Broads & beaches
Lindsay Want tracks down Lowestoft’s industrious past on a station to seaside walk
Walking at Lowestoft and Oulton Broad
Alight at Oulton Broad’s south station and find yourself in a delightful dilemma. In one direction is the wild world of Carlton Marshes with tales of bogbeans, great Fen Raft spiders, and soaring marsh harriers. In the other, life seems simply a walk in the Nicholas Everitt park. West, the River Waveney beckons ramblers along its banks and the Angles Way for a 10-mile stride to Beccles. But what lies east, outside the beautiful Oulton Broad-side walk-ways of the park? Follow the North Lowestoft footpaths and just four miles of gentle urban exploration and unexpected green spaces later, you’ll find refreshing seaviews and sand between the toes. Along the way you’ll be transported back in time.
SECRETS OF LAKE LOTHING
Who can tell how many people, over how many centuries have stood on a bridge at Oulton Broad and looked out across the water. The ‘Broad’ bit is a relatively new addition, created after things got chilly in the 13th century. Generations of Suffolk ancestors dug out peat by the cartload, then abandoned the shallow exhausted pit to fill with water. You’ll find the whole story, and much more, at Lowestoft Museum, in Nicholas Everitt Park.
Gaze eastwards from the ancient crossing and meeting point of Mutford Bridge (moot-ford bridge) and it’s a different story. Suffolk boasts few lakes, but this is, apparently, one of them. Thanks to the floods and tides of time, long-shore drift and human endeavour, Lake Lothing has had to go with flow of now fresh, now salt waters and seen its identity shift from deep creek, to enclosed lake, to its current state of well-protected, yet open-to-the sea harbourlands. No wonder its unusual name has overtones of general disgruntlement.
A lock at Mutford Bridge safeguards Oulton’s broad from a similar salty fate and, together with Oulton Dyke and Haddiscoe Cut, allows vessels to sail from Lowestoft upriver to Norwich, bypassing Great Yarmouth. By the Wherry Hotel, it’s tempting to sit back and sip a while, but duck and dive by bascule bridges and tunnels, alongside jetties, boatyards and marinas and you’re soon on the edge of a different watery world, standing by the slipways of what was once the leading timber shipbuilding port of England, watching oystercatchers dip and stride, cormorants perch and herring gulls fish about for their supper.
It’s a haunting place, still rippling with secret stories of wartime torpedo boats repaired in the shipyards, of tethered tank-training craft, and doodlebugs cruising in from Corton to land in the lake, yet damaging windows over a mile away. Massive concrete anti-tank landing blocks still dot the landscape. Lake Lothing may seem a fish out of water, but its banks still resound to the intermittent bangs and clangs of boatbuilding and there’s a sense that it has been a key mover and shaker for centuries. In the Domesday Book you’ll find Lowestoft recorded as ‘Lothuwistoft’.
Swing inland behind Leathes Ham and just a green and pleasant stroll through Normanston Park away, North Quay Retail Park is home to Lowestoft’s first ever bus depot in 1912. This site soon became Eastern Coach Works Ltd, the town’s largest full-time employer by 1936. Come wartime, it was hardly prudent to have fleets of wheeled vehicles lined up and waiting for an invading army to jump on board, so production halted. By 1947 business was going full throttle again and even into the 1960s, the sight of a be-goggled delivery driver daring to ride a bus chassis ‘bare back’ through the streets of Lowestoft, hardly attracted a turn of the head. The town’s love affair with such impressive body-builders sustained into the 1980s.
If only North Lowestoft’s railway line had been so lucky. At least there’s plenty to remember it by. Alongside the old coachworks site, the Great Eastern Linear Park picks up part of the old line from Lowestoft Central, stretching along an open cutting towards Yarmouth Road and the Denes. It’s a pretty, wide and straightforward path along the track-bed, just right for walkers and cyclists. In the 1950s, long trains like The Easterling left Liverpool Street station on summer Saturdays, packed with excited ‘hol’deemakers’. First stop Lowestoft Central, then it reversed to head up to North Lowestoft station’s extended platforms close to the holiday camps by The Denes, before continuing via Gorleston-on-Sea to Yarmouth. The station closed in 1970, but you can still spot the stationmaster’s house on the corner of Station Road, as you head towards Gunton Cliff and North Parade for a first glimpse of sand and sea.
LIFE’S A BEACH
Or a Sparrow’s Nest. Across the brightly painted bridge commemorating Victoria’s jubilee, the poignant towering war memorial in Belle Vue Park stops you in your tracks. Steps lead down into a nest of garden terraces, cafés, museums, a bowling green, open stage, ponds and play places all set beneath the white lighthouse. The Sparrow’s Nest is the last gloriously green spot before tales of ‘beach companies’ and the massive ‘Beach Village’ fishing community unravel by the old net-mending posts and abandoned anchors near the seawall. By Ness Point, where the sun rises first, bustling South Beach beckons across the harbour in the distance. Inland, the steep, narrow ‘scores’ leading up to old town Lowestoft suggest a past just waiting for a new dawn. And out to sea, great Gulliver, the 126 metre wind turbine, stands testimony to an industrious place, determined to keep wheels turning and happy to keep on reinventing its ways.