Category Archives: Bure Blog

Ghosts and Ghouls

Makeys Ghost and The Scorpion Conspiracy cover designed by Bruce Rushin
Makeys Ghost and The Scorpion Conspiracy cover designed by Bruce Rushin

A quick and business like blog today to mark some interesting times. Firstly we’ve just had the “great storm” of 2013 which, frankly, fell a little flat here but I am acutely conscious that it was bad in places so I’m not going to be one of those alleging that “Wolf” was cried. The warnings were entirely appropriate and timely.

This is the first time that I have shared a blog between my own site and that of the Aylsham Navigation. I have done so as one of the two purposes of this blog is to introduce what will be my third Halloween story set on the Aylsham Navigation which I have entitled The Mary P and it can be found here. I hope you like it; I have tried to make it a more traditional ghost story than previously.

Finally, and perhaps not fully appropriate to the Aylsham navigation site but never mind, I can announce that my first novel is now published. It is in the crime / mystery genre and is largely set in and around Norfolk. Entitled Makey’s Ghost and The Scorpion Conspiracy it contains two stories introducing us to my character, Makey. The cover is illustrated by Bruce Rushin who has been involved in BNCT from the start. There is a Facebook page for the book and also a website from where it can be purchased.

 

New Facilities on the Bure

This is a very overdue Bure Blog and I apologise for the delay. Footpaths and access still cause us some distress so it is nice to be able to report some good news for once. Buxton Parish Council, the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and the landowner have co-operated to fund, supply and install benches for walkers and others to sit on in the field below Buxton Mill along the existing footpath. This is a start but you know what they say about small acorns? It is not our intention to turn the Bure walk in to a linear theme park but rather to promote the existing footpath and provide some basic comforts for walkers to help encourage their enjoyment of the scenery and footpath. You will see from the photographs that the benches are basic. This is deliberate to allow for transitory use but not to detract from the overall beauty of the area. Our thanks go out to Haydn Claridge, the landowner, for his foresight and understanding in not only agreeing to these benches but also by taking an active role in their introduction and installation.

One of the new benches on the Bure at Buxton in the process of being installed
One of the new benches on the Bure at Buxton in the process of being installed
Job nearly done
Job nearly done

How this compares with a mile or so upstream where the landowner at Brampton Island seems to positively discourage use of the path through his land by fencing, signage and also by allowing downright dangerous conditions to prevail for walkers. I have always harboured a feeling of sorrow for this landowner as I believe he purchased the Island to enjoy privately without realising that generations of folk had enjoyed access. We had to get an order to establish the existence of the path and that should have been an end to it but sadly it has not been. Please, Sir, take note of what can be achieved by co-operation.

Island footpath as it was. copyright Roy Wheeler
Island footpath as it was. copyright Roy Wheeler

On a personal note I have now retired from work which you might think gives me more time but somehow it doesn’t. I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work. I also have a personal blog at this address so that can bring you up to date on what’s happening. Finally on the personal front I am in the process of publishing my first novel (see www.makymysteries.com)

 

Over the last two years I have expressed a view that I would like to get involved in seeing a Norfolk Keel built as a working part of Broad’s heritage. I still plan to get involved in such a project but I can’t do it on my own so if you would like to help please let me know. I will be progressing this somehow before the end of this year.

A Norfolk Keel from a David dane painting and used with his permission
A Norfolk Keel from a David Dane painting and used with his permission

A year on

OK so there I was on August 26th this year sat on Coltishall Common bathed in sunshine and eating an ice cream. I couldn’t help but reflect on that fact that exactly 1 year had passed since our celebratory event right there to mark 100 years since the closure of the Aylsham Navigation. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, in fact in some ways we seem to have gone backwards as the footpath along the Navigation is no nearer completion and the existing path is in poor condition in places. However when one looks at it in the context of history instead of being 100 years since the closure it is now 101 years and one year is, in reality, neither here nor there. We have our next meeting of BNCT on 17th September at Burgh Reading Room at 7.30pm if you would like to attend.

