With the goods yards and noisy steam trains long gone the former railway lines between Norwich and Aylsham fell silent and 38 years ago the line was resurrected as the Marriott’s Way – a haven for plants and wildlife, and one of the nine long-distance Norfolk Trails.
Over the course of the £668,000 two-and-a-half year project there will be a host of activities, events and work taking place. These will document and preserve the industrial heritage of the former railway line and encourage more people to use the much-loved, traffic-free, 26-mile route that already attracts more than 100,000 cyclists, walkers and horse riders every year.
Cllr Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council’s chairman of the Environment, Development and Transport Committee, said: “Work can now get under way on the project to plan the host of activities and events that will be taking place. A highlight of the work will be the design of a new app to inform visitors of the trail’s industrial and natural history, as well as places to eat, drink, visit and stay nearby.
“Just some of the work we’ll be doing includes working with schools, creating new circular walk routes, organising a marathon, training 200 volunteers in conservation and heritage, and using augmented reality to create a visual record of the route.
“In 2018 there will be a pedal-powered outdoor cinema coming to the city to commemorate the end of the First World War. “And it’s a race against time to preserve memories of the historic route so the project will be recording and preserving the first-hand accounts of people who used to work and travel on, and live nearby the old railway line.
“Overall our aim is help people to better understand the industrial past of the trail and encourage them to appreciate and explore the haven for nature and recreation on their doorsteps that it is today.”
Robyn Llewellyn, head of HLF East of England, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, Marriott’s Way is set to be transformed for people and wildlife. Volunteer power, technology and a range of community activities will preserve and bring to life the wonderful and diverse heritage that can be found along this historic route – from stories of industry to connecting with nature.”
Marriott’s Way Heritage Trail project
The Marriott’s Way Heritage Trail project will be overseen by a steering group bringing together local councils and community and history groups and organisations including: Norfolk County Council, Broadland District Council, Norwich City Council, Norfolk Railway Heritage Group, Friends of Norwich City Station, Norfolk Local Access Forum, Whitwell & Reepham Railway Preservation Society, Friends of Train Wood & Marriott’s Way, Norwich Access Group and Broads Local Access Forum.
The Norfolk Record Office will be working with community groups to help preserve and make publically accessible historic records and memories of the old railway line.
The majority of the funding for the £667,906 project will come from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£455,000), with £167,399 coming from developers through planning obligations and the rest made up from Norfolk County Council, fundraising, donations and volunteer time.
History of the route
The route of Marriott’s Way follows two former railway lines: the Midland & Great Northern (M&GN) line (completed in 1882), which ran from the Midlands to Norwich via Melton Constable, and Themelthorpe and the Great Eastern line (completed in 1883), which ran from Themelthorpe to Aylsham linking Wroxham to County School at North Elmham.
The railway lines closed to passenger traffic in 1959 and 1952 respectively, but in 1960 the Themelthorpe Curve was constructed to link the two lines to enable rail transportation of concrete from Lenwade to the Midlands. However, this line finally closed to all rail traffic in 1985.
The Norfolk Trail route was named as Marriott’s Way after William Marriott, who was the chief engineer and manager of the M&GN railway for 41 years.