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A Holiday on the Norfolk Broads

Fine sailing on Inland Waters

By A.C. Gee

Transcribed from an article originally published in Meccano Magazine April 1939

“Well, how about the Norfolk Broads asked Bill. “Yes,” said Bob. “Let’s go there this year. I’ve always wanted to see that part of the country. I believe it is very pretty – and besides, we could get some sailing. That would be fine.”

Bill, Bob and I had been wondering what to do for our holidays. We had intended visiting the Norfolk Broads before, but it had never come off. So this time we resolved that we would spend our holiday there, where we should get a change of scenery and be able to indulge in our favourite sport – sailing.

So a Saturday afternoon in July found us on the road bound for Wroxham, on the Bure, which we reached about six o’clock. There was our boat, at the end of some staging by the water’s edge. She looked a jolly nice little boat, just the thing for the three of us, and quite up to the photograph of her we had seen in the holiday agent’s catalogue earlier in the year. The cabin was very roomy, and the bunks, of which there were three, one down each side of the cabin and the third across the forward end, looked particularly comfortable. Bob, the junior, was told off to the for’ard one, whilst Bill and I reserved the port and starboard bunks respectively.

Our gear stowed away, we were at last ready to push off. It was a glorious evening, with a fresh breeze parting the clouds and showing us little patches of blue sky. We had about an hour to spare before sunset, so we decided to set sail and go down to Wroxham Broad to see how the “Norman” – as she was called – handled. We were greatly impressed by the spread of canvas she carried. Bill, the senior, took the tiller and Bob and I shoved off with the quant, or pushing pole.

Out on Wroxham we found a splendid breeze – and we found that our “Norman” was a handful too. Did we have a sail that evening! Beating up the Broad with a good stiff breeze, lee rail down and under too at times, then running down with a few shots at gybing just to see how she took it, we all took turns at the tiller until we had had our “fill” for one evening. Then we decided we had better find a berth for the night. So out of the Broad we sailed back into the river and set course down to Horning. Much of the river bank here is privately owned; most beautiful gardens and lawns surrounding charming riverside bungalows come right to the water’s edge, and as we sailed along tall pine trees, rose beds, boxes of geraniums and many other plants in bloom helped to make a scene delightful to the eye.

We drifted along slowly in the quiet of the evening, the sun nearly set and the water fowl scurrying back to roost. Suddenly Bill’s voice broke the silence. “Say chaps, guess we’ll tie up here for the night. Let go that jib sheet,” he exclaimed, and he swung the “Norman” round across the river, and over to the opposite bank. Bob and I jumped ashore and made fast.

After supper we set up the cabin table, lit the lamp and got out the ‘chart,’ a map of the Broads we had brought with us, to decide on a plan of campaign. We wanted to see as much of Broadland as our short stay would permit, and to get some good sailing, weather permitting.

The next day we got underway for Hickling. The weather began to break that afternoon. Large grey clouds drifted across the sun, their shadows making dark patches on the water. The wind moaned across the reeds, coming in strong puffs that were almost squalls and are known as “Rogers” by the local boatmen. The water was greeny grey in colour, with little white-topped wavelets running across it.

On the horizon dark masses of cloud piled up, and as the day wore on these became larger and larger and the sunny intervals less frequent. Occasionally heavy squalls of rain swept past. And so on to Horsey Mere, where we moored just off the entrance to the Staithe. The only form of anchor we had was a kedge weighing perhaps 30 lb. This was obviously not going to hold in the gale that was brewing, so we plunged the quant down into the mud as far as it would go and made fast to it as well. Everything seemed to be holding nicely, so cold and wet we turned in.

Tied up at Hickling Staithe after sailing up from Potter Heigham.