The contrast between the days one year apart could not have been greater. The weather in 2013 was far kinder than it was in 2012 when for a little while we actually thought we might get a repeat of 1912 when the great flood destroyed all of the locks and most of the bridges on the Navigation between Coltishall and Aylsham. It did all turn out OK; some deity on high looked kindly upon us and made the sunshine for just long enough to hold our event thankfully.

The Coltishall Event photo courtesy of Margaret Bird
The Coltishall Event photo courtesy of Margaret Bird

I apologise for not writing as many blogs as normal recently but it’s a question of time. I am working up to retirement in another 4 weeks. I have decided, with some reluctance, to go early as I really cannot stand my commute from North Norfolk to Ipswich for another winter. My health is also an issue and whilst it’s not much worse it doesn’t get better either. I have started writing seriously recently and have completed my first novel and started on my second. I have some great people working with me and the first one is currently being professionally edited for me before publication. I will try and get another Bure Blog out shortly especially about one man’s fight on all our behalf’s for the foot path we can all enjoy providing we are hardy and wear appropriate footwear.

To conclude; the other day I went to work by train; an occasional treat I allow myself where I start from Wroxham and Hoveton. It was a misty pre-autumnal morning with just a chill to hint at what is to come. There is something magical to me about Broadland mist; it is like no other I know. It has a kind of translucence that shimmers and shines as the sun tries to break through. The train emerged from this mist as if the line had given birth to it there and then. I often get a mental image of a wherry emerging from the mist in very similar circumstances and I suppose that is why I so like the paintings of the renowned artist David Dane as he captures that light so well. My writing includes some short stories and I have one brewing stirred by this image and I will share it with you when it is written. I hope you don’t mind but I have shared just this paragraph with both the Bure Blog and my personal one

A Norfolk Keel from a David dane painting and used with his permission
A Norfolk Keel from a David dane painting and used with his permission

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Brampton Footpath 12

NEWS !!!! BNCT member and Buxton resident, Roy Wheeler took the Norfolk County Council to court in an attempt to get something done about the alleged obstructions on Brampton footpath 12 – that is the route along the river through what is known as the Island. I take my hat off to Roy for having the guts to stand up for what is right as any walker of this footpath could attest (unless they’re employed by the Council) however I sadly have to report that all his efforts came to nought. In a long hearing earlier this week which kept Norwich Magistrates sitting well beyond their normal business hours Roy was confronted by a Solicitor acting for the Council and a Barrister for the landowner. Roy represented himself well but the Magistrates found against him. This is not the place to rehash the arguments or even report the proceedings as it is done and dusted and we have to move on.

If you do not know this path you could do worse than viewing it here on You Tube, an opportunity kindly provided by the landowner himself who posted it. This was not shown in Court; I wish it had been.

We are left with a barely usable path that I fear will lead to an accident and being so close to water that could be very serious indeed. I do accept that it is passable with extreme care and the right footwear. The improved weather will also help.

The gates which I have no problem with although the signage could be less obtrusive copyright Roy Wheeler
The gates which I have no problem with although the signage could be less obtrusive copyright Roy Wheeler

In a spirit of compromise and a genuine desire to try and move things along I would now like to see all parties getting around the table. This would include the landowner and Norfolk County Council Highways Department. I am also prepared to publish any statement from either party on here in the interests of balance and I will give equal prominence to any reply from either party received. I also recently offered, in case it would help, to facilitate round table discussions between the landowner, the Highways and local user groups with a view to reaching a compromise that enables the path to be open in such a way that the landowner can still enjoy his Island.

I did this in a private capacity and it is therefore I, as author, and not BNCT or Brampton Parish Council who is responsible for the initiative. It was a genuine attempt to move things forward and resolve issues. I can report that I did make this offer privately before going public with it and although I have still not heard as much as a whistle from the landowner NCC have been very positive and I have assisted in facilitating them access to the area so that repairs can be made. At this stage I do not know what those repairs will consist of but I do see this as a very positive thing.

I do not want to go back over old ground; from here I want to go forward so I will start by saying that I personally have no problems with gates on this land although I know that some do. Providing they are in keeping with the landscape, moderately signed so as not to cause offence or alarm to users and most importantly unlocked they are fine by me. I go so far as to say that were it my land I might be tempted to put gates there myself. The magistrates also seem to have accepted their existence. I’m not sure I would festoon them with quite so many notices as is currently the case.

