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My First Broads Holiday September 1955

By Ron Harrison

1950s History 1950s Memories 1950s Gallery

My interest in the Norfolk Broads was first aroused when I was about 12 years old. I had a friend and neighbour of the same age, whose family used to take their holidays there every year. My friend would relate what good times they had, and show me the photo’s they had taken. We also browsed through the huge stack of Blakes brochures, that they had accumulated over the years, dating from the mid twenties. (How I wish I had them now!) Inside the front cover there was always an introductory message by the then chairman, Mr Brooker, posing with his pipe in his hand. Oh, how I envied Billy, but alas, I could only dream, as he was from a two child family, and I was from a seven child family. When Billy’s family moved away, they said that I could have all the brochures, as I was so interested in them. I often used to brows through them over the next few years, ‘till I was called up for the army. While I was away in the army, my family moved house, from Gidea Park Essex to Hornsey in London, and as you do, you throw out all the “rubbish”!! Of course, I was never to see those brochures again.

About 15 years later, I started going to a square dance club, my sister, (who’s husband was in the army) had twisted my arm, as she didn’t want to go there on her own. I found that I enjoyed it, and after going there for about a year, one of the members approached me and asked me if I would be interested in going to the Norfolk Broads for a week, as one of the party she was going with, had had to drop out. At last my dream had come true, I jumped at the chance, hoping that the dream I had as a boy, didn’t turn out to be a damp squib. We, (the crew) used to meet up about once a month, to plan the itinerary, the supplies etc; etc; Only one couple had their own transport, ( a motorbike) he was  a police constable and his girlfriend. The rest of us (5) were going by train from Liverpool Street station, to Oulton Broad South, (is it still there? See picture), then it was only a short walk to the boatyard. Just as well, with all the heavy luggage we had with us.

The boatyard was Richardsons, (they were based at Oulton Broad in those days) and we quickly found our boat, did I say boat? ( It was really a bit of an old tub, but I didn’t realise this until we had been out on the water for a while, and seen so many other boats so much nicer.) It was moored to the staithe, clean and ready for us, which made it easy for us to get aboard and unload all our luggage. We then checked our supplies list, (all the supplies had been delivered to the boat). However, we were jammed in by such a conglomeration of other boats, ( the like of which I haven’t seen since, in over 50 years of visiting the Broads, see picture), that it took, like it seemed forever, for a channel to be opened so that we could get away and be given our trial run etc.

I can’t remember our exact itinerary, but I believe after leaving Oulton Dyke, we headed for the New Cut. Some of the crew members who had been there before, said get ready to slow right down or stop as we approached the bridge, no not the bridge as we know it today, but the quaint little old lifting bridge, where you had to wait (at the bridge keepers discretion) for the bridge to be raised, he would then lean out of his little cabin, with a large net on a long pole, for you to put the half crown bridge toll in. If you were the only boat waiting to go through, you sometimes had a long wait, depending how busy the road was at that time. But if there were a number of boats wanting to go through, the bridge would be raised much quicker. Then up to Norwich, where we spent several hours “doing” the town, taking in all the sights, including the Cathedral and nurse Edith Cavell’s grave. On leaving Norwich we headed downstream to Thorpe-St-Andrew, where we moored for the night. Both times when we moored, I (a newbie) was at the helm, and I thought this mooring up business, that I had heard so much about, was a bit of a doddle. Perhaps later I was to regret those thoughts!

Oulton Broad South Staion 1955

Now one of the crew, Eric, (not very tall, but weighed 18 and a half stone) was a very keen swimmer, as was another crew member, Joan, and between the two of them they managed to persuade us all to go swimming. Either they didn’t know of the inadvisability of swimming in the Broadland waters, or chose to ignore it, apart from saying, “never swim downstream of any nearby boat, yacht or cruiser”! (All the boats had the old sea type toilets that discharged directly into the water, in those days). Whenever our toilet was being pumped, all the crew used to sing “Land of hope and glory”, partly to deaden the sound of the pump, and partly to embarrass the person using the toilet.

