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The River Waveney

Were I in my castle
Upon the River Waveney,
I wouldne give a button
For the King of Cockney.

(Hugh the Bold 1173)

The River Waveney rises at Redgrave Fen and then flows eastward towards Great Yarmouth. For much of its course it provides the border between Norfolk and Suffolk - however just south of St Olaves the border turns right to follow the southern side of Fritton Decoy and the Waveney flows on to Breydon Water.

River Waveney at Bungay Common

River Waveney at Bungay Common

The Lincolnshire poet Jean Ingelow (1820-1897) wrote a charming poem called The Waveney about the river in its upper reaches.

The Waveney

Listen to me -
There is a little river, fed by rills
That winds among the hills,
And turns and suns itself unceasingly,
And wanders through the cornfields wooingly,
For it has nothing else to do, but play
Along its cheery way:
Not like great rivers that in locks are bound,
On whom hard man doth heavy burdens lay,
And fret their waters into foam and spray.
This river's life is one long holiday
                                          All the year round.

Listen and long -
It hears the bells of many churches chime,
It has a pleasant time:
The trees that bow to it their branches strong,
Hide many birds that make its spring one song,
And orchard boughs let fall their flowery wealth,
To float away by stealth,
And land in tiny coves a mile below,
Or round and round the stems of rushes veer
Like snowy foam, but truly none is here,
So calmly gurgle on the waters clear
                                          With endless flow.

The nature writer Richard Mabey now lives at Roydon. He moved here after fifty years living in his family home in the Chiltern hills. The move to Norfolk helped him to recover from clinical depression and inspired his moving memoir Nature Cure (2005). The book deals candidly with his illness and how the flat, watery lands of Norfolk helped to reconnect him again with the natural world. During the worst period of his illness, he was confined to the same hospital in Northampton as the poet John Clare. Mabey is friendly with Mark Cocker - another talented nature writer - who lives at Claxton in the Yare valley.

After Roydon, the river flows past the market town of Diss - where the poet John Skelton was once the rector of St. Mary's Church. It then heads on past Redenhall - where the playwright Arnold Wesker found inspiration for his play Roots.

The painter Sir Alfred Munnings was born at Mendham on the Suffolk side of the river in 1878. He was the son of the local miller and moved to Norwich at the age of 14 to train as a poster designer. He was inspired by the scenery of the Waveney valley and is particularly remembered for his paintings of horses.

At Homersfield there is a unique concrete bridge - which was the first to be built anywhere in the UK.

Homersfield Bridge

Homersfield Bridge

At Bungay the river circles Outney Common in a large loop and is overlooked by The Bath House - a large white cottage which was once owned by Lilias Rider Haggard - the daughter of Sir Henry Rider Haggard. The Haggard family also owned nearby Ditchingham House.

Lilias was a talented writer in her own right and was the author of a trilogy of books about the county: Norfolk Life, Norfolk Notebook and Country Scrapbook - written during and after WW2. Most of the essays in these books originally appeared in the Eastern Daily Press.

The Bath House

The Bath House

Here is a wonderful description of the winter Waveney at Bungay Common from Norfolk Life:

'The snow-flood is coming down the river, and a steadily rising tide of turbid water creeps over the marshes. This afternoon the Common lay without sound, a flat, grey expanse up to the low hills on the horizon, where the woods lie black against the sky. Behind them the sun, a furious ball, was sinking through a pall of mist. A solitary swan was moving in the sunset waters of the river.'

Bungay is also the home of the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. Howard, who has published many novels, is probably best known for her Cazalets Chronicles. Her autobiography Slipstream dealt candidly with her various love affairs and marriages. She was originally married to the naturalist Peter Scott and then later to fellow novelist Kingsley Amis. She famously had affairs with Cecil Day-Lewis, Laurie Lee, Cyril Connolly and the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.

Another author with a close connection to the river was the nature writer Roger Deakin (1943-2006). Deakin, who lived in a moated Elizabethan farmhouse at Mellis Common near Diss, was well known as a wild swimmer. His book Waterlog (1999) was an account of his swimming expeditions through out Britain and the Waveney was one of his favourite locations:

'With its secret pools and occasional sandy beaches, the Waveney is full of swimming holes, diving stages improvised from wooden pallets, dangling ropes, and upturned canoes pulled up on the bank. Every two or three miles you come to a weir and a whitewashed watermill.'

The river becomes navigable at Geldeston and then passes through Beccles. In Arthur Ransome's Coot Club, the children and Mrs Barrable sail up the Waveney from Yarmouth in the Teasel and moor at Beccles. On their way back they enter Oulton Broad but are caught in a bad storm.

The novelist James Blyth, who lived at Fritton, set many of his works against the background of the River Waveney - in particular its reed beds and wide flood plain. Shortly after Fritton, the Waveney merges with the River Yare at Breydon Water.

More photographs of the River Waveney




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