A week on the Norfolk Broads - 30th April to 7th May
Well, that was a good trip. And it was almost all good weather. Even the day that was forecast to be wet (Monday) was little more than overcast. The little more was a few specks of rain. And it got hotter as the week went on – building up the nose-tan bit by bit.
Trevor as been organising this annual Norfolk Broads cruising holiday for the 18+ Group for many a year, apparently – and like last year, EFOG members were invited to join them. So, apart from Trevor who is a member of both groups, four of us travelled to Potter Heigham on Saturday 30th April and boarded two Norfolk hire-boats.
Trevor runs a tight ship – or boat, more precisely - as far as control of the vessel is concerned; he ensured that we all took care with our handling and manoeuvring - at least of the boats. We were fortunate that all of the 18+ members had greater or lesser degrees of experience in such things, and were able to help us new-crew get things more-or-less right. Outside of the controls of the moving or mooring of the boats, maybe the ship was a little less tight, so a grand time was had by all.
I'm OK with narrow boats and canals, but fibreglass cruisers and tidal waters are another matter. They've got steering wheels, too – not proper tillers – though I do prefer my cars with the former. Hence although I was fine with the general steering of the boat, the intricacies of dealing with sailing boats cutting across our bows or mooring stern-on in a narrow gap between other boats were more than my experience was comfortable with – so others did the moorings.
Our cruising on Saturday from Potter Heigham took us first of all down the Thurne. Or maybe it was up – I was often unsure with the Broads rivers as it is quite confusing where they are from or going to and are tidal. Anyway, we joined the Bure, passing the iconic remains of St. Benet's Abbey, then went up the Ant, mooring for our first overnight stay at Stalham. After a nice pub meal, making our way back to the boat, the night was clear and cold, and the stars were glorious.
Mentioning that the night was cold leads to the fact that our first night on board the boats was cold. Cold cold. Apparently -1°C. cold. And probably that cold inside as well as outside. The supplied duvets were see-through, and a number of purchases of extra duvets were made in Stalham's awful-but-convenient superstore the following morning.
Back down the Ant the following day, and onto the Bure again, towards Wroxham and an overnight mooring at Salhouse Broad. We hired two Canadian-style canoes here in the late afternoon, and six of us went exploring, coming across wrecked wherries, pirate-laden Broads-cruisers, overhanging willow branches and eventually a lot of mud.
The following day – Monday 2nd May - we made our way back down the Bure and then the Thurne towards Ludham. The country around the River Bure between Wroxham - including Salhouse Broad where we had moored - is pretty and well-wooded, but as it meets the River Ant coming in from the north becomes much more open, reed-edged with big skys. We moored for the night at Ludham.
On Tuesday we had to travel back to Potter Heigham to return one of the boats and allow Chris, Fozi and Jacqueline to return home. We said our goodbyes, and I transferred to the other boat to continue the holiday. We then headed south again on the long trek towards Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water. At one point on this journey I spotted the wake of a creature crossing our bow some way ahead. I called the others jst in time that we all could see the head of an otter heading towards the shore, and then the glorious sight of a gleaming black body emerging onto the bank as we passed.
Breydon Water is a large expanse of tidal water and mud flats, an outlet for several of the Broads rivers into the sea through Great Yarmouth. It is very exposed and really requires some experience to cross safely. We had that, and did so, turning into the River Waveney past Burgh Castle and down past St. Olaves and Somerleyton. The southern Broads aren't so busy as the northern sections, a bit wilder, and with plenty of wildlife. There was almost continually an accompaniment sound of Sedge or Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, and often the sight of Marsh Harriers – or harsh marriers, as one boat-wit termed them. We moored for the night at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft, went for a pub meal as usual, took part in the pub quiz, won two bottles of wine, and went to bed on board.
Wednesday was a return up the Waveney to Haddiscoe, and then through the New Cut, which is a long straight section somewhat like a canal rather than river. Along here I spotted a sheep in dire distress – legs in the air and crows-a-pecking. Not much to be done until we reached Reedham where I tried various options to get a report to the sheep-farmer before a boatyard managed to phone the message through. From Reedham we proceeded upstream along the Yare, past the sugar-factory at Cantley, heading west and inland towards Norwich. It was just past Cantley and hence about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from the nearest sea, where we ha wonderful view of a seal – who pursued us with intent for a short way.
Our overnight stop on Wednesday was at Surlingham, moored right next to a lovely pub for our meal and within sound – we think – of Norwich Cathedral bells, probably practising.
It was a long trek back from Surlingham along the Yare, and we made an excursion into the little River Chet towards Loddon. Along this narrow meandering river we were accompanied for some way by a Cuckoo, who quickly became known as Kevin. We were also preceded by Sally the Sandpiper, but I realised after – when things got silly – that Colin the Cow didn't make a lot of sense. Our destination of Loddon was an important one, for there was a particular hostelry that the others were keen to visit. This wasn't a pub, but Rosy Lee's tiny tea-room, with the most welcoming owner. She recognised the crew (but not me) from previous years, and supplies a fine breakfast or other delights. After leaving the Chet and crossing Breydon Water and out of Suffolk back into Norfolk, we travelled along the Bure again, and moored overnight at Stokesby.
The following day we were passing places that I recognised from the outward journey, including St. Benet's Abbey where we moored for lunch and visited the ruins. Then on to Ranworth, where Trevor and I visited the nature reserve. They seemed surprised that we'd only seen one otter because apparently otters play around the visitor centre. The heat of the day meant that at least Trevor and I had to have two ice creams.
Ranworth was a nice overnight mooring – convenient for ice-creams, an evening pub meal and public conveniences. It was also an easy departure for an early getaway. At 7.30 we pulled away, as we needed to get the boat back to Potter Heigham by 9.30. We did that on another beautiful sunny and warm day – indeed temperatures in East Anglia got up to 25°C that day. After returning the boat - Caribbean Light 2 - to its owners we went by car, kindly provided by crewman Steve, from Potter Heigham to Acle Station, thence to get the Wherry Line train to to Norwich and from there the Greater Anglia service to Stratford.
Thanks to Trevor for organising this trip. It takes a lot of organising to hire two boats for different lengths of time, to plan a route which enabled us to see so much of the Broads and with moorings every night with such good provisions. It also takes a lot of patience to deal with the numbers of people involved - nine in all, with three leaving earlier than the others, and from two different groups. There were also those of us that were inexperienced with the Broads and the cruisers, and the instructions from Trevor - and others - was invaluable. Thanks too to the rest of the 18+ Group who invited EFOG members to join them on their annual Norfolk Broads holiday.
Paul Ferris, 10th May 2016