Burgh Castle Almanac Experience

We are delighted to announce the start of a new chapter – the Burgh Castle Almanac Experience! We have some great events coming up, kicking off with a Broads walk led by Sam Brown on Tuesday 18th May 2021 and a second Broads walk with artist Sue Tyler on Tuesday 13th July 2021.

There will be more events announced soon so please follow the Burgh Castle Almanac Experience page on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Burgh-Castle-Almanac-Experience-101874698703753 and our Instagram page @burgh_castle_experience here: https://www.instagram.com/burgh_castle_experience/ to stay up to date.

All of our events are free and are first-come first-served. If you’d like to sign up for either of these events or if you have any queries, please email laura@restorationtrust.org.uk or you can message us on our Facebook page.

'Burgh Castle Almanac Experience: An archaeology, creativity and wellbeing programme based at Burgh Castle Roman Fort. Events include Tuesday 18th May - Broads walk with Sam Brown of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Tuesday 13th July - Broads walk with local artist Sue Tyler. For more information, please visit Burgh Castle Almanac Experience Facebook page.'

BBC Upload with Sophie Little this evening with Julian Claxton talking about our film The Return of Happy Times

Tuesday 29th September sees the premiere of the BCA’s film ‘The Return of Happy Times’, a Restoration Trust project that is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Recorded over the past year, the film – the title is taken from a saying on a Roman coin BCA found at the Fort – illustrates the kind of activities the BCA have been involved in, with members also explaining how the group has benefited them. The film is directed by Lowestoft-based photographer and filmmaker Julian Claxton, together with members of the group.

It’s hoped that other parts of the country will take up the BCA model, and the film is seen as a major contributing factor towards achieving that aim.

On Tuesday 29 September, the BCA will be showing ‘The Return of Happy Times’ at the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft. There are two screenings – one at 11am and one at 12.45pm – both of which will be followed by a Q and A with the filmmakers and participants. We’ll explain more about how the BCA are helping to promote positive mental health in the Waveney area, as well as encourage interest in Norfolk’s heritage.

For more information, contact Laura Drysdale on laura@restorationtrust.org.uk, or
07740 844883.

A preview clip of ‘The Return of Happy Times’ can be viewed here:

Life under lockdown

Now we are emerging from hardline lockdown, here’s a brisk summary of what we’ve been up to since February.

We suspended our exhibition until March 2021 and moved sessions online. We’ve met weekly and now fortnightly, along with artist Ian Brownlie. Between Zooms we’ve sent out art parcels to 20 people at a time, and shared makings on our private facebook group. With Ian Brownlie, we’ve designed a T-Shirt that will be printed any moment now.

We have shared incredible music collections, worn beards, made fantasy homes, alphabets of Burgh Castle Almanac, posted art school pottery and discussed dinners.

Burgh Castle Almanac featured in two blogs produced by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for Mental Health Awareness Week in mid May, one an interview with Laura, and another with John Durrant – who blogs at Living With Mental Health. This was re-blogged by the Baring Foundation. We also popped up on the front page on the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance website.

John Durrant has created a podcast, and there’s a new one out where he and Laura talk about Burgh Castle Almanac, and culture therapy as a way of improving mental health and wellbeing.

During lockdown people have been resourceful and mutually supportive. The private facebook page has seen kind messages, but it hasn’t stopped there. Cooking, food deliveries, photos of lovely lockdown walks at Burgh Castle and bike rides have connected people in the real world as well.

This is a very tough time for everyone and there is a growing sense that it’s only going to get worse for people who deal with mental health challenges. But it’s not all gloom, and there have some wonderful developments in several people’s lives.

On Facebook we have an essential daily dose of Bobby’s Barnstormers, Robert Fairclough’s life in music. Robert is also writing a weekly facebook post for the Restoration Trust called Life under Lockdown.

Tod Sullivan has created a series of live facebook broadcasts and a new organisation, Asteri Learning, to share skills about telling personal mental health stories – to be safe, connected and heard.

