It’s good to talk

Firstly let me apologise although why I should I don’t know as it’s not my fault. The website has been down for some hours for reasons I cannot fathom.

This finds me at a bit of a loose end albeit one of my own choosing. Earlier this week my back started playing up again and there really is only one way to get that right and that’s to rest it so I had a couple of days off and enforced house rest. I even employed one of those deliver to the door shopping services. Sue, bless her, has been a brick although she too has been suffering from a cold she kept working through it and looked after me as well. I hate being wimpish but at the same time it’s easy to succumb to. Anyway all that apart I have managed to get some stuff done.

On Thursday, feeling a little better, I decided to return to work for just half a day although it was in an office 60 miles away so the drive was the most uncomfortable part. Sue, bless her, being on her rest day came along too and went shopping whilst I did my bit for Queen and country. After work we wound our way around the Suffolk / Essex border to the village of Little Cornard where I gave a talk on the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and the Aylsham Navigation Project 2012 to the local conservation society. I was surprised at how many of them there were but they were a friendly bunch and the audience included a volunteer from the Bure Valley Railway so he knew the area well and also a retired officer from Trinity House. They are an organisation I have had a few dealings with over the years and respect their work greatly. Safety at sea just wouldn’t exist without them and (not many people know this is possible) I have always had a hankering for a cruise on one of their boats. The talk went well I think, they were certainly kind and I felt OK about it although my back insisted I sat down for the Q&A stage of the evening. The day before another one of of our founding members, Elaine, gave a talk in Aylsham Library which also went well by all accounts although I could not make it myself. If you or an organisation you are a member of would like a talk then please let me know on and we will see what we can do. We do not charge any fees but donations to BNCT are always welcomed. There are a few booked in for the future but I’m sure we can accommodate you.

Between Mayton Bridge and Coltishall

Yesterday I attended a retirement do which I also greatly enjoyed and not for the first time was so pleased to see old colleagues who had already retired and couldn’t help but notice the positive effects the change had on them as all the stress was gone. When retiring it is very important to keep active in some way and volunteering can be one way of doing that. We will shortly be considering forward looking projects for which we will need the help of volunteers so how about it?

As we approach the autumn it is a good time to take stock of the footpath and its condition between Burgh and Coltishall. As part of the cuts agenda Norfolk County Council have withdrawn from routinely maintaining footpaths and this means that a growing list of little jobs need doing. I have sympathy with the Council, they have very tough decisions to make; I happen to think they have called this one wrong but if they reversed it something else would have to fall off the table and it’s all very valuable expenditure. Such maintainence that is being done is now falling to highways and with the best will in the world they see footpaths as extremely low priority. My concern, bluntly, is that our path runs alongside a river that is, in parts, deep and fast flowing. The growth of ground vegetation, lack of surface covering leading to mud, overgrown and fallen trees coupled with poorly maintained stiles and bridges is a recipe for an accident that I do not even want to contemplate. The path in places is that accident waiting to happen. As a charity we may be able to make a difference by spending some of our funds to effect repairs that really should come from the public purse but should we is the question? Would it not be better to use our funds to improve the environment rather than replace public funds? These are decisions we will have to make very soon but in the meantime I do strongly urge every user of the river to keep the pressure on by reporting through the PROW form system on the NCC website each and every fault of incident. By keeping the pressure on we can make our feelings known to County and possibly get some of the work done. This is an approach that has already worked in places but we need you to help keep the pressure on.

Bure Water Meadows near to Buxton

Now ……. where did I put my walking stick?

Catching Up

It’s been nearly two weeks since my last blog and in my defence I’ve been feeling rather poorly with this cold that Mrs W so generously shared interspersed with bouts of hard work, frustration at a car causing me problems and other calls on my time in equal measure. I suppose I ought to bring you up to date with a few things although none of it is really that exciting. The final tally on the Coltishall event is still to be confirmed but it looks as though we made a sum comfortably in to 4 figures – thank you all so much. We’ve also had the book launch which went with a swing in Aylsham and was rounded off by an entertaining lecture from our very own patron, Professor Tom Williamson. He spoke for about 20 minutes or perhaps a little longer and in this flash of time he painted a very vivid but broad-brush picture of Britain in the late 18th Century to set the construction of the Aylsham Navigation into a wider context. If I’m honest I kind of already had a grasp on most of what he was saying but I could never hope to put it together in his entertaining and easily understood way.

