Saturday, 18 December 2010

Minus 11 in Loddon

Abbie's 1212 044

MY BACK garden in Loddon registered minus 11.8 overnight, certainly the lowest recorded temperature during our seven years here. As this picture shows, the Chet duly froze, although in most places the ice was less than half an inch thick. Our old friend “cardboard ice” was back on the dykes – that’s the layer of ice left hanging in mid-air as high tide retreats to low. Everywhere looked stunningly beautiful in the weak morning sunshine.

Friday, 17 December 2010

No room at the Inn

kings head and new inn 1110 008

THE DOORS at the New Inn at Rockland St Mary look like they’ll stay firmly shut for a while yet. You’ll recall that this beautiful riverside pub closed in November. At the time its owners Punch Taverns told me that they were in discussion with the leaseholder and “hope to resolve the situation as soon as possible.” A month on and it’s clear that the leaseholder is not returning and Punch has yet to find anyone willing to take it on. The company’s latest statement runs as follows: “It's always our priority that our pubs remain open and trading and serving the local community. We are looking for the right partner to drive the business forward and we are currently talking to interested parties. We will re-open as soon as we recruit a new licensee.” There are some pubs along the Wherryman’s Way which I always half expect to be in trouble, but not this one. To me The New Inn seemed to have everything going for it – good moorings for both boats and cars and a decent reputation. They have to get it  open by Easter …don’t they?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Raise a glass to Half Pint …and her proud owner.

Halfpint is on her way!

IF YOU read my last post you’ll know that the undisputed stars of the Norfolk Broads Forum at the moment are Callum and his boat Half Pint. In summary Half Pint was already semi-famous in boating circles for a very dodgy cabin made from decking timber which meant it sank ignominiously on a dyke off Rockland Broad last summer.  But since the autumn Callum has got hold of it and is steadily renovating it. It’s his first boat and money is tight so there’s lots to learn, but the online community has come together with great generosity. This picture comes thanks to one of his NBF fans who also writes:  “Callum is blown away by the help people are offering him, giving him leisure batteries, paid work cleaning boats, the odd gift toward halfpint and help finding an apprenticeship.”  All in all it’s a story to warm the cockles of your heart at Christmas! Check out the latest NBF comments  here.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Half-pint and the joys of the internet

THE AWESOME power of the internet has been front page news this week. The revelations from Wikileaks keep coming. And the tit for tat attacks followed with online hackers managing to disable major financial websites. Is this the first Online War, commentators asked. In response let me take to a kinder part of the world wide web; the Projects page of the Norfolk Broads Forum.  For the last two months Projects has been dominated by Callum and his boat Half Pint. Since the autumn  Callum has been giving Half Pint a complete makeover. It’s his first boat, he’s working on a budget, but he’s got the bug. Like all good engineers, Callum can’t spell for toffee, but that somehow adds to the charm as he tells us of his latest breakdown on Rockland Broad because the “torttle cable had gone brittle and dicintigrated”.  Early on one member of the community had a pop at him, but everyone else quickly put the critic in his place. Since then he has been carried along on a wave of online goodwill. From a new engine and anti-fouling paint to a great “curved paint job on the bow” a fleet of older boaters have rallied round offering their advice and enthusiasm.  So far 6,800 people have had a look and 133 have added their suggestions. Wikileaks? You want to get a better bilge pump, mate.

* The picture belongs to Callum.

Friday, 10 December 2010

A silk Sargasso in Reedham Marshes

A BROWSE through the backwaters of Cameron Self’s Literary Norfolk website always produces something interesting. Like this poem entitled Reedham Mashes. It was written by Edwin Brock (pictured) on his experiences of being stranded aboard a cruiser. Brock was that rare thing - a policeman-poet. He died in 1997 and is rather better known for  Five Ways to Kill a Man and Song of a Battery Hen. But this poem is excellent too.


They say the water's salt here
as though the North Sea's fingers
are at our belly, tickling us like trout.
Dozy from blue and bottle-green,
we wallow in each passing wash
like a long drunk on a hot Saturday.
The reeds sigh and part as we enter them,
then zip us up behind like some
silk Sargasso It is an old fantasy.
Sick from a seized engine, we sit
in this sanctuary of seabirds where
at night the crocodiles slip from holes
in their reed bed to jostle us
like hissing logs; and we confuse
the red rising moon with its setting sun.
Now no longer water-borne we drift
on this night mist which dreams us:
there are sharp cries, quiet splashes
and the voices of fishermen in an old pub
where a hand pours a White Shield Worthington
as clear as a bell and without a hint of mud.

Anyone who has ever been enveloped by reeds (that’s me in a canoe, and usually involuntarily) will know that “zipped up” feeling very well. Perhaps now I know it’s a “silk Sargasso” I won’t find it so eerie. There’s much more like this at Literary Norfolk.

