It might be a surprise to some to know that Mile Cross has its own little Nature reserve, comparable to the likes of Marston Marshes to the South of the City, only far more interesting and relatively unheard of.
As the River Wensum slowly winds it way through the Norfolk Countryside on its journey from its source out near Whissonsett to its confluence with the Yare in Whitlingham, it moistens the Southern boundary of Mile Cross as it glides silently by. The Wensum has been designated as one of the most important Chalk Streams in the Country and is home to a diverse selection of Flora and Fauna. As it slides its way past Mile Cross it does so through a very important piece of the Wensum Valley: The Sweetbriar and Mile Cross Marshes, an area designated as an ‘SSSI’ or ‘Sight of Special Scientific Interest’. This Marshy area is made up of permanently waterlogged, unimproved wet meadows and is one of the few remaining examples of this type of habitat in Norfolk. The majority of these types of habitat have been lost due to drainage works or to agriculture. What makes this area even more impressive is that it remains as such in such an urban area, as well as being within the boundaries of a Major City. The area is home to many species of wild Bird – some rare for this part of the world – and it also serves as an important over-winter refuge for many migrating birds. It is also home to many species of interesting Wetland Flora, far too many for me to list in this short blog entry.
Due to the importance of these marshes, the whole site is managed – traditionally – with the use of Pony grazing and without the use of herbicides or fertilisers. Thankfully it can’t really be accessed by the General Public, however, it can be viewed from the accessible section of Mile Cross Marsh, The Marriott’s Way, The River path that connects Mile Cross Road to Sweetbriar Road and Sweetbriar Road (if you don’t mind ironically inhaling clouds of Diesel fumes as you admire the nature reserve). These Marshes are pretty much all that is left of the ‘Green belt’ first muted in the 1980’s and rapidly-since brushed under the rug, that was supposed to separate Norwich City from its surrounding villages.
This stretch of the Wensum also used to be known as ‘Back River’ (seen here) and was a popular escape for the City’s populace in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There used to be three or more nearby boathouses where you could hire a boat for a day and head off up to Hellesdon Mill and back. River traffic must have been so busy that signs were put up under Hellesdon Bridge to help guide people through safely. I can only imagine how fantastic it would have been to row underneath the old A-Frame railway bridge as a steam train rumbled by overhead. Sadly these boathouses have all since gone; however, hiring a boat on this stretch of the ‘Back River’ might not just be limited to the distant memories of some of the older generations for much longer. A good friend of mine is aiming to reintroduce Boat hire back to this stretch once she gets her restaurant/community pub/events venue (formerly the Marlpit Pub) up and running in the near future, so watch this space.If you haven’t already visited the area, it is a fantastic place to go for an afternoon walk after consuming your Sunday Lunch, especially at this time of year. It can be accessed through the back of Sloughbottom Park by Marriott’s Way, or you can follow the River Path from Mile Cross Road Bridge, opposite Anderson’s Meadow and all the way to Sweetbriar, taking in the ‘Horseshoe bend’ as you go. I also recommend following the River along Hellesdon Road up to Hellesdon Mill, but that depends on how energetic you’re feeling.This section of the Wensum is also covered in Steve Silk’s book: ‘Hidden Riverside Norwich’ which features a section about Mile Cross (and myself) and is well worth a read.
Thanks once again for reading.