The setting, of course in Aylsham, is the agrarian revolution but that’s just too simplistic and Tom was delightfully able to demonstrate how this was in itself driven by the Industrialisation taking place at this time as labour moved from land to factory the new working class needed to be fed. This was one of the drivers for land enclosure and more economic large scale and mechanised agriculture. The thing which linked both revolutions was the need to transport goods and so you have a period of massive private infrastructure investment firstly in canals and latterly towards the end in rail. This was driven by the need to move goods cheaply from A to B in bulk in order to fuel both revolutions and the Aylsham Navigation fitted neatly in to both aspects of this – Coal and Turnips if you like.

Prof Tom in full flow although he is unlikely to actually thank me for this photograph

Tom was also very kind about the book as indeed he should have been. It is well written and lavishly illustrated and a credit to those who worked on it. I feel able to say that as my own contribution to the writing was extremely small and I can really understand the efforts that others went to to make this a great book. You can buy it in good local booksellers or via us (email me on and don’t forget the double DVD set is still available at £7.99 plus £2.50 p&p.

We are currently taking stock and I hope that our October meeting will set the pattern for the future of the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and give us a direction of travel towards responsible access for all along the entire length of the Navigation and also improvements to existing facilities. We need to also have a representational role as there are challenges ahead to our existing environment which we need to get to grips with and take a view on. In particular the plans to remove more trees and open up the river valley much more than it currently is. This is in line with Natural England policy and is supported by many. Effectively this would be restoring the visual landscape to something much more like what it was in the working times. The trees to be removed are non-native and would be replaced with hedgerow and native black Poplar but the visual effect, particularly initially is going to be dramatic. We also have to consider whether to pursue a plan to make the Bure valley a conservation area. This idea is in embryo form but would have a big effect if we could do this.

If Natural England got their way this view between Horstead and Hautbois would be very different although there are no known plans at this time to actually cut these trees down as there are on other parts of the Navigation

On a wider front my car broke down which led to me going to work by train today and as we crossed Wroxham Bridge (sat facing forward on the left hand side of the train) I looked down and saw the lovely little Houseboat Heather laying there at her mooring. I have come to really like this quirky little boat and the people that own her. She is going to be at Salhouse this Sunday (23rd September) along with other historic boats and I may wander along if I can persuade Mrs W and the car. Despite the repair I have developed a nasty noise in reverse the first time it was selected after the repair. I have a really busy week coming up (and I mean really very busy; even for me) so tomorrow morning first thing its out in the car to test it and then run it back to the garage if there is a fault …… it all takes time and money.

Time and money reminds me – I have continued to make small steps towards doing something about the Norfolk Keel – watch this space.




A Norfolk Tornado?

My meanderings around the Broads took me once again last Saturday to the Museum at Stalham where Norada was the principle visitor and the Falcon was in steam. I like all things steam and this is a cute little launch, fairly simple in construction and operation but ever popular with the visitors. She does up and down trips for a few bob and seeing the water by steam power is certainly different. Well worth the trip if you get a chance.

Falcon, small and easily got at she is quite powerful for all that. Copyright Stu Wilson

The Commissioners of the Aylsham Navigation did once consider the purchase of a steam launch for inspection purposes but like so many of their grandiose plans it came to nought. There were a few steam powered craft around the wider network; some were of the working type, tugs etc. and others pleasure or inspection launches. We do not know if a steam powered craft of any kind ever came up the Navigation; there are no surviving records or photographs of such an event but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that at some point from the second half of the 19th Century onwards steam must have visited the Navigation. The craft were out there and the Navigation was joined to the main system therefore it is inconceivable that we did not have a visit at some point. It would probably have been a pleasure vessel as they did not pay tolls and therefore left no footprint. One can see why a pleasure steamer would come up as the Aylsham Navigation was and is a very beautiful experience. I doubt if there were many as there is no evidence of a specific infrastructure to support steam but I contend at least one must have done the trip and probably more. Sadly there is no known photographic evidence to support this. Perhaps we’ll have to invent a picture which is so easy these days.

During the project we received a picture showing two pleasure wherries at Oxnead – this was a clear forgery and I don’t want to perpetuate it. Sadly such things are so easy these days with digital photography.


Oxnead, no forgery here but the scene is as it is now rather than when the navigation was open. There are plans to remove all of these trees.


