Living Heritage

I didn’t really think when I went to the Heritage Day activities on Sunday, September 13th, I’d end up with a wildlife blog. But I’ve become attuned to looking out for wildlife wherever I go and King’s Lynn’s heritage is closely bound to a river, which is a living dynamic thing.

Walking  from the car park into town, I heard a Blue Tit, saw two Blackbirds and a Dunnock. They were making use of the trees, shrubs and patches of green that are actually fairly well spread across our Norfolk town. The gulls became more noticeable as we neared  the town centre.

Our visits during this year’s special day, which sees a lot of historic buildings not normally open to the public welcoming visitors, seemed to centre on gardens and around the River Great Ouse, especially as it was sunny and warm.

The six Priory Cottages were once part of the Benedictine Priory, founded around 1100. Restored by the King’s Lynn Preservation Trust in 1974,  each cottage has its own little area of garden, individualised by a variety of plants and furniture.

Walking down Nelson Street and into St Margaret’s Lane, we just had time to discover the “secret garden” at Hampton Court, which has become established where the River Great Ouse once flowed. Several hundred years ago, ships would have berthed at the arcaded front of this 15th century riverside warehouse and then unloaded their cargoes. Over the ensuing years, the River was pushed further westwards by the dumping of rubbish and silting up and some of the newly acquired piece of land was turned into a garden. The arcades were filled in during the 17th century. A big mulberry tree, which we were told grows very quickly, fills a corner ot the plot.

We also paid a further visit to the “inclusive garden” in Ferry Lane. Part of the Art and Landscape Project, volunteers have worked during the last two years with artist Lyndall Phelps and King’s Lynn Arts Centre to create this delightful garden. It has been designed with wildlife in mind and the gardeners reuse and recycle all manner of things. And it all clearlly works, for there were plenty of bees and hoverflies about.

It’s quite amazing that gems like these – beautiful and restful spaces for humans and attractive to wildlife – lie behind high walls and amongst an area closely packed with buildings. Well done to all those who have turned them into oases of calm in a busy town.

Sometimes, the plants take charge themselves, like in one old, tall brick wall, not far from the car park. Along its top were several colourful flowering plants. Delightful – and it gives hope, too, that nature will find itself a niche for the future somehow.

The Wash and North Norfolk Coast European Marine Site group had an informative display. This site was created under UK and EU law in 1996 to protect both the internationally important bird species which make use of the area and its unique coastal features. Stretching from near Gibraltar Point, in Lincolnshire, up to near Holt, in Norfolk, the site covers more than 107,000 hectares of marine environment. The display, which included photographs and children’s activities, provided details of how to behave in the area and information on invasive non-native species which may be found in estuaries.

Berthed at the pontoons on the South Quay were three vessels from the Inland Fisheries Conservation Authority’s fleet. One of them was the brand new, “Sebastian Terelinck” which was officially named during the afternoon.

The Inland Fisheries Conservation Authority fleet. The new vessel is first left.
The Inland Fisheries Conservation Authority fleet. The new vessel is first left.
The water level was so low you could almost walk from bank to bank.
The water level was so low you could almost walk from bank to bank.

Back at the riverside at the end of the day, I didn’t think I’d seen the water level so low, revealing as it did large expanses of mud. It seemed as though you could walk across from bank to bank in some places. What a contrast with a night some twenty-one months earlier when a storm surge along the east coast nearly tipped the River Great Ouse over the top of its floodgates on to the South Quay: it was an extremely close call. Such a constantly changing force is the River that the Harbour Master told us that his team left it to its own natural rythms, otherwise dredging it would become a lifetime’s job. A pilot boat is always sent to guide ships into the docks at King’s Lynn.

A channel in the mud snakes into the River.
A channel in the mud snakes into the River.

The gulls were enjoying themselves, in and out of the water – apart possibly from the “squeaking” youngsters who, presumably, wanted feeding, but didn’t seem to be getting any response from their parents!

Our day was a reminder that heritage is more than buildings; animals, birds, plants and trees help to make up the fabric of our lives. It’s ALL worth preserving.

One of the most famous buildings in King's Lynn, the Custom House, built by Henry Bell in 1685.
One of the most famous buildings in King’s Lynn, the Custom House, built by Henry Bell in 1685.
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