Saturday, 30 April 2011

Kayaking the Yare IV: Bawburgh to Earlham Park

Bawburgh to Earlham 0411 152

IF YOU were whizzing along Norwich’s southern bypass on Friday morning with your window open, you might just have heard an expletive or two coming up from the bridge beneath you. It was me in my inflatable kayak, coming to terms with a right royal puncture -  inevitably in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere. Until then my royal wedding plans had gone like clockwork. First load up bike and canoe in the car. Second padlock the bike to a UEA lamp post, third drive on to Bawburgh. I would then kayak down the Yare to the university, hide it in the undergrowth and cycle back to the car. As the guests started arriving at the abbey I’d be happily lost in the Bowthorpe Bends. By the balcony kiss I should have been propping up the bar at the King’s Head making sarky comments. The reality was slightly different. With one of the two chambers burst I could limp on, but it took me a while to realise that in this newly crumpled kayak, everything was taking twice as long and was twice as hard.

Which is a shame because this is probably the most varied and challenging of all the four stretches of the Yare I’ve covered. Everyone agrees that there’s no point kayaking any higher up than Bawburgh. The village is a great place to start and I’d spotted three kingfishers before I’d even shot Bawburgh bridge. Beneath Bawburgh you are in farming country, albeit the kind of farmland where warblers nest in the thick nettles on the river bank. The river itself felt incredibly clean. It’s full of underwater vegetation going with the flow. Every time I scooped up a handful, a few watery creatures came up with them.

Bawburgh to Earlham 0411 069

Then it’s under the A47 bridge and into a tighter, more claustrophobic Yare which winds through gravel pits. Here vast white willows have crashed across the river making navigation a challenge. You get the impression that these trees spring into a second life once the main trunk has fallen. The canopy remains and new shoots emerge, leaving you trapped in a micro-climate. And in my case, a climate complete with sharp underwater branches ready to puncture the surviving chamber. 

Bawburgh to Earlham 0411 105

Extravagant meanders mean the river takes two miles to travel less than one mile east to Colney. In between the modern estate of Bowthorpe pops up on the port bow. Two more giant willows have split next to each other on a flood plain opposite,  presumably as the result of a lightning strike. Again new growth is everywhere, but the grotesque remains of the trunks leave each tree looking like an extra from Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest.

Then there is wonderful sheltered reach backing onto some lucky houses in Colney. That’s where the main photo (above) was taken. By now the sun was out and the wildlife with it – an egret went fishing just yards away. But it was shallow too and my lack of buoyancy meant I kept grounding. Eventually I commandeered a garden jetty for a major bail out.  Because everybody was watching a certain wedding no-one was around to object. Later the river swings southwards again and West Earlham replaces Bowthorpe to our left. Bored and tired by bailing and grounding, I eventually gave up at the cafe in Earlham Park. And thank you to the owner who didn’t mind me sloshing in river water as I asked for my cup of tea. Wills and Kate were man and wife and I’d just about completed my mission. Now, who knows how to fix a puncture in a kayak?


  1. I'm really enjoying this Kayaking the Yare series, Steve. Gives a nicely unfamiliar perspective of familiar locations.

  2. Just came across your blog - great stuff. Now bookmarked! Thank you.

  3. Paddled/jungle hacked my way from bawburgh to keswick mill last Saturday. Couldn't get to harford bridge as too overgrown from keswick sluice and the mill was private so had a mile drag across eaton common, across railway line and up to church lane with my aged old town to get collected. Some gorgeous bits but prob easier in winter without so much oveegrowth!