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
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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.
Because 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
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.