Cycling in the Norfolk Broads
There are plenty of pretty villages within easy reach, with ancient churches, wind pumps, pubs, cafes and other attractions to enjoy. Above all, there are stunning views of the Broads, with sails on distant rivers seeming to glide across marshland fields, all beneath the spectacular skies for which the area is famous.
Along the waterways of Norfolk and north-east Suffolk there are many round-towered churches which are said to date from before the Norman Conquest. In a few cases this is so – perhaps twenty of them are of Saxon origin, but most date from after 1066, the period of ‘Norman’ architecture that had gradually changed to a more ‘English’ style by 1200.
Thatch, rare on churches in the rest of England, is common here. A good Norfolk reed thatch should last at least 60 years, often 80, although the sedge on the ridge will have to be renewed more often. This is also an area of superb woodwork: screens, often painted, benches and roofs.
Norfolk’s churches are almost always of flint, either knapped or used as coursed or random rubble. Expensive dressed limestone was used for the arches of arcades and the sides of doorways and windows. Norfolk was a rich county and the patrons of these churches could afford to be lavish, hoping to gain salvation by their generosity.
The church attached to the Norman round tower is substantially 14th century with a later porch. In 1937 the large St Christopher wall painting was discovered and is a fine example.
The folk of Hemblington in the Middle Ages would glance into the church in the morning and consider that, having gazed on the image of the saint, they would be kept safe from untimely death that day. Some of the pews have poppy head ends, and fine figures on their ends and traceried backs.
All Saints, Hemblington
A charming chapel of 1624 –a rare date for a church being erected in England. The church is thatched, like so many churches in the Broads.
A feature is the series of hatchments which depict the coats of arms of local families. Painted on board in the 17th/ 18th century, they were hung outside the house of the deceased for a year before being taken to the church.
St Peter’s, Hoveton
A very famous Broads church with a wonderful view from the top of the 93ft tower.
The Chancel appears to date from the 14th century with a 15th-century nave. There is a fabulous rood screen, probably from the 15th century, painted by itinerant Spanish painters.
The Cantor’s desk, an early lectern, is double-sided, beautifully painted and unique. It was probably used for the Sarum Antiphoner which can be seen in the glass case by the South Door.
The Antiphoner is a real treasure and was probably produced at Langley Abbey (near Loddon) on the River Yare.
St Helen’s, Ranworth
Two churches on one site – unusual but not unique in Norfolk. They originally belonged to adjoining manors and each served their own community.
St Mary’s is now the parish church and St Lawrence’s has been well restored as an arts centre, though it is still consecrated for worship. St Mary’s has a two storey porch which, like the church, is 14th century. The screen has the name of its donor, John Galt, inscribed on it. He was a serf who, when freed in 1437, paid for the building in gratitude. There are some interesting stained glass windows in the chancel.