Marie Cooper visits Polkey’s Mill on Norfolk Heritage Open Days

Visit out to Polkey’s Mill

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Written in my notebook on Sunday September 15th, 2019

It’s a gorgeous sunny day this morning. The blue and green flashes by the train window. It’s been a while since I’ve travelled by train. Wish I could afford to do it more often. I do strangely enjoy it. Well, when it’s quiet, which it is in the early hours of Sunday morning on the Lowestoft train.

Not far down the road from home, I realised that I’d left my headphones at home. I’d intended on going through my lines on the way to the station and on the train. There was no time to go back for them or I would have risked missing my train. So, I let it go and carried on walking, as the relief to be leaving line learning, writing, job hunting and money worries behind for the day washed over me.

Stories for WiseArchive

Today I’m heading out to Polkey’s Mill at Reedham. I volunteer with an oral histories charity called WiseArchive, who collect stories of working people in Norfolk. At the moment we are working on the Water, Mills and Marshes project, in collaboration with the Broad’s Authority, collecting fascinating stories from around the region from people working on the Norfolk Broads. From boat builders and Mill owners to Reed Cutters and Eel men. I’m hoping that there could be people at the mill who worked on it and who might be willing to share their story.

Norfolk Heritage Open days

It’s Heritage Open Days week and Polkey’s Mill in Reedham is opening its doors for a public tour, leaving the Nelson Pub in Reedham at 10:40am. I’m having to catch an early train. The tour isn’t until 10:30, but the latest train I can get, to arrive on time, leaves at 08:58am and arrives in the village at 09.10am.

Riding out on the train after Brundall, the land is flat and open. I can see a topless mill in the distance. Cows graze on the fields. Trees are sparse and huddled in arboreal oases across the landscape or edge along the horizon. Reeds line the waterways that run through the fields. A second abandoned mill sits just outside of Cantley. The massive, towering silos of British Sugar surround the rails with overhead pipework, running overhead, bridging above the train.

Walk from Reedham Station to Reedham Post Office & Tea Room

Reedham station is quiet, tidy and traditional, decorated with planters of flowers dotted around. An old metalwork bridge carries travellers over the railway tracks and into to the car park. I Googled the route last night. The river is just a short walk from the station. It takes me much less time than I expected.

I would have been happy to walk the country lanes a little further. Only a couple of minutes along the lane and somebody has already wished me a ‘Good Morning’. A murder of crows fly overhead, cawing. Little birds tweet from their hedgerows, fluttering about the bushes, seemingly irritated at my trespass. A dragonfly zips passed my face, seemingly oblivious to my intrusion into his habitat.

Only one turning confuses me, but when I get close enough to read the sign, it says ‘No Public Access’.  I carry on following the lane and soon spot the memorial at the branch in the road that I remembered from Google signifies that I need to turn right.

By now I can see the sunlight reflecting on the water of the river and bouncing off the tops of boats and I know I am in the right place. Very happy to find that Google was wrong about Reedham not being open on a Sunday morning and although the Post Office is closed, the little Reedham Post Office & Tea Room is open, giving me the opportunity to sit out in the sunshine, watching the boats pass by, whilst I wait for everyone else on the tour to arrive.

Sitting by the River Yare

The quiet is broken only by a very occasional car passing by, the cafe chatter,


radio and the breaking of glass as someone empties their bottles into the recycling bin across the road.

It’s hot, but there is a lovely breeze from across the river that swishes the willow trees, making them rustle. Just over the wall the broads stretch out into the distance, seagulls sit on the jetty and I can hear ducks quacking.

Sitting in the cafe, I was almost wishing that I did not have a tour booked. It would be a wonderful spot to just sit and write. It’s only £7.40 return from Norwich. I could bring along a flask of tea with a packed lunch. It’s not much more expensive to catch a bus from one side of Norwich to the other. This is a million times more pleasant. I could also get my bike fixed and cycle out here. But I have second thoughts. I know I would worry about where to leave my bike, how long to leave it and I’d have to cycle a heavy lock around with me.

Walk out to Polkey’s Mill

The group slowly gathers and heads out of Reedham along the river towards the rail bridge. There are public toilets at the end of the waterway near the free house as the road turns. Another definite advantage to Norwich. There are no public toilets anywhere anymore in the city centre. Well, none that I am aware of.

We trapse up the hill, passed the school and then turn right, walking back by the school on the other side over the bridge. We can see the railway bridge below us, crossing the Yare clearly from up here. It has swung open to allow boats through as we walk by.


The hedgerows along the country lane we walk down are full of yellow, red and black berries. I wish I had brought a plastic carrier bag along with me to carry my lunch, rather than a canvas one. I would have picked berries as I walked back. We turn off of the road and through a gate onto the Wherryman’s Way, signposted with a traditional, wooden pointy, sign post.


