Cormorants, Boats, Bits and Bobs

 This river lark that we set off on in the autumn of 2010 is reaching a fork in the road. The event in Coltishall on August 26th and the book launch in Aylsham on September 16th will mark the official end of the Aylsham Navigation Project. There will of course still be the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust which will hopefully be able to set about its work proper after the Coltishall event with a better idea of numbers and monies available. I know when we set off down this road I had no idea that a Trust would be formed and that I would be chairman; it’s all been a bit of a shock and a steep learning curve. I have no real prior environmental credentials but I have a sense of right and wrong, a knowledge of and indeed a passion for history and above all a love of our beautiful river. 

As an example of this learning curve I have recently been in debate with somebody about the species Phalacrocoracidae which is represented by some 40 species of cormorants and shags around the world. 

Do I really need to say it? This is a Cormorant

This person favours culling them on the river and my instinct immediately says no; this is an indiginous species and part of our eco- system. The trouble is I’m kind of wrong. They are indiginous to these islands but as coastal birds feeding in the estuaries, sea lochs and tidal washes. They are not inland birds and most especially not birds of fresh water. They have, in recent years, adapted to these habitats, possibly as a result of falling fish stocks at sea. The problem is that they eat massive quantities of fish thereby denuding the river of some of its diversity and natural inhabitants. Fish are also the basis of one of the few economical uses of the river landscape and the cormorants are threatening that. Interestingly I learn from a little research on-line that this is a problem around the world. Their food supply at sea is diminished so they adapt; it is evolution happening in front of us. The trouble is they will devastate an area and completely rid it of fish before moving on. So is culling the answer? To be honest I don’t really know. I don’t have a problem with culling certain creatures, mink as an example, they are not native and can be effectively removed from an area where they have a negative impact on native species. Likewise I don’t have a problem with culling other wild animals such as deer and seals where it’s done for the greater good of the species. I’m not convinced about Badgers though. Cormorants on the other hand are different; for one thing they are native albeit not to this environment. If the animal was on the coast – a short 12 miles away it would be fine but somehow I’m supposed to believe that it is wrong in our landscape. However this is a winged animal that can readily move from location to location. It is a creature with no natural predators (other than man) but it does have an economic effect here and elsewhere in the UK on pleasure fisheries. If you cull it has to be drastic and complete over a wide area simply because they are so mobile. My first reaction was against culling and to be honest that hasn’t changed – there must be a better way. Unfortunately I don’t know what it is and neither, it would seem, does anyone else. Perhaps the answer lies in the stock of fish in the sea or in finding some kind of mechanism to scare them off whilst not disturbing other birds (I don’t ask for much do I?). Any ideas please let us know.

Do I really need to say it 2? A Cormorant eating a rather large fish

Boats, now I’m more sure of my ground with them. At our event in Coltishall we have, as you know, the Albion coming to see us and to show herself off to you. We also have a lesser known but equally historic vessel; the Houseboat Heather. She is an interesting example of a type of boat that is often seen as part of the visual landscape of a waterways scene but rarely given a second glance which, as she proves, is a great pity. She is quirky, that is undeniable, but in her own way as worthy as the Albion. She dates from the early part of the 20th century or even earlier, I’m not sure exactly when, and this is the 60th anniversary year of her being offered for hire by Turners boatyard in Horning. 

Houseboat Heather courtesy of the owners

I had an exchange of emails with the owners of Heather about her past and this is what they wrote “Nobody has concluded the exact year she was built or where? The hull is believed to have been made in the Netherlands using Indonesian (Dutch East Indies) teak, possibly around 1880 – 1900. However, much research is still needed, especially from Dutch maritime experts. How precisely the boat ended up in Norfolk is still a mystery. We know from oral memories that she was probably converted into a pleasure houseboat around 1928 at the famed Ernest L Wood’s boat building yard near the Ferry in Horning. We would like to discover memories of the boat at Turner’s Boatyard”.  Perhaps you can help them – please let us know.