Julian Claxton’s film is almost in the can, two short clips have appeared online. We’ve agreed the final story board and Julian has orchestrated a drone flight over the site. There are a couple of interviews left to complete, and a voiceover to record.

Jane Willis completed her first evaluation report, noting that people felt the project was safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.

Sessions 47, 48 and 49

7.1.20, 21.1.20, 4.2.20

Photo credits Richard Godfrey, Tod Sullivan, Phil Wells, Robert Fairclough, John Durrant

Our first session after Christmas was back at Time and Tide with Ian Brownlie, as we began to make a real start on our Almanac. We were joined by filmmaker Julian Claxton as The Restoration Trust was granted £9,590 by the Community Fund for us to commission a film maker to work with us to document and celebrate Burgh Castle Almanac . We made these beautiful little mini books.

Session 48 was back to the Fort, a spectacular sharp, bright day, spring beginning, snow drops in the wood. Becky Demmen was filming, and people took beautiful photographs.

It was Linda’s birthday, any excuse for a cake.

Session 49 was back at the Fort, Andrew Farrell brought the Water Mills and Marshes VR cameras, and Ian Brownlie joined us while we foraged for plants to use in a workshop at the Forum in Norwich for the Makers Festival.

We played with percussion on our regular walk, mindful with clackers, shakers, whirrers and drums.

Andrew Pinder filmed as we went, and people took photos along the way. Spring is almost here, but winter in this great open landscape is sublime.

Sessions 44, 45 and 46

26.11.19, 10.12.19, 21.12.19

Photo credits Phil Wells, Robert Fairclough, John Durrant

Sometimes a low key meeting turns out to be special. Session 44 at Time and Tide Museum was a chance to think about our Almanac production with artist Ian Brownlie, and the museum stood us a delicious lunch in the Silver Darlings Cafe.

Session 45 with naturalist and writer Mark Cocker was on a cold windy December day at Burgh Castle. We started later than usual, so that we could see winter birds at dusk. Mark talked about his lifelong love of birds and nature, about us as natural creatures, and about local naturalist Arthur Patterson, aka John Knowlittle, who was born in the Great Yarmouth rows and died in 1935.

We walked our walk, and as dusk began to fall we stood at the corner of the Fort and watched 8 marsh harriers wheeling above the bushes on the slopes to the marsh.

Warming up

Session 46 was on the Winter Solstice, our celebration lunch at Sams Cafe involved an ode to the Brussels Sprout, some serious singing and a trip to the Lowestoft Parcels Office, another venue for our exhibition next May.

Willis Newson Evaluation, First Report

Jane Willis has produced a preliminary report evaluating the impact of Burgh Castle Almanac on participants’ wellbeing. Here are some excerpts from the document, which will be incorporated in a final report to be published in Autumn 2020.

In describing their experience of BCA, participants talked of feeling low at the start of the project. Several of them talked about the challenge and reward of trying something new, learning new things. History and landscape were key themes, with several people talking about the therapeutic impact of being in nature, being outdoors, walking, witnessing the changing seasons. Walking in nature seemed to provide both sanctuary and a safe place to talk and connect with others. Participants talked of both looking close-up, of being in the moment, being present; and of looking out, getting a fresh perspective on life. And across all of these themes was that of friendship: of new friendships formed that made them feel safe, cared for, supported and empowered.

The key themes that arose from the narratives were: 

Feeling Low

 “Before I started the project, I actually felt a bit like an injured lion and a bit like you know, really burdened by life” P1

“Well before I came here, I think I tended to live in my own head a lot.” P3

“When you are feeling really low you can feel that the world has become smaller and being part of this project is maybe that the world has become bigger.” P1

Worry about the world

“I get quite worried about what is going on the world about the way things are going” P2

“What’s going on out there and I should be really worried about this because there is a lot of bad shit going on.” P3

Trying new things

 “Sometimes you have to take a risk and jump off the deep end[JW2] .”

