Fort ready for visitors

ONE of the hidden historical gems of Norfolk with glorious views across Broadland, has been given a new lease of life with improved access for visitors.

ONE of the hidden historical gems of Norfolk with glorious views across Broadland, has been given a new lease of life with improved access for visitors.

The third century Roman fort at Burgh Castle, which overlooks Breydon Water and is regarded as one of the best preserved in the country, can welcome people arriving on foot, boat, car or cycle.

It was more than 15 years ago that Dr Peter Wade-Martins, director of the long established charity, the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, started the project near Great Yarmouth.

Over several years, the trust was able to acquire some land, which has now made it possible to create a car park where access had been difficult for visitors.

Arable land around the fort has been returned to grazing pasture. Additional access paths and a circular walk have been created as a result of long-term support from Natural England, which provided vital funding.

A new viewing point with seat enables visitors to watch craft on the River Waveney and look out over the Berney Arms windmill and the Halvergate marshes. And two pairs of marsh harriers, which nested this summer in the reed beds below the fort, have raised five young.

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Dr Wade-Martins, who lives at North Elmham, and has been involved in practical archaeology since 1965, said that the site has now been opened up for visitors to appreciate the remarkable history of this hidden part of Norfolk.

The Roman fort, thought to date from about 275AD, still has the original walls, standing 15ft high, which survive on three sides. And visitors can also appreciate the impact of climate change over the past 1,800 years because the water level, which would have once lapped the walls of the fort, is now about 25ft lower.

He started planning detailed implementation of the project in 2005 with Emily Swan, of the Norwich office of Natural England. Burgh Castle was one of the first sites to enter into the higher level environmental stewardship scheme (HLS), she explained. And the grassland has become wildflower meadows, grazed by rare breed sheep; actually, Dr Wade-Martins is lending his flock of Norfolk Horn sheep.

Natural England provided 100pc funding for the access facilities as part of the overall project. Miss Swan, senior land management and conservation adviser, said: “The provision of new off-road parking and surfaced paths has been carefully designed to have minimal impact on this historically significant landscape, yet allowing visitors to safely access and explore one of the best preserved Roman forts in the UK.”

“It is a real success story in terms of partnership working,” she added.

Dr Wade-Martins said that the trust was established in 1923 and had adopted the slogan of “working to protect Norfolk's past”. It owned and managed the land around the fort although the walls, as a scheduled monument, were actually owned by English Heritage. “It is very important not to just to protect the monument but also its setting,” he added.

A new gate and path has improved access to the church of St Peter and St Paul, which dates from between 900 and 950AD. “We have a wealth of history here which visitors can now enjoy.”

New kissing gates, painted a soft green, have been fitted with the RADAR device, which enables registered disabled visitors with the electronic key, to unlock the whole gate for wheelchair access.

Church warden Maureen Grey, who lives in the village with her sister, Brenda Coe, said the new exhibition in the church had also attracted new visitors and extra donations.