She was not built for speed or to carry cargo (or was she?), she is a boat that does what it says on the tin – she’s a houseboat. As such she is a classic of her type and a very welcome visitor to Coltishall on August 26th although if you’re interested she will actually be arriving the evening before. There are a few tantalising hints at her past which have been highlighted by her owners. They write “originally (remembering she was built in the Netherlands) the flush decked dumb lighter could have been used for either cleaning or repairing ships in dock; or as a victualing vessel ferrying food and drink between ship and shore. She was probably shoved around the docks by men standing on deck pushing and pulling oars. Large bolt shackles either end might also have been coupled to a tug, so she could be towed around. When we were painting her bottom at Royall’s, soon after we got her, we found a load line scribed all round on the waterline. Who knows what this curious looking boat with her bluff lines has seen in her lifetime!”  

Another view of the Heather coutesy of the owners

The Heather is an interesting conundrum.

She is also all wood and a member of the Vintage Wooden Boat Association and I think that the crew on the day may well be able to answer any questions you may have about that organisation. Heather has a blog which can be found here. She is a nice little boat and I for one could well imagine her on the Aylsham Navigation. 

Finally, on boats, I may have news as well in August to impart for those that long to see a Norfolk Keel back on the water but no promises. 

In contrast the Albion who will also be visiting us on August 26th courtesy of the Norfolk Wherry Trust.

Coltishall will soon be with us so what will be there? Firstly, we hope you will be but there will also be stalls with traditional games and a few new ones as well (including find the wherry (It’s behind you Bruce)). There will also be stalls representing the organisations involved and exhibitions of items of historical interest and photographs including something special from the Museum of the Broads. There will be entertainment, ice cream and a hog roast as well as a lovely coffee stall where a beautifaul cup of that amber nectar can be purchased very reasonably. There will be boats and the vintage bus shuttle to the Bure Valley Railway Station (car parking opposite) and the other car park in Coltishall. There will also be tombola and a raffle; oh yes and cake plus two pubs. There will also be the new book on the history of the Navigation, Sail and Storm, available exclusively pre-launch and the DVD’s. The remarkable Aylsham Navigation Embroidery will also be on display. Shall I go on or just let you come and see for yourself? If you have some time to spare and would like to help we still need volunteers to help on the day (please contact ). We can also still accommodate a few stalls – let us know. Download a flyer here ( BNCT latest Flyer[1] ) and use constructively – I would like to see it distributed far and wide.

Wood good / Plastic bad


……..I think not (in every case) 

I was recently on Coltishall Common imagining our event in my minds eye and what will go where and all that sort of thing. I couldn’t fail to notice all the boats moored in their myrriad of colours, shapes and sizes. Very nearly all were hire boats with people coming in to the area for their holidays as cruising the Broads has lost none of its attractions even in the recession and this so far poor summer. This has to be good for the Norfolk economy and we should embrace all these people with a warm welcome. I know that at certain choke points and on key dates our waterways are congested and it temporarily takes some of the pleasure away from our own escape from reality but if we’re honest this is a small price to pay as these spots are soon passed and then tranquility is restored. Interestingly the same choke points existed in the days of the working boats only then they took the opportunity to greet friends and fellow skippers with a cheery wave and the odd shouted bit of banter laced in equal parts with humour, news and gossip as they passed one another. 

Horstead sometimes called Coltishall lock from a rather stylised Great Eastern Railway postcard of Edwardian times

The modern hire cruiser is something that the working wherrymen of old would probably have been very dismissive of in public. They loved their wooden craft and would refer to these modern craft as Tupperware boats or plastic pigs but I suspect that if they had the chance they would welcome the luxury, conveniences and practicality of these modern floating homes from home. I confess I have have never cruised the Broads in one of these large cruisers but I am a boat handler and have navigated other craft here and have taken equivalent boats on other waterways so I do feel able to pass comment. Recently I did a series of blogs in which I went on a mythical cruise from Stalham to Aylsham and chose a boat from Richardsons yard to do the journey in. As part of the research for that short series I had to establish what was available and the pros and cons of these boats. Other equally good boatyards are available but I chose to use Richardsons as one of the older established family run businesses on the Broads. I was impressed by the quality of boats available and the level to which they were equipped right down in some more modern examples to the fitting of bow thrusters – technology from commercial shipping finding its way in to the pleasure market and something that the wherrymen would have found extremely useful. Tupperware is a well designed and fit for purpose kitchen accessory; to call these Tupperware boats is not an insult it’s a compliment as they too are fit for the purpose of conveying holidaymakers reliably around the beautiful broads in comfort and safety. 