Friday, 3 December 2010

When the Bure had locks


THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY of the 1912 floods might still be more than 18 months away, but it’s already got some people thinking. Among all the loss of life and damage, the floods also brought an end to the Aylsham Navigation on the River Bure. Long forgotten, this waterway dated back to 1779. It meant that the people of Coltishall, Horstead, Hautbois, Oxnead, Burgh and Aylsham were all connected by river to Great Yarmouth for the first time – a huge boon when it came to getting cargo in and their produce out. Essentially – as a new website says – the navigation was a series of locks designed to get around pre-existing Mill streams. It mostly used the River Bure for its 9.5 miles but it did include some canal cuts. But all that was pre-flood: 

“When the flood came on August 26th 1912 all of the locks and some of the bridges (including the one pictured between Coltishall and Horstead) were washed out. The navigation was already in decline as the coming of the railways in the 1880's had dramatically cut the trade. After the flood the Navigation was never re-opened. Trading wherries caught upstream were abandoned with the exception of the Zulu which was man-hauled around the obstructions to gain her freedom.”

Now a new group wants to “raise the profile of our beautiful river” and it will use the 100th anniversary as a focus. There are already some great stories, documents and pictures on their website and the next meeting will take place in January. This painting is pinched from the website too.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

In praise of signs …and the “dumbed down masses”


YOU might remember a few days ago I mentioned plans to do up Geldeston Lock. Amongst the improvements are proposals for information boards. Uncontroversial enough you might  think, but not in some parts  of the Norfolk Broads Speakers’ Corner. One calls them “dreaded, invasive and intrusive” whilst Mardler calls the project “tosh, garbage and patronising twaddle”. He continues:

”Once again the powers that be feel a need to erect more unsightly, unwanted and unnecessary signs in order to "educate" the dumbed down masses who are, obviously, incapable of interpreting the meaning of a lock (in this case) and finding out about the history of a place themselves. This is a sad indictment of our education system and the over weaning self interest of those who would infest the countryside with these atrocities.”

Wow. I had no idea that boards could elicit such strong feelings. I can see that you wouldn’t want them everywhere. (The ruins of St Saviour’s church at Surlingham for example benefit from being uninterpreted and mysterious.) I can see that less is sometimes more. I get that. And yet and yet…. surely it has to be a good idea to give people just a hint of the wonderful history around them? Especially those incomers without a clue. I  should know, I’m one of them, or at least I used to be until some information boards in places like Reedham Marshes (pictured) and Loddon and Bramerton got me so into the Wherryman’s Way that I ended up writing a book on it.  Dumbed down masses or just people who need a nudge in the right direction? I know which side I’m on. 

* As well as Speakers’ Corner, there’s a great range of views on this subject on the Norfolk Broads Forum.

Thursday, 25 November 2010



AT FIRST sight the Yare Valley had escaped the worst of the weather this morning. Certainly there was no snow lying on the fields on that beautiful, peaceful back road which runs from Langley through Claxton and Rockland to Bramerton and Kirby Bedon. But if you looked carefully a few flakes were settling, perversely in the more sheltered spots. This was St Peter’s Church at Bramerton during a morning flurry. On days like these you simply have to take the scenic route to work. For more on  the warren of roads between here and Yare try this short post from May.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Unlocking memories down at Geldeston


HERE’S A good idea from the Broads Authority down on the River Waveney. They want to smarten up the area around Geldeston Lock – and they’re appealing to the older generation to help them with local knowledge.  New information boards will go up explaining how the Waveney locks worked and why – they were the only way of making the river navigable to wherries as far up river as Bungay. Essentially they want people’s memories, particularly if they date back to before the lock’s closure in 1934.

“There has been a longstanding ambition from the Broads Authority to do up Geldeston Lock, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Charitable Trust and Beccles Museum have been wanting to explain the history of the lock for a long time,” said Broads Authority Communications Manager Clare Weller. “We are working together to develop the idea and are looking for about 12 people to interview.”

* Email if you can help.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Now the New Inn closes


FIRST the Loddon Swan closed and now the New Inn at Rockland St Mary has shut its doors. So what’s happened? I asked Punch Taverns who sent me an email saying: “Our priority is to re-open the New Inn. We are currently in discussions with our leaseholder about the closure of the New Inn and hope to resolve the situation as soon as possible.” It’s a statement which begs more questions than answers, but let’s hope the inter-regnum is a short one. At least in Loddon and Chedgrave,  Wherryman’s Way walkers have a choice; in Rockland the New Inn is the last pub standing. In fact it’s the only boozer on the route for miles – Coldham Hall is the nearest upriver and the Beauchamp Arms down. Boat owners too will miss out. This pleasant little cul-de-sac off the Yare includes a trip across Rockland Broad and it’s made all the more appealing by the site of the pub just beyond the staithe.  I’m constantly amazed at how quickly landlords come and go at these places. Do they get bored? Do they move on to another pub? Is it not financially viable – in which case why is there always someone else to take over? Can anyone out there explain?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Wherries and Waterways–the film premiere

