A Week on the Norfolk Broads - 29th April to 6th May 2017
There was nobody from either EFOG or the 18 Plus Group already arrived at Potter Heigham when Fozi and I arrived in Chris's car around mid-day on Saturday 29th April. So we checked roughly where the boats Trevor had hired were moored, and went into a quite busy Bridge Stores Riverside Restaurant and Tea Room to eat and await other arrivals.
Those were forthcoming, together, or rather preceded by, a text message that just about got through the less-than-one-bar signal that seemed to be quite prevalent in these wilder and more desolate parts of the British Isles. Thus it was that having met the other eleven members of our holiday complement we boarded the Broads cruisers and having completed a short introductory course, distributed ourselves roughly EFOG on the smaller Corsair Light 2 and 18 Plus on the larger Jewel of Light – at least for the days.
But that was only roughly, and only for the days, for sleeping accommodation had to be more carefully worked out. As always, though, Trevor's meticulous (almost) planning was done in such a way that we all had a cabin to sleep in – apart from those who had to sleep in the wheel-house/lounge. Also, nobody had to share a double bunk, and to my knowledge no-one did, though some had to share a twin cabin, and some slept in somewhat cupboard-like facilities. Trevor – by the end of the holiday, had tried just about all of them – except my on-my-own (sad) double.
Last year, the weather during the day had been mostly warm and beautiful. The nights were beautiful if you like stars – and cold. This year I was nice and cosy in my sleeping bag at nights, and the days were a mix of bright for one half and dull for the other – and with an annoying tendency towards cold. Hence the choice of clothing in the photo to the left.
We travelled down the River Thurne from Potter Heigham, then up the Bure towards Wroxham. At about mid-day, we moored for a while at Salhouse Broad, where five of us took out two Canadian-style canoes, with myself and Eleanor in one and Trevor, Cathy and one of the 18 Plus group in the other. It was a pleasant experience, messing about on the water, getting used to paddling in synchronisation, fighting against a wind on the way back when our time was up, but also just idly watching the water birds doing their things. During the remainder of the journey towards Wroxham we all on the little boat had the opportunity to take a turn at the helm, or to watch other out-of-practice or newbies-to-the-game weaving from side to side or trying to mow down sailing vessels. We had one interesting incident whilst trying to find night-time moorings when both boats went into a potential mooring, only to find it full and with no easy turn around. The big boat behind us got help from a woman on-shore with a broom, whilst Trevor was driving our boat back and forth trying to get into a turning position without bashing other boats until we came up with a cunning plan. We pivoted round on a wet penny – thanking whoever that there were no gongoozlers (or is that only on canals?) and trailed the other boat some ten minutes later to a more appropriate mooring.
On Sunday we cruised from Wroxham by way of the River Ant and across Barton Broad towards Stalham. More driving of the boat was undertaken by those who wished, and we all felt just a little more confident than the day before. Not to say that some of us didn't do any weaving, though, and not to say that anyone other than those more experienced did any of the harder docking procedures. At Stalham we were able to moor easily in the very large boatyard and walk into town to eat at a decent-enough pub – The Swan Inn.
Monday began with Trevor walking into Stalham to visit the supermarket there. It begins with 'T', and has changed Stalham from a market town into a supermarket town. He'd asked if anything was required for the boats or individuals, and a few requests had been given him. Later, apparently just after he'd bought the requests and left the store, a phone call was made requesting some extras. Then Eleanor and I thought it would be nice to have some wine on board, and whilst I was finishing that request, some jam was added. That's when Trevor asked – with a tone to his voice – whether we wanted vanilla jam or ice-cream jam or what? As I'd never heard of these, I suggested Strawberry might be nice. Somehow, I don't think these late requests went down well, but the wine did. The jam never got eaten, so Trevor – probably rightly – claimed it at the end of the trip.
