Happy New Year – the year ahead

Happy New Year to one and all. Tne Turkey is all eaten and the excess of Christmas is but, hopefully, a happy memory. We approach a new year with trepidation and good intention. I think that for most this is a truly happy time of year but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that for some it is a lonely, wretched time. If you count yourself in that category my heart goes out to you and I hope that this coming year will see things change for the better in your life.

I would like to record my thanks to all of you that have put yourselves out to help with this project. To those that shared the vision and have come on board to make the whole thing richer and more inclusive. When I first wondered what was going to be done to celebrate the Navigation I never for one minute thought that there were so many of you prepared to participate in such a positive way.

The year ahead is the one where a lot of the hard work must be done and many facets of the project are already underway. So I applaud those that are giving of their time and expertise and hope that the experience is as positive for you as it is for me. It is also the year when other aspects must be addressed; the wildlife of the river and the final end result of a waterside trail are but two examples. I offer encouragement to anyone who wants to get involved to do so. We set out to be both a diverse and inclusive project and we must stick to that.

Our river, our navigation, survives but has a story to tell and the time has come for it to be told for the sake of this and future generations. Although our project is rooted in the past and present what we are going to do is really all about the future. One of my resolutions is not to forget that.

I hope to see as many of you as possible at the next co-ordination meeting due to be held in Coltishall (The Lounge, Village Hall, Rectory Road) at 19:30 hours on January 18th.

 

Seasons Greetings

MERRY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR READERS

I’ve just finished doing some christmasy things which included paying a visit to England’s only malt whiskey distillery which, believe it or not, is in Norfolk and although a little pricey the product stands up well to scrutiny. We have another bout of wintry weather to take our minds off the routine and very seasonal it is too. I confess that when younger I longed for snow – I simply loved it but now the pins aren’t quite so sturdy and the blood a little thinner I would rather be without it  I can’t deny however that it is picturesque but in keeping with my age I forgot to take the camera with me today but there’s always tomorrow!

This morning something happened that I can honestly say I have not seen since my childhood some 50 ish years ago and that is that ice formed on the inside of our windows; a really deep frost the culprit. Also this morning the milk, still delivered to us in bottles, had frozen. Hats off to our milkman as come snow, ice, hail, flood or even extreme heat he always seems to be here in the small hours.  As usual my thoughts turn to the wherrymen and others who made a living from the navigation in its heyday; I wonder what they would have made of the season and the weather. Presumably they would have made sure that they were at “home” base for Christmas. I can’t believe that they would have ignored the principal winter holiday. Equally I doubt if they had many days off depending on the availability of cargo. In a year such as this there would have been a demand for coal but in a milder winter with no agricultural cargoes things might have been tighter for those involved

I suspect that all the people working on the navigation either on the bank or the boats would all have known each other well even though the wherries were in competition one with the other. At this time of year there would have been greetings exchanged and ales enjoyed to celebrate another year done. The river may, of course, have iced up sometimes bringing everything to a stop but my guess is that this didn’t happen often; it certainly doesn’t now. When all around is frozen the river continues to flow well although I know from experiences many years ago that working locks in these conditions is no joke. Not only is it perishing cold, hard work it can also be very dangerous.

Talking of ice I know that many of the narrow canals where water was stiller had problems with freezing. Some overcame it by employing ice breaking boats which were an interesting affair involving a gang of men equally divided either side of the vessel which they then rocked, quite violently I suspect, to break the ice around it. This was repeated as it was moved forward eventually clearing a channel. I know of no such vessel employed on the Bure but when the historical research is done payments may be found for ice clearance, who knows?

The above photograph courtesy of www.blisworth.org.uk illustrates an ice breaking boat of the type that I was talking about above.

Below is a photograph showing an active scene at Horstead / Coltishall Lock probably around the turn of the 19th / 20th centuries. I don’t know the time of year although I suspect it is summer or early autumn but I include it here as one of the few examples I have seen of the navigation in use for its intended purpose.

Whilst not exactly being a scene of bustling activity I do believe that this picture does well reflect what life on the navigation must have been like. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the whole thing was about getting goods from A to B and the boats and people that did that. Merry Christmas.

History – as a way to spend a morning

This morning I was honoured to spend my time attending a meeting of various and assorted local personae all linked by a love of history and an interest in the navigation. It was a meeting organised by the Aylsham local history society and was the launch of the historical research side of this project. The research is being supported and mentored by the UEA in the form of one Sarah Spooner who specialises, I believe, in landscape history. Ultimately it will lead to a book on the definitive history. As part of this meeting we were treated to a glimpse of the Aylsham Town Archive which includes many source documents which will have to be gone through and also a number of photographs of both the flood (which I must say was of almost biblical proportions) and the navigation. Yours truly, in time honoured fashion, ended up volunteering to do this and that but all around the periphery. One thing I was asked to do was research what material may be held elsewhere than Aylsham in parishes along the navigation. In this you can help me; if you know of any material that may be useful please let me know onstu.wilson100@btinternet.com

The reason I agreed to do this and in fairness the reason I was asked is that this project is inclusive. It is not and never will be exclusive to Aylsham. How can a history of the navigation be written without considering the perspective of Coltishall or Horstead or Buxton or Oxnead or Burgh, you get the idea.