Richardson’s ACAPULCO looking completely at home on the Broads

I’m not going to comment on the prices of hiring a Richardsons boat, or any other for that matter, as I haven’t done any kind of scientific analysis or comparison. I will say however that it can be cheaper than you might think particularly if you can avoid peak season. As an aside many boat holidays in the UK are dependant on water conditions and often (although not this Summer) there are water shortages which closes whole stretches of otherwise navigable river and canal. You don’t get that on the Broads and the boats here are very stable and worthy of the challenges placed on them by a tidal environment and wide open stretches of water. If I have any criticism it is that they are perhaps a little light in a high wind but you know it is possible to moor up and explore away from the rivers. 

The Broads do continue to have a lot of traditionally built wooden boats particularly the yachts and there are heritage fleets available to hire from. This is almost unique to the Broads and another aspect to the holiday experience. There is still boat building and maintainance taking place all around the region and some of the old skills remain although some are getting a little bit thin on the ground. I hope that the skills base remains and for this reason whilst I am far from dismissive of the modern cruiser I do like to see a balanced fleet. The boats that I have studied from Richardsons are all well built albeit in modern materials and the skill level in finishing these boats is high. I approve of that but am also glad to see the heritage boats being kept to keep the skill base here. Having said all that if you’re a holiday maker spending your hard earned money on your annual holidays then you want the best available and that is what you get from the likes of Richardsons and other similar yards. 

Talking about wooden boats in my next blog I will be talking about a really interesting boat which is a bit of an enigma and she is also coming to see us in August. 

I started at Coltishall and now I shall return there. On August 26th we will be holding our event and we would dearly love to see you and your boat there whether it be plastic, wooden, metal or whatever. The Albion and the Heather (see above)will be there and who knows perhaps other traditional built boats which we will welcome but lets see the full spread of what exists. At the end of the day they are all full of character although I readily admit some do have more than others. The event starts at 12 and continues till 5pm although both the Albion and the Heather will be arriving the day before. You don’t have to arrive by boat. Come by car or train to Hoveton and Wroxham Stations (Greater Anglia and Bure Valley) and then travel by 1959 coach in luxury to the event (a small charge will be made for this). Car parking courtesy of Roy’s of Wroxham is available in the car park opposite the Bure Valley Railway Station. 

If you are the owner or the hirer of a boat you think may be of interest and you can get to Coltishall on or by August 26th please let us know. 

Finally and with some sadness I have to report an unpleasant Broads experience that happened to me on Saturday just gone. I was working in Norwich on that day and as is my custom I had driven to Hoveton and Wroxham Station and gone in on the train. On my return as I crossed the river bridge by the Hotel Nelson there was what I can only call a dysfunctional family consisting of an adult male and female and a collected assortment of children ranging in age between probably 5 and about 12. This shower was watching the boats (Kayaks actually) passing underneath and the children egged on by the adults were having great sport spitting to see if they could hit the boats and their occupants below. Thankfully I think they missed but I was livid and just had to say something. For my trouble I got a mouthful of abuse mostly from the youngest child it has to be said. This kind of anti-social behaviour is, I am glad to report, rare in Norfolk and on the Broads in particular. However when it is encountered it must be immediately dealt with. On the upside it was clear to me that this rather threatening family group were clearly unused to people standing up to them – the look on their faces when I protested was a picture.



Canoe runs

There are two charitable canoe or kayak events coming up on the Bure / Aylsham Navigation.

The first is a run in a day from Aylsham to Wroxham sponsored for local childrens charitable causes on 11th August 2012 by local man Richard Laxen and his sin Scott. The reasons he is doing this is to honour the memory of another son now sadly departed in tragic circumstances. If you can, please support Richard and Scott in their quest. Please note that the text continues below the form.


Sposorship form


On August 26th there will also be a transit carrying a token cargo from Aylsham to meet up with the wherry Albion at Coltishall during our event on that day. Timings will be published nearer the time.

