Sculthorpe Moor Reserve

Sculthorpe Moor Reserve

Sculthorpe 1

“One of those hidden ‘must visit’ little gems” – Neil Glynn

“Sculthorpe seemed more ancient and echoing than any wet place I’d seen” – Richard Mabey

When we visited Sculthorpe Moor Reserve in September 2013 the Hawk and Owl Trust, were about to mark its tenth anniversary with a “Big Birthday Bioblitz” weekend – including a FREE BUG POT for every family!

The place must have changed since nature writer Richard Mabey visited at the start of the new millennium. In his book “Nature Cure” (the story of his return to health from depression) he describes Sculthorpe as more ancient and echoing than any wet place he had seen. Although impressed by the new owners ambitious conservation plans he expressed concerns for the future of ancient coppice alder stools – which he said could well have been five hundred years old.

By the time, Neil Glenn (another writer with an eye for Norfolk’s wildlife) visited a couple of years later, restoration work was well under way. A woodland hide was open, boardwalks were partly complete and there were plans to extend it to the River Wensum.  When finished, he suggested, the reserve would be one of those hidden ‘must-visit’ little Norfolk gems.

Sculthorpe 2

The result now is easy access to much of the reserve, viewing platforms and hides to observe the wildlife and seats for those who just want to contemplate the place. For a relatively small reserve it packs in a lot of wildlife spotting potential with bird feeders and nest boxes along the way to encourage it. The elevated Whitley Hide gives spectacular views over the fen and reed bed – but has a polite notice asking over keen photographers not to hog the hide.

Of course, observing wildlife is the attraction here, with the chance to see tawny and barn owls, willow and marsh tits (if you can tell the difference), great and lesser spotted woodpeckers (you should be able to tell the difference) and much more. The Frank Jarvis hide overlooks a feeding station that attracts common woodland birds and the possibility of Bramblings in winter.

The boardwalk now extends to the River Wensum and when we were there major construction work was underway on neighbouring land.  The riverside path continues on a temporary surface to two more hides overlooking a water filled scrape. This, for us, provided the highlight of the visit. Initially diverted by the sight of distant Marsh Harriers, I noticed a Kingfisher in the classic situation, perched on a partly submerged bough. It performed for several minutes hovering like a kestrel and skimming the surface before darting of to try its luck along the adjoining dyke. Our neighbour in the hide kept saying that they wished they had brought their camera. I had mine but not the skill to capture the moment, but then for some of us it’s memories that matter most.

A strong community involvement lies behind the success of the reserve. The Friends of Sculthorpe Moor are there to meet and greet and successful fundraising has contributed to impressive conservation, education and visitor facilities available now and for future generations of what they rightly describe as this hidden gem.

Sculthorpe 3

 

Gunton Park

Gunton Park

Once a month in the summer the water mill at GuntonPark, near Cromer, is open to the public. This is an opportunity to see both a working water driven sawmill – probably the only one in Britain – and to enjoy a small part of this tucked away county estate which was described in a 1920s tour guide as the “place no Cromer visitor should fail to visit”.

Now normally closed to the pubic, for a short time at least we were able to look through the keyhole of the landed gentry.  On open days there is what is described in the mill guide book as a “discretionary” walk around the Saw Mill Pond – a large area of water itself fed by the GreatLake. The house, built by Sir William Harbord in 1742, is visible across the pond.

Seeing the mill in action is quite an experience. The massive frame saw and other equipment is housed in a picturesque thatched, timber framed building that was constructed for the third Lord Suffield in 1825.  An important resource for the estate until the First World War, some of the machinery continued in use until the 1950s. The guide book tells of how in 1830, when machine wreckers threatened to destroy it, Lord Suffield relied on his 177 strong private militia to dissuade them.

The building was saved from demolition in 1979 by the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society and the Norfolk Windmills Trust the mill is now maintained, stewarded and run on the open days by volunteers. The restoration programme continues and when we were there re-thatching in the traditional Norfolk style was under way.

On open days it is possible to combine an interest in industrial and landscape archaeology and see something of the park. Now in private ownership the house has been converted into apartments, and livestock, including a fallow deer herd, wonder in the grounds. The path around the Saw Mill Pond generally follows the edge of the water. On the west side you cross an attractive bridge and on the east side there is a good view of some brick boat houses. It was wet under foot here so a slight detour resulted in one of those highlights that most days out in Norfolk produce.  Chatting away we disturbed a fox and it was off like a shot along a row of massive oak trees. It was in good condition with a distinctly brown tail. In fox hunting days it would have been a “view halloo” moment and it was a stirring sight in such a pastoral scene.

Fishing is available by arrangement with estate owners and a couple of well equipped anglers were out. They didn’t seem to mind us as they juggled with their rods. I didn’t discuss their quarry but a young visitor caught sight of several small pike basking in the shallows.

We continued round the pond and only as the mill came back into view did we come across a sign to suggest that we might have been “out of bounds” however we used our discretion and completed the path