Fishing utopia, leisure spot, death-trap – what is the famous Diss Mere?
- Credit: Archant Library
If there is one thing that defines the town of Diss it is the mysterious body of water known as the Mere.
Thousands of years old and covering around six acres, the Mere has been at the centre of life in Diss for its entire history.
There have been many theories as to how it was created. Years ago some residents believed it was the mouth of a volcano, while others have wondered if it was a crater left by a meteor. One online blog claims it could have been formed from a historic 'plasma discharge event'.
The more scientific view now is that it is a natural basin, created by the collapse of the chalk bedrock at the end of the ice age.
The Mere has brought both joy and tragedy to the town over the years.
In the harsh winters of the 19th century ice carnivals with fancy dress and Chinese lanterns would be held when the water froze over, and on one famous occasion in 1827 a cricket match was played on its surface.
Residents have also enjoyed raft races on the water as part of summer festivities.
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For a long time the locals used to regularly swim in it, a practice that was stopped in the 1930s for good reason.
According to The Diss Book, edited by Diss Museum manager Basil Abbott, in the winter of 1944 two evacuee boys drowned after falling through the ice, as one boy tried to save the other.
Again in the 1990s, a teenage boy died swimming across the Mere with his friends.
It has a depth of six metres of water, but beneath that lies an estimated 23 metres of mud, making it one of the deepest natural inland lakes in the country.
In this mud there was a population of eels during the Victorian era, which were said to 'commit suicide' by jumping out of the Mere due to the noxious water, polluted by the hatters and dyers who dumped their mercury-high waste there, as well as the population's sewage.
Things improved drastically for the water quality, and the eels, when the textile industries collapsed in 1861, although Diss Town Council still battles dangerous growths of blue-green algae.
But four years ago something much, much bigger than an eel was found lurking in the depths.
James Williams was out early on July 21, 2015, when he caught 'the monster of the Mere,' an enormous catfish.
The six-foot 100lb beast was thought to have been illegally stocked, and worries were expressed that the non-native species would be detrimental to the carp already living there.
Bill Davies, vice-chairman of the Diss and District Angling Club, said: 'To our knowledge in 2019 two catfish are still illegally stocked in the Mere.
'We don't know where they came from and we don't have a licence for them so they have to go, but because of the size of the water and because they are quite a big beast no-one has been able to hook them.
'Some guy last year got it close to the bank, but it was more than 100lb so he lost it.
'The catfish have been known to take ducks off of the surface, they will eat anything.'
Mr Davies, who grew up in nearby Eye and now lives in Stowmarket, said the Mere is a particular gem for the East Anglian fishing community.
He said: 'If I had to choose one water to fish in for the rest of my life it would be the Mere.
'It is basically a natural water even though it is stuck in the middle of Diss, and one of the most under-fished places in Norfolk.
'It's renowned for its crucian fish, which is unfortunately one the catfish's favourite things.
'We are blessed at the Mere for having so many genuine and large crucian fish.'
Nestled firmly in the heart of Diss, there is no doubt the Mere will continue to fascinate for years to come, as well as act as a major draw for tourists.