Canoes are popular on the Bure but please respect the local residents and only remove / launch canoes at marked and agreed places.

Should you wish to try the Bure for yourself the Canoeman runs organised trips and details can be found from his website.

Buses, Steam, Boats and fried onions :

 Details on how to get to the Coltishall event appears below so if you don’t want to read all the old waffle please scroll down. 

As a small boy my ambitions were very modest as I wanted to be a bus conductor. Don’t ask me why because I can’t explain it even now but buses fascinated me. There was something exciting about them – they were going somewhere new and the crews obviously worked together as a unit in the service of the public. Bus stations always intrigued me – all those people going hither and thither and the mostly gleaming and well cared for buses with character were all going to interesting places and for a few pennies they would take me too. These were more innocent days as I used from a very young age to travel miles on the buses on my own. Sometimes from home to my grandmothers – 1.5 hours and two different routes changing once assuming I went the direct way which I didn’t always. I had an alternate route involving three buses, about 3 hours and a long run alongside the river Thames where the cruisers and Salters Steamers could be seen. Never once did I feel threatened and the conductors always kept a friendly but unthreatening eye on those of us youngsters who were travelling alone. Nowadays of course we wouldn’t dream of allowing our children to do this and with sad but good reason. I think something has been lost over the years as part of the price paid for safety first. The saddest thing of all is that I recently had to explain to a young person what a bus conductor was! 

Salters Steamers of the type remembered from long ago - based in Oxford but seen here awaiting passengers in Windsor

Then came trains as from about 11 or 12 I was allowed to travel on my own by rail sometimes very long distances involving many changes; Slough to Bournemouth for example was Slough to Reading; Reading to Basingstoke; Basingstoke to Bournemouth apart from the occasional break of journey at Brockenhurst to ride the Lymington branch which remained in steam to the very end. So long as my parents knew where I was going and what time I was due to arrive it was fine – I even popped over to the Isle of White on the Lymigton to Yarmouth (IOW) ferry once. They were interesting boats, early Ro-Ro’s clad around a paddle steamer and the jetty was one side of Lymington Pier station with Lymington Town being the only other stop on the relatively short journet from the mainline at Brockenhurst. Journey’s of this kind for youngsters alone are something else which I suspect has gone now. I am old enough to remember steam in main and branch line use although a lot of my journey’s were undertaken on the then newish diesel multiple units of the sort where by sitting right up the front and providing the driver let the blind up one could watch forward as well as to the side. You could sit there daydreaming about actually driving the train. My interest for all that was still in the declining steam engines. 

Almost as I remember them - the colour scheme was different. This was photographed by me on a June evening in 2010 on the Mid-Norfolk Railway

As an adult my interest in transport continued and I developed a passion for navigating at each and every opportunity on the canals, rivers and coastal waters of the UK. I became an experienced boat handler and a proud one to boot – there is a pride in being able to do something well. Of course my navigating had to be as real as possible and I developed a love of working boats although I did sometimes swap them for some luxury such as on the Caledonian Canal which I navigated in a Princess motor cruiser. I have been in storms and rough seas, yes and seasick to boot but somehow I always associate the smell of onions frying with pleasure afloat and that is a story for another time after the children have gone to bed. 

So my interests have all been in one form or another about transport and that really hasn’t changed as I’ve got older. As you know I chair the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and that’s something I have found very rewarding. We have many plans but to bring them to fruition we need funds so we are holding a fund raiser at Coltishall Common on August 26th from 12 till 5. It would be really good if you could join us. We could also still do with some help and if you would like a stall there is a little space left although we don’t charge a donation would be appreciated. (contact

The event will be attended by the last surviving trading wherry, the Albion and other exhibits along with exhibitions, stalls, games, tombola, raffle, bouncy castle. There will be the canoes bringing a token cargo down the Navigation (more about that in a later blog), competitions, food, drink , entertainment and much family friendly fun. All of this is important but the really interesting bit is the alternate ways you could get there. Rather like me as a child going to my grandmothers there are interesting choices. 