“Maybe this is helping me do things for the very first time again” P5

“you know sometimes like you have to go outside your comfort zone and you have to go fishing for other stuff.” P1

“First steps on my own” P5


“Discover more. The more you know the better things are for you, aren’t they? Learn.” P2

“When we interviewed one of the film makers … one of his favourite photographers was Anselm Adams and I had never heard of him, so I looked up his stuff and found out how amazing it was – so that’s something that has come directly out of the group.” P3


“I have gained an appreciation of history, peace of mind.” P3

“……. found a Roman Coin and I think that was one of the best things.” P4

“Obviously, there was a lot of weight of history there” P6


“The important thing for me is that it runs all year, so you get to see the seasons change, going from summer into autumn into winter and that gives me a sense of the landscape and appreciating the nature.” P3

“Being outdoors I think that is just very important for wellbeing and health and going for walks as well.” P4

“I think people talk more when they walk. I can talk better when I am walking along, I don’t know why.” P4

“The elderflower, just because I like picking elderflower. We picked it a few times. And drawing in nature.” 

“The changing seasons, as we go through the year and the wildlife which I have become so much more aware of, and the boat and the broads.” P7


“I have always found calm by water and there’s a spot on the site that I take a little 5 or 10 second clip of, and if I am struggling, I play it to myself just to hear the sounds and stuff.” P5

“I must say I have come up here when I have not being feeling… when I have not been in the Burgh Castle Group, that is like a little safe place for me, I feel calm and relaxed up here and everything just shadows off.” P5

“The sophisticated sanctuary is really tranquil and …that is basically what you can do for your mind, when you are out there and walking.” P6

Look / take notice

“But up close here, really looking at life and really being in the moment, that is something I have gained a lot from this.” P3

“Looking at things in more detail” P4


“If you took us all up individually to the site, we would all show you something individually, from a different viewpoint. And I like that. We’d all have a different view of the site. And the view from here. When you get up there, the view is just great wherever you look. That is also why ESCAPE.” P6

“I think what the group has taught me more than anything is to look outside. But in looking outside, you find an inner peace; you can find new freedoms within you as well as being in a lovely landscape which gives you freedom as well.” P3


“I have made new friends which I never thought I would.” P2

“That is a mother bear caring for her cubs. Everyone should care for each other.” P2

“Be more friendly towards people. More understanding. Not judge people all the time.” P2


“Joining a club when you can speak to anybody when we are walking round. It is not cliquey or anything like that, its lovely.” P7

Expression and sharing 

“It is good to talk to people. Don’t hide everything. Don’t bottle it in.” P2

I have really enjoyed it because I am quite an introverted person really, and it’s just nice to be able to chat to people. It’s just very therapeutic. And you can just go up and talk, and you talk about things you don’t normally talk about.” P7

The impacts were then grouped according to theme. The themes arising in order of prominence (in terms of number of stars or number of mentions) were:

Friendship / community (6 stars and 7 mentions)

  • Sense of part of a community **
  • Interaction – people *
  • Friendship *
  • Pulled me out of my shell more outgoing *
  • Meeting people
  • When one struggles someone’s there alongside
  • Sense of being a part of something

Wellbeing / change (6 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Changed life ***
  • You feel much better for coming ***
  • I get withdrawal symptoms if I haven’t been for a while

Confidence (1 star / 4 mentions)

  • Sense of satisfaction and achievement *
  • More confident
  • More willing to try new things
  • Sense of achievement

Change in perspective (1 star / 3 mentions)

  • Special things that open up your mind*
  • Opens your horizons
  • Valuing individual perspectives

Access (3 mentions)

  • Access to Museums, Culture
  • I have discovered I enjoy learning (e.g. watching programmes on BBC4 which I would not have done before)
  • Curious about the world around me

Purpose (1 mention)

  • Given me a new purpose for living

Critical Success Factors

Although not initially an aim of the focus group, participants commented on why they thought the project had been successful. They noted that the project felt safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.

