All aboard


(This is the first of three blogs that will follow on and be posted a few days apart. Let me know what you think by feeding back through the website or alternatively via Facebook here or on Twitter where my tag is StuW100) 

I was at a rare loose end and one of my regular meanderings had taken me to Stalham, so I decided to make my annual visit to the excellent Museum of the Broads. This is one of Broadlands’ little gems, and is full of things to interest all ages, whether boaters or not. I particularly like the cuddy from a wherry, the ice cream / grocery boat and the punt gun – a vicious piece of weaponry if ever I saw it. It consists of a low-lying punt with a barrel running the entire length that was used for commercial wildfowling. Load the gun and point the punt at a flock of duck or geese and pull the trigger – goodnight Vienna. It is however a fascinating thing; of course my real favourite when in use is the steam launch ‘Falcon’. Trips can be had during the season that give a taster of this wonderful craft. 

My method of writing these blogs is often to sit at the keyboard and see what comes to mind. I did however get an idea whilst at Stalham about taking a mythical journey up the Aylsham Navigation in a modern cruiser. An impossible trip, but it might have been a possibility if history had worked out differently. Being where I was, my eye was taken to the great family run yard operated by Richardson’s, so I resolved that my trip to Aylsham would start from there. Although there are many other operators on the Broads, some equally as good as Richardsons, they are a good reflection of their trade and as such demonstrate a great range of boats that can be hired over different periods for reasonable sums; to be honest, that means that their charges are no worse than their competitors and better than some. The really interesting thing for me was the range and quality of boats available. If you’re interested you can view the boats on the Richardsons Boating website

Richardsons yard many moons ago courtesy of the company

At this point I must make an admission which might surprise some; I have never actually had a holiday on the Broads. I have been on other waterways, including the spectacular Caledonian Canal, but never right here in Norfolk, so for my mythical trip I have to start from first principles and look closely at what is available. Richardson’s run a large fleet and I knew that there would be a boat to suit me, but which one? Purists rather unfairly refer to a lot of Broads hire cruisers as Tupperware boats, but here at Stalham I see nothing but quality. The boats are comfortable and well-appointed. Like most fleets, there are boats of varying qualities and ages, but they are all nicely prepared and maintained. 

I choose one of their newer boats, the aptly named “Broadsman”; at 12′ wide (in old money) she is only just going to make the locks on the higher navigation, but she is generously appointed with all the modern conveniences. Plus, for all the good weather I know we’re going to have, there is a sliding canopy. Despite my inexperience on the Broads, I am a competent boat handler and one of the aspects I like about this boat is the inclusion of the bow thrusters. So the beer and wine is in the fridge, canopy back, and it is time to set sail! 

Before we start lets just take a minute to briefly consider why we do it. Boating and the Broads gets in to your blood. There are many reasons why people like it but at the bottom line there is something primeval about navigating on the water through time and wonderful landscape. There is a pride to be gained from handling a big boat well and the basic skill set can be acquired remarkably quickly. For me a passion for history and landscape is reinforced when on the water and most importantly of all by turning off the infernal mobile and other devices that connect you with the outside your whole world can slow down. We stow the lines and ease the throttle – we’re off. 

Stalham is a crowded marina, but it is literally only a minute or two before the press of people are left astern and we point the boat easily in the direction of the main channel on the River Ant and resist the temptation to turn right up to Dilham, where the start of East Anglia’s only true canal can be seen. Instead, we turn left and head for our first real Broad…

…to be continued.

Mike Sparkes's excellent illustrated map of the Bure Navigation to show where we're headed. This is the map which Aylsham Evening WI are turning in to an embroidery as part of the overall project and also as a 90th birthday gift from themselves to Aylsham.

Event Poster

A poster has been issued as advance publicity for the Coltishall event. The poster incorporates a lovely photograph taken from a postcard of Edwardian Yachts right at the very spot we are holding the event. This postcard is from Brian Kermode’s extensive collection and is reproduced with thanks to him and his excellent Broads postcard site which can be seen here.

Copies can be obtained from us or downloaded here -: poster word – A much better image file can be obtained from – we would really appreciate it appearing here, there and everywhere.