Then there is the footpath itself; that is a much more troubling issue as in places it is not a metre wide as it should be and the fence which has been erected forces users of the path to go dangerously close to the river and in one place the bank has degraded into the river so that the path disappears briefly. I would really like to think that this breach is to be repaired? I note that the Highways Authority said in Court that they are not responsible for repairing erosion but it must be repaired by somebody if the path is to be used safely. Perhaps we should ask the Environment Agency to repair it if Norfolk is not going to do this. I am however hopeful that the NCC will do this work along with any other repairs.

This is the part that concerns me the most - copyright Roy Wheeler
This is the part that concerns me the most – copyright Roy Wheeler

However before considering any repair I want to just quickly look at the route itself. Much was made in the recent hearing of the so called “desire line” being the route followed. Well to my mind the desire line is going to be the river bank now as the fence forces people to use that route and deprives them of the option of walking parallel to the river but slightly away from the bank which is the route recalled, I remember,  by those giving evidence at the public enquiry which established the footpath in the first place. The definitive Order map is, I readily admit, not very clear on this point but the line can clearly be seen drawn parallel to the river. It can be argued that there is a clear but small gap between the line and the bank on this map.

In the interests of compromise the route between the river and the fence would be fine if it wasn’t so wet and dangerous so I hope that there are plans to improve that aspect. The provision of boards for example would be an improvement as would safety equipment like lifebelts at the points where the path and the river come together. I was intrigued in the court to learn that the decking, originally part of the building constructed illegally on the Island until retrospective planning permission was obtained, had somehow morphed into being an aid to walking the path. There is, I think, a case to be made to agree with the landowner and the County Council on that; so can we now expect that boards or decking will be extended along the rest of the path?

There has been discussion by some about the fencing itself which does I believe force a desire line contrary to the original inspectors intentions but be that as it may I am intrigued by its purpose. I understand from what has been said in public that it is to deter Deer, Muntjac in particular. I was unaware that these creatures would swim across or along the river to get on to the Island but if it is a problem then I think we should respect the landowners right to do something about it. However some species of Deer will easily jump the gates and fence, I am however advised that Muntjac will get under a wire fence unless it is dug into the ground like rabbit fencing. The fence is, I believe, there to protect the bee hives but I don’t understand why the fencing needs to be where it is along the entire route of the path; would it not be cheaper for all concerned and also more effective to fence in the hives rather than the entire Island? I also can’t get away from the fact that hives can clearly be seen on heather moors, field edges where oil seed rape and beans are grown, also in orchards; but never have I seen any with fencing around them so I am interested in this apparent problematic behaviour by the local Muntjac Deer. As an aside, I have seen Deer a-plenty in Brampton but never a Muntjac although I cannot say in all honesty that I have actually been out looking for them – it would be fascinating to see their behaviour around the hives; perhaps they have been captured on the CCTV that the signs say are on the Island? I do however uphold and respect the landowners right to erect the fence on his land if that is what he wants to do so long as it still allows a metre wide safe and usable footpath.

A Muntjac -  photo courtesy of www.english-country-garden.com.
A Muntjac – photo courtesy of www.english-country-garden.com.

It is, when all said and done private land and it is the landowners fence; I for one believe walkers must respect it and use the path provided so long as it is maintained, made safe and free of overhanging vegetation. I would also like to see safety equipment provided either by the landowner, the highways authority or some other public body if the current path is to be the one used. Given the path’s condition I would also like to see warnings posted (until improvement) that the path may be impassable at times and should only be attempted by people wearing the correct footwear which should be defined in the notice. I think a time-scale for improvements should also be agreed by all parties; I wonder if that can be negotiated? I don’t even want to contemplate what would happen or who would be liable if a walker fell in the river and drowned as a result of its current conditions; we really must try and do something now to improve things for the sake of everyone. Also if anyone slipped and injured themselves on the decking, which I am told is a treacherous surface when wet (although I have no personal experience to confirm that), who indeed would be liable then? The answer must surely be either the owner who built it or the County Council (Taxpayer) who accepted it as OK.

So would the landowner and the Highways Authority be prepared to meet with local user groups to develop plans for a more harmonious existence and an improvement to Footpath 12 which is here to stay? The current situation is that we have had a public enquiry to add the footpath to the legal record map, from evidence dating back over 70 years, but no easily used path on the ground. I feel that there must be compromise possible – we should at least try as I’m sure this situation is one that no party can really want to continue.

No doubt the next suggestion will be the re-watering of the old river course and I think that would be great but bridges would need to be erected at either end of the Island to allow through passage – a point that I, for one, will strongly make to the EA.

Please can we all take a step back and talk to one another?

The trouble with the Bure is ….

My blogs seem to be like London buses – none for a long time and then two come along together. We have just held the first AGM of the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust and the minutes have been posted on this site but to save you searching for them they are also here.

What follows is a personal opinion, much as all these blogs are, and shouldn’t be taken as BNCT policy although where there is wide divergence I do point out the alternative views. The upper Bure is defined as such by the head of navigation at Horstead whereby lower is navigable and upper is no longer open to boat traffic. The lower part of the river is wholly in the cruising area and is managed by the Broads Authority as part of their statutory responsibility; for good or bad this does represent a one-stop shop for all matters pertaining to the Bure in that area. The upper river is divided again by history and location, immediately above the lock at Horstead lies what was the Aylsham Navigation; this is a much altered area designed to facilitate the passage of now long dead boats but is that part of the river that we are interested in from a conservation and historical perspective. Above Aylsham there is the tranquil and winding stream of the Bure which is the least affected by man although even this part of the river is constrained and dammed in places to allow for mills, culverts, drainage and bridges. The river therefore falls in to three distinct phases and our interest is with the middle one. Only the real headwaters are close to natural but man has been harnessing the whole river for power, food and navigation for centuries and probably millennia. Why am I stating the obvious and what does it matter? The answer is simply what happens in the headwaters affects the middle and lower sectors and likewise what happens in the middle sector can have a knock-on effect lower down. To complicate things there are different regulatory authorities, drainage boards and executive agencies all having their own agenda’s and responsibilities. To add to this mix are the landowners with riparian rights on the highest and middle reaches and the competing demands of leisure users in canoes or on foot, fisherman and holidaymakers in their cruisers. Frankly it’s a nightmare and a mess with some of the stakeholders having totally opposing views that are not easily reconciled.

Between Mayton Bridge and Coltishall - An un-seasonal view to show what is inevitably to come
Between Mayton Bridge and Coltishall – An un-seasonal view to show what is inevitably to come

A simple example is the spread and control of invasive non-indigenous species of flora and fauna. The presence of Himalayan Balsam or Giant Hogweed, to name but two, in the highest reaches means that by the very nature of a flowing river they will spread downstream. This affects the old Aylsham Navigation area and also the much higher reaches of the Bure from where it can spread to the wider Broads but if it isn’t dealt with along the river as a whole it will never be eradicated. Invasive fauna on the other hand tends to travel upstream and thankfully mostly affects the Broads area but in time examples of non-indigenous Shrimp and Crayfish (as examples) will get into the upper waters, in fact in small numbers they have already been carried, probably unknowingly, by walkers or canoeists or fisher folk. Each regulatory stakeholder  and executive agencies have their own agenda and they compete for resources, access and public support sometimes supporting contradictory schemes. In other cases the actions are finance limited which is becoming a much more common feature of state environmental intervention. Flood control is an example as austerity means that the EA does not dredge the river above Horstead any more and yet this was as seen an effective measure. New plans are being drafted which may change the nature of the river in places particularly between Horstead and Buxton. This is the very stretch that retains the most original part of the navigation which I would argue is a linear historical monument in the landscape and should not be messed with. The plans, over time, will alter the profile of the river whilst may be improving habitat but at a high cost to history and also, possibly, walkers and other leisure users. Also any changes to the upper river will have a knock-on to the lower one. In fairness there is the beginnings of a more holistic approach to identifying and controlling invasive species where agencies are starting to look at the entire catchment at least for species identification and hopefully this will lead to joined up plans for control and eradication.

Giant Hogweed - a totally obnoxious plant
Giant Hogweed – a totally obnoxious plant

I have been involved in this conservation movement for just over a year and I came to it from a desire to see the history retained but I have moved on from there and am only just beginning to get to grips with all the complexities thrown up by man around this river (although I believe it to be fairly typical). I have come to the personal view that there needs to be an over-arching body that takes a whole river spring to sea approach coordinating the efforts of all the agencies, landowners and user groups to make sure as far as possible that one does not affect the other. A Bure catchment committee if you like. That really shouldn’t be too difficult should it? This is blue sky personal thinking and I am sometimes accused of being overly optimistic but I do feel that a joined up approach is worth a try. One of the difficulties though would be where competing interests collide with totally opposite views. Such a committee would be a medium to allow for one group to understand the other and also to arrange public consultations. If this route fails to find a solution there probably wouldn’t be one to find.

Finally on our stretch I fear that we should not give up on the history. We are a conservation group and not a restoration one but who is to say that in 100 years, 200 years or even 20 years a need will not arise to use the water again for transportation. It wouldn’t be easy even now but we shouldn’t make it harder for those that follow other than to ensure the health and well being of the existing habitat. I am conservative about the river with a decidedly small “c” – probably the only thing I would accept that title about. That isn’t to say that all change is bad – we have already made a small difference at Oxnead where the trees planted for harvest are now being cut by  the landownerand we have made our views heard about restoring the environment to how it was at the time of the Navigation. A comparison of then and now photos of the river is always very revealing. We are also making our voices heard in respect of the appalling condition and route of the footpath but that story is for another day.

Buxton Lock during the navigation's working life circa 1910
Buxton Lock during the navigation’s working life circa 1910

 

A very brief blog

There’s been a lot happening and I’ve not been very good at putting it in to a blog for you but there are reasons for that not the least of which is that my email got hacked which at best is annoying and at worst is extremely annoying. I don’t propose to do much now as I will do more later in the week after the first AGM of the BNCT. This meeting is taking place on Tuesday evening 21/05/2013 at Burgh Reading Room starting at 7.30pm and you would be made very welcome, member or not.

Items to be discussed include the finances of the charity, future plans, the footpath and its condition as well as early stage plans by the EA that might change the nature of our Navigation. I will resume normal service later in the week.

Buxton Lock during the navigation's working life circa 1910
Buxton Lock during the navigation’s working life circa 1910

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 – Geograph.com
Ebridge Mill taken from the restored path by the canal copyright John Wernham and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence – Geograph.com

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.

Easter Wishes

Easter (normally) is a time of seasonal transition with Spring already sprung and winter a recent memory. This year things are a little topsy turvy with winter weather clinging for much longer than we have become used to. However over my lifetime it hasn’t been that unusual to see the cold and snow this late – it is a temporary return to how things used to be. For our children however it’s proof that the climate is doing strange things as they’ve just never seen it snow this late before. I remember in 1975 that snow stopped play in May at Buxton (Derbyshire) in a 1st class cricket match between Derbys and Lancs – mark my words it could happen again.

Buxton in 1906 and one of the few pleasure wherries to venture this way – thought to be the Victory and if it is she was actually based in Buxton

The river has had to cope with some heavy flows this year and she has done so mostly very well but the condition of the footpath remains poor in places to the point where it is hardly passable but hopefully the brave legal actions being taken by two individuals to try and get the County Council to step up to the mark will succeed and we can go forward. One of grandmothers favourite expressions was  “a stitch in time saves nine” and that is just so true. Some precautionary work now including the enforcement of the planning inspectors order in relation to Brampton Island will save both legal costs and also much more expensive work later. The landowner at the Island has kindly posted a You Tube film to prove that the footpath is actually open and passable. You can see it here and I’ll let you make up your own minds.

During the Navigation’s working life this would also have been a time of annual transition with the wherries no longer having to carry as much coal and winter feed for the animals. Indeed loads may have been a bit thinner on the ground but there would still be call for Marl and building materials before the harvest came in a bit later in the year. It was also a time, or should have been, for post-winter maintainance both on the boats and the Navigation’s infrastructure. We know that in the case of the latter they did as little as they could reasonably get away with and this was a factor eventually in the destruction of the locks etc in 1912. There’s a lesson here for Norfolk County Council which takes me right back to Grannies stitch in time.

If the path was right and the water levels safe we could run a linear Easter Egg hunt along the river for all the local children – discuss ! ………. Bye for now. Happy Easter.

Brampton Common heading towards the Island

Fight the good Fight

Once again I find myself apologising for a belated blog but in my defence I have been rather unwell. Without painting an overly depressing picture I do have a serious underlying lung condition and there is a virulent chest infection doing the rounds which I went down with. It’s kept me off work for 2 weeks and I even missed a BNCT meeting. On the up I am now getting better and will now not mention it again.

My love for the Aylsham Navigation stems from the history and I see the surviving watercourse as a linear historical monument. I have to say that what follows is a personal view and not BNCT policy – if there is anyone out there with the contrary opinion I would be more than happy to give them an equal length blog to put the case.

We have been made aware that the EA are planning changes to the stretch of the Bure between Buxton and Horstead. Their plans, which are only in the early stages, have not yet been fully formulated (so it’s important to influence them now) as they plan to reintroduce some of the bends lost when Mr Biederman canalised the river in the 1790’s to “improve” the rivers habitat and help alleviate flood risk. Both very laudable but the fact is that this stretch is also the most unspoilt and original left of the Navigation. The flood risk argument is ludicrous; dredging would have the same effect but they are not prepared to do that as it involves ongoing costs. The river is a flood risk and would remain so after these works but there has never been a repeat of 1912 and the drainage boards do a good job these days. In very recent time the water levels have been extremely high but it coped with the excessive rainfall and with dredging I think that would continue.

Between Mayton Bridge and Coltishall – An un-seasonal view to show what is inevitably to come

There are things that could be done to improve water quality and habitat without destroying an historic monument. This is a stretch which is open with water meadows and is still much as it was when the wherries were sailing. There are few trees for most of it as they would have robbed the wind from the wherries and the canalisation has matured. It is also the stretch most likely to be redeemable as a restoration project if anybody ever wanted to attempt it. Horstead Lock could relatively easily be put back in to use and the navigable depth is mostly there. I have always said that we are a conservation movement and not a restoration one and I stand by that but now I would not object if restorationists came on the scene to bring “navigation” to Buxton.

Looking upstream from the lock chamber Sept 2011 copyright Stu Wilson

To add to the mix there is the footpath which is crucial to our vision of the Bure Navigation’s future. It currently runs alongside the Navigation but what would happen if the men from the Ministry started playing with the route. I would need to be very deeply assured about what they were doing and where – my gut reaction is leave well alone. Then there’s Mayton Bridge which Mr Biederman left high and dry building a new and navigable route just east of the original medieval bridge. I’m not sure if that could take being re-watered although, in fairness I do not know if that is part of the plan but a marker should be laid.

There is a deep irony here in that we have started to look at stretches of the Navigation that we could lobby for a conservation area status for.  After much search it is this self-same stretch that we have identified as a real possibility. The reasons are varied but the original nature of its environment much as it was when in use was the deciding factor. By introducing a conservation area funds could be found for individual projects to improve the habitat whilst retaining the linear route and the historical monument that is the Aylsham Navigation. This coupled with the EA stepping up to the mark and dredging once every 10 years and we would have an improved, intact and flood defended waterway. Well that’s my personal opinion anyway.

Sadly the stretch identified above is not the only one with problems at the moment. I have written before about Brampton Island and the land-owners unwillingness to open the path ordered by the planning inspector. I’m not going to dwell on this as the arguments are well rehearsed other than to call on him to comply before it is enforced. The continual disruption of the route is frustrating and I urge all walkers and users to exercise caution in their dealings and to allow the authorities to do their job. Having said that they should get on with it because if they don’t a more drastic measure might be called for and I don’t want that. I would much prefer to see peace and harmony – I respect the landowners rights but I also respect the law that says he has to allow access. The two respects are not mutually exclusive. Part of the problem, a large part if I’m honest, is that NCC have cut their footpath support as part of the austerity times in which we find ourselves. The fact is though that they have statutory duties that they are not undertaking and this is causing real problems on the ground. Sometimes I wish I had a magic wand …………