Slow Ways story contributor, community artist and founder of Under Open Sky, Genevieve Rudd, embarks on a watery wander through the Broads from Great Yarmouth
It was a warm sunny morning in Great Yarmouth as I set off along route Aclgre one from the railway station. I’ve been having some health problems recently, affecting my energy levels and my sight, so I decided to walk six miles, rather than the full eleven. My adapted route would follow the northern edge of Breydon Water, following the Weavers Way trail which eventually leads to Cromer, to my destination at Berney Arms Station in the Norfolk Broads. I blocked out the whole day in my diary for the walk, giving myself permission to be leisurely.
A week before the walk, I had been working with the Rest & Digest cohort. This year, I’ve been commissioned by Claire Atherton to lead their monthly Wellness Walks in local natural spaces. The programme supports artists living or working in/around the Great Yarmouth area with wellbeing activities, training, supervision and mentoring. We had been walking around Burgh Castle, situated on the southern side of Breydon Water. From the higher vantage point at the Roman fort, we looked out at the windmills and dwellings dotted along an otherwise flat marsh landscape, including looking directly across to the Berney Arms windmill and pub, today’s walk destination. Just a few days before, I was over the water being curious about the path and here I was, walking it a few days later, about to discover what lay ahead.
After using the public conveniences at the station, I made my way along the edge of ASDA car park. Between tarmac and salt marsh, the River Waveney flows inland as Breydon Water and north back into town as the River Bure. The busy A149 heaves over the water on the Bure Bridge to meet the A47. It’s known locally as the ‘new bridge’ (it opened in 1971) and will soon become the ‘old new bridge’ as the long-awaited Third River Crossing is being constructed less than two miles away. I took the footpath under the bridge, emerging into cow parsley and Alexanders along the edge of Breydon Water. The deep green bird hide on stilts looks across the landscape and, for a while, I thought I was alone in this space, but I spotted someone nestled in the banks, vaping.
The path is an ecotone between rail and road traffic and the vast watery landscape. The path is mostly hidden along the route and it puts me on edge. The sound is dominated by the industrial backdrop as I made unknown steps into the overgrown long grass. I looked down the grassy bank to my right and the water to my left, making tentative steps. I wondered, “will the whole journey be like this?”. As I looked back, I saw a figure coming towards me, and so I sped up. Walking alone as a woman is nerve-wracking. Would the cars rushing past see me, witness me? I had sent my husband my live location on WhatsApp before I set off, just in case. I lumbered through grass and nettles that rise to my waist, the person behind me keeping pace. I set myself a goal, to reach the gate – and to breathe.
As I look back, I see a figure coming towards me. I speed up through the dense path. Walking alone as a woman is nerve-wracking.
As I made my way through the open gate, I closed it behind me. In a gap in the verdant greenery, there is a bench with an inscription: Mayflower. The perfect spot to breathe, eat a snack and wait for the other person to pass. Walking in the month of May, resting on the Mayflower bench and seeing the Mayflower (hawthorn) bloom around me feels right and I settle into the warmth. Fortunately, the walker and his dog weren’t up for chatting when they eventually caught up. They passed through and he barely registered my “lovely day for it!” I laughed to myself and tucked into the cookie my husband had offered me for the walk.
The path opened up as the skylarks chorused around me. I was alone, happy and calmer as the route drifted away from the road. It took me a while to get into the zone of the walk. Concern for the person approaching me, combined with concerns about my energy levels, caused me to speed up. It felt like the Earth was responding to me. I unintentionally walked at my usual pace, a “fast walk with purpose,” as some have described it. Dried cut grass gathered like cuffs on my boots, making me aware of my feet and slowing me down. I took deeper breaths, smiled and sunk into the joy of being here, in the sun, by the water. Walking through grass requires a more careful footing compared to concrete. I noticed something straggle across the path ahead of me, perhaps a lizard. Finally, without noticing, there was no road noise.
The pub of yore
Brushing my sides, thick grass and frothy blossoms of cow parsley are tufted with wildflowers and fennel, rising up to abundant hawthorn and cumulus. It’s bursting with life in this flat nothingness landscape. I felt grateful for the peace and warmth. The path threads through the curvy line of Breydon Water and I followed it, blending from the Aclgre one to the Weavers Way, named after the locality’s Medieval textile heritage.
Growing up in the Great Yarmouth area, walking to Berney Arms, one of the most remote pubs and train stations in the UK, was a right of passage. The pub has been closed since 2015, but arriving at the site, even with its signage now removed, I remember going into the venue many years ago. I went to the Berney Arms with my boyfriend at the time as a teen, and it seemed like a proper old-man-pub: quaint and old fashioned to my young eyes. I’d probably really appreciate it now; I’d certainly welcome a refreshing cold drink at this stage of the walk!