Archive wherry image

THE WHERRY is heading for Wroxham Bridge and yet its mast isn’t even half down. A major collision seems inevitable. The audience gasps. And then with unhurried, practised steps the crew step the mast just in time to slip underneath the arches. It’s just one image of several from last night’s “Wherries and Waterways” film show in Norwich in aid of the Wherry Yacht Charter charity ..which is why the gasp was so audible. These guys love their wherries. And there was lots from the East Anglian Film Archive to enjoy.  Probably my favourite was an Anglia TV Bygones film from 1973 which sees the Wherry Albion take to the sea – from Yarmouth round to King’s Lynn – in order to reach a festival at Ely. You also get to see famous wherryman Nat Bircham in action (he’s virtually horizontal as he quants the boat through a difficult manoeuvre) and there were plenty of plummy TV accents singing the praises of the Broads in a very 1950s way. (Sample clip: Camera shows young woman fishing, narrator says “I wouldn’t mind being caught by that angler”.) The show comes to Holt and Beccles in March. It’s a must for all wherry anoraks. Full details on the WYC website.  The photo comes from there too.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Now you see it……

Maya's b-day plus 083kings head and new inn 1110 001

PERHAPS it’s fitting that Norfolk’s largest St George’s flag finally disappeared from the King’s Head in Loddon this week. After all, England had been booed off at Wembley after losing 2-1 against France. Not sure about that shade of orange, mind. Has the landlord gone Dutch?


A final farewell to The Wherry at Langley


PICTURE the scene. It was the baking hot summer of 2003. Family Silk had just made the big move from Norwich out into the sticks at  Loddon. After several weeks of non-stop unpacking, I manage to escape on my bike to explore for the first time. On a Sunday afternoon I’m dying for a swift one and the Wherry at Langley is just the right distance away. …But you’re miles ahead of me of course. Unbeknown to me, the pub had closed its doors for the final time a few weeks earlier. I’ve enjoyed a drink in every other pub along what we would learn to call the Wherryman’s Way, but The Wherry would be the one that got away. 

In the intervening years I’ve heard rumours every which way, but today South Norfolk council confirmed the inevitable.  Their website has yet to be updated, but yes they have given permission to convert the “former public house to residential use with erection of 2 storey extension, subject to conditions”. I’m not sure what the conditions are, but I understand that “offering hand-pumped real ale at reasonable prices to blokes on bikes” is not included. At least the building will survive and at least just a few yards up the road, walkers can now be watered and fed at the excellent Langley Abbey. But still it’s the end of an era.

* More details on the pub’s history here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Wherries and Waterways on Friday

Three Wherries Sailing

A QUICK reminder that the Wherry Yacht Charter charity has organised a film show called “Wherries and Waterways” for this Friday. Read my original post on this from September here.  The show takes place at the Assembly House in Norwich.  Doors open at 7pm, the film begins at 7.30pm. For tickets call Pauline Simpson on 01692 630674

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Tea’s up on the Yare


PHOTOGRAPHS of wherries in their heyday have an instant romance to them, but this one is particular good. For a start it instantly transports you back 100 years by its sheer location. Very few people go to Postwick Grove any more – largely because you have to skirt a dredging tip to get there. But a century ago (the stamp on the rear of the postcard is of Edward VII) Postwick was the fashionable place for a stroll or for picnics – witness the  onlooker(s) next to the gate. Then there’s relative absence of trees. In the intervening 100 years trees have self-seeded along the entire bank here – you simply can’t get to the riverside for long stretches.  That wouldn’t have been allowed to happen then, for the very simple reason that trees got in the way of good wind. I love the smoke from the stove in the cuddy too. Read Black-Sailed Traders and you’ll know how important a constant supply of good tea was to wherrymen. And finally look at the direction of the smoke – straight up. There wasn’t much wind around, so actually the tranquil setting belies a hard journey downriver for the two, or is it three, people on board.

* To explore Postwick Grove, start from Boundary Lane, Thorpe St Andrew. Follow the footpath once the road runs out and cross the railway line. Continue walking and you eventually emerge next to the River Yare. Walk far enough and you see the Woods End pub tantalisingly out of reach on the southern bank.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Whitlingham Lane gets a makeover


EVER cursed the pitted, potted lane which runs through Whitlingham Country Park? I’d always assumed the gaping holes were a natural form of traffic calming. But it turns out that improving the road was simply the last on the park’s “things to do” list. It is in fact  the final piece in a jigsaw which has seen an ugly gravel extraction pit transformed into a beautiful gateway to the Wherryman’s Way. The Broads Authority says that Whitlingham Lane will be widened as well as resurfaced. They’re also taking the opportunity to formally ban motorists from parking on the verges ..which I guess had been coming for a while.

David Adler, chairman of the Whitlingham Country Park Charitable Trust said: “We are thrilled that the lane is finally being improved, marking the completion of this stunning amenity. Lafarge and the Trust are rightly proud of this beautiful creation which has become a favourite country haunt for local residents and visitors to the Broads. We hope it will continue to provide opportunities for generations of visitors to enjoy the natural world right on the doorstep of the city of Norwich.”