The following day we decided to head back stopping briefly at Brundall on the way, we looked enviously at Brooms hire fleet, and vowed that we would go for something better than Wayfarer, the next time we came. But in saying that, she never broke down and handled well, albeit that she was very basic, no shower or even a wash basin, so we had to use washing up bowls for our toiletries. Then onto the Chet, and up to Loddon, scraping the bottom a number of times (as they didn’t seem to bother about dredging the Chet in those days).

Wayfarer at Salhouse Broad 1955

When we arrived at Loddon, we found piles of smouldering grain husks from the mill, for about 50 yards along the river bank. (It was still a working mill in those days) Neither of the basins had been dug out at that time, but there was just enough room to turn the boat in front of the grill outlet from the mill. There were no boatyards on the Chet at that time, and after doing some shopping in Loddon, we headed for the New Cut again, and so onto the Waveney.It was very quiet on the wide Waveney, so some of us decided to have some fun in the sailing dinghy, while others did a spot of fishing. After a few hours we set off for Beccles, (the yacht station hadn’t been created then) so under the first bridge and moored at the boatyard on the left hand side, (I think it was Herbert Freemans, long gone), mainly to fill the water tank. Then under the second bridge, praying that we could make Geldeston Lock before dark. But talking of bridges, we used to approach them very slowly with screen and canopy lowered, to see if we could get under them, as some of them didn’t have a height gauge, and many that did were so covered in algae that you couldn’t read them. Many times we had gone through with only one or two inches to spare.

It was nearly dark when we moored at Geldeston and made our way into the Locks Inn, and were confronted by a little old Irish woman, with a clipboard in her hand, the landlady, Susan Ellis. I say confronted because (if I remember correctly) she said “I suppose you lot will have me scuttling about getting you drinks, just when I was having an interesting conversation”, but then she smiled and said “you had better sit down then,” and made us feel very welcome. The clipboard was to note down the drinks that each person had during the evening, then before they left or when she was about to close, she would get each customer to add up their bill for her. “I’m hopeless at adding up” she would say.

Apparently, the conversation we had interrupted was about flooding, and she said that sometimes when there were very high tides, she was trapped on the upper floor for days. But she used to come halfway down the stairs to feed the coypu’s that used to swim in. (Think she must have left the door open). The fantastic atmosphere was enhanced by the fact that the only lighting was candlelight. She also made it very clear that she was the one that controlled the conversation, and that everyone joined in. What a terrific character!

Susan Ellis at Geldeston Locks Inn 1950s

Early start the next morning, as we intended crossing Breydon Water. Most of the crew had a turn at the helm, as we went down river, but I took the helm when we reached Braden, Here I must say that I think complacency has a lot to do with craft going aground, or other mishaps on Breydon Water. I say this, of because of what happened to me. It was a fairly calm day, sun shining, bit of a breeze, large stretch of open water, lots of wildlife about, you feel very relaxed, and someone says “look at that”, you turn to see where they are pointing, start to talk, and before you know it you are on the wrong side of the marker posts. Fortunately this didn’t happen to me, but it nearly did, I looked forward just in time to see one of the marker posts about three yards dead ahead of me, swung the wheel over and just managed to slither past, loosing one of the fenders. I circled back, and one of the crew retrieved the fender with the use of the boathook. The previous day we had studied the tide tables, but green as we were, we must have got it wrong! As we went round the yellow marker post the tide really hit us and we had to go at full throttle to make any headway at all. When we reached the first bridge, we found that we only had about two inches clearance, but we were going so slow, that even if we couldn’t get under, just by easing off the throttle we would have been washed back down the river. Then we moored at Yarmouth yacht station, plenty of room, as I suspect most of the other boaters knew far better than us, the state of the tides, and had planned their passage through Yarmouth for a more suitable time.

