A favourite ramble of mine is an eight-mile route through Sheringham Park and along the cliff path that looks out over the North Sea.
As a Norfolk-based content writer, I’ve often been commissioned to write about this beautiful county, and much of what I see on this walk brings back memories of some very enjoyable research.
Sheringham Park is the brain child of the acclaimed landscape gardener, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who, after attempts at making a living as journalist, artist, confidential secretary, dramatist, political agent, and textile merchant, hit on the idea of combining his two greatest skills, sketching and gardening, and thus began a successful career as a landscape gardener – a term coined by Repton himself.
In 1812, Humphry Repton was commissioned by Abbot and Charlotte Upcher to design their newly purchased estate. Humphry’s architect son, John Adey Repton (1775-1860), was engaged to design their new home, Sheringham Hall.
Now owned and lovingly maintained by the National Trust, Sheringham Park is famous for its luscious display of rhododendrons in early summer. It was Thomas Upcher (1905-1985) who developed this stunning collection of more than 80 species of rhododendron. And it was Thomas who, in 1975, erected the Temple, which had been included in Repton’s original plans for Sheringham Park.
Beyond the northern edge of the Park is the Poppy Line.
The North Norfolk Railway (Poppy Line) is a remnant of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GNJR), which was established in 1893, when the Eastern & Midlands Railway was jointly purchased by the Midland Railway and the Great Northern Railway.
The Poppy Line is one of Norfolk’s most popular tourist attractions, offering driver experience days, murder mystery evenings, and the celebrated Santa Special at Christmas time.
But the Poppy Line’s greatest triumph is the annual 1940s Weekend in September, which is one of the largest and most popular events of its kind in the country.
Weybourne Tower Windmill
Weybourne Tower Mill – a combination of agricultural history and elegant 20th century architecture – must surely feature among Norfolk’s most photographed landmarks. The east-facing skeleton sails, hand-made by Bunting & Son in 2008, are fixed in place. But it’s nice to know that, were the brake to be released, these beautiful white giants, each weighing one tonne, would be turned around by the North Sea winds.
John Sidney Brocklesby
The mill was in service from 1850 until 1916. Since then, the building has been through some drastic changes, yet has somehow retained the essence of a working mill. This is testimony to the expertise of architects and builders of the 20th and 21st centuries.
In the late 1920s, Weybourne Windmill belonged to the well-known architect, John Sidney Brocklesby (1879-1955), who transformed the derelict mill into a home. Brocklesby had a penchant for using natural timbers in his work. One of the most impressive features in the mill today is the two-storey-high post – a 500-year-old tree trunk – procured from Weybourne’s dismantled post mill.
A small hollow has been cut out of the post, and the wood around this nook bears the scars of fixtures that at one time held in place a heavy metal cover. This hidey-hole was a miller’s cashbox.
Bunting & Son
The windmill last changed hands in 1997. Again, the building underwent a rigorous make-over. Bunting & Son, a family building firm based in Fakenham, was commissioned by the new owners to carry out the work; the plans were drawn up by local architect, Mike Yarham.
Because the foundations were unsteady, Buntings had no option but to undertake the mammoth task of underpinning the building and feeding reinforced concrete into the foundations. The present owner remembers lying face-down on the ground and peering into the cavernous space beneath her house!
When the builders dismantled the roof, they discovered that the truss was made up of tree branches. Michael Bunting recalls talking to a man from the village, who remembered the renovation in 1929. The man talked about freshly harvested timbers being carried back from the woods to be used in the roof structure – a typical feature of J S Brocklesby’s style.
Weybourne Windmill is protected by listed-building status. Reclaimed bricks and tiles from the mill and from other sites in Norfolk were used for repair and extension, and large slabs of reclaimed York stone were used for flooring throughout the ground floor. The mill’s original grindstones were discovered on the site, and these are now featured within the outdoor paving.
The tower was sand-blasted to remove the tar that covered the walls, both inside and out, and the brickwork was patched up with reclaimed bricks before being sprayed with a durable water repellent. New railings were specially made to match the elegant wrought iron gate that Brocklesby brought to Norfolk from his London home in 1929. The gate and railings can still be seen at the front of the house.
From the north-facing rooms of this magnificent house, one looks out onto Sheringham Shoal Windfarm. The mill’s sails no longer turn. But a dozen miles out to sea, another generation of wind-powered machinery is working hard.
Sheringham Shoal Windfarm
Norfolk is well known for being windy, and so it’s not surprising that wind power has featured heavily in the history of Norfolk trade. Over the years, dozens of windmills have been in operation in the county, and for centuries fishermen relied on sailboats for their livelihood. Jutting into the relatively shallow water of the windy North Sea, Norfolk is an ideal location for the high-production offshore windfarm, which was opened in 2012.
Sheringham Shoal Windfarm, constructed in response to an increasing national demand for electrical energy, and the Earth’s diminishing resources of fossil fuel, is one of the largest, in terms of output, in the world. On the site, which covers 13.5 square miles and is between 10.5 and 14 miles north of Sheringham, there stand 88 wind turbines, each 263 feet high, with 170-foot-long blades. There are also two offshore substations, where energy is collected and conveyed to shore via export cables that are also used for carrying computer and phone signals. The harvested energy is moved inland to the Salle substation, and then into the regional grid. The power is eventually fed into the national grid for use by consumers.
Some people detest the sight of these 88 wading giants, and others consider them beautiful. Aesthetics apart, they represent the future of power production at a time when the world is running out of fossil fuel. Personally, I think they’re wonderful.
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