North Walsham and Dilham Canal
A Canal - and a happy coincidence
A select group of a dozen or so assembled at Waitings Lane in August, to visit the Dilham and North Walsham Canal project. As we were unable to arrange an “official” guide Ann stepped into the breach. All went well with one or two bonuses on the way!
The happy coincidence came right at the start as we were assembling at the now thoroughly closed Honing railway station. There we met by chance one Stuart McPherson, who introduced himself as “Photographer and Railway Historian”, member of the Norfolk Railway Heritage Group and a speaker at meetings. In seconds he was booked to fill the programme gap that has just unavoidably occurred in October, and on very much the same theme as had been planned. A bonus indeed.
We were there to observe the important relationship, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, between the railway and the canal. The two routes crossed nearby, thus bringing some brief prosperity to the area. The station buildings were beyond derelict with only a few brick courses still standing. Rather like one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit, except that it was probably people helping themselves to building materials who did the knocking about. The platforms remain, their edges standing boldly white amongst the encroaching trees and it was easy to follow the route of the old line towards the still overgrown southern part of the canal.
We found ourselves walking along an embankment buried in trees and bushes but richly endowed with sweet ripe blackberries. Then over a sturdy brick bridge with a muddy footpath going through a tunnel beneath - a remnant of the canal. There were streams here and there which had serviced the canal, but looking out across the fields, of the canal there was little sign. I could not avoid the thought that the railway line, a latecomer in the steam age, had lasted for only about eighty years, and must have been seen by many as an eyesore. But the walkway that it has become is simply beautiful, rich in wildlife and well-used by local people, as we saw, and will probably last for ever.
A short detour took us to a corn mill in the woods and so to our second bonus as we met the adult son of the owner. He happily talked of how the mill and adjacent house came into his family’s possession, and of the restoration work they were conducting. Also of the career of his now passed away father – a classical cellist who, in the Sixties, became a session musician and frequently worked with The Beatles at Abbey Road. A little showbiz stardust to further brighten our morning.
From there we drove to the main part of the canal’s restoration. The scale of the work, the width of the canal and the close-up view of a huge derelict lock were truly impressive. I heard a lot about the alleged activities of the moles who have heavily occupied the canal bank along which we walked. They are the vanguard of an expected explosion of wildlife. The whole project clearly still has far to go and the landscape is a little raw, but the interest level for visitors is high and the prospects for water sports considerable. A project to visit again.
Photos by Stephen Johnson Noel Mitchell