So we’ve done it – well not quite. No sooner do we breathe a sigh of relief at signing up to the new charity that the enormity of the thing hits you. We’ve reached that milestone but now there are more looming ahead on the long road towards August 2012 and our great event in Coltishall. Even then it wont be the end as really the work of the charity will just be starting with the ultimate objective of delivering a footpath along the entire length of the Navigation coupled with an aim of preservation and conservation of the history, flora and fauna. There is now something to concentrate on and we have started the detailed planning work and will willingly accept volunteers (that’s you) coming on board.
Our river has had many milestones in its life but the creation of the Navigation was a pretty big one as it changed things so dramatically. As a casual observer or local resident, walker, tourist, student or gongoozler you will not immediately be aware that what you’re looking at is, in all probability, man made. So little of the river is now totally natural although it mostly looks it. For quite long stretches it can be seen in the landscape that the course of the river has moved. The most dramatic example is at Mayton Bridge where the old course is now virtually dry leaving the original crossing as an anachranism in the environment. The river now flows under the “new” bridge made for the Navigation. At Brampton the river used to flow much nearer to the village and at the end of the common there was an Island (still called the Island !) where the old cut off Ox-bow meander can still be seen.
In Roman times the Bure was navigable at least as far as Brampton on its original course from the sea although the coastal geography was also much different. We know about the roman influence as Brampton was then a major industrial town as opposed to the quiet village of today. There was over 150 kilns and a public bath house for the populace to enjoy a clean after the days labours. In the 1960’s and 70’s archaeological digs discovered some of the evidence including the fact that there was a staithe for the export of goods on the old river course. The image below is an artistic recreation of what it must have looked like.
So in a way our journey has taken 2,000 years to get to this point since somebody first used the Bure for commercial transport. I wouldn’t mind betting however if we were able to time travel back considerably further we would find that ancient man in primitive boats also used the river for both fish and as a means of transport as then it was literally the only way to get from one side to the other save for the few shallows that allowed them to ford their way across. There is a theory which I am inclined to agree with that some of the bridges are placed where they are because that is where ancient man chose to cross. It was probably an honourable existence to be an ancient ferryman.
I work in Ipswich – this is almost a confessional statement – but just sometimes I can escape this fate and attend at an office in Norwich and on those occasions I tend to get in the car, drive to Hoveton and Wroxham Station and go in on the early train. I did this the other morning and it was almost magical.
The temperature was just above freezing and curtain of mist hung just above the ground like a shroud. Between Wroxham and Salhouse the train goes over a sizeable embankment, high enough to be above the rising mist and it was as though we were flying above the clouds. On arrival at Norwich Station I visited the coffee stall in the centre of the concourse to obtain a warming latte and the normally dour barista had a spring in her step; it was something to do with the cold and having something new to moan about, After a moment or two spent in her entertaining company and with a steaming drink in hand I set off on foot for the office which entailed crossing the bridge.
The river was dark, foreboding almost but serenely still. There was virtually no movement and not a ripple on the surface. Even the pigeons had given up their usual flight in and out of the bridge. Here I was on a city street at the start of the rush looking down from the bridge at the water and all was peace and tranquility. Somehow I didn’t notice the traffic passing behind me. Sadly this state of near oerfection didn’t last. I’m not sure what invaded my mind first. It might have been the Police car sirens blaring trying to get somewhere at the speed of light or it might have been that first dawning of thought about what lay ahead at work. For one minute Norwich didn’t exist – it was me, my coffee and the river. That is the power of rivers.
We had a meeting that same evening, a group of us, planning an event in Coltishall on August 26th 2012 to comemmorate the flood and the ending of traffic on the Aylsham Navigation. The wherry Albion will be joining us and we are hoping for lots of things to make it an attractive day on the Common but we can always do with more ideas and help so why not get in touch. I realised that the Aylsham Navigation project was starting to head to its climax as it was this August day that we have been aiming for. That and the legacy created by the formation of the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust which we hope will become a reality on the night of November 22nd at Burgh Reading Room from 7.30pm – all are very genuinely welcome.