Event latest

Planning for the event is now well advanced. Remember it is on August 26th at Coltishall Common. A press release has now been issued and if you are from the media and would like a copy please email

We will also very shortly be issuing the first of our publicity material in the form of an eyecatching poster which will be available for download from the website. We have also started our raffle (see below) which will be drawn on the day. Please see below for a sample ticket. If you would like to buy or better still sell some please let us know via the same email address as above.

Sample Raffle ticket

We’ve had enough rain

I was going to make this the first of my three pre-prepared blogs but that is going to have to wait briefly. Sadness on Friday as I, along with others, attended Tony Jubb’s funeral and what a well attended event it was although there were a few too many for the rather small St Faiths crematorium to comfortably hold. The service conducted by the Canon Ivan Bailey was interwoven with solemnity and levity. Tony’s humour would well appreciate the playing of Flanders and Swann’s classic “The Gasman cometh” – I’d never seen it as a funeral song before but somehow it was very fitting.

We have also held another planning meeting for the event and received the raffle tickets from the printers (available via @ £1 per ticket with wonderful prizes) which makes it all seem very close which actually it is. I’ve also got to grips with issuing a press release about the event which is a new skill for me and probably one I could improve on. If you work in the press and feel that you might like a copy of the release please let me know at stu.wilson100 etc (see above). One of the highlights will be the Albion and in case you’re interested in how it’s arriving it can be seen transitting Wroxham enroute to Coltishall on August 25th. Getting under Wroxham Bridge is one of the highlights of its journey and not an easy job.

I’m still feeling unwell but nothing too unusual there as I’ve got long-term problems but you have to work through them and keep going. The river helps – its peace and graciousness always calms. Having said that it is well up at the moment; I heard today that it has risen 2 feet in the last 24 hours so we hope that the sedate old lady stays within her bounds and doesn’t go walkabout. I think that the time for rain has passed and it would now be good to see a summer !

On top of everything else my car has broken down – hopefully not terminally. I work 60 miles away and need it – living in North Norfolk can unfortunately be a little awkward and even scary without a car thanks to the demise of the bus in this public transport desert. Now if I was a wherryman I wouldn’t have that concern – during the week I would live on the job and when off duty would moor near to home – oh for easier and in only someways better days.

I’m going to conclude with a question; when is a tapestry not a tapestry? The answer is when it is an embroidery and I should know as I’ve been getting the two very different things confused for months. The lovely members of the Aylsham Evening WI are doing an embroidered illustrated map of the Navigation as part of our celebrations and their own 90th birthday. It will be presented to the town of Aylsham and will live (mostly) in the town’s heritage centre. I am pleased to announce that I now know the difference. I stand suitably chastised in certain quarters.

Burgh Mill on the Navigation today

Man flu

Now I work full time although some may say that I only attend full-time and one or two might intimate that I don’t even do that. My work can involve travel but is mostly sat either in a car with a colleague or in an office with several others. Things like colds and flu go around like wildfire. I already have a very bad respiratory condition that doesn’t get any better but I always make sure that my flu jabs etc are up to date. Some kind of chesty bug is currently doing the rounds and in the early part of last week I spent 120 miles in a car with one of the hosts. Yesterday I started to feel ill, sweats and sore throat but thankfully it hasn’t developed further although I have been sneezing today and my eyes are running which I’m putting down to hay fever. Frankly I don’t have the time to be ill but I do worry about getting something on my chest as that could see me put in hospital and I definitely don’t want that. I am a bit “blowy” today but that is situation normal so i’m watching and keeping my fingers crossed. Actually the very fact of writing this has started my throat off again.

It set me thinking though – how did the wherrymen of old manage? Like me they truly didn’t have time to be ill and they had no cushion of the national health or sick pay to fall back on. It is said that it was a healthy life and in most respects I agree with that as it was outdoors and involved a great deal of effort and exercise with quanting and hauling sails or dropping and raising the mast. On the Navigation they also had the locks to work almost singlehandedly as one had to remain aboard. This was in any and all weathers so they were regularly cold or damp and often both. I suspect our idyll of a healthy lifestyle was in reality anything but. Add to this the fact that most were also required to load and unload their boats by hand and the grim harsh reality is only too apparent.

