By Michael Lovitt
8-11 May, 2017.
This year 33 pilgrims from the Field Society made their way to King’s Lynn, appropriately formerly styled Bishop’s Lynn, the nearest we have been to Canterbury in this century. The Best Western hotel was well placed near a ring
road which made for easy access to a variety of places within an hour’s drive.
On the first morning we were taken in two groups on a tour of King’s Lynn by expert guides. We learned how important King’s Lynn was as a medieval port closely aligned with the Hanseatic League and still revealing evidence of its powerful mercantile culture, witnessed in particular with its superb timber framed warehouse. Broader cultural interests were apparent in the magnificent Guildhall of St George, recognised as the largest surviving fifteenth century guildhall in Britain. Shakespeare may well have strode the boards here. Much older is the recently dedicated twelfth century Minster where in the porch we were shown the high flood markings,floods being a regular feature of this low lying city.
During the rest of the stay members pursued their special interests. Some of us visited Grimes’ Graves and climbed
down a thirty foot ladder to see at first hand where the Neolithic flints were mined with red deer antler tools. Others explored Ely cathedral (right) and, assisted by guides with torches, craned necks to see the bizarre green men on
the ceiling of the vast rectangular Lady Chapel. A few brave pilgrims climbed the 177 steps of the Octagon to the Lantern and experienced at first hand the amazing engineering and views. The same intrepid pilgrims visited a crowded Walsingham, one of its architects being Sir William Milner, who designed Parcevall Hall.
Almost all of the North Norfolk coast is protected by nature reserves of national and international importance. One of the best-known of these is Titchwell Marsh which has been managed, mainly for birds, by the RSPB to provide a spectrum of fresh-water, brackish and salt-water lagoons, and extensive reedbeds along with salt marsh and a coastal beach of sand and shingle. Breeding marsh harriers and avocets were continuously in view for a group of us including the first avocet chick of the season. The sounds of reed, marsh and Cetti’s warblers were all around the reedbeds, with good views of whitethroats and reed buntings. Many species of waders and ducks were present including a few bar-tailed godwit and dunlin. Some of the group were privileged to see and hear a turtle dove, a migratory species becoming extremely rare in Britain. Another group saw over a dozen grey plovers in beautiful summer plumage along the coastal path from Snettisham.
Stately homes are everywhere. Houghton Hall is a Palladian mansion built in the 1720s for Sir Robert Walpole to designs by James Gibbs and Colen Campbell, with interior decoration by William Kent. From the car park, the first building to be seen is the rectangular stable block built of brick and the local ochre Snettisham carstone, which houses the reception area, cafe and gift shop. A pleached lime walk leads on to the house itself, faced with a light grey and buff Jurassic sandstone, which was quarried in Yorkshire and shipped from Whitby to King’s Lynn. The house has been restored and the staterooms on the first floor which are open to the public are impressive, containing many of their original furnishings, with mahogany doors and window surrounds picked out in gold. The house and gardens were being used for the exhibition Earth Sky: Richard Long at Houghton. Wood, flint, slate and carstone had been sculpted to form circles and linear features, including a wood ‘henge’ on the lawn, and a flint circle on the floor of the magnificent cubic stone hall.
A number of us visited Oxburgh Hall. This was built in 1482 and was the home of the Bedingfield family. It houses a remarkable priest hole used successfully by hunted priests and outside is the famous five-acre walled garden. This group ventured on to view the superb remains and the astonishingly well preserved magnificent west front of the Cluniac Priory at Castle Acre.
Possibly the most memorable experience for most of us, and it was to be found right in the centre of King’s Lynn, was a visit to Lynn Museum to see the Seahenge exhibition (right), featuring the remains of a prehistoric timber circle from Holme Beech, originally built on salt marsh. Discovered in 1998, it dates back 4 000 years to the Early Bronze Age.
A very happy time indeed. Many, many thanks Hanneke for all your hard work and thanks to everyone who contributed to this report.