Amongst the photographs in the archive were some relating to one of the most engaging stories of the navigation’s end and that is what happened to the Wherry Zulu. After the flood she was stranded upstream of Buxton Lock along with others which were abandoned. Her owners however were made of sterner stuff and she was man-hauled from the water and taken overland around the obstructions. An heroic and ultimately succesful bid for freedom.

 

Buxton Lock revisited

In an earlier blog from the beginning of November, now archived (see archives link at the right hand top of the page) I wrote about Buxton Lock. It was once such an imposing structure and its demise from the landscape now so complete. Generations would only know of its previous existence by word of mouth and the few remaining photographs such as the one below. Today so little remains that the unknowing would never appreciate the fact that large sailing vessels carrying cargo would ever have visited here.

In my earlier blog I wrote the following about this, one of my favourite navigation images -:

This photograph is thought to date from around 1910. The mill is clearly identifiable as Buxton and the race is still there today and is often used by the village youths for swimming in the hot balmy summer days. The lock cut is largely filled in and levelled now following the construction of the road in the 1930’s although it has left its mark on the landscape. In this photograph the lock itself at the head of the right hand channel looks resplendant and well maintained. It was quite an imposing structure although the rise cannot have been much more than 12 to 15 feet.

The other thing I like about this photograph is the story it tells of the day it was taken. It was clearly windy, the water shows that and I would guess that it had recently rained quite heavily as the water level is high. I would guess it was taken around this time of year as it has an autumnal feel to it. There’s no sign of any people – they are probably staying sensibly in the warm.

The wooden box like structure in the left foreground of the photo above is a bit of a mystery but our friends at the Museum of the Broads suggest that it is likely to belong to the local Eel catcher. I wonder how many Eels are in the river today?

A sad but essential comparison is with the following photograph taken in 1928, well after the flood but before the lock was wiped from the face of the earth. To me this is a sad photograph; a once proud place laid low and left derelict. It must have been quite an eyesore as well as a worry to local parents as it could hardly be described as safe. I suspect (but don’t know) that there was some relief when the lock was filled in.

 

It’s an interesting world

Since getting involved with this project I have found some really interesting waterways sites on the net and every so often I have interacted with them. One such site is http://wherrymansweb.blogspot.com/ which is essentially a blog site maintained by a man called Steve Silk who is the author of The Wherry Man’s Way, a guide to the 35 miles between Norwich and Great Yarmouth on the Wensum and Yare rivers.

This guide is the fore-runner of what this project aims to provide for the Upper Bure. Steve has been kind enough to do a blog about us on his site so I thought it only right and proper to reciprocate. The Wherry Man’s Way can actually teach us something as well. It is now, thanks to Steve, fully guided and also way marked. We will eventually need to way mark and to do so in a consistent way so that all the markers are clearly identifiable as being related to this project. One of the things we will need to do this is some type of corporate identity in the form of a logo. Seems to me that is something we could ask our younger generation to design as we really do want to engage with them in this project.

Steve is a very modest man and has asked me to point out that the Wherry Man’s Way pre-existed his guide and was funded by European money. He writes “the project was conceived by a chap called Mark Wells who at the time was a local councillor and a Broads Authority member”. Steve adds “Using quite a lot of Euro-money they came up with a plan and then installed info boards, sculptures, signs, benches etc. They did a super job …. Much, much later I came along and wrote a book singing its praises”.

I hope Steve doesn’t mind but I’ve lifted a picture of one of the Wherry Man’s Way markers from his site to illustrate what I mean.

 

Snow

The north wind doth blow etc and we have had snow. More north easterly actually but I’m not going to nit-pick. The temperature today has hovered just above freezing but the wind chill has made it feel more like -4 or thereabouts.

My mind, as ever, has turned to the wherry men of yesteryear. No escape from the weather for them except at the end of their days toil when they could retreat to their back cabin which was probably very warm with the coal fired stove and parrafin lamp. They struggled onward to the end of their journey bringing, at this time of year, welcome supplies of coal to Aylsham and the other communities along the way. I doubt if they actually got many thanks for this but it was an essential service at the time.

Have you been out and about around the navigation in the last day or two with your camera? If you have we would love to be able to see your photo’s and also possibly post them on the site. Drop me an email to stu.wilson100@btinternet.com