The pub feels large against the otherwise flat landscape. Berney Marshes, like Breydon Water, is managed by the RSPB and is one of the largest wet grasslands in the UK. I stopped at a picnic bench outside the ex-pub for my lunch break: a roll and a flask of herbal tea, picked that morning from my garden. From its gardens at the back of the building, the sound of someone hammering began to annoy me. I was enjoying being alone through the landscape with just me and the swooping birds, rippling water and swaying grasses. There were two others close to the docked pleasure boats, enjoying the sunshine, but I felt crowded by their presence. I moved away from the sound and continued along the dock to find another spot to rest awhile.
Britain’s least used station 2019/20
As I laid across “vast skies” (the words carved into the wooden bench), I surrendered into the moment. Boots off, face covered by my sunhat, I rested by the lapping water with my eyes closed. What a pleasure to be held in the space. After about an hour of drifting in and out of sleep, I moved on to the final half-mile of my walk. The Weavers Way travels across a cow grazing field, dotted with cow pats and soggy marshy puddles. I gave the cows a wide berth as I passed, picking up the pace again, tentatively. I slipped through the gate, closed it behind me, and made my way to the platform.
Berney Arms Station is one of the most remote in the UK, only accessible by train, foot or boat.
Berney Arms Station is one of the most remote in the UK, only accessible by train, foot or boat. The only other living being along the single track was a deer, its white backside flashing down the line as it was startled by my presence. There are six seats at the station, which feels generous. A strange noise caught my attention: the almost electronic song of the Lapwing, a red-list endangered bird. I set my rucksack down and checked the timetable. I vaguely remembered that in the hour of 3pm there was a train due. I hadn’t memorised the exact time, nor the destination. It turned out to be Norwich-bound, the opposite direction to my home in Great Yarmouth. Fortunately, even in these remote parts, there is still phone signal! I called a taxi from a few stops down the line to take me home.
A couple of stops down the line, I alighted at Brundall Station. I waved to my driver in the car park. “Busy day?” he asks. I said I’d just walked from Great Yarmouth to Berney Arms. He’s shocked that I’ve walked alone, telling me that if I was to do it again, I should take someone with me. I told him the pleasure of it, for me, was being alone. As we made our way onto the A47 heading back to Great Yarmouth, he described walking as a “tablet for the body and mind – better than any doctor!”, and I smiled in agreement. He told me that where he is from, on the Iran-Iraq border, they would walk at night to exchange supplies during the war. These walks were fraught with danger; many people he knew were killed by soldiers. He tells me of a friend that perished walking in the snow: when they uncovered his body, they found that he’d even burnt his money for warmth. He has further stories of family and friends being disabled by navigating fields of land mines. I feel deeply grateful for the safety of my own walk.
As I arrived home, I was exhausted and refreshed in equal measure. I thought of the taxi driver and his concerned words, of his experience of walking as a way to manoeuvre the rupture of war. I thought back to my encounter with people and other beings along the route, those moments of peace dotted with anxiety. The aspect I enjoy most about walking is being alone. The freedom and sense of peace that comes with just being me: going at my own pace, resting and stopping when I need to, and moving how my body feels most comfortable.
Eventually, my Anthotypes will fade away, as a non-fixed photographic process, but for a long time I’ll remember the abundant mayflower blossoms and vast skies at Breydon Water.
An anthotype to remember
The intention that emerged from my walk – the joy of being ‘me’ in the landscape – is what I chose to mull over in the days after. I gathered some poppy petals, lichen, buttercups and fennel along the route and used them for creating Anthotype photographic images. In this process, I ground up the plants with a splash of white vinegar and coated their juice onto watercolour paper. I cut out silhouette shapes of me, photographed on the walk, to expose on the papers over three days. Due to the variable and experimental nature of the process, the red poppy turned purple, from the buttercup and lichen a curved watermark has appeared, and the figure in the fennel is barely there: my silhouette has fully assimilated into the plantscape! Whilst waiting for the Anthotype prints to sun themselves, I played with my gelli plate, to create some small postcards celebrating the Spring abundance and sweeping lines in the landscape. Eventually, my Anthotypes will fade away, as a non-fixed photographic process, but for a long time I’ll remember the abundant mayflower blossoms and vast skies at Breydon Water.
Genevieve Rudd is an experienced community artist based in/from Great Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast. She develops creative projects that encourage closer looking, and that ask about the places and people around us. These include environmental arts, working outdoors, walking and nurturing nature-connection through creativity. Genevieve’s participatory work with people often explores the intersection between arts, health & wellbeing, and climate & environment. In her own arts practice, she considers themes of time, place and seasonality through slow photographic practices. This includes growing plants to use in her work, capturing seasonal moments and weather events, and creating artwork that can compost back to the earth. Genevieve is a qualified Wild Beach Leader and Founder of Under Open Sky, a not-for-profit organisation exploring our relationships to the changing coastal climate through multidisciplinary approaches, based in East Anglia.