The road should be re-opened by Christmas. Full press release here.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A great Yarmouth accent


REMEMBER I was trying to discover if the town of Great Yarmouth still has a distinctive accent? At the time I sent a quick email off to FOND – Friends of Norfolk Dialect. Today I had a response from Peter Trudgill – the author of a book on the county’s lingo as well as countless others on dialect, accent and sociolinguistics. 

“The Yarmouth accent certainly used to be somewhat distinct from that of the surrounding countryside,” he told me. “Unlike the rural accents, for instance, it resembled Norwich in having h-dropping. And when I did some research about this - in the 1970s - Lowestoft had a rather different accent again - for example the vowel in words such as coal, boat was different from the Yarmouth version.”

I feel the need to go and do some research of my own, particularly in those great old-fashioned boozers (like the Tudor Tavern, pictured) that Yarmouth seems to specialise in.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Radio Wherryman

BBC Radio Norfolk 95.1 FM | 104.4 FM | DAB
A QUICK diary note to say that I will be talking about the  Wherryman’s Way on BBC Radio Norfolk on Sunday evening. Maggie Secker will be asking the questions from about 5pm.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

You hint from round here are yuh?

EARLIER this week I quoted Simon Knott’s assertion that Great Yarmouth has its own accent distinct, say, from Lowestoft down the road. Do such differences still exist? Well yes, says 61-year old Brian who hails from Fleggburgh, north of Yarmouth but later moved to just south of Lowestoft. He emailed to say that twenty five years ago he recalls a conversation with some local lads at Oulton Broad who immediately noticed that he wasn’t local from ”the way you talked.” Can anyone get any more recent than that? And if there are still differences, what are the tell-tale signs?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Open your doors St Nicholas


GREAT YARMOUTH has a magnificent church, in fact it’s  almost a cathedral in terms of size if not in status. Yet you’ll be lucky to see inside St Nicholas’s as you end your Wherryman’s Way walk. Unlike just about every other church along our 35 mile journey, the doors are normally locked. And that, as Simon Knott makes clear in the latest addition to his website dedicated to the churches of Norfolk, just isn’t good enough any more. He writes:

“You may be aghast to learn, then, that this wonderful structure is hardly ever open to the public. At present, you can only visit on a Saturday morning: otherwise, it is merely the private, vastly-subsidised venue of a small group of Sunday worshippers. Nothing could be more short-sighted, and little could be more shameful.

For, while the mission of the Church of England is increasingly seen as to the whole people of God and not just to its registered members, and churches all over England are making themselves open to pilgrims and strangers wanting to feel a sense of the numinous* and even perhaps to be open to a spirituality which may or may not be Christian but which is at least a yearning for God, the people of Great Yarmouth are locked out of their own church from day to day.”

Hear, hear. Away from church opening times, he’s good on the town itself, feeling that it has “broken the surly bonds of proximity to London, which is, after all, fewer than 150 miles away, and instead yearns out for the sea, and Europe”. And just as an aside he asserts that Yarmouth has its own accent. My Thames Valley upbringing means I am hopeless at detecting and decoding the different strains of East Anglian twang. But my (Suffolk born) father in law swears he could spot the difference between a Yarmouth and a Lowestoft accent when he was younger. Do they really still exist today?

* Numinous - “indicating the presence of a divinity”

Friday, 29 October 2010

The perils of Breydon Water


THIS is Breydon Water looking suitably serene from Breydon Bridge at sunset.  But as any reader of Coot Club knows, this three or four mile stretch of inland estuary can be treacherous. The denouement of Arthur Ransome’s 1934 classic children’s book sees the hullabaloos finally run their hire crusier aground here after fog descends without warning. I mention it because Breydon Water is currently providing the Norfolk Broads Forum with its most entertaining thread in a long time. Earlier this month Sunchaser wrote:

“On Saturday 16th October  I took some friends out on the boat, our intention was to take them across Breydon to Yarmouth. My boat a Hampton Safari.
Predicted winds were 25 mph. When we first hit Breydon it seemed relatively calm, but as we started to hit open water it started to get rough. We were going with the tide and against the wind. The boat started to really go down into the water and up again, mud weight banging on the front. My decision was to turn around. When we turned around we were going against the tide and with the wind, the boat was just slidding across the top of the waves like a surf board.
My question is as these are not sea going boats, how much can they take?”

Since then it’s been open season. Forum regular Jenny Morgan basically called him a wuss “I suspect that your Hampton can take rather more than its crew can!” while Strowager in contrast warned of huge wave heights and Breydon’s “nasty moods”. Take a look yourself here. This one will run and run.