Roy’s of Wroxham are permitting us to use the overspill car park they own at Hoveton alongside the Greater Anglia Hoveton & Wroxham Station therefore you could travel by car and park there. The more astute of you will realise that this is 1.8 miles from the event site so we are running an historic old Bedford coach built in 1959 and lovingly restored between the Bure Valley Railway Station which is just across the road and the common at Coltishall. Sadly we will have to charge a small sum for the use of this coach but I hope you agree that this is a small price to pay for the experience. You could also travel from Aylsham on the Bure Valley Railway and then catch the coach thereby combining a steam ride, bus ride and the water. For those coming from further afield you could travel on the Greater Anglia service from Norwich or Cromer / Sheringham. I promote this option without rancour despite the fact that Greater Anglia were unwilling to help themselves by agreeing to promote the event on their service. I hope one of their managers reads this and agrees belatedly to help us. 

Blickling Hall - BVR locomotive photographed by me on an evening special in June 2012

Alternatively you could walk to the site – quite a few are. Or there will be car parking in Coltishall details of which will be posted nearer the time. Parking will not be possible other than for disabled drop-off at the common itself. There are also limited Sanders bus services on a Sunday if that is your preferred method. It is though my strong urge that you park at Hoveton and enjoy the bus we’re providing. We’re looking at also providing a shuttle between the car park in Coltishall and the field. The other way to arrive is appropriately by water please note though that there will be some reserved mooring for the historic boats and canoe access. 

Your 1959 Bedford Bus option

I hope however you travel that you come and have a cracking good day ….. now, where did I put those onions?

Mary Hardy’s Diary

The diary of Mary Hardy, when published, will be an important eye witness commentry on late 18th and early 19th Century life in rural Norfolk. It is also important to the Navigation as she and her family were eye witnesses to its opening and early users of boats upon it. The academic work on the diaries has taken the researcher, Margaret Bird, 25 years to complete and all the work will be published in 4 volumes in 2013. More details can be found on the newly launched website which also contains links to the publisher and details of Mary Hardy’s world.


1912 has dominated our thoughts in recent months. It is, as you know, the year in which the Aylsham Navigation came to an end and Norfolk suffered an almost biblical flood after rain so heavy that its like has never been seen since. In writing that last sentence one feels a shiver and foreboding but I am ever the optimist. It was also the year that the last wherry, the Ella, was built; in Coltishall by the way at Allen’s yard. 

A wherry believed to be on the Navigation near to Burgh

In April the Titanic sunk in such tragic circumstances. It was a disaster that has always attracted a lot of interest and did a lot to improve survivability at sea. Never again would the steerage class passengers be locked below decks and left to their fate. Ships were thereafter required to carry enough lifeboats for all on board and other rules about emergency procedures were tightened. Many since have had cause to be grateful for the changes introduced in the wake of this tragedy. 


As we approach the Olympics we should remember that 1912 was also an Olympic year. The games, which were the 5th of the modern series, that summer were held in Stockholm which was the only bidding city and it was the last time that a gold medal was exactly that – solid gold. It was also the first games to allow an asian country to participate and that was Japan who was then a rising power. 

Also in that year the Royal Flying Corps was established. It was to serve in the coming great war (I’ve never understood the use of the word great in that context) with distinction and was the fore-runner of the RAF. The technology of aviation made enormous strides during the 14 – 18 war but in 1912 flying was still very new and rather hit or miss. It was the year of the first flying boat and that was the cutting edge of its day. Things had developed enough though for the first parachute jump to take place. An opposite but equally new technology was also just emerging. The USA commissioned their first diesel powered submarine. 

The year also had its suprises not the least of which was that Argentina beat the MCC at cricket in their inaugural match. Edgar Rice Burroughs published Tarzan and a war broke out in the Balkans. What, you might say, is the point of all these seemingly random facts. The answer of course is to illustrate that 1912 may be a long time ago but it wasn’t that much different, it was clearly modern times. 

