Holt Lowes is mostly heath, with marsh around the valley which takes the river Glaven on its journey to the sea; here the river is flowing due south, and it has to turn through 180 degrees to reach its mouth at Blakeney Point. There are the woods of Holt Country Park adjacent to the Lowes. This facility is a relatively recent addition to the land available to the public. It did not exist when I was schoolboy in Holt. When I first became aware of the Lowes in 1959 the woods were private property and off limits. They came up for sale around 1980. There are several acres of woodland and the asking price was £20,000. That does not sound very much today, but this was over 30 years ago. In the end it was bought by North Norfolk District Council and turned into a valuable public space and nature reserve.
When my friends used to cycle to the Lowes from our boarding school in Holt I was at a considerable disadvantage because I could not at the time ride a bike. Although it was not too far to run, it was still a fair distance, and I was fairly exhausted by the time I got there. My friends who had cycled there were waiting for we when I arrived. Once I had learnt to ride I was often at the Lowes. We built ourselves dens in the rhododendron bushes that grew at the far end of the heath, near the river.
By the time I had gone up to the senior school I did not travel to the Lowes so often, but the cross country runs were held there. By then I was old enough to get out of running myself, and my visits to the Lowes involved watching others run. There is that well-known photograph of James Dyson as a teenager competing in such a run; it is reproduced in his autobiography, Against the Odds. That picture was taken on the Holt Lowes, and I was among the spectators; but do I remember any of the competitors? Not really, but I do recall to vomit flecked cheeks of the runners. (Hard running makes extreme demands on the human body.) As I suggested before, I did not enjoy cross country running, even as a spectator. Maybe that is why I have not become a vacuum cleaner billionaire.
The other side of the Norwich Road was similar heathland but not known as the Lowes. This part was variously called Holt Heath or Edgefield Heath. It is now largely covered by a softwood plantation. Before the Second World War Basil Kybird’s grandparents lived in a cottage on the heath, and he was born there in 1928. It was basic living in those days, with no mains electricity, water or indeed any services at all, but he had some wonderful times staying with his grandparents on the heath. His account of life there has an idyllic quality. Basil’s grand parents were William and Daisy Rix. William worked as a porter at Holt station. His wife was born in Letheringsett and he was born in Holt. In 1911 they were living in Carpenters Arms Yard in Holt.The cottage had fallen into a ruinous state many years ago. CLICK HERE to see the cottage as it is today.
In the last twenty years or so the Country Park has been a place where my wife Molly took our young children on some organised nature trails. This was when they were 9 or 10 years old. One of the best of these was a ‘fungus forage’, for mushrooms do not run away if you make a noise; with an expert in charge nor do you run the risk of accidental poisoning. This reminds me of my friend Pearl who gave me and my sister some mushrooms because she wasn’t feeling well enough to eat them herself. We started to peel them when we noticed our fingers turning yellow; it was Agaricus xanthodermus, the mildly poisonous Yellow Stainer. No wonder Pearl wasn’t feeling like eating any more of them. We didn’t know till later than she felt queasy after her supper of mushrooms!