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THE VOYAGE OF THE AMBER GEM
The Norfolk Broads were originally created by peat workings, but these, the rivers and connecting dykes became "naturalised" and used for transport. They became Britain's first boating holiday area (at the end of the 19thcentury) and still represents the largest concentration of hire boats in Britain - the yard we started from at Stalham has over 400! Our yard was in the northern half of the Broads, the "split" being at Yarmouth, where the River Bure from the north meets the Yare and Waveney from the south close to the sea - the passage between the two should only be attempted near slack water and this was not recommended in winter. Fortunately, there are no locks........ but you do have to moor in mid-afternoon during the season if you want to be anywhere near a pub! There are two low narrow bridges on the Broads - Wroxham and Potter Heigham. The former is navigable by hirers with care, for the latter you HAVE to take the Pilot which is jointly funded by the two main hiring agencies. The rest may be low but they're wide enough for boats to pass underneath. In my view, the best bits are above the two "awkward" bridges. The season finishes at the end of October, but a promotion by an English national (so-called) newspaper called The Sun offered a short break (Monday 1500 - Friday 0900) for GBP101 in the first week in November - an offer too good to miss!!
Weather - drizzle to start - grey & cloudy later - windy - rain overnight.
Had a good run down from Derbyshire with a break for lunch at the "Three Kings" at Theekingham just off the A52 in Lincolnshire. Good news to start with - we had originally been lumbered with a "WILL NOT GO UNDER POTTER HEIGHAM & WROXHAM BRIDGES" boat but were able to swap for one that would, and which also had better heating. (Bear in mind that Broads boats are uninsulated and usually not heated)
After a quick load up, we got away at 1600 and got to Wayford Bridge before the light gave out 40 minutes or so later.
Weather - Dull to start & end - sunny with high cloud in the middle - windy enough to cause problems!
Set off to the head of navigation at Dilham at 0700, returning to Stalham at 0900 for shopping and banking. Confirmed that the Bridge Pilot at Potter Heigham was still working - our info was that he stopped at the end of October. Departed again 1010 - via Rivers Ant, Bure and Thurne to Womack Water at 1225 for water, waste & lunch. Being used to the Broads being busy (the M25 with boats is a reasonable analogy!) I found cruising a wide, virtually empty river to be almost uncanny and a great deal more pleasurable than doing the same cruise in the main season. Departed Womack 1250 - when the light's limited you don't hang about!
Arrived Potter Heigham at 1330 when the engine stopped as we were mooring! The boat drifted across the river out of control until it fetched up on the opposite bank, where the mobile came into its own as we rang the yard. They arrived about 20 minutes later and we were repaired by 1440 - a blocked fuel filter. We learnt that the boat was over 25 years old - not bad for a fibreglass soap dish (though it must be admitted that some parts were showing distinct signs of wear - still for GBP101 for 4 days you can't really complain).
Waited for the Pilot (and tide) at 1500, at which time he came to take us through the bridge - a "shit or bust" exercise at full throttle with less than 3 inches clearance all round!
Following a gentle potter across Hickling Broad, we arrived at the Pleasureboat Inn just as the light went at 1600 - good meal!
Weather - Dry & sunny - heavy rain overnight
Left Hickling at about 0800, with the intention of cruising to Horsey Windmill.
(An aside) I had read an article in the Pleasureboat Inn the previous evening, which described how the National Trust (who look after Horsey Mere as a Nature Reserve) had tried to prosecute a "local" who had taken his boat across the Mere on Boxing Day - it was established that though the Trust could "request" boaters not to use the Mere between November and March, there is in fact a statutory right of navigation.
Having passed the "unadvisable to use the Mere between November and March" signs, we set off up Waxham Cut, which had a "NARROW - DIFFICULT TO TURN" sign at the end = a challenge!! Our boat was 37 feet long X 10 feet beam - it said in the book (which I read after the event) that turning was not possible for craft over 30 feet long...........
Going up was fine, at least as far as Brograve Mill half way up - just like a canal, in fact, except the water was deep all the way to the edge! Beyond the Mill it got narrower, and I was hoping for some sort of turning area at the end of the dyke (don't call 'em winding holes on the Broads). Of course, there wasn't, so I honed my "driving a Broads cruiser astern for long distances" skills between Waxham Bridge (head of navigation) and Brograve Mill - about 1/2 a mile of steering a front-steer wheel-steering cruiser, looking the full length of the craft out of the stern door to see if I was keeping it straight!! At least if I did get it skew-wiff, it bounced off the reeds! In due course, we were able to wind, and then proceeded to Horsey Mill for water and waste.
(Apologies in advance to any elderly National Trust Members)
As we were taking water, Susan (my wife) noted a pair of "wrinklies" taking a more-than-passing interest in our presence. We locked the boat and set off for a look at the sea, as at this point it is only about 1 1/4 miles away. Following a brisk walk and half-an-hour's sit by a totally deserted beach (just how we like it) we were wandering back when we were accosted by The Warden, who screeched to a halt in his Range Rover, told us we had disturbed the wildlife (4 days after any Tom, Dick or Harry could use the Mere) and would ruin his duck count the following day. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!
Having anchored to the mudweight in the Mere for a shower and lunch, we went to West Somerton, the Head of Navigation on the Thurne. The water was so clear that we could see the not inconsiderable growth of waterweed on the bottom of the 3 foot or so deep channel! We arrived back at Potter Heigham at 1515 in good time for the tide - finally got through at 1630, leaving 20 minutes or so to get to the Lion at Thurne mouth, or destination for the night. Dinner was chicken, or chicken, or (for a change) chicken!!
At least the people on the boat moored next to us had some fireworks.....
Weather - dull to start with, then bright, sunny, and much warmer than before.
Left 0800, heading up a deserted River Bure with the aim of getting as far up river as we could before we had to turn round to arrive back at Stalham in the evening, ready for an 0900 handover the next morning.Visited South Walsham Broad (one of the side-trips we hadn't managed before) and moored at Horning for some (very limited) shopping and an (attempted) drink at a pub which hadn't opened for the day! Negotiated Wroxham Bridge (see earlier note) twice and moored for more shopping.
You are always advised to top up with water every day - "visit any Agency yard, where you will be able to moor and take on water." As Wroxham has more individual yards than anywhere else, this should be no problem but this presupposes that the boats that normally "live" at the yard are all out on hire. However, when all the boats are in their yards for the winter................ we eventually got water, and anchored to the mudweight in Wroxham Broad for lunch.
Coming back though Horning it was interesting to see one yard that only lets out sailing yachts with all their boats laid up with canvas covers and moored stern-on to the bank - something which would NOT be tolerated in the season! We pottered back up the River Ant to Ludham Bridge, where we contemplated stopping for the night as the pub is only about 400 yards away. As we couldn't be certain that they would serve meals (and bearing in mind our experience at the Lion at Thurne) we decided to press on, but not before I had taken a look at a Caraboat for sale with a Yanmar inboard engine - I thought they were all outboard powered?
The sun was setting as we crossed Barton Broad, the largest stretch of open water on the Broads and supposedly where Admiral Lord Nelson was taught to sail, before following a private yacht up the long dyke to our yard at Stalham, which was so large that each wharf has a separate name so the staff (and hirers!) can find boats. Having moored up, we found an excellent meal in the Maid's Head pub before turning in for a final good night's sleep before unloading and departing for home the following morning.