The Navigation died as a direct result of the flood but the real cause had been the gradual decline over the preceeding decades largely as a result of the railway competition. That in turn was losing out to road by 1912. Those responsible for running the navigation had neglected it and failed to maintain it properly. Had they done so it might have survived the flood and who knows could even be here now. It is easy to criticise at this distance but we must remember that the Navigation was of its time which was really the mid 19th Century and earlier. The Commissioners of the Aylsham Navigation were not philanthropists tied to some hopeless romantic vision of a beautiful waterway instead they were hard headed businessmen who recognised its time had come. The water levels were always such that only the smallest cargoes could make it to Aylsham – something in the region of 15 tons. The Commissioners must have realised that the carriage of cargo which was all they were in business for had become uneconomic and may even have felt that the flood was a relief from their responsibility. If there was anything I could criticise it was their failure to spot the young shoots of the tourist potential and, if encouraged, that could have saved them. 

I hope you enjoy the Olympics – I will not but I wont foist my own dislike of these things on to you as I do appreciate that most really enjoy them. I did go to see the torch in Aylsham or rather I was taken as the dear wife is keener than I on such things. Don’t get me wrong I’ll get hooked as it happens to some events but for me it’s like Christmas. I like the day but hate the build up. Talking of build-ups we are fast approaching August 26th and next time I will talk practically about that and perhaps buses and steam too.

I can’t complete without mention of the weather. A member has emailed me the following quote from the “I” Newspaper on 12th July 2012. “After the wettest June on record, Britain is now on course to challenge the rain-lashed Edwardian summer of 1912 – the year when Scott was beaten to the Antarctic, the Titanic sank and 384.4mm of rain fell to make it the soggiest on record.” Please pray that we are not about recreating the events of 1912 and that the weather improves.

The Olympic torch in Aylsham copyright Stuart Wilson



Apologies ….. the black dog is out of his kennel again ….. 

I am not Norfolk – neither born nor bred; I actually hail from rural Buckinghamshire although I am one quarter (a very important part to me) Yorkshire with a touch of cockney. I have only lived in this county for just under 20 years so I am still “new”; an incomer and “not proper”. I do however feel at home here and have done ever since I arrived and relatively recently somebody paid me the compliment of assuming I’d lived here all my life. I live in a small but interesting village that is stuffed with history. Now Brampton is one of the smallest villages in Norfolk but in roman times it was a busy and bustling industrial centre and its produce, archaeologists know for certain, was exported from the area by boat on the Bure. The romans therefore saw and used the Bure as a means of transport long before the Navigation and presumably earlier man had also used it as did his later counterparts.It was, of course, a very different river in roman times. 

This is how archaeologists think Brampton looked in roman times

One of the things about village life is the eclectic mix of people. There are amongst the older members of the community a fair percentage that are true Norfolk and here genuine remnants of the dialect can be found. The wherrymen were all locals to the Broads in Norfolk and Suffolk and would have had strong dialect. Norfolk dialect in particular is slow, laconic and thought provoking. Some of its origins though interest me as there are some aspects of it that remind me of Yorkshire and the dialect I remember from my grandfather who came from the Bronte village of Howarth and whom I loved dearly even though he had a back story that would fill a 1,000 page novel (and perhaps will one day). True Norfolk people are often very thoughtful and slow to respond, this does not indicate aloofness or worse, it is instead a good trait in that whilst they may be of few words what they do say is considered and worth listening to. Norfolk, like Yorkshire and other working dialects can be economic in the use of words but rich in their terminology and expressiveness. The similarities are only presumed and not academically researched but words like lug (ear), lummox (clumsy person, I’ve been called it more than once) and barney (quarrel) seem to feature in more than one dialect. Squit is more Norfolk although even that I do not think is entirely unique. It is not rhyming slang but means nonsense and the very Norfolk Bishi-barni-bee is probably unique meaning Ladybird. Occard for awkward (something else I’ve been called) is more widespread than just this county but you know it doesn’t really matter. The various english dialects are rich and each is a source of words that spread further afield and we should respect them as we would be a poorer country with a diminished language if we didn’t have dialects. 