Monday, 25 October 2010

1878 and all that


IF you canoe through Norwich often enough you get used to small plaques high above the water line. Invariably they mark the flood level from the summer day in August 1912 when Norwich was hit by its famous flood. Six and a half inches of rain fell in just 12 hours. But that’s not the case with this plaque. This one near the site of the old Bullards brewery on Westwick Street harks back to November 1878, the date of yet another deluge and one I had never heard of. Today’s EDP contains the answer. Or rather the supplement celebrating 140 years of the newspaper contains the answer in the shape of a full report from that very day, together with a dramatic photo of the River Wensum flooded over fields which would later become home to Norwich City. There’s loads of great detail, with the “ferry-houses” of  Horning, Surlingham, Cantley and Coldham Hall all reported to be several feet under water. But it’s Norwich, and in particular what the paper calls North Heigham, where the combination of high tide, heavy flow and heavy rain wreaked particular havoc.

“Before the evening had far advanced the usually insignificant stream of 26 feet wide had swollen into a stream which was more than a mile across it. On the one hand it had poured its waters up the densely populated courts and alleys in St Martin’s at Oak and St Miles, and on the other hand it had converted Heigham Street and Causeway into a deep river and spread its waters up the various streets which ran into them. The thousands of people who dwell in these neighbourhoods seemed to be paralysed, for they were powerless to save their homes….”

In fact reading the whole supplement you are struck by how many of Norfolk’s big stories were weather-related. Two inland floods, the coastal floods of 1953 and the Great Storm of 1987. Let’s hope the  next one is still a long way off.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Last night at the East Anglian Book Awards

IT’S BLATANT self-promotion time. Last night my Wherryman’s Way book won the travel and guidebooks category at the EDP/Jarrolds Book Awards in Norwich. It was a good evening. The highlight, undoubtedly, was Louis de Bernieres reading a story in verse called “A Walberswick Goodnight Story”. As Keiron Pym says in today’s EDP, we were all held absolutely spellbound. This love of books was infectious. By the end of the evening I owned four of the shortlisted/winning books. The Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich you just have to have on your shelves and the overall winner The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson shows every sign of being  unputdownable as a novel. The other two are perhaps less-heralded. But in the Poetry section I can really recommend Yes by Caroline Gilfillan and Gedney Drove End by Cameron Self. I bought Yes today at Jarrolds. You can buy Gedney via Cameron’s Literary Norfolk website. It’s probably 20 years since I last bought collections of poetry. But then that’s what happens when Mr de B comes to town. 
* Full story in EDP

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Canoeing the Yare – Harford Bridges to Eaton


THREE horse power this afternoon on the River Yare. Remember two weeks ago I did the stretch from Lakenham up to Harford Bridges? Today I carried on upstream on yet another gorgeous October afternoon. Once again you’re playing hide and seek with the railway track which continues to cross and re-cross the river across Marston Marsh. The big problem this week was Keswick Mill. 049 There’s not an obvious portage point (Portage is the posh word for having to take the canoe out of the water to avoid an obstacle) and I suspect there was a bit of inadvertent trespass when I went back in further up. After that, it opens up a little on the run up to Eaton with Eaton church providing a great focal point for the photos.

057I had to pull out just a few yards downstream of the Eaton-Cringleford bridge as the river became too shallow. On the way back I took another channel which skirts the back of some of Eaton’s posher houses with rolling lawns backing onto the river. And back to the car in time for Final Score, can’t be bad.


But do they show submerged stakes?


REMEMBER Hamilton’s Navigations? The indispensable guide to the Broads for all boat owners? It ran for 34 editions between 1935 and 2001. In between local info and historical titbits, it helped you discover where it was safe to moor. You cross-referenced between sections of a pull-out map and notes in the book to discover “Reeds up to within 150 yds of Surlingham Ferry Inn, where there are submerged stakes and therefore bad moorings.”

Hamilton's cover

(That’s a quote from the fifteenth edition – pictured - priced seven shillings and sixpence, just so you know.) Anyway the Broads Authority might just have unveiled the 21st century equivalent. Click on Boating and then hydrographical survey from their website and you get offered the entire sweep of the Yare from Norwich down to the Berney Arms, reach by reach. The section I’ve cut and pasted above shows the river looping past Surlingham and Brundall. Quite apart from their usefulness for boatowners, I think the maps also look good, artistic even, in their own right. What would Claud Hamilton would make of them I wonder?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Andrew Marr on bloggers


“A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting…’

BBC legend Andrew Marr at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

Damn, rumbled at last…..

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Half pint, half mended

Half pint

REMEMBER this little beauty from Rockland Dyke in the Spring? She’s Half Pint, the boat with the impossibly heavy cabin made from decking. We all laughed and said she’d sink. And then she sank and we all laughed. Well it looks as if Half Pint is about to be reborn. The new owner – at least I think it’s a new owner – posts as Half Pint on the Norfolk Broads forum. He’s ditched the decking, made a new driver’s seat and hopes to be on the water by November. Whether any of us will actually recognise her without that, err, distinctive, cabin is another issue altogether.