I can see a mill with sails in the distance but don’t know if that is the one that we are heading towards as I can see other mill shapes in the distance. Some capped, some not. The fields on the left are full of sheep, the river and marshes are on our right-hand side.

We walk on a raised piece of ground that is kept elevated. Apparently, diggers keep it piled high to maintain a barrier between the river and marshes and the fields that the sheep are grazing on. There must be a lot of rabbits here too. We don’t see any, but their droppings are everywhere along the path. There’s a Marsh Harrier low in the distance hovering above the fields.

Burney Inn sits in the distance to our right. Apparently, it’s only accessible by foot or by train and hasn’t been used for some time and is likely to be derelict.

The grass becomes greener as we approach the mill, the path turning left to meet it. The ground is more sheltered here and less exposed to the elements. A farmhouse sits near the mill and as we approach, the sky around the house is filled with swifts, swallows or house martins (I don’t know which) that are zipping around the building.


We walk passed the derelict, ‘Cadges Mill’, only a stone’s throw away from our destination.  It’s stood there since 1870 and is one of many mills on the broads, that used to be used to drain the marshes. I walked a bit closer to take a photo of the interesting little crescent shaped window, it sounds as if the mill is also currently housing a bee hive inside or close by.

Polkey’s Mill


Polkey’s Mill sits across a small bridge over the water channel, empty now. The water trenches are dry and overgrown. A dated plaque on the wall says that the pumping house next to the mill was built in 1880. A sign on the building says that it has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I’ve never been this close to a Windmill. Well, not that I can remember. It’s quiet. Idyllic. It’s taken us about half an hour to walk out across the marshes just to get here. Most people are sitting down to eat and drink. Some, not intending to hang around for long, jump in to be the first to get the tour up the mill.

It was restored between 2000 and 2005. The original gearing was saved and remains intact, working the mill. It has a fan tail and bevel gears and can turn so that it always faces the wind. There is a head wheel and brake chain to keep the gears fixed and prevent creeping. Which is essential because apparently that movement could cause the mill to catch fire.


At the top of the mill you can see where it has been ‘Hained’, that is raised up. Three foot six inches of brickwork has been added to the height of Polkey’s Mill. Raising the height of the mill allowed it to have larger sails.

Turning Windmill Blades on Polkey’s Mill

I waited for a while after the tour of the mill. There was a chance that the blades of the mill were going to be turned and I did not want to miss it. I had quite a bit of time left still as I had until 16:10 to catch my train back. I’m glad that I did not meander back with everyone else as the crowds began to dwindle. Once everyone had had the chance to ascend to the top of the mill, the group organiser, Amanda, attempted to get the blades turning.

They would not start initially. Although it was incredibly windy out on the walkway, behind the trees and away from the open broad it wasn’t so windy. The small tail fin occasionally caught the breeze, but the blades would not budge.

Amanda was not going to give in so easily and fetched a long, hooked pole, especially designed to give the blades a turn to get them moving so that the fins of the blade could catch the wind. Once they caught and started to turn, they kept going. The blades of the windmill have to be turned occasionally to keep it working.

Walk back to Reedham Village

The walk back was tiring but it was great to see the blades still turning in the distance. I’d forgotten my headphones but still managed to run a few through a few lines on the walk back. The environment was desolate with barely a soul to be seen. You can spot people from quite some distance away because the area is so vast and flat. It was strange to be a city girl out in the country. I’m not used to so many people, who I don’t know, saying hello to me. Even a young boy of around 10-12 years pootling passed on his bike across the bridge said ‘hello’.

Train Back to Norwich

I got to the station with 20 minutes to spare, thinking that it was lucky I left when I did and that I hadn’t had a bag to collect berries, as I may have gotten carried away and missed my train. They only run every two hours on a Sunday so it would have been a long wait for the next one.

I didn’t find anyone to share their story with me this afternoon, but I had a wonderful, relaxing day, a walk across the broads, visit to a village I’ve never spent time at before, got up close to a windmill for the first time, climbed to the top of Polkey’s Mill, got to film the blades turning and almost backed myself into the water channel trying to reverse far enough to fit the entire mill onto my camera.  I returned with lots of little video clips that I edited together, despite the many complaints from my phone about lack of space, I managed to take a few. It’s a bit shaky. I didn’t have a tripod with me and I edited out my squeals of excitement and wobbly reversing.

Polkey’s Mill Opening Times

Polkey’s Mill, the pump building and the Machine House is only opened up to the public a couple of times a year. Usually in May and September. The vegetation around the mill is cleared 5 times a year to prevent the area becoming overgrown.

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