Keeping it all afloat

The Norfolk Wherry Trust is over 60 years old but it still has a continually uphill struggle to keep fund raising to ensure the survival of the Albion. She costs many thousands (hundreds of thousands actually) to keep afloat and the next major project being planned is the rebuilding of her stern. I attended a very pleasant evening earlier this week at the Broadland District Council offices where the chairman for this year (ending in May) had made the Wherry Trust her charity. The evening was  to enable a presentation of a cheque to be made and what a nice evening it was.

Albion under sail at Belaugh on Monday 27th August 2012 on her way back from Coltishall copyright Stu Wilson

The thing started with a nice buffet which left me with a question mark about whether any council tax payer money was being expended and I still don’t know the answer. I don’t like junketing at tax payers expense but this was a low-key affair and even if the buffet was provided by the council strangely for me I’m not objecting as I thought it was modest sums well spent. I may be doing the good lady chairman a dis-service and if I am I whole-heartedly apologise as her choice of charity was inspired and there was nothing over-stated or lavish about the evening taken as a whole.

There were a few words from the lady herself and then Henry Gowman from the Wherry Trust gave a speech about the Trust’s work which was uplifting and informative. Typically of Henry it was also well timed and just about right in terms of length and timing. Henry was kind in his speech to the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust as it was he that brought Albion to Coltishall for our event last August. He told the story of the return journey where he said his heart was in his mouth as he flooded Albion’s bilges to slightly sink her to allow passage under Wroxham Bridge. This was an old wherryman’s trick and as Henry said he had read about it but never had to do it before and actually doubted if it had happened to Albion since she was rescued in 1949. Henry was also kind to me personally and mentioned my early attempts to raise interest in a new project to build a Keel which I have spoken of from time to time and will get back to at some point possibly later this year.

Albion in her Sunday best at Coltishall

There was also entertainment provided by Alan Helsdon who also joined us at Coltishall and if you were there he was the man responsible for all the music with Albion as a backdrop to his stage. He plays a mixture of his own compositions and also Norfolk folk music. He has a particular interest in the wherries as his own family worked on the water. He actually does a lot with the Wherry Trust and entertains school children when they visit the Albion at home base. He is a charming man with an impish sense of humour and well worth listening to if you get the chance. I suspect he could also give a rather good after dinner speech. He certainly has a fund of stories some of which I could print but won’t as I’ll leave it to you to go and see/hear him.

Best of luck to the Wherry Trust, they do a good and, in my opinion, important job; long may it continue but remember they do need support to keep it all afloat.

Canals and Prime Minister’s

Oh dear as I write this I have heard of the death of Margaret Thatcher and I’m surprised at my own reaction as for many years I hated what she had done to this country but I find myself feeling sorry which I suppose is on a purely human level.

Anyway onward and upward – in a previous blog I wrote about the plans of the EA for the stretch of the Navigation between Buxton Mill and Horstead. I am pleased to say that we are going to meet with them to hear about those plans first hand and to make representations. I’m having to walk a tightrope here as BNCT has yet to debate and arrive at a settled view but speaking personally if they can convince me of the need to do the work they should be able to convince anyone but I will have an open mind. If I can feel sorry at Maggie Thatcher’s death there’s hope for any miracle and certainly of my being persuaded of the need to undertake the works.

Yesterday my wife and I went out for a ride and passed Ebridge Mill and lock on the North Walsham and Dilham Canal. The work done above the lock is remarkable and one can see how things must have looked when the canal was in use as one hopes it will be again. The lock chamber looks much as it did when I last saw it and also when the following photo was taken (before the current works) although the second photo is from a different perspective and much more recent. I can hope that one day we will again see boats navigating this canal, the only truly canalised Navigation in Norfolk. The legal position between the North Walsham and Dilham and the Aylsam Navigation is very different. In the Aylsham case the Navigation was formally abandoned in 1928 but this never happened to the canal and there is therefore an existing right to use. It is interesting that even this miracle of rejuvenation faced obstacles from the EA who placed a stop order on the works at one point.

Ebridge Lock copyright Marcus de Figueiredo and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence –
Ebridge Mill taken from the restored path by the canal copyright John Wernham and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence –

I wish North Walsham and Dilham every success and if you ever feel suitably motivated they do hold regular working parties.

The Bure looks in good heart at the moment despite the late arrival of spring. Let’s hope that it has a good year and we can finally get the footpaths sorted and all the difficult issues put behind us.