* Thanks to Tony P for his help with this one.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Southern Bypass – by canoe


THE MORE you look, the more you realise what a great city Norwich is for canoeing. While the websites might point you to the Broads or North Norfolk, I think the young Yare has got an awful lot going for it, especially on a stunningly beautiful October morning. I started at Lakenham, making use of a gap between houses on Old Lakenham Hall Drive. Heading upstream against a strong-ish current, the houses soon disappear on your right while the railway looms on the left. But in between is an undeclared nature reserve, full – this morning at least – of heron, cormorants, long tailed tits, jays and one particularly blue kingfisher. Later the rooftops reappear and you realise what great views the council houses of Theobald Road have across this valley. You then have to do a canoe version of the limbo dance to get under a very low railway bridge before shooting the spectacularly high Lakenham viaduct (pictured).


One of the many joys of canoeing is that unique “Access all Areas” feel. And from the viaduct onwards you are in country accessible to no-one but the landowners. Just me and two swans shared the stretch down to Harford Bridges, although two marsh harriers provided aerial support. Next time I’ll go in at Harford and try to make it to Cringleford. And then perhaps Cringleford up as far as Colney. For a river that essentially follows Norwich’s southern bypass, it’s amazingly serene.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The official Wherryman’s Way sock ..apparently

trekker sock

I’M LEFT scratching my head after looking up my Wherryman’s Way book on Amazon. Apparently customers who bought it, also bought Bill Bryson’s “An informal history of private life”, the latest biography of the Queen Mum and a pair of “Bridgedale endurance trekker men’s socks”, yours for roughly a tenner. What can it all mean and should they be selling them in Jarrolds?

Is it the end for The Swan?


THE LODDON Swan is likely to be closed until at least Christmas, according to its owners Enterprise Inns. The pub closed its doors in a hurry two weeks ago and now its entire future seems in doubt. When I’ve approached pub companies after other closures, they have always stressed how keen they are to get new people in quickly. Not so on this occasion. Enterprise Inns’ message today was that The Swan won’t be re-opening any time soon and “all options are still open”. One of those options presumably, would be selling this old coaching inn off for housing. So why here and why now? Well the final straw seems to have been a burglary a few days or weeks before the pub shut its doors. The pub was being managed by London Taverns. Their man tells me thousands of pounds were stolen. That prompted LT to hand it back to Enterprise Inns …And that’s prompted Enterprise Inns to start wondering what’s best for the future.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Brundall boys go fishing

Brundall---Coldham-Hall-(3B) web

SIX likely lads perched on the ferry jetty at Brundall sometime early in the twentieth century. …Just one of hundreds of photos on the Brundall Archive, a website I’ve only just come across. Across the other side of the river lies Coldham Hall at Surlingham; you can just make out one of the boatsheds owned by the pub on the extreme left of the picture. Anyone wanting the ferry simply had to ring the bell. Thanks to Gerry for permission to use the shot. Lots more great pictures here.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The YNR: the Wherryman’s Way for sailors


HERE’S the photographic proof of what a spectacle the Yare Navigation Race is. Not taken by me I hasten to add, my compact just doesn’t get this clarity or this crispness. No, this is one of 97 taken by Sue Hines and showing on her flickr site. She uses a Canon EOS Rebel T1i. The next two show Billy Bluelight and Anne both setting off from Coldham Hall. Thanks Sue for allowing me to show them here.




Remembering Broad + High


ON the crest of a small hill between Whitlingham and Bramerton, the Wherryman’s Way passes a field which overlooks Kirby Marshes. It’s a good part of the walk; you finally feel as if you’ve left Norwich behind and you’re striking out across the Yare Valley. Were you to trespass across that field, you would find a plaque in memory of four American airmen. They lost their lives when a Liberator bomber named Broad + High crash-landed there on August 18th 1944. That much I knew. That much is in my book. More importantly that much is formally remembered in a plaque (pictured) within St Andrew’s Church, Kirby Bedon.

What I didn’t know until I opened today’s EDP, was how the villagers had kept in touch with some of the airmen who survived. The pilot Roger Leister, writes Steve Snelling, had returned to Kirby many times, building a strong bond of friendship with the “Kirby Kids” who remembered that awful day. Steve has written a very moving article that makes clear how Mr Leister thought he was choosing a flat field, only to realise it actually included a “treacherous bank that was invisible from the air but proved a fatal barrier for the battle-ravaged and flak-ruptured Liberator”.

Mr Leister, from Pennsylvania, died last year. Tomorrow his ashes will be scattered over that same field after a service of dedication at St Andrew’s at 11am. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be trespassing in that direction again.

* Read the full story by turning to pages 30 and 31 here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

YNR 2010: What happens when the wind drops


A QUIET pint with Mrs Wherryman at Coldham Hall on Saturday evening had me in a historical mood. The car park was packed but the pub was deserted. They’d all set sail several hours earlier and had yet to return. Because it was the day of the Yare Navigation Race, the one day of the year when sail really does dominate and anyone with an inboard or an outboard sticks to their moorings. Every year dozens of river cruiser class boats race from Coldham Hall to Breydon Water and back. “"And back” being the tricky bit this time around.  At 6.30 only one crew had made it home – pictured above. Apparently the wind had dropped suddenly, leaving dozens of boats limping home slowly. The pub looked well prepared. Lots of staff and a big outside BBQ to complement the kitchen. They just didn’t have any guests.