Returning to steam for a minute I recently also visited the North Norfolk Railway as they had a distinguished visitor in the form of the “Tornado”, an A1 class of locomotive with a fascinating story to tell. It is a powerful class but none of its type were ever preserved for some strange reason. Therefore a group of enthusiasts helped by a shed load of money, lots of time and technical assistance overcame the lack of A1’s by building a new one; the Tornado. Rolling out of the shed for the first time in 2008 she is now barely run-in and with a few 21st century modifications is fully fit for main-line work. She is a very powerful loco and I do know that she made very light work of the quite severe incline on the North Norfolk.

Tornado 1st September 2012 at Sheringham copyright Stu wilson

An interesting observation that I do not intend to explore beyond noting it was the fact that when visiting the North Norfolk Railway and without trying I bumped in to or saw from a distance at least three people I had seen a week previously watching the Albion. There’s something about the link between sail and steam that I can’t quite put my finger on but I do know it isn’t just a nostalgia thing.

Tornado’s story set me to wondering as I think it’s so inspirational that a group of dedicated people managed to recreate something that isn’t just a museum piece. It’s a living, working example of it’s class; the fact that it is new really doesn’t matter. I would hazard a guess that it doesn’t matter to the hundreds that turned out to see her either. In fact it’s story adds something to the experience and I suddenly realised that the same could be true if a new Norfolk Keel were built as a community resource, the parallels are obvious; it’s a class of boat that has disappeared but which still has something to offer our history and understanding of the Broads.  A newly built Keel would fill a niche in the local heritage fleet in much the same way as Tornado does within the rail preservation movement. Having had this road to Damascus moment I’ve just got to do something about it …..

A Norfolk Keel involved in collecting Reed by Harry Clow


Sail and Storm

It’s now over a week since Coltishall and I promised myself some quality down time for a few days but I didn’t get it. Mind you it was largely my own fault as I thought I’ll just keep on top of the emails – fatal. I think to get real downtime these days you have to turn the computer off and keep it that way; likewise the mobile phone and ensure the answer-phone is on the land-line. As I write this I’m still off work but contemplating the return to duty that follows later this week. This period more than any previously has really convinced me that I need to retire so that I’ve got time to do everything. Unfortunately I can’t quite yet but only another 24 pay days to go until I can – the question is – will I?

I heard that Albion on her return from Coltishall was unable to get under Wroxham Bridge so the skipper, Henry, had to resort to the old boatman’s trick of flooding the bilges to lower her in the water. Put another way she was partly and deliberately sunk to lower her down to ease under the bridge – a manoeuvre not for the faint hearted. It is interesting though as contemporary accounts in 1912 said that is how the skippers of old got under there with the river high following the flood.

Albion passing Belaugh bend on her return journey copyright Stu Wilson

I have started to look at the presentation I use, it’s now outdated as we’ve had the event and BNCT starts its work proper. I’ve almost finished version 2 so we can now go out and about talking to assorted groups. There are several of us happy to do this so if you would like a talk please let us know and we’ll see what we can do. There’s no charge but we will accept a donation to the Trust and we might try and sell you the odd DVD or two and perhaps the book.

That brings me nicely to the point I want to make this week. The book, “Sail & Storm, the Aylsham Navigation” edited by Sarah Spooner of the UEA is formally published on 16th September with a launch in Aylsham that afternoon. This is a book researched by the Aylsham Local History Society and written mostly by their members with a few add-ons such as yours truly. The UEA has been involved throughout and Sarah is a member of the Department of Landscape History there. Let me tell you the things that worried me about the book as it was coming together as I had seen it from birth to maturity. Firstly it was written by committee, never a good idea. I didn’t like the title and I thought the cover design out of place. All of which serves to show that I know nothing at all. The finished product is smooth, detailed yet easily read, lavishly illustrated and passes seamlessly from author to author so that you would never know that anyone other than Sarah had any kind of involvement – she has done a fabulous job. The title I now think is inspired and just right. The cover illustration is lavish and in print really looks the part. Those that I know who have seen it have all commented on how good it looks. Even the slightly hefty price of £15 seems about the going rate for this kind of quality and judging by the pre-publication sales on 26th August I would guess it does not put people off. Therefore I just take my hat off to all involved and say thank you for a job well done. The book will be on sale on September 16th and thereafter from all good local bookshops, ALHS and BNCT.

The front cover – just great