(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.
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.