“What the ------ ?” exclaimed Bill, sitting up in his bunk next morning and staring out of the cabin door. Bob and I, waking at his exclamation, rubbed our eyes and looked out too. Overhanging the stern of our boat and surrounding us on all sides were tall green reeds. The awful truth gradually dawned on us. We had been blown ashore! Nothing but shiny liquid mud and reeds surrounded us. We jumped out of our bunks and made our way up on deck. There out in the deep water was our quant, lying over at an angle. Our kedge had not held and was still at the end of its rope. We had drifted, our extra mooring had gradually pulled the quant over, and the rope had slipped over the top. We appeared to be hard and fast in the mud. It was a dull dismal morning and it was just beginning to rain again.

“The sooner we get out of this mess the better,” said Bill. “The first thing we have to do is to get that wretched quant back.” We dived into the cabin again and put on the first clothes we could lay hands on. With great difficulty we got the dinghy off the mud and rowed out to the quant. Getting a quant out of heaven only knows how many feet of mud is no joke. Our efforts at pulling it up nearly sent the dinghy under, but we got it at last and made our way back to the “Norman.” Before going aboard we hitched the dinghy on to her bows and straining at the oars tried to pull her off, thinking she might come off without our weight in her. But she would not budge. Then Bob went aboard with the quant, and tried shoving over the stern, whilst Bill and I did our stuff with the oars. Still, no movement. We all tried quanting. Then we all tried rowing. Finally we did all the other things one thinks of on such occasions, but it was no use.

“Well,” said Bill, “she seems stuck as hard as she’s ever likely to be, so I guess we had better get some breakfast and then go over to the Staithe and get someone to tow us off.”

Up the Thurne to Potter Heigham on the way to Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere.

The conversation at breakfast was not elevating and is not fit to record. However, before we had finished, we heard the “pop-pop” of a motor engine and someone hailing us. Our plight had evidently been spotted.

“Someone on the lookout for salvage money, even up here,” moaned Bill.

It turned out to be a couple of men who had seen our fruitless efforts to get off, and had borrowed a motor boat and come over to see if there was any way in which they could help us.

The next quarter of an hour was great fun. I think we all enjoyed it. The motor boat coughed and spluttered, churning up the water as it strained at us. Bill, Bob and I manned the quant and heaved and shoved at it until it nearly broke. Gradually the “Norman” moved, little by little, until with a shout from all she slipped off, floating once again in her natural element.

The next time we go up Horsey way, we shall take a proper “hook” with us.

Thursday morning we awoke to find a deluge. We could not possibly start for Wroxham in it. So we spent the morning tidying up, and generally putting things in order. After lunch the rain stopped a bit, so donning oilskins we hoisted the sodden mainsail and jib and set off across Horsey Mere for Potter Heigham.

We were almost the last boat to tie up at Potter that night. The rain had stopped and the wind had dropped a little and we had hopes that Friday, our last day, would be more pleasant from the weather point of view. It so happened that I had a most important appointment in London at 10 o’clock on the Saturday morning. It also happened that the “depression from Iceland,” which we had been experiencing during the two previous days, decided to fill up at approximately noon on Friday. The result was that we had no more wind at all after that, and we had to quant from just below Horning right up to Wroxham. At least Bob and Bill quanted. Bob quanted because he said he liked it, and Bill quanted to give Bob a rest. I did not quant because five minutes after beginning my first effort, I misjudged things and should have had a ducking had not the dinghy been made fast close astern. As it was I succeeded in falling into it instead of the water. It was therefore thought advisable that I should employ myself as something less skilful, such as packing suitcases and washing up!

We arrived at Wroxham at 9.30 that evening, and at 10.30 we started for home, the journey through the night being adventurous and a fitting conclusion to our week on the Broads.

River Thurne 1938 Hickling Staithe 1938

There is really fine sailing to be had on the Norfolk Broads and their connecting rivers.

“Right,” said Bill finally. “From here we’ll sail down through Horning, and carry on down the Bure until it meets the Ant. Then we’ll bear up the Ant as far as Ludham Bridge. We had better tie the “Norman” up there and continue up by dinghy to see Barton Broad. The chart shows only three or four feet of water above the bridge and it looks somewhat narrow to me. I don’t fancy getting the “Norman” stuck up there. From Ludham Bridge we will make our way back into the Bure, and continue down as far as Acle Bridge. We’ll take a look round there and then I suggest we return up the Bure to Thurne Mouth, up the Thurne through Potter Heigham, and along up to Hickling and Horsey. We should get some fine sailing there. They look lovely sheets of water. I guess by then it will be getting time to think about returning home. We’ll keep going until Wednesday and then we will head straight back for Wroxham.”

Bob and I murmured our approval. Bob was nearly asleep. The warmth from the oil lamp had made us all drowsy and so, our course settled, we turned in.

It was 10 o’clock next morning before we had cleared away breakfast and set sail. It was a bit cloudy, but it looked as though it might clear later, and a westerly wind gave us a run through Hoveton Long Reach and we were soon into Horning.With a fair wind we sailed on through Horning and decided not to stop until we got to Ludham Bridge. There we nearly came to grief. The river bends sharply in an S bend just before the bridge and trees, and sheds obscure it from the river. We came round the first part of the bend in grand style and were just going to take the second part when we found ourselves practically on top of the bridge. Fortunately we had to come up into the wind and run into the bank, where the soft mud held us. We scrambled ashore and made fast. Hardly had we done so than the rain descended, so we decided to lower and stow sails and stay where we were.

We awoke next morning to grey skies, but it was not raining and by 11 o’clock the sun was shining and all suggestion of rain gone. We had an early lunch and got the dinghy ready for the run up to Barton. We had a nice stiff breeze and in spite of unfavourable tide made good going up the Ant. The Ant is a very pretty river. Just after clearing Ludham Bridge we passed a large windmill with its sails whirling round in grand style. It was quite impressive and we stopped to watch it. These windmills, which are such a feature of the Broads, are really wind driven water pumps. They lift the water back into the rivers from the dykes that divide the marshes into plots and serve the dual purpose of hedge and drainage system. After a fall of rain the marshman goes round and starts up the mills in the area for which he is responsible. In this way the marshes are kept dry and in fit condition for grazing cattle on.

Towards Irstead the river banks become wooded and the scenery is very pretty indeed. We were soon on to Barton Broad. This is a large wild Broad, with edges bordered by reeds and small island-like areas of reeds sticking up here and there. We crossed it to the village of Barton Turf, where we had tea at the village post office, and after a short walk ashore decided it was time to be returning.

The run back to Ludham was uneventful though somewhat prolonged. The wind dropped completely, as it often does in the evenings, and we had to take to the oars, getting back to the “Norman” just as it was getting dark.

The following morning was a glorious one, and after a hasty breakfast we set sail and headed down the Ant for Acle Bridge. There was a real stiff breeze and we were soon back on the Bure. We passed the mouth of the Thurne and from there to Acle Bridge the river was wide and gave us a fine morning’s sail. We sailed in company with a number of other boats, some larger than ourselves, others smaller; and as it seemed an excellent opportunity to test the “Norman’s” capabilities we set out to see if we could not work our way up and become the leading boat. It required some skill, for owing to the narrowness of the river one often had to go about suddenly to avoid running down the boat ahead. However, by dint of much cunning and a few well timed short tacks we succeeded and led the fleet into Acle.

We did not stay long, as it was a perfect day for sailing, and we set off for Potter Heigham as soon as we had restocked the larder. The river is wide and deep, and there are no trees to spoil the breeze in this part of the Broads. White fleecy clouds sped across the sky, the wind was stiff and steady and the sun shone brilliantly. The “Norman” lay over with her lee rail skimming the surface of the water, and every now and then, as a motor cruiser passed and we ploughed through her wash, the spray flew up over the bows and into our faces. It was grand and we kept going with a free wind nearly all the way into Potter Heigham, where we found a berth near the Bridge and tied up for the night.

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