Too hot to handle

It’s far too hot today for comfort although I am on the large side and burn easily. I’ve been to the Worstead Festival which is an object lesson in what a community can do if it wants. The sight of a sheep dog herding Geese was not one to be missed and it proved without doubt that Sheep are the dimmer of the two species.

Now my thoughts often turn to the wherrymen of old and I wonder what they would have made of this and that or how something might have been done. One thing I’m sure of though is that a nice hot summers day, with a cooling breeze on the river would have been idyllic and I don’t care how hard the work was and I doubt if they did either. Enough breeze to be able to sail as quanting, or worse still bow-hauling, in the heat must have been pergatory. Under sail wherries were so designed to be handled with the minimum of fuss although on the navigation the width and constant turns would have been an issue. There were also numerous bridges and the locks to contend with so those totally idyllic moments wouldn’t have lasted too long before reality bit.

Before todays photo – an apology. I am having intermittent computer problems so I hope service is not seriously affected but if it is you can rest assured I’m doing my best to get it back on track. This does however lead me to a point I’ve raised before and that is we really need a fall-back administrator and blogger on this site in case I am ill or my computer crashes. Please – any volunteers?

Todays photograph catches one of those idyllic moments I talked about above. I don’t know which boat it is but I do know that it is at Burgh and dates to about 1907 or 08.

Unknown Wherry at Burgh - an idyllic moment

Postcards from the past

I received a postcard this week from my father who is now in his 80’s although he wouldn’t thank me for saying so. He is currently on holiday in Wales and is taking the opportunity of riding some of that countries narrow guage railways. The postcard is of the Vale of Rheidol line and my father said on the back that he had travelled behind the depicted locomotive. It got me thinking about how few postcards we receive these days relative to even just a few years ago. I guess email and texting are slowly making them redundant although I hope they never die entirely as they ae a great source for future historians.

There used to be postcards of everywhere including the Navigation. One of my favourites is this one issued by the Great Eastern Railway and depicting a colour print of Horstead / Coltishall lock. Ironic really given that the railways were at least partly to blame for the Navigations decline.

GER postcard of Coltishall Lock circa 1907

This card which is idealised to make it look even more attractive than it was is saying this is one of the beautiful places that you can visit on the GER. The card dates from the first decade of the 20th Century. Other cards were more gritty giving a realistic view of the area.

Buxton Lammas around the turn of the 19th / 20th Centuries

In this picture we see Coltishall Road, Lammas in a staged but otherwise realistic photograph. I suspect that the youngsters were in their Sunday best for the photographer as well as the adults having a staged conversation. Apart from all that this is a scene devoid of todays vehicles but otherwise little changed.

As I write I’m told my Sunday lunch is ready which reminds me – perhaps we could do an Aylsham Navigation Xmas lunch. If you’re interested let me know on

Must fly – bye for now.

A real quick cutie

Well that’s it – home from the enquiry and now we just have to wait for the Inspector to report. Thanks to those that helped out and also the witnesses.

Anyway enough of that – no photographs today but a video instead. John Parker has completed his third video on the Navigation covering the stretch from Oxnead to Aylsham and here it is. It’s well worth the watch. There are links to the other two within You Tube and elsewhere on this website.

It’s all go

Two blogs in as many days – either the muse is with me or I’m plain daft and I do know the answer. This will be a short but important blog.

My weekend has been filled with a mixture of domestic issues, Navigation type things and Parish Council work. It was a pleasantly unusual weekend in that the wife and I were actually both off all weekend together so shopping and Sunday Lunch was on the agenda. We tried the Fox at Hevingham and very good it was too. Before you wonder there’s no murky practises here – that was an unsolicited recommendation.

I have also been working on something which crosses over both the Navigation and Parish work. On the 19th (Tuesday) there is a planning enquiry taking place in to the course of the footpath alongside the Bure through the Island in the Parish of Brampton. It is a path which has been used for generations but it wasn’t designated and a new landlord understandably exercising his right to privacy decided that it was no longer to be used. In fairness to him he has continued to allow use through this appeal process. An inland route around the abandoned river bed was designated but had fallen into swampy un-use (is that a word?) although it has now been re-instated and the planning inspector must now decide on the future of the riverside route.