Our Monday journey was back down the Ant – as the Ant is a no-through river. Monday was also May Day, and hence the First Day of Summer, come what may. It started well weather-wise, as well. We moored for a while at How Hill, which is a lovely spot with an historic marshman's house called Toad Hall Cottage and, on a knoll fifty feet above the river, the other extreme – How Hill House. From here there were great views of the marshes and waterways and lovely and extremely carefully tended gardens, with rhododendrons, azaleas and manicured hedges. The lovely sunny and warm morning meant that we were also treated to many butterflies and bees. Louise said that it was like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and another visitor commented to us that it was like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
Continuing the boating part of our holiday, we turned left into the Bure near St Benet's Abbey (Remains Of) and bore-right with the Bure where it meets the Thurne near Thurne at a place called Thurne Mouth. Now we were heading south, towards Acle. Here we said fond and sad farewells to members of our EFOG crews, as Cathy, Louise and Fozi had to return home. They got a cab from Acle Bridge, accompanied by Trevor to ensure they got away. We moored for the night there, and had a good meal at a Bure-side restaurant/pub before retiring to our respective boats and bunks. We were still boat-hopping at that stage, and Trevor was beginning to experiment with sleeping in different bunks each night – strangely after the women had vacated them.
Tuesday was still May, but the summer seemed to have gone back to April, at least to start with. We began by some of the dwindling group taking the Corsair Light 2 back to Potter Heigham, and thus saying farewell to Steve and Sammy (18 Plus) and to Chris and to Phil. (EFOG), whose time was up. The rest of us – minus Trevor who had gone back with them to Potter to return the boat – journeyed along the River Bure, which had a distinctly easterly direction to it, as did the wind. The Bure becomes more and more maritime as it nears Great Yarmouth, and we were beginning to see wading birds on the muddier and muddier banks, along with seaweed. It get busy going into Yarmouth Town, where – on account of the wind – everybody had their heads bowed down. But you have to get away from Yarmouth Town, and the wide open spaces of Breydon Water is where you do that. This is like driving at sea, though keeping between markers to indicate the navigable channel. Then into the quieter waters of the Waveney, to moor up at St. Olaves where Trevor was waiting for us, and to have lunch at the pub there.
Later in the day we moored up at Oulton broad, near Lowestoft, having crossed from Norfolk into Suffolk and from the northern Broads to the southern ones. It's a convenient mooring at Oulton, because there are shore facilities such as showers, places where you can draw money, and places where you can spend it. We chose to spend ours at The Waveney, a pub. Last year we'd taken part in a quiz here, came first and won wine and the food was alright. This year there was no quiz and the vegetable portion of our meals was indisputably mean. I told the barman so, and at least one other of our group did, too.
On Wednesday we travelled back along the Waveney as far as Haddiscoe, where we turned left into the New Cut, which is a short-cut-canal to enable vessels from Norwich to access Oulton Broad and thus the sea without looping around Burgh Castle, up by Breydon Water. At the end of the cut, and regaining the Bure, we stopped off for a while at Reedham, where some of us walked around the small village. Although at its highest only a few metres above sea-level, because if the surrounding landscape there is a feeling of height. I like Reedham. It seems like a “real” place without the ostentatiousness of some Broadland water-side communities. But I may be wrong.
We passed the sugar-factory at Cantley, where proper British sugar is produced from proper British crops, and drove towards Norwich. We didn't actually quite get to Norwich, but then we hadn't intended to, but moored instead for the night at the Surlingham Ferry pub near Brundall. The meals we had here were wonderful – all fresh and wholesome and plentiful. We chatted to the lady behind the bar, who'd lived in the area all of her life. She had a lovely boat moored by the pub in which I think she lived, at least during the summer. What a difference the Surlingham Ferry was to The Waveney of the previous evening.
Thursday required a long 18-or-so mile journey back, including crossing Breydon Water, to Stokesby. This was a lovely mooring, right outside The Ferry Inn with – on the opposite bank – just a view of the reeds and no other horizon. We were early enough to go into a cafe for a snack before the pub in the evening where we'd planned to go for a meal. The cafe was delightful, with good and plentiful food and a highly entertaining – if somewhat dry-humoured – cafe owner, whose accent was not at all Norfolk but more, as it turned out, Chadwell Heath. Our pub meal later was good too, but we determined to go back to the cafe in the morning for our breakfast.
