibly no sound (that could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your perspective). May be difficult or complex to produce.
  • Infographics – also requires little bandwidth and easy to create, but perhaps not as visually ‘excited’ as something animated.
  • 360 ‘experiences’ – like what I did at Burgh Castle – they’re unique and fun, but only really good for showing stark differences between ‘then and now’ – so unless the plane crash is shown in this method I’m not sure it’s applicable. Some users may just prefer to read something or look at something without having to actually ‘do’ anything.
  • Very short videos – may require more bandwidth and sound may be required.

You wouldn’t need to do this at every church or mill on the route – only the ones with an interesting or unusual history, like Ashby St. Mary’s.

Like myself, our historian finds the round tower question and the aviation history very interesting, so I may be a little biased in saying I’d like to include these in the app. I definitely think the round tower information should be included as they are a big feature on the Broads that may interest some people.

Our historian commented that not many people probably walk past Ashby church, but having said that some walkers went right past, but it’s unlikely that people would come specifically to the church unless they have a connection with it, so it’s probably not a location to focus on immediately. It’s located in the middle of nowhere – so why is there a church in the middle of nowhere? It’s likely because once upon there was a large Anglo Saxon settlement here, but it’s now long gone and only the church remains. Access to Ashby is somewhat difficult with the roads being terrible and very small – and of course it is not signed.

Geldeston Lock

Our historian was keen to take us to Geldeston Lock because it is the most southerly place that you can navigate to on the Broads. It’s a village located on the Waveney river, which forms the border between Norfolk and Suffolk for much of its length. Geldeston Lock is a pub that marks the end of the navigable section of the Waveney and thus the Broads. In the summer it is apparently extremely busy with boaters which I can believe given its location on the river. The pub has its own little quay where boaters can moor and the fact that there are speed limit signs on the river close to the pub shows that this is a popular area. The busiest parts of the Broads by Wroxham, Salhouse and Potter Heigham have similar signage. I haven’t seen this kind of signage on any other part of the Broads that we have visited.

The confluence of the dyke and the River Waveney made for some beautiful photos.

The pub is located on the confluence of a small dyke and the river, right on a river bend, so it looks like the confluence of three rivers. It’s a very peaceful and calm area in the winter when there are few boats. Our graphics students said they felt ‘calm’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘tranquil’ and felt that the area best fit the ‘escape to explore’ concept – ‘escape’ to here and take in the nature. We walked along the Waveney and went back through the village of Geledeston.

I didn’t think that there was an awful lot here to be honest – other than the pub. I think we went just to see the end of the navigable Broads, but unless the pub has an interesting hidden history or we’re looking to increase tourism to the pub then this location doesn’t particularly scream ‘cultural heritage’, ‘landscape heritage’ or ‘ecology and diversity’ to me. I guess the theme that it fits best is the ecology one, but there isn’t really anything here that’s not at any of the other locations on the surface. We are meeting some ecology specialists from the Broads Authority soon who will be able to shed some light on this, but is it worth developing an app about ecology and biodiversity here when there are other locations that offer more?

Access is OK – the pub is down a beaten track and is clearly aimed at boaters in the summer trade since road access isn’t amazing. Parking in the village is scarce and there’s little parking and signage to the Angles Way in the village itself. There is public transport to the village – I saw a bus. We are contemplating trying to use the public transport in the area to see what it’s like to help us assess if access to some of these locations that we’ve visited is possible without the use of a car.

This is a nice enough walk, but I’m not sure at this point in time if there’s really anything that we can do here. There’s a limited amount to focus on to develop into an app or an experience. It could feature as part of a mapping app and perhaps the pub could be pointed out as a good place to eat and drink and help boost its sales, but otherwise I’m not sold.

Buses run in Geldeston, so it is possible that this location is accessible via public transport. This bus was bound for Acle.

If we ever did want to anything here though, the mobile broadband just outside the pub is exceptionally strong. This is about the same kind of speed that I get on my fibre broadband at home – and I was in the middle of nowhere on my phone! Very impressive.

4G speeds at Geldeston Lock were outstanding.

Summary of locations visited

Before I move onto the next thing (which isn’t strictly a location), I thought I’d summarise these three locations in relation to the themes from the Broads Authority.