I have spoken before in these blogs about my occasional black dog as Churchill used to call it. What tends to start it off most at the moment is thoughts of retirement, pensions and fairness. What follows is brief but unapolegetically political (with a small p). I promise this will get it out of my system (on here anyway) 

There is currently some squit about pensions and it gets my goat. I am from a generation that has been considerably attacked by recent changes to pension arrangements. For most of my working life I thought I could retire from public service at 60 and get my old age pension at 65. The “missus” on the other hand thought until relatively recently that she was going to be able to retire at age 60 and then draw her old age pension. She too will have to go until she is 68 – a theft of 8 years. I can still go at 60 (which is just around the corner) but will then have to survive for 8 years on a pittance. All the talk of gold plated public service pensions really makes me mad as I do get a 50% pension based on my final salary but 50% of beggar all is beggar all. All my working life I have been told and foolishly believed that I was being paid less than market rates in return for my pension but now we are told it cannot be afforded even though it is a pay as you go scheme that does afford itself. At the same time there is real and correct concern about youth unemployment. I may have to work beyond 60 and my wife certainly will so how does that help youth unemployment; it blocks jobs with people who are paid slightly higher than the young would be and perpetuates the unemployment trap amongst the younger members of society. Personally I am better off than those 10 years younger as they will have to pay more to draw less and work longer – it’s a real “rum do”. I will need to find a job to tide me over to age 68 so if you’ve got any ideas please let me know? 

I used to dream that when the time came to retire I’d buy a boat and explore every corner of the Broads network and even wider afield (sometimes even to Aylsham) – sadly that’s a dream which is now unlikely to be fulfilled but I am better off than the workers of old like the wherrymen and dydlers that kept the Navigation going through all those years. They did not have the safety net of a pension or the NHS. Generations, remembering how bad some aspects of life once were, determined to improve things for themselves and their childrens children (my generation). They fought many long hard political and industrial battles to achieve what we now take for granted and indeed may be about to throw away. Despite two world wars and a few bumps in the road we did establish a state that cared for its citizens but we are now starting the reverse process and I’m afraid for my grandson’s generation as they will inherit a different and probably much worse world. People need to stand up for what is right – that’s not a call to political arms but a statement of hope over the despair that I fear will envelop us. 

A picture of the wherryman John Henry courtesy of Michael Sparkes

I hear you say “hold y’r blaaren” – so I will, until the next time when I will be more steady. “Hold you hard” – don’t forget Coltishall on August 26th if the weather is good it will be “bootiful”. Herein lies another cause of that black dog rearing its head. I am an optimist normally and have been assuming that we will get a summer eventually and have faith that late August will be great but doubts are beginning to creep in so please pray to which ever is your god and if your culture allows dance away the rain in time for the “jollificearshuns” at Coltishall. We’ve “mardled” enough now so until the next time and before I “get wrong” “fare y’well” 

Next time some detailed info about how to get to Coltishall on August 26th and another few dark secrets.

Cradle Bridge as it used to be


Footpath between Oxnead Bridge and Cradle Bridge

The footpath between Oxnead Bridge and Cradle Bridge is reported as being very difficult. The newly authorised 1 metre wide path through the “Island” has not been enforced and is utterly impossible to get through. The old path is rapidly becoming choked with vegetation including to the north of the Island where there are a lot of nettles. Conditions are also very wet under foot. We have asked Norfolk County Council to improve things and enforce the path through the Island but it would help if as many people that use this right of way as possible complain using this link. If you use the route please be careful particularly to the north of the Island where the vegetation including stinging nettles is very high and forces walkers closer to the river. We have also asked for this to be cut and again the more that complain the more likely it will be done quickly.

Cradle Bridge as it was in 1946

Journey’s End

(This is the third of three blogs that have followed on and have been posted a few days apart. The first was All Aboard and the second Cruising Onward. Let me know what you think by feeding back through this website or alternatively via Facebook or on Twitter where my tag is StuW100) 

One of the highlights of our Coltishall event will be the carriage by canoe of a token cargo down the Aylsham Navigation. It will enable us to say that it is the first cargo to be taken down that stretch of river for 100 years! We are now about to complete our mythical journey to Aylsham in the ‘Broadsman’ a boat hired from the Richardson boat hire company. Over the preceding two blogs, we have travelled from their base at Stalham and have now just overnighted at Coltishall, where we are going to hold our event. 

Richardson's Acapulco, another cruiser we could see. Courtesy of Richardsons.