We “did” Yarmouth, visiting the shops and the beach, and buying the obligatory box of kippers, to send home. Then back to the boat for an overnight stay.

Suddenly Eric said to me, as he looked out of the window, “I didn’t know there was a full moon tonight”, when I looked I saw the rear end of a large “lady” in a bikini,  double mooring to the side of our boat. Did I say double mooring? When we got up the next morning, we found that we had been triple moored. As we wanted to leave before the other two boats that were moored onto us, we had to rely on the yacht station staff to assist us getting away, in spite of the fact that they told us we would be going against the current all of the way.

OOH, what a performance, boats swinging about everywhere, trying to hear the instructions that were being shouted to us over the noise of the engine, and like good safe drivers taking it very slow. FATAL MISTAKE! The tide was taking the bows downstream, and we wanted to go upstream. All that we had been told about having way on the boat, to be able to steer, in the panic, had been forgotten. To make things worse, another boat was coming upstream, and we were broadside across the only wet bit there was. A collision was only avoided by one of the crew grabbing the mop and fending the other boat off with it. This also pushed our bows in the direction we wanted to go, so we then gave it a bit of “welly”, which obviously (on reflection) is the instructions that were being shouted to us.

Reedham 1955

I believe I am right in saying that it is the only Broad you could moor bow on to the shore. If you intended staying there for more than just a few hours, you had to make sure you had enough water, fuel and provisions, as there were none there, this is precisely why it was so tranquil. Once again, sailing the dinghy, and swimming were indulged for the rest of the day. Late afternoon or early evening, a man in a rowing boat, accompanied by a black Labrador dog, knocked on the side of the boat, to collect our half crown overnight mooring fee. Over the next few years I got quite used to seeing him. There were no radio’s or TV’s on board , at that time, so if we were moored out in the wilds somewhere, (and we mostly were) we would play cards or board games, or some might do a bit of night fishing. But if we were moored near to a pub, we would often start a “sing song” going, and the rest of the customers, boaters and locals, would join in.

The next day we went to Wroxham, looked round Roys various shops, then we went and looked round Graham Bun’s yard, we were all captivated, and booked up “Fairwind 1” for the following year. Left Wroxham, down the Bure, and up the Thurne to Potter Heigham, it’s there that we saw, while moored up near the bridge, a really stupid person in a day boat (I think, as it was a long time ago) approaching the bridge, while a yacht was coming through on the ebbing tide. Fatso, with his captains’ cap, peak all covered in gold braid, started tooting his horn and shouting and gesticulating, go back, go back. Of course the yacht couldn’t go back, without power, and letting the tide take it through, and Fatso wasn’t going to give way, so CRUNCH, the bowsprit of the yacht holed the day boat, just above the water line. Fortunately the yacht didn’t appear to have suffered any damage, and nobody was injured, only Fatso’s pride.

Wayfarer 1955

I’m a bit vague about exactly what happened from hereon,  but I believe we then made our way back to the southern Broads, without any incidents that I can recall, (getting rather expert and cocky, by this time). Then back to the boatyard , and the holiday was over. Roll on next year and Fairwind 1.

I cannot guarantee that I have included all that happened, or that the events took place in the order written down. But I think they are near enough correct, it was a long time ago. Wayfarer, might have been an old tub, but she didn’t let us down, and the week aboard her, made me a Broads addict for life. Damp squib? How could I ever have thought it?

Ron Harrison 2006

Very sadly, Ron Harrison passed away during the early hours of the 13th October 2007. I will be forever grateful for the support and contributions he made to Broadland Memories, and the friendship we formed via email. His sense of humour and fun, and his passion for the Norfolk Broads stayed with him throughout his life, he made his last trip to the Broads in August 2007 with his family. Ron was also a regular contributor to The Norfolk Broads Forum under the user name of “Ronaldo” - his posts were informative and usually extremely funny. He will be very much missed.  Carol Gingell

See more of Ron’s photographs from his first Broads holiday on this page of the 1950s Gallery