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