ON A dank, foggy morning it was difficult to see, but a few icy patches remain on the dyke between The New Inn pub and Rockland Broad. Just enough of an excuse, I'd argue, to delve back in time to another harsh winter. This story is told by W A Dutt - arguably the finest Broads writer ever - about Old Scientific Fuller, the last of the wildfowlers to make a living from hunting, shooting and fishing on Rockland. The Norfolk Broads was written in 1903 and includes Dutt's memories of meeting Fuller one cold January:
"A man who is an excellent shot and expert fisherman cannot live any great length of time near one of the Broads or rivers without attaining something of a reputation, so it is not surprising that Fuller, who possesses both these qualities and has spent about fifty years on and around Rockland Broad is well known....
"Fuller appeared from behind a reed stack just as I was knocking at his cottage door and in a few minutes we were afloat in his gun punt. In the dyke leading from the cottage there was open water; but the Broad in spite of two days' thaw was partially covered in ice through which Fuller had broken a channel for his boat early that morning.
"...For the most part ours was a rather curious progress made by pulling the boat along with a boat-hook, or scraping our oars on the ice. Yet even this was not so strange as a method Fuller adopts when the Broad is wholly "laid" and hard frozen; for then he fixes runners on to the bottom of his punt, hoists the sail and glides over the ice as though he were in an ice yacht.
"Speaking of this reminded him of a winter when the Broad was frozen several weeks. Then, a number of skaters disported themselves on the frozen shallows where the swans were now feeding and one of them, seeing Fuller skating with his gun under his arm, challenged him to shoot, while skating at full speed, a puit (black-headed gull) which was wheeling over the Broad.
"Fuller, like most Broadsmen, despises the wanton "gull-plugger"; but on this occasion, feeling his reputation to a certain extent at stake, he accepted the challenge. Holding his gun in both hands, he waited until the gull wheeled above him. He then skated after it, soon abandoning his usual stroke for that rapid run on skates which the Broadsmen resorts to when he wishes to attain a considerable speed. Then his gun went quickly to his shoulder, and a moment or two later the gull dropped almost at his feet."
Wonderfully graphic language from Mr Dutt. Great stuff.