When all this started it was not entirely clear where it was all going to end but a clarity is now forming around the end result that so many people in their different ways are working towards. It is hard work and only just starting as things will get even more complicated when we start doing “good” works along the Bure but you know one of my greatest pleasures is just for a moment to stand and stare in to the water as I did on the bridge and I don’t think that will change.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
The words penned by Laurence Binyon are at the heart of our annual acts of rememberance and are probably amongst the best known poetic words in the English language. They are so well known because they totally sum up the feelings around the act of rememberance and were penned by somebody that felt the pain and horror of the 1st World War. This was a conflict of human slaughter on a grand scale in which the youth of a generation gave more than can reasonably be demanded. More war, horrible things including the holocaust, followed in time but it was the trenches of despair which gave rise to so much that came later. We who are alive now should hold our heads bowed in respect for those that died and ask ourselves could we have done what they did?
The Navigation had been gone for two years by the start of the war but there is no doubt that the communities along its banks were touched by the horror as each war memorial will testify.
The details of the other communities war memorials have not be recorded on-line – perhaps they should be for the future?
No doubt had things have been different the Navigation would have had a role to play in keeping supplies of food, building materials and military supplies moving and it would have performed its role with pride. This however is not a time for what might have been. We salute all those from our midst that have fallen and are scattered around the world for their final rest. Without consideration of rights and wrong we also salute and pray for those still at war wherever they may be but of course our own troops in Afghanistan are especially remembered. Thank you so very much.
Sometimes when blogging I try to entertain and amuse and at other time I simply try to impart updated news. I never really know which way a blog will end up when I start it but there is a definite element of the latter rather than the former to the plan in my head today.
An overview of where we’re at shows that a committee has been formed to organise the event next year; the charity is on the cusp of becoming reality (members will be needed); the historical research is well on its way and the book has been started and is on track to be published next year; exhibitions along the route are being planned and a laptop has been generously donated with a projector to assist with them; an embroidered map of the navigation is being made as a lasting memorial; and, the young people of Aylsham High have designed logo’s to be judged and the winner will be used. We are on track to provide at least some interpretation boards next year. We have identified areas of the river environment that need TLC and also invasive species that require eradication. Not bad considering but I consider one of the most important things to have happened is that a diverse group of people have come together and are getting on with it with different people taking responsability for different bits of the project. This is pleasing because it is how I envisaged it when I kicked this thing in to life just over a year ago. There is always room for others to get involved and if you would like to please email me on email@example.com
Now we change gear. I have been forced against my will to think of Christamas which is a time I love but shouldn’t really begin in my opinion until 24th December. It’s in your face to use a modern expression and even Tesco in Aylsham already have a tree. My wife, carefully knowing my views about these things, managed to get me actually Xmas shopping today which is right out of my comfort zone. It did however lead me to wonder what sort of Christmas the Wherrymen used to have. I imagine that they wouldn’t have worked on December 25th and 26th but that was probably the limit of it. Commerce still had to continue; cargoes still had to be fetched. There was also the weather to contend with although I doubt if the Bure frequent became totally ice-bound it would have been a problem around the locks. I wonder if any of the historical research group could look in to the data they have and let me know if there are any clues about Christmases past on the Navigation. I do strongly suspect that winter cargoes would have included more animal feed and coal.
The next meeting of the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust is also in a very real sense likely to be its first real meeting as I am hopeful that the relevant papers can be signed then to bring us in to existence legally. It is on November 22nd at 7.30pm at Burgh Reading Room and you are all invited.
I have had cause a couple of times this week to curse the inconvenience of road closures and I’m sure friends and colleagues in Coltishall have good cause to moan at the moment as they’re having more than their fair share of it. The bridge itself between Horstead and Coltishall was closed some of the time as engineers worked on it and then the closures spread further into the village (is Coltishall a village or a town?).
The simple act of closing the bridge in 2011 causes a great inconvenience and the posted diversion which none of the locals including myself used actually takes you nearly 20 miles out of the way. Bus services are seriously affected and all types of local services are affected from the postman to the District Nurse. Ambulances from North Walsham have to find another and slower route to the Norfolk and Norwich and the humble commute of many is made more frustrating and longer.
At least now the closure is of limited duration and there are ways around albeit quite awkward. In 1912 when the bridge was destroyed along with all the others there was no immediate hope of an imminent re-opening and no easy diversion. Communities were quite literally cut off and the affect on North Norfolk was keenly felt much further afield than just the two communities linked by the bridge.
Coltishall Bridge about to be inspected immediately after the flood had subsided
The picture above clearly illustrates the damage done and we can only imagine the wider problems this created. I wonder what this inspection party, as that is what we think they were, really thought of it.