And so to the historical bit. It must have been just like this in the old days. I had a vision of a gnarled old publican coming outside to sniff the wind. Would a dozen wherries come round the corner any moment or were they already getting drunk downriver at the Buckenham Ferry? Wherrymen didn’t have cars to return to, and they didn’t have mobiles either.

On Saturday we left before the rest returned. I’m sure they got there eventually and I’m sure Natalie and George somehow made sure the bangers weren’t burnt.

* There are some great pictures from the race on this Flickr set by SuPine.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Swan-song at Loddon ?

P6140181 I’VE ALWAYS been amazed that Loddon and Chedgrave can continue to support four pubs when so many other villages have already seen their last one disappear. Well tonight, they’re down to three. A piece of paper has just gone up outside The Swan saying it’s closed “until further notice”. The landlord is in the process of moving out and the curtains are firmly shut. Historically it was the grand old coaching inn. In recent years it’s fallen on harder times. But for now the old rule remains - there’s always one Wherryman’s Way pub in crisis

Wherries and Waterways: the movie premiere

Three Wherries Sailing

ONE for the diary in November. The Wherry Yacht Charter charity has organised a film show called “Wherries and Waterways” with footage from the excellent East Anglian Film Archive. You’ll probably know that the WYC does vital but expensive work keeping Hathor, Olive and Norada afloat. Normally they have at least one boat on tour which helps keep the flag flying and the funds flowing. This year they’ve all been under restoration, hence events like this one.

* The show takes place at the Assembly House in Norwich on Friday November 19th. Doors open at 7pm, the film begins at 7.30pm. For tickets call Pauline Simpson on 01692 630674. They’re £9 in advance and £10 on the day. Price includes interval refreshments.

Wherryman’s web milestone

WHERRYMAN’S WEB has just registered its 10,000th hit since it was set up in February 2009. The first post was about the Slaughters ..and so – by complete coincidence - was the last one. I’ll try to be more original in future. See that first effort here.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Rockland Broad: The Slaughters


THE SLAUGHTERS is the graphic name for the remains of 13 wherries sunk on Rockland Broad sometime in the middle of the 20th century. I’ve blogged before about how a few sodden timbers emerge at low tide if you’re in the right place at the right time in a canoe. But which one’s which and how do we know? This diagram is, I think, the only solid evidence. I’ve got this copy from Broads fan Chris Bird. He’s pretty sure that it was made in the 1950s by members of the Wherry Trust who went around the broads seeing what could be salvaged. It is very precise – even to extent of naming which boats formed which islands.

DWW6-7Because while some of the wherries sank, others seem to have collected enough soil above the water line to become homes for first small plants and later fairly substantial trees. They are perhaps the world’s largest plant pots with the roots of the willows forming more permanent anchors for the wherries than anything man ever established. Today as this picture makes clear they provide excellent nest sites for swans.

I love the Slaughters. Sometimes I think there might be a case for excavating and preserving them; turning them into a floating, boardwalking museum. But most of the time I just enjoy their mysterious isolation. There’s plenty of history tied up above and below the surface of Rockland Broad. But seeing less means you can imagine more.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Can anyone remember Pull’s last ferryman?


THIS is one of the most photographed scenes in Norwich – Pull’s Ferry on the River Wensum in Norwich. It is named after John Pull who kept the ferry and adjoining pub for much of the first half of the 19th century. The building of course goes back a lot longer. It is – in Norwich historian Frank Meeres’s words the “medieval water gate of Cathedral Close”. That’s a reminder that the river use to double up as city wall. So when there was a canal up to the cathedral, it had to protected with a gate. But how long did that ferry last I wonder? Thorpe Hamlet’s historian says it stopped after Norwich City moved from The Nest to Carrow Road in the mid-1930s. Meeres says 1943 and elsewhere I’ve read of even later dates. Even if it was 1935, that leaves it in living memory – just. So can anyone help me find an old Norwich bor or gal who might just remember the last ferryman? We’re pretty sure he was Cecil Mollett who had five daughters, Dorothy, Eileen, Betty, Gladys and Marjorie. His wife was Lily and Dorothy married Herbet “Joe” Henning. Email me at if you can help. Until I find that precious eye-witness we’ll have to make do with author R H Mottram’s memories of the 1890s:

“It was one of the treats of my childhood,” he wrote to be taken across the deep, slow-flowing water, by the laconic old ferryman who ‘quanted’ Norfolk-fashion with a long pole, he did not row. And when landed safely on the other side, what fun to sit on the grass of the tow-path of those days and watch the slow but capacious wherries go gliding past.”

