This is a riverside parish which takes in a wide sweep of the river Yare, which forms its northern boundary. It adjoins Bramerton to the west and Rockland St Mary to the south and east. The village of Surlingham contains Wheatfen Broad where the Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis made his home for the last four decades of his life. I went there in about 1956 with my sister’s friend Tibby (Miss Tibbs). She was studying biology at Oxford and was spending part of her summer vacation with E. A. Ellis to absorb his knowledge of natural history. (He had no formal qualification but was widely respected in academic circles.) I recall his house, Wheatfen Cottage, was deep in the Broadland marshes. It was a very interesting place but, I think, a slightly chaotic environment.
Surlingham is nowadays a rather remote place to get to, but in the past it had two ferry services which linked it to the wider world. One was the self-explanatory Surlingham Ferry, and one was from Coldham Hall. The pubs with these names remain at both locations but there has not been a ferry at either in my memory. Surlingham Ferry does not have any houses very closed on the north side of the river; the village on the far shore is Postwick, which is not a big place. However Coldham Hall would be very close to Brundall if the ferry were still running. You can see plenty of activity on the other bank from Coldham Hall, but it is a journey of many miles to get there, even since the erection of the bridge on the Southern Bypass at Postwick which cuts several off it. Brundall is a large village. Besides having plenty of shops, a library and a Primary School it has not one but two railway stations. In this respect it is the only place in Norfolk to be so fortunate. Across the county boundary in Suffolk Oulton Broad also has two stations, but they are on different lines. Brundall and Brundall Gardens between them have well over 100,000 passengers a year. Many of these will be holiday makers on their way to one of the major boatyards in Brundall. So it is rather strange that Surlingham should be so near and yet so far from a major transport hub.
A hundred years ago the river was a thriving place of industry and this included Surlingham. The North River, the Bure, was already mostly used for leisure craft but the Yare was still used for trade. This not only brought tugs towing barges and sea-going freighters through Surlingham, but boat builders were working along the river bank. Only about a generation before sea going sailing trawlers were being constructed at the boatyard there. You can still see the slipway where wherries were launched next to Coldham Hall. Much longer ago, in 9th century, Viking warriors sailed up the river Yare, intent on dealing death to the local population. Surlingham did not escape, but not all the action was in favour of the invaders. A Viking war axe, found when dredging near Surlingham ferry, suggests a fight took place there in which a Dane lost his axe, and undoubtedly lost his life too.
My son Peter, wife Molly and I joined other members of my family at Coldham Hall to celebrate my sister Tiggie’s 70th birthday in 2008. We used to be regular visitors to Surlingham; Tiggie and I had walked from Bramerton to Surlingham on August Bank Holiday in 1972. You may read about his riverside ramble in my blog for August 26 2012.