Broads & beaches

Lind­say Want tracks down Low­est­oft’s in­dus­tri­ous past on a sta­tion to sea­side walk

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

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.

The beach village and Light­house Score

Oul­ton Broad by Mut­ford Bridge

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