The Staithe at Horning Church
The rain stopped just in time for us to visit the church at Horning.
I had not been for over twenty years. The lovely St Benedict’s church tends to get missed by many visitors to Horning, as it stands in the countryside some way out of the village. It was strange being back, like a scene out of a novel where the protagonist returns to a place of his youth. The Go Between, perhaps, or Carr’s A Month in the Country.During my time as an undergraduate at UEA (University of East Anglia), I would go up to Wroxham and hire a boat and head down the Bure and into the heart of the Norfolk Broads. I first discovered the church at Horning in the company of the UEA literary society in about my second week at the university. Carrying a goodly supply of wine and a gramophone, we hired a cruiser and headed down river. We saw the church up on the hill and moored at the tiny Staithe below, following a footpath up to St Benedict. I don’t remember much else about that trip as we all got rather tipsy and just about managed to get the cruiser back to Wroxham.
Times later, I would hire a more modest boat and explore the Broads alone. University terms not coinciding with the holiday season, the rivers and Broads of Norfolk were very quiet with very few boats about. It was possible to get very close to the birds. I remember hearing a Bittern – that unforgettable sound that seemed to make the air around me vibrate. On freezing winter days I roamed the waters the wildfowl not moving as I steered between them. On glorious spring mornings I lay back in the boat to read the books I was meant to be studying.
I would nearly always moor at the Staithe and walk up to Horning Church, a most interesting building historically and architecturally, in a beautiful and peaceful setting. Accessing it up a footpath from the river was an added pleasure.
Over the twenty years that I was away from Norfolk, through bad times and good, I often thought of the church on the higher ground above the river, remembering the peace inside the building and the lovely countryside around the churchyard. Always in my mind the few hundred yards of footpath down to the Staithe.
In all that time it had not changed. The building was as splendid as I remembered, with that same sense of stillness and permanence that I remembered. As we stood on the Staithe, I thought back on all those boating trips, my adventures in the marshes and the broads, always pressing on to see the next bend in the river.