Friday morning broke as one of the sunniest of the whole week, with a beautiful blue sky and a glorious Sun illuminating the pretty village. Our breakfast was just as good as we'd hoped and set us up for the penultimate day of our holiday, heading for a mooring at Ranworth Broad. Ranworth is not actually on the way to Potter Heigham, but necessitated a return travel up the Bure, turning left at Thurne Mouth, passing the remains of St. Benet's Abbey again, passing the little River Ant which we'd taken on our second day, and pulling in to moor stern-on at Ranworth Staithe on Malthouse Broad. This is another favoured mooring, and I remember it well from last year. There is a conveniently close shop for basics and trivia, the Maltsters pub a few hundred yards or metres away, public conveniences, and loads of attentive wildfowl mooching about in gangs. In that respect it's a bit like St. Ives with its rogue seagulls. Here, the gangs wander about on the roof of your boat in the early hours of the morning. Nice enough is Ranworth, although a bit classy and doesn't have the same feel of reality as did – for example – Reedham.
Trevor and I wandered off to look at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Ranworth Broad, which is a lovely and an interesting place, managed to show different aspects of the Broads environment from woodland through carr, to reed-bed and water. Or maybe the other way round. We had our annual ice-cream in the visitor centre and then visited St. Helen's Church – known as the Cathedral of the Broads. It is possible to climb to the church tower from whence there is a magnificent view, but we didn't do that. The church also has one of – if not the – finest rood screens in the country. Returning to the boat, just as we got there we heard a cry of “She's fallen in the water!” We assumed it was a dog, and dog's do that. They commonly happily swim out and shake themselves dry with a waggy tail, or get one their owners to do it with a soggy towel, whilst the other owner extricates him/her self from the water after attempting a totally unnecessary rescue. However, in this case it was the young child on the boat next to ours that had gone in, with – rightly – her dad immediately after her. This could have been nasty, particularly as it was at the stern of the boats which are together, and against the bank. Dad offered up the child to one of our crew, Francesca, who of course offered it over to its mum. Mum and child were distraught and dad was wet. Nobody was drowned, and Francesca was congratulated on her assistance, and rightly so. Later in the evening, when mum and child had calmed down and were smiling, I suggested that we should play Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle's 'Swimming Song' to them: “Last summer I went swimming, last summer I might have drowned...” but they said I was evil, and we didn't.
Trevor was still trying out different cabins and he spent the night in one of the smallest (which Eleanor had occupied originally and another of the group had found claustrophobic). I stayed where I was and after a good meal at the Maltsters, spent my last night aboard in my usual cabin, only banging my shins once and getting cramp as I walked across the walls and cupboards to get out of bed.
It was an early (7.30) start the following morning (Saturday), as we needed to get the boat back to Herbert Woods Boatyard at Potter Heigham and catch a bus to Great Yarmouth, to catch a train to Norwich, to catch a train to Stratford, to get home. The bus arrived promptly at 10.20, and the rest of the journey was uneventful. It was over.
During our trip we had been accompanied daily by the sounds of Reed Warblers and Cetti's Warblers. We'd also been privileged to hear Grasshopper Warblers, and see a few Kingfishers. One Cuckoo was heard, on May 1st, and we saw our first Swallows - but they didn't necessarily herald a summer any more than May Day did. We didn't see any seals or otters as last year, but lots of Marsh Harriers were a constant reminder of how valuable these reed-beds, rivers and broads are to England's generally diminished wildlife. It's a pleasure to note that we'd seen lots more Harriers on the northern parts of the Broads than last year, which may indicate an increase in their numbers. Of course, not everybody is interested in these aspects of where we were, and are happy just to cruise along in a peaceful landscape or to have the opportunity to learn just a little about the handling of a river-craft. It's a nice holiday, and I have to give thanks and congratulations to Trevor for organising so well a complex procedure – especially with people not being able to stay the full time and finding ways to get them to a convenient railway station. Also thanks to the 18 Plus Group, for inviting EFOG members to join them once again.
To compare this year's Broads Adventure with last year's, see here.
Photos and article by Paul Ferris, 9th May 2017