After cooked breakfast in the pub, and following the now infamous "PDA in the River" incident, we left Acle Bridge behind us and headed north, up the river towards Potter Heigham.
The bridge at Acle is quite large. It stands ten or twelve feet above the water for the whole width of the river. It's also only about five years old. The bridge at Potter Heigham is quite different. It's about six and a half foot above the water at the centre, and the sides fall away sharply in a half-circle. It's seven hundred years old and is the lowest navigable bridge on the whole river-system. We had to go through it and, sadly, we are required to use the free pilot service to go through, so we did so without incident.
In my youth, when my scout group used to hire half a dozen yachts, the traversal of Potter Heigham was quite a different matter. Sail power only, and (in the early years at least) no motor. There are, in fact, two bridges at Potter Heigham. The new bridge is about fifty yards upstream of the old one, and is only about twenty years old. For a long time, there was a railway bridge in this position -- one year it disappeared, and the new bridge arrived the following year. We would approach the old bridge under full sail at a reasonable speed and, ten yards or so before the bridge, we would take down the sails, drop the mast and pass through the bridge on momentum alone. Between the two bridges the mast and sails would go up once more to pick up a little speed, and then down again for the second bridge. It was quite a spectacle, and not a little unnerving for the helmsman. More than once we got it wrong.
Now, we moor up on the right before the bridge. The pilot gets on, we motor through the bridges, and then he gets off again. All the romance is gone.
Once north of Potter Heigham, we proceeded upstream towards Martham. Martham Boatyard always used to hire out fairly tatty boats, always in need of a bit of repair, a bit of paint. This year (my first trip for about four years) they seem to be neat, clean, and freshly painted. Well done, everyone at Martham Yard.
We turned left and headed up towards Horsey Mere, one of the few open bodies of water produced solely by drainage (Most of the broads were produced by the cutting of peat). Meadow Dyke, the dyke to Horsey, is very narrow -- not much wider than the boat is long -- and it's a difficult stretch to navigate for a sailing boat. We met six beautiful deep brown wooden sailing boats along this stretch of water -- the "Hustler" fleet from Horning. Beautiful.
All the way up Meadow Dyke and across Horsey, I was describing for the benefit of my mother and her boyfriend all the facilities available at Horsey -- public loos and a small wooden hut which sells ice cream. When we arrived, only one of these was open, so we missed out on the ice cream. But it was beautiful all the same.
After a very lazy afternoon tea