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Breydon Water

Breydon Water is a large estuary lying just to the east of Great Yarmouth. The Rivers Waveney and Yare enter Breydon before discharging into the North Sea.

Breydon Water Sunset by Phil Carpenter

Breydon Water Sunset © Phil Carpenter

Breydon is approximately four miles long and one mile wide and its water is brackish in character. At low tide, acres of mud-flats are exposed which provide the perfect environment for wading birds and other wildfowl.

Arthur Patterson aka John Knowlittle

Arthur Patterson in his house-boat

Arthur Patterson (1857-1935) is probably the writer most closely associated with Breydon Water. He was the youngest of nine children and was born in the Yarmouth Rows - the son of a shoemaker. From an early age he was passionate about wildlife and spent most of his spare time teaching himself about the plants and animals of Breydon. He worked as a pedlar, a salesman, warehouseman and zookeeper before landing a permanent job as a truant officer.

At the age of 71 he wrote Wild Fowlers and Poachers (1929) - a delightful memoir of his life time on Breydon - celebrating the punt-gunners, fishermen, wild-fowlers, eelers, smelters and poachers that he had known. Many of these men frequented the (now demolished) Bowling Green public house on North Quay.

Rather bizarrely, Wild Fowlers and Poachers was typed by one of Patterson's disciples - a certain Edward Augustine Ellis who was, himself, destined to play a huge part in the conservation of Norfolk's wildlife - namely at Wheatfen Broad near Surlingham.

In total, Patterson wrote 26 books and hundreds of articles, leaflets and periodicals. For many years he contributed nature articles to the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich - publishing under the modest pseudonym of John Knowlittle. In the last year of his life he was honoured by being elected as an Associate Member of the Linnean Society in London.

Eric Fowler (alias Jonathan Mardle) who met Patterson once described him as: '...a little, wiry, bearded man, wrinkled and weather-beaten, but very active and bright-eyed, like one of the dunlin he loved to watch on Breydon mud-flats.'

Breydon Water also provides the setting for the exciting denouement of Arthur Ransome's children's story Coot Club (1934). Mrs Barrable and the children, in the Teasel and the Titmouse, run aground in the fog and the Margoletta and her crew of Hullabaloos, who they have been avoiding since leaving Horning, close in on them. Fortunately, though, the Hullabaloos hit a post and the Margoletta is wrecked. Here is Ransome's ominous description of the arrival of the Margoletta:

'The cruiser had passed the rowing boat now, and came racing up Breydon, foam flying from her bows, a V of wash spreading astern of her across the channel and sending long bustling waves chasing another over the mudflats. Even in the dark Tom had known the noise of the Margoletta's engine. He knew it now, and the tremendous volume of sound sent out by her loud-speaker.'

The treacherous nature of Breydon's channels was also captured by Hugh Money-Coutts in his 1919 verse account of a holiday on the Broads:
'On Breydon Water, when the tide is out,
The channel bounds no sailorman can doubt.
Starboard and port, the miry banks reveal
Where safety lies beneath his cautious keel.
But when the flood has wiped the water clean,
 - Hiding the muddy haunts where seagulls preen
Their wings, and shake their heads - black pillars mark
The channel's edge for each adventuring bark.
Beware; the channel shifts, and now and then
A post deceives the hapless wherrymen.'

Today, the wildfowler's shotguns have largely been replaced by bird-watcher's binoculars and the entire area is now managed by the RSPB. I'm sure that Patterson would have welcomed the conservation of this wetland so dear to his heart. In his final years, the old naturalist wrote: 'The question has often been put to me, "What can we do with Breydon?" ...and his inspired response was: "Let it alone."




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