We’ve had a leisurely start this morning, following a full English breakfast cooked in our spacious and well-equipped modern galley. The engine comes to life at the first attempt and we ease our way upstream towards the start of the Aylsham Navigation proper. We move forward creating minimum wash, so as not to cause bank damage, and proceed to the lock at Horstead. It was here that in the operating days the tolls were taken, and the remains of the cottage occupied by the toll collector can still be seen as lumps and bumps in the ground just to the right hand side of the lock. Once we reach our new height, as in this direction we are going uphill, we proceed forward passing another Richardsons boat, the Acapulco going in the opposite direction and we soon find ourselves going under the newly rebuilt (post-1912) Coltishall Bridge. The next reach takes us up to Mayton Bridge, past old marl pits at Horstead, and onward to Hautbois. Mayton Bridge is interesting, as it is not original. The builders of the Navigation moved the river and built a new bridge for boats to pass under, leaving the old medieval bridge high and dry a few yards away, straddling the now-defunct river course.

Mayton Bridge

The stretch between Hautbois and Buxton Lock is mostly open pasture with grand views, not least of Hautbois Hall. Our boat affords good all-round visibility, and we can fully enjoy this scenery. In time we pass under the railway bridge, now used by the 15 inch guage Bure Valley Railway, and the Bure Valley footpath. Soon after passing under the railway we come to the canal cut on the starboard (right) side leading to Buxton Lock, which navigates us past the Mill. Coming out of this lock is awkward and a touch of bow thruster is employed with the sharp turn against current. In the days of sails, this must have been a very awkward piece of navigation. 

Approaching Buxton Lock upstream circa 1910

We now proceed upstream through meadow and wood with Lammas on our right hand side, until we reach Oxnead Hall and then the Mill and lock – one of the most tranquil and quintessentially English places you could ever encounter. On leaving the lock we quickly pass under Oxnead Bridge and then onward with Brampton Common on the left and Lime Kiln farm on the right. This was the location of a large brickworks in the Navigation’s heyday, and not a trace can now be seen. 

It was here that the Romans used to navigate to as the now-sleepy village of Brampton was, in their day, a major industrial town producing pottery and glass that was exported throughout the empire by ships coming up the Bure. On this stretch, if local rumour is to be believed, we pass over the watery grave of the wherry Prospect which is said to lay sunk off Brampton “Island”. It is no longer an island as the ox-bow has been cut-off, probably as part of the engineering works which built the Navigation in the first place. So at our sedate maximum of 4 miles or 4 locks per hour we proceed to Burgh where we encounter another lock and mill. Burgh Mill is by repute the eldest of its type in the UK and a significant waterside landmark. This mill is now a sad reflection of its former self but while it still stands we can all hope that it is saved for posterity. 

Burgh Mill

Our journey now takes us under the so-called Cradle Bridge which links the parishes of Brampton and Burgh with the village churches to the left and right. Burgh’s church is much easier to see as the churchyard comes right down to the river’s edge. The river is now narrowing, and we have to keep going forward as we cannot now turn around anywhere we like. We make it under the lowest bridge on the system at Burgh – here I have to use a double dose of artistic licence, as I doubt our wonderful cruiser would actually have got under this bridge, even in the Navigation’s heyday. It’s a miracle that the wherries ever made it, but of course they did have the capability to drop their masts. Just on the Aylsham side of this bridge was the staithe used by Isaac Helsdon and his wherries the Hilda and the Mayflower. Shortly we’re at Aylsham lock, more properly located at Burgh Hall, and we’re steadily heading into the last 15 minutes of our trip. Here, I’m having to use all of my imagination with the help of a few surviving old photographs, as this stretch is now lost under the A140 and a housing development. 

Burgh Staithe, the wherry is probably the Mayflower or the Hilda

Finally, we reach journey’s end in time for lunch (well, a late one) as we arrive at Aylsham Staithe! We will moor here to explore this wonderful old town. Richardson’s should be proud – their boat has performed magnificently, and carried us through an ancient landscape in modern style and luxury. Who knows had things turned out differently and the Navigation were still open there would almost certainly be at least one hire boat company located in Aylsham; it may even have been Richardsons.

Journey's end