The view from the car... is only in memories

BEFORE THE BLOCKADE: motorists parked on the South Denes at Great Yarmouth enjoy sea views in 1954.P

BEFORE THE BLOCKADE: motorists parked on the South Denes at Great Yarmouth enjoy sea views in 1954.Picture: JACK HARRISON - Credit: Archant

THE other gloomy morning, when I opened our bedroom curtains in the bungalow that purports to be Peggotty’s Hut on the border of Gorleston and Bradwell, my bleary eyes did a double-take when they glimpsed high distant lights between the roofs of dwellings opposite us.

HERE FOR THE HERRING: a Buckie drifter berthed in Yarmouth in October 1961. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

HERE FOR THE HERRING: a Buckie drifter berthed in Yarmouth in October 1961. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Briefly, I wondered what they were, and why I had never before noticed them. The lights were, I deduced, atop the Meccano-like girder-work on one of the offshore rigs berthed in our Outer Harbour about a mile from us. Perhaps I had not seen the lights hitherto because the rig was a newcomer, or an occupant which had been moved and was now within my vision.

That clutch of self-propelling jack-up vessels, well-lit at night, have been visible from far and wide, looking like an extension of the summertime illuminations along Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile, creating our Golden Mile-and-a Half. So much for all this commercial secrecy about activity in the Outer Harbour, I thought wryly, and wondered if the new owner, Peel Ports, would persist with that mind-set or be more transparent.

We all hope for a commercially successful future for our port when its new owner concentrates on rig decommissioning and other offshore-related tasks. And will the recent acquisition result in the settlement of any of the important issues that have rankled some local critics from the outset, long before Peel Ports sailed in?

The rig tops are there for all to see whereas Outer Harbour conventional shipping is screened not only from questioning port observers but also ordinary folk interested in harbour activities.

HARBOUR HOLIDAY: beach lovers close to the South Pier in 1954 have a good view of vessels entering a

HARBOUR HOLIDAY: beach lovers close to the South Pier in 1954 have a good view of vessels entering and leaving. Picture: JACK HARRISON - Credit: Archant

Let’s be blunt: apart from the busy comings and goings of vessels supporting the North Sea offshore industry since it began more than half a century ago, nowadays there is precious little other animation along our riversides which we, the public, are still able to see.

We have long bemoaned the demise of the autumn herring fishery in the Sixties, an almost unthinkable occurrence. We saw the loss of Norfolk Line with its daily roll-on/roll-off ferries to and from Holland (mainly because Yarmouth could not accommodate the bigger vessels the shipper wanted to introduce).

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You could always guarantee that Everards, Metcalf and the Yarmouth Shipping Company would have some of their fleets in port, but the coasting trade has also long gone, as have our pleasure trippers and also the lightships towed in and out by the tenders Mermaid or Warden and berthed on Trinity House Quay for maintenance.

The large ships importing Scandinavian timber to our wood-yards always excited port-watchers, especially as they negotiated the tricky Brush Bend inside the Harbour’s Mouth, tugs busily helping them.

We welcomed big vessels collecting barrels of salted and pickled herring for export to markets in Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and Russia, for example.

Yes, of course, it has all changed, not just here but worldwide. We have to keep up with the times, however much that disturbs and disappoints the older generations who preferred things the way they were.

I reckon the average Yarmouthian is probably less concerned about the original Outer Harbour deal and the subsequent business generated than by the deprivation of a traditional year-round pleasure: that leisurely drive to enjoy seascapes, river views, shipping and port activity.

Townsfolk used to cruise along South Beach Parade, parking to enjoy an ice-cream from the van usually stationed there, then round the Harbour’s Mouth bend to return along South Denes Road. Now we meet two dead ends at the Outer Harbour, presumably permanent however accommodating the new owner is.

Last autumn I featured here the cafe that for years was a popular spot overlooking the Harbour’s Mouth, built when family motoring grew in popularity in the Thirties. And we have also noted the loss of the extensive South Denes Caravan Camp between Pleasure Beach and North Pier where thousands of visitors enjoyed budget holidays postwar.

My predecessor as Peggotty, the long-serving late Joe Harrison, loved the port in its busy post-war years, an affection passed to his son, Keith (Jack) a keen photographer now resident in Scotland but keeping abreast of the scene in his old home town.

Just before the news broke of the port enterprise’s sale, Jack sent me two photographs of the South Denes he took in 1954 to prove, in his words, “what we lost with that White Elephant for absolutely no gain! Did it never occur to anybody that the Outer Harbour could never work without proper road links?”

He maintains that the project first needed the A47 road to be dualled, judging by the frequent accident reports, and a bridge direct to the Outer Harbour, making the comparison with Felixstowe where the dual carriageway leads directly into the container terminal, or Dublin and Belfast, ports he has used as a roll-on/roll-off motorist.

Jack admits that “I haven’t been to Yarmouth for four years but I draw parallels between the rather pleasant South Quay and the awful area around Nelson’s Monument. As for the Outer Harbour, I still think that the loss of public access to that road is a disgrace. And for what? Does the Outer Harbour get any trade?”

When Yarmouth’s herring fishery was still in existence, each autumn we welcomed hundreds of Scots drifters, far from their home ports like Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Inverness, Buckie, Kirkaldy, Banff... In October I wrote here about a traditional YH port registration being spotted on two crab boats in television’s Doc Martin comedy-drama series filmed in the Cornwall’s Port Isaac doubling as Portwenn, leading to that list of those familiar to us here back in the herring heydays.

Jack Harrison picked one in particular – Buckie (BCK). Recently he went there, and describes it as “a very sad place. It is run down and the port area makes Yarmouth’s South Denes seem like French Riviera by comparison!”

Jack’s website, with his shots of 1950s Yarmouth, is at: