Today, in a tweedy Antiquarian version of the Urban Exploration movement, Ragged Ramblers decided to explore a space hitherto off-limits. As we made our way up the precipitous Butter hills, to the Black tower, by pure chance we found that the iron gates which normally prevent access were open. What timid, depleted, drab spirits we would have to be to defy the urge to explore - so in we went...
"Huzzah!" we cried, and with wide-eyed wonder made our way through a lunar landscape of tangled branches, pigeon crap, buckled cans and a jumble of jagged junk. The towers in this out-of-the-way section of the city wall have long been places for the illicit and the proscribed. Even so far back as the 1600s they were being used as Pest Houses, for the confinement of the infected poor during periods of plague. They have survived complete dereliction precisely because they are located on what was once the outer margins of the city, on a slope so precipitous that it has no development value.
Unvalued in a commercial sense, perhaps, but not unloved by us; this is by far the most impressive section of mediaeval city wall in Norwich. On the one hand an ancient monument, composed of beautiful black-grey flint and straw-layed brick. On the other, a contemporary note; of lives of quiet desperation; of desperate fixes, and abandonment. A poignant place.
Carefully ascending the stairs, we were able to look out along the surprisingly wide intra-mural walkway on the top of the wall - a ribbon of green. And, wafting up from the city in the valley below, disembodied snatches of far-away traffic - and birdsong, sweet and bright. This may ostensibly be an out of the way place, but it is also a site where, incongruously, things meet...
How are we to understand and value it then? For some, it is beyond the panopticon; a place to escape prying eyes and authority. For others, it is an unsurveilled and potentially menacing place. Clearly some folk value it is a useful site for fly-tipping. It is a natural-social formation, rich in species diversity. In its time, the city wall functioned as a defencible enclosure, and also as a symbol of civic ambition - well worth the huge investment it took to build it. Now, with it's untidied edges, perhaps there are a few diminished figures who see no sense in investing public money in its preservation. It is, however, one of the unsung heritage assets of the city - and we Ragged Ramblers are happy to sing its praises.
For us, it is a place of wonder and beauty and ugliness and desperation; of beating hearts and cold stones. It is somewhere to stop, slow down and take notice. Ascending the steep steps, it makes hearts race and challenges us to be active. In all of its many meanings, here we keep learning. The butter hills are a place where we can give time to ourselves and connect with our history and heritage. If this piece really speaks to you, then you can join with us in connecting through our common interest in this remarkable site, and go visit it. Go see for yourself!
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~ Thadeus Basil-Snapper & Esotericus ~