Duration (6 stars / 2 mentions)

  • 2-year project – means long enough to forge friendships ******
    • Knowing it’s not going to shut down after a couple of months

New Experiences (5 stars / 4 mentions)

  • New experiences ***
    • Access to museums/galleries for free (low incomes) **
    • Learning
    • Access not just entrance fee – transport/food

Situated in place, history and culture (2 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Local history, place **
    • Learning about culture + place
    • Appreciate landscape/place/history

Safe Space (2 stars / 2 mentions)

  • Safe environment**
    • Non-judgemental

Sessions 41, 42 and 43 including Roman soldiery, a moonlit walk, and mushrooming with a fun guy

Photo credits Sue Tyler, Phillip Wells, Robert Fairclough, Adrian Stott

Session 41, 19th October 2019 Roman Experience at Time and Tide Museum

It’s not everyone who can carry off the Legionary Look, but here are some who can.

We drilled, marched and tortoised. And we also met Lady Lydia to hear more about her beauty regime and plans for the exhausting day ahead, instructing slaves.

There was also an intriguing exhibition of British tattoo art.

Session 42, 12th November 2019 Full Moon at Burgh Castle Roman Fort

A beaver moon, mostly obscured by clouds and rain which magically lifted as we entered the fort. 17 brave people made our regular walk, including along the slippery broadwalk, taking some wonderful photographs despite – or actually because of – the weather.

Session 43, 15th November 2019 Mushrooming at Burgh Castle Roman Fort

We walked with Marc Ladi, who runs a great facebook group called Norfolk mushroom spotters(uk). Fun guy Marc has been mushroom hunting since he was a boy going out to find porcini with his Italian father, and he is an encouraging spotter. We even picked a mushroom he’d never found before, the wrinkled peach.

Marc dispelled all the myths you can think of, and warned us off the deadliest mushrooms with the maxim that there are….old mushroom spotters, bold mushroom spotters, but no old, bold mushroom spotters. In the end, by close attention to the ground, and being mindful to likely places, it was quite a squeeze to get them all on the display table – not much room.

Marc said: Found a lot more species than I expected after the frosts but including, Wood Blewits (Lepista nuda), field Blewits (Lepista Saeva), wood/jelly ear (Auricularia auricula), sulphur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare), glistening ink caps (Coprinellus micaceus) honey fungus (Armillaria mellea), Shaggy parasols (Chlorophyllum brunneum), velvet shanks (Flammulina velutipes), fairy ring champignon (Marasmius oreades) my first ever wrinkled peach! (Rhodotus palmatus) and at the time an unidentified grey capped mushroom, now possibly identified following further research as Volvariella gloiocephala (stubble rose gill). NB: not all are edibles, and even some of the edibles were found in a cemetery so unwise to consume! 

Session 40 15th October St Benet’s Abbey

Photo credits Richard Godfrey, Louise Fowden, John Durrant, Robert Fairclough, Sue Tyler, Fran Pearce, Laura Drysdale, Tod Sullivan, Phillip Wells

We met on a bleak day at St Benet’s Abbey, the strange abbey in the marshes near Ludham that once looked something like this

and now like this.

It is owned by our BCA partners Norfolk Archaeological Trust, and is a thousand years old, as the Benedictine monastery was founded by King Cnut in 1019. The land route to the site is through private farmland, but the ruins are more accessible via the River Bure.

St Benet’s is still used for an annual service in August, and it clearly means a lot to many, we saw inscriptions, gifts and a bunch of flowers with a portrait photo laid in the Gatehouse.

The archaeology of the site is apparent in the lumps and bumps in the landscape, and there are some tempting molehills.

St Benet’s Abbey is wonderfully photogenic and people took some great pictures

We ended up with a cuppa at Ludham Bridge.

Session 39 1st October 2019, Lowestoft, Tod’s Trip

Back view theme with Amanda Payne, who is off to Manchester. We’re going to miss her. Photo by Philip Wells

Tod’s Trips took us from Sams Cafe to the Lowestoft Heritage Centre, with a tour of Flint House and the extraordinary Beach Village model. North Lowestoft is a Heritage Action Zone – https://www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/business/regeneration-projects/haz/

Flint House, after a behind-the-scenes tour with John Stannard, Lowestoft Civic Society. John has been driving initiatives to conserve Lowestoft’s built heritage and the Society owns this magnificent building. Photo by Robert Fairclough.

We feel a building conservation project coming on….