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Cantley’s slipway to success


IT’S the other side of the river from the Wherryman’s Way, but Yare fans might still be interested in a bash at Cantley later this month. The authorities have chosen the Yare Navigation Race day to unveil hundreds of thousands of pounds of new facilities and prove that there’s more to Cantley than just its sugar works. More than £300,000 has been spent on everything from new moorings to that rarest of things, a new slipway. The village will also now have a  £35,000 floating pontoon, new picnic tables, seating on the village green and new trees. Robert Beadle, Chairman of the Parish Council, is quoted as saying: "For many years we have sat by the river with no access to it. But at last we have a beautiful and safe area where people can sit and picnic by the river, fish and launch their boats. I am sure it will give many years of pleasure and will be a facility that the residents of Cantley can be proud of." The new facilities will be opened at 11am on Saturday 18 September. Among the other attractions on the day will be bands, a folk group singing sea shanties, clog dancing, pupils from Cantley School dressed as pirates and a performance by the St Edmunds Youth Orchestra from Acle outside the Reedcutter Public House.

* Full Broads Authority press release here.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Wanted: Wherryman’s Way hecklers

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A QUICK diary note on the Chet Valley Festival of Arts next Saturday. I’ll be doing a talk on the Wherryman’s Way at 3.30 and 5.30pm. It takes place in the meadow next to Loddon Church – I’ll be the one sharing a tent with a couple of reedcutters, I’m told. Please come along if you can,  if only because I’m a lot better if I’ve got an audience who interrupts, heckles and generally sticks their oar in. Oh and there will be books to sign too – of course.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Great news for the Swallowtail


I’VE only seen one once, fluttering across a boardwalk at Ranworth. It was several years ago, before I knew how special it was, before I appreciated that the Broads was just about the only place in this country where you could see the Swallowtail butterfly. They used to be much more common of course. But that was in the days when reed and sedge cutting was a genuine industry; fuelled by the demand for thatch and marsh hay for the horses which pulled London cabs. As Britain started its long love affair with the internal combustion engine, the marshes become overgrown. One of the many consequences was that milk parsley – the main food for the Swallowtail caterpillar - found itself shaded out. But since the 1990s there’s been a “fen management strategy” to replace Edwardian industry. And today the Broads Authority is able to trumpet the first increase in Swallowtail numbers for a century – a remarkable milestone.

* The Broads Authority says the best places to see the swallowtail are at How Hill, near Ludham, Hickling Broad and the Strumpshaw Fen near Brundall. Do any cross the Yare from Strumpshaw into Wherryman’s Way country? Let me know if you spot them. Full press release here. Photo taken from Broads Authority press release.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Inner city kingfishers: Norwich by canoe


INSTRUCTIONS: Park as close as you can to the Halfords roundabout in Norwich. Yomp your canoe across the inner ring road and along the riverside path towards the New Mills pumping station – the head of navigation on the Wensum. Just downstream there are some steps down to the water’s edge. Float your boat and set off on a journey through Norwich like no other.  The first thing that strikes you is the absence of noise. Traffic is hurtling past Toys R Us just a few yards to your right, but here on the Wensum you might as well be in another world. Next, as you paddle down under St Miles bridge you realise how low you are. Three-storey town houses (and boy, do you realise how many there are in Norwich) tower over you. Further on you start to unintentionally eavesdrop on other people’s lives as riverside dwellers leave their windows open. There was quite a row going on in one of the ground floor rooms at the art college as I drifted silently by. And everything seems closer. Duke Street becomes St George’s, becomes Fye Bridge very quickly. Before you know it you’re sweeping past the courts and on to Cow Tower to join the hire boats south of Bishop’s Bridge. There is plenty of plant life in this river. To my amateur eye, it feels a lot healthier than those stretches of the Yare I’ve paddled along. Damsel and dragon flies mobbed me wherever I went and I also spotted two kingfishers in full flight. It was inner city alright, just a Broads kind of inner city.

* Picture shows the canoe on the return journey just south of the medieval Bishop’s Bridge.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Great walk, shame about the ending


I’VE MENTIONED the Wherryman’s Way’s Achilles’ heel before – it ends next to Asda. Specifically it ends with a small monument between the supermarket and a down-at-heel bridge (pictured) on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth. That bridge takes you over the Bure en route to the magnificent Hall Quay – famously compared to that of Marseilles by Daniel Defoe.

“The river lies on the west side of the town, and being grown very large and deep, by a conflux of all the rivers on this side [of] the county, forms the haven; and the town facing to the west also, and open to the river makes the finest quay in England, if not in Europe, not inferior even to that of Marseilles itself.”

The trouble is that once over the bridge you have to pass through a  down-at-heel part of town to get there.  Acres of sumptuous Yarmouth history lie a few hundred yards away but the town isn’t exactly putting out the welcome mat for first-time walkers. Which is why it was great to read in today’s EDP that there are plans to renovate the bridge – although frustratingly the details aren’t online.

This area still has industry – providing much needed jobs I know. But if there was a way of smartening up this stretch of the road called North Quay  – or even opening up the river frontage near Lime Kiln Walk – the tourist trade might just bring in a few much-needed bucks too.