Drove roads once crisscrossed Britain. With the advent of motor vehicles many became tarmacked roads but some still remain as footpaths, bridleways or green lanes. Barton Bendish has its own ‘Green Drove’ which forms part of the parish boundary with Beachamwell. So what were drove roads?
There has always been a need to move livestock from one area to another and from Roman times until the mid-19th century, when the first railways appeared, driving them across country was the only method. The men who undertook this were known as drovers. My husband David’s father could remember driving sheep from Barton to lamb sales held at the Newton George pub, Castleacre. Across Britain there was a network of drover’s roads taking the most direct route across country. They were wide, between 12 and 27 metres, so that they could accommodate the large herds or flocks which were being moved. Wide verges offered grazing and were known as ‘long acres’. A distance of about 12 miles a day could be covered and droves could take weeks or even months to complete. Between May and October cattle were driven from numerous areas of the Scottish Highlands to gather at Crieff before setting off for England. In 1359 Scottish drovers were licensed to drive their stock through England. Many Scottish cattle were driven down to Norfolk to fatten on the lush grazing of the coastal and Broadland marshes. In 1745 Thomas Bell organised taking over 1,000 cattle south to the East Anglian markets when an outbreak of distemper wiped them out. The panicking drovers abandoned their charges leaving them dying in the lanes. He wrote ‘We have over £1,000 charges to pay in this country and not a shilling to pay it with’. Rail transport resulted in decreased demand for drovers which, by the end of the 19th century, had become almost non-existent. Many went off to Texas and became cowboys working the cattle trails; some even became ranchers themselves. One such local man was ‘Teddy Blue’ Abbott who was born at Cranwich Hall and became a ‘cowpuncher’. His life story is brilliantly told in the book ‘We Pointed Them North’.
The drovers themselves were skilled and knowledgeable men but mostly illiterate. They were usually on foot and used dogs to guard and help drive the livestock. Sometimes, when they reached their destination, they would send their dogs back home on their own with a note attached to their collars. The dogs knew they would be fed if they stopped at certain inns and the inn keeper knew the drover would reimburse him for doing so.
It wasn’t only cattle and sheep that were driven to grazing areas or markets. Even in those days East Anglia was a prime area for raising turkeys and geese. These too would be walked to Smithfield Market in London which 17th century author Daniel Defoe described as being the ‘greatest market in the world’. It was said that 150,000 turkeys were driven there from East Anglia each year.

Meet The Gardner’s Concluding part

The drive back to Bern was one of those journeys! As the Great Dane took up the back seat of the car, I bought a small 5′ x 3′ trailer, loaded it with assorted essentials, and included a deep frozen free range turkey for Christmas. My car was registered in Switzerland, so I ‘manufactured’ a Swiss style rear plate to conform to British rules. Fine – until we crossed the border at Basel. One kilometer into Switzerland and blue flashing lights appeared in my rear view mirror.
I pulled over and was told that I was using a forged Swiss plate and could not continue. They made me follow them to a secure depot where my sad little trailer was impounded. Doreen worried mostly about the turkey and we were allowed to take it with us in the car.
We were told that the trailer was too primitive to use on Swiss roads! A breakdown lorry would have to collect it. Arguing with Swiss police is futile, so we drove to our new apartment. A British friend saved the turkey in his deep freeze. Exhausted, we just fell into bed.
That same trailer, modified to carry my off-road electric buggy, has since been to Aberdeen, Cornwall and many places in between.
We lived another six years in Switzerland, taking trips to France, Germany, Italy and Corsica, with the Great Dane on the back seat. We loved the freedom to fill up with petrol and drive to anywhere in Europe.
Sadly, my MS was becoming more difficult to manage and in Spring 2000 I had to retire. The Swiss Company treated me very well, and made allowances for me and my wheelchair, but the mental pressure of working in 2 languages in a fast moving development environment proved too much in spite of the efforts of my neurologist who had me smoking cannabis (ugh!) and offered me ‘speed’ to kick-start my mornings. Not an option on the NHS!
So we come full circle. We sold the townhouse in Chester and bought an apartment in Spain which we visit mostly in winter. There have been a few incidents driving to Spain. We have been mugged twice on the Spanish motorway. Suffered a few mechanical problems in Franc; Once, driving in Northern France, the gear selector jammed. So we had an unplanned overnight stop in Arras and discovered a beautiful town, completely reconstructed after WW2. The locals have a special affection for the British, as we liberated the town on 3 occasions.
Here, we chose to live in Norfolk with its easy access to North London where both Jason and Rupert were working. No sooner had we moved here than Jason went to work in Geneva and then Cheshire, and Rupert is in Hampshire. But we have settled in Norfolk though sometimes feel we should be moving on somewhere. That is what our feet are telling us. A lifetime habit put to rest? Perhaps. Almost. Next summer we are going on holiday to the Peloponnese in Greece.
There are so many journeys we might still enjoy.
Cliff and Doreen Gardner

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Boughton News

We had a very interesting talk about Oxburgh Hall on May 16th, given by Roger Farmer, who is a conservation volunteer at the Hall. He told us first about the history of the building and the loss of the Great Hall. They have no pictures of the GH, but some idea of what it would have been like from other houses. The estate is enlarging its landholdings and currently doing much needed renovation. There were interesting photos of parts of the building visitors normally wouldn’t see and a promise of an update in the future. There are plans in place to start the renovation of the roof, which is not in good condition. No one wants a repeat of the potentially disastrous collapse of a dormer window, so planning ahead is needed. There was quite a good attendance for the talk, in spite of the fact that Roger had given his talk in several local venues. I’ve now heard him three times and each was interesting, with new details.
Yesterday’s Open Gardens Day was a success. I’m always worried that no one will turn up, but they do, whatever the weather. Thanks to all the people who open their gardens, but particularly for those who do all the work behind the scenes: Sandy Reid and Deb Fisher for the lunches and teas, Angela and Andrew Faherty for the organisation not only of their Plant Emporium, but also of the mechanics of the day, and Tim and Sue Scrivener, who are always involved in helping at village events.

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