I don’t normally plan these blogs in advance but I have planned and, for the first time ever, pre-drafted a short series starting very soon about a mythical cruise as if the Navigation were still open. I hope you like them. Atishooooo !!!!!

Oxnead in the Winter possibly in the 1970's courtesy of Jon Spinks


Flood – it’s not a pretty word

As I write this the TV news is carrying the story of the unfortunate flood victims in mid and west Wales. Infrastructure is under threat including potential damage to a dam. This flood is a terrible thing for those inundated and a sobering sight for the rest of us not immediately affected but who live in areas that could be potentially caught by flooding in our own localities. This welsh inundation followed a period of very heavy rain in which approximately 5 inches of rain fell in 24 hours; a months rainfall at one go.

It was this statistic which hit me; it is clearly a very rare and terrible event but to give a local context it is not as much as the rain which fell on Norfolk in August 1912 causing loss of life in Norwich and the destruction of the Aylsham Navigation along with the bridges including the one on the main road between Coltishall and Horstead. On that occasion between 6 and 6.5 inches fell in a matter of hours and the scene was set. Water will always find it’s way by the easiest route to the sea and that meant the inundation of the Bure valley. It happened on the 26th August and we will be remembering it on the same date this year – 100 years to the day with an event on Coltishall Common.

All of the communities from Aylsham to Coltishall and beyond in both directions were severely affected. After the flood much work was done to improve drainage and to try and prevent a repeat which so far has worked but there has never since been rain on that scale and I’m afraid to say that whatever man does in the face of nature at its most fierce is pretty ineffectual. The flood could be repeated and probably will be at some future time.

In the meantime we must look at lessons learnt then and now elsewhere including in Wales and be like the Scouts – ever prepared.

The 1912 flood at Horstead outside the Recruiting Sargeant pub.
The Anchor of Hope pub in Lammas (now a private house) during the flood in 1912
The dields alongside the Bure near Buxton in 1912

Great men

If you look at the news pages of this website two recent posts will immediately hit you. The first is that Professor Tom Williamson of the UEA has agreed to become our patron. Tom is a great and passionate speaker on the subject of landscape history and also has a great humanity which shines through. His role is an honorary one but it means that he is our ambassador – a role he is very well suited to. I hope he enjoys our company as much as I know we will enjoy his.

Tom joins us at a vital time – we are through the birth pangs but now we have to actually start doing things and to grow our membership. This is a process which is beginning and our first major enterprise and also recruitment and fund raising opportunity is the event in Coltishall on August 26th – it really is very important to us and I do hope you can all come and have a wonderful day.

This week I went in to Norwich on the train from Wroxham which arrived on platform 6 –  which is the one right in the distance to the left as you stand on the concourse looking outward along the rails. I walked (or in my case ambled) along platform 5 which you have to use to exit the ticket barriers and then at the end turned and looked back. The platform was empty and I was stood by the buffers, the literal end of the line. I was looking along the tracks and I couldn’t help but think that this was the road out that could go almost anywhere. My thoughts turned to Tony Jubb, our first treasurer who did so much to support our birth and get ourselves set up legally.

Not that long before Tony had set out from this very station on a rail trip to Marrakech in Morocco with a group of friends. He was travelling by rail all the way except for the short ferry crossing between Algeciras in Spain and Tangier. Tony just loved travelling and had not long been back from a trip to Crete. Sadly he was not to make Marrakech as he died suddenly on the platform at Rabat railway station. Rabat, as I’m sure you know, is the capital city of Morocco and he was so close to his goal. From what I can gather he would not have known much about it but he does leave family and friends behind and they certainly do feel pain, confusion and sorrow. BNCT quite literally would not have got off the ground as it did without Tony and we will be eternally grateful to him. He loved our river and the history – he was a practical man who was able to use his experience for our benefit and by extension the benefit of all. He will be very sorely missed. Thank you Tony.


It is with great pleasure that we can announce that Professor Tom Williamson of the UEA department of Landscape History has consented to become our patron. Tom is very knowledgable especially about designed landscapes and is also passionate about the history they contain. It must be remembered that the Aylsham Navigation is almost wholly a designed landscape as the natural river is hardly anywhere to be seen without close study. He is a very positive asset to the team and is very welcome.