The County Council has left the matter with the Parish and it is us that have to make the case on practically no resource and limited procedural knowledge. It should be an interesting experience although one I would prefer not to have been forced in to. It starts at 10am on Tuesday and is being held in Marsham Village Hall if you want to come along. I, for one will be pleased when it is all over and am more than a little concerned at the cost to the public purse but we have to represent our peoples wishes. It really is all go; I also have Navigation matters to attend to on Wednesday and then back to paid employment on Thursday with the downside that I have to work all the coming weekend. Oh hum !!!

Brampton Common on April 1st 2007 - the Island is just out of view to the north of this picture. Copyright Stu Wilson

Getting there

I occasionally go to work by train, I find it a release from the drudgery that is the A140 between Norwich and Ipswich. I caught the first train out of Wroxham just before 06:30 the other day heading for Norwich and there was a magical quality to the air, first as we crossed the Bure there was a mist rising and just hanging at low levels over the water – nothing moving on the water and hardly a soul stirring except for the swan family on their morning constitutional. You could see the heads but not the bodies as they were in the mist. About 15 minutes later, or a few minutes less, we came to Whitlingham Junction alongside the river and apart from the soothing sound of the train everything was still and perfect. A steam whistle would have just made it devine.

Next weekend sees Coltishall fete and a Bure Navigation Conservation Trust stall, the first ever and all the initiative of one local supporter who has put a lot of hard but rewarding work in to make it special. That’s really what this is all about – local people doing things for themselves and their local communities. I think we’re getting there. I may not be at Coltishall fete as my paid employment sometimes demands attention but I hope that if you are there you will look us up.

Little-Hautbois Hall viewed from the public footpathalong the Navigation courtesy of Evelyn Simak
Little Hautbois Hall viewedfrom the Bure footpath courtesy of Evelyn Simak

My photographs today are scenes from just up the river bank from Coltishall. Taken at Hautbois they show the hall and meadows that adorn the river here. In the time of navigation the river would have been wider as the vegetation has encroached but don’t let thet detract from a lovely scene. Mind you the sight of a wherry under sail here would enhance the scene but is as much in the past as my steam whistle.

After the flood

Sticking with the weather theme we are approaching the 99th anniversary of the Navigations closure after devastating floods over a large part of Norfolk following a short period of extremely heavy rain. As part of the historical work that is going on around our celebration a new understanding is being developed of exactly how the flood happened as it did and why it caused so much damage. I don’t want to second guess the end result of that research but it may even have lessons to teach us today.

What is clear is that the Navigation was already in decline as a result of falling toll receipts maintainance may not have been as good as it should have been. The locks were all washed out and never repaired. I personally believe that had the flood not happened then the Navigation would have limped on and may indeed have had a renaissance of sorts during the Great War. The real question is what would have happened next and I don’t really have an answer but I suspect that it would have died during the inter-war years as so many other navigable waterways did. Had it by chance survived beyond the second war it had a moderate chance of making it in to the holiday revolution of the 50’s and 60’s but these are all giant leaps.

The flood affected all parts of the Navigation and the communities along the route. I want to look just at Buxtom Lamas for the purposes of this posting.

Post flood damage just south of Buxton lock

 This photograph graphically shows the damage to the river after the flood waters have subsided. All means of holding water levels to allow for milling operations and navigation have been destroyed so the river reverts to the level it would be at had it not been for man’s intervention over the years.

The Anchor of Hope, earlier recorded as the Hope and Anchor, was a riverside pub in Lamas frequented by wherrymen as well as local labourers and artisans. It too suffered in the flood as these two photograps show. This must have been a life changing event for those affected as nothing was ever the same afterwards.

The Hope and Anchor from the river as the flood subsides
The Hope and Anchor in the flood


There has just been a round of meetings with the Project, Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and the Aylsham Navigation Research Group all meeting at different times through the last week. Minutes of these meetings will appear on the “Our Files” page.

The Project is on track to publish the definitive history of the Navigation by the anniversary date in 2012. The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust will be up and running well before the anniversary date of August 26th and on that date there will be a celebration of the heritage generated by this waterway at Coltishall Common.

There is still plenty to be done and volunteers are welcome – please contact in the first instance.

Horstead - Coltishall bridge after the flood in 1912