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Herringfleet Marshes X X X
Ashby, St. Mary’s X
Geldeston Lock X

 

More details are below:

 

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Herringfleet Marshes YES – drainage mills to drain the land and make it arable to help people sustain living. Agriculture was a big industry. There were railway lines in the area to transport goods and cargo from the industrious lands to cities and even ships for international trade. YES – this land used to be on the Isle of Lothingland and then became part of the mainland over the time. The drainage and cattle grazing also changed the landscape. YES BUT IT’S NOT THE STRONGEST THEME – there will be elements of ecology and biodiversity here. There is a woodland – different from other locations, so there are chances to see other forms of nature.
Ashby, St. Mary’s YES – the question and history behind round tower churches and military flying in East Anglia. Interesting history regarding plane crashes and flying boat testing nearby. NO. NO.
Geldeston Lock NO – unless the pub has some significance or if there was something to do with tourism that is unique to this location. NO – unless this area was formed in a particularly special way. POSSIBLY – there may be some species unique to this site, otherwise there doesn’t appear to be here that’s not at Carlton Marshes or Herringfleet Marshes which have more to offer.

Herringfleet Marshes was the most versatile location visited today and Geldeston Lock was the weakest.

Infographics and animations could be used at Herringfleet Marshes to show how the area has changed over time and also show how the drainage mill works. Maps, text and infographics could be used at Ashby, St. Mary’s to inform users about the round towers and the plane crashes and I’m not sure what could be done at Geldeston Lock.

These sites compared to the others

These are likely the final locations that we are visiting since the next field trip will probably be investigating broadband speeds and selecting a location, so it’s a good time to reflect on what each site had to offer:

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Breydon Water X X X
Burgh Castle X X X
Carlton Marshes X X
Somerleyton Brick Works X
Beccles Quay X X
Herringfleet Marshes X X X
Ashby, St. Mary’s X
Geldeston Lock X

 

In more detail:

 

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Breydon Water YES – Shipping & transportation history YES – The formation of Breydon Water and geographical processes YES – Birds, there is a bird-watching hut
Burgh Castle YES – Fortress history and Roman links YES – The formation of Breydon Water and geographical processes YES – The reeds and the wildlife there at the bottom of the hill
Carlton Marshes NO – Only has weak links to the human reasons for digging drainage channels YES – The construction of the drainage channels and what they do YES – Water mammals and other wildlife in the nature reserve
Somerleyton Brick Works YES – The industrial connections to the factory NO – Only has very weak links to Somerleyton Marina’s construction NO – Very little special wildlife here
Beccles Quay YES – Industrial links – agriculture and printing as well as cotton. Also the festivals o the 1970s for modern left-wing politics NO – This site does have landscape heritage but is not the strongest theme NO – Very little special wildlife here
Herringfleet Marshes YES – Drainage, agriculture and trade links YES – This land used to be on the Isle of Lothingland and then became part of the mainland over the time YES – Not the strongest theme but there is woodland which will have different wildlife in it to the other sites which are mainly water-based
Ashby, St. Mary’s YES – The question and history behind round tower churches and military flying in East Anglia NO NO
Geldeston Lock NO – Unless the pub has some significance or if there was something to do with tourism that is unique to this locatio. NO – Unless this area was formed in a particularly special way. POSSIBLY – Unsure if there’s any special wildlife here

 

A big mix of sites, some very well-suited to everything and others not suited to much at all. I have plenty of ideas about what could be done at each, a lot of it explained in previous posts, but over the next few weeks this information will be consolidated and these ideas will be developed much further.

What’s next?

Straight after we visited these sites we visited the site of the lost Venta Roman town, read on to find out about this!

Bibliography

Roundtowers.org.uk. (n.d.). About Round Tower Churches | Round Tower Churches Society. [online] Available at: http://www.roundtowers.org.uk/about-round-tower-churches/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].

Atkins, L. (2015). St Mary’s Church, Ashby, Somerleyton, Suffolk | American Air Museum in Britain. [online] Americanairmuseum.com. Available at: http://www.americanairmuseum.com/place/135270 [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].

de Vries, F. (n.d.). Memorial Crash B17 Flying Fortress – Ashby – TracesOfWar.com. [online] Tracesofwar.com. Available at: https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/85735/Memorial-Crash-B17-Flying-Fortress.htm [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].

Flint, B. (1979). Suffolk windmills. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 90-91.

Lothingland.co.uk. (1999). History of Herringfleet and St. Olaves – part 10: Some interesting buildings. [online] Available at: http://www.lothingland.co.uk/hso10.htm [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].

En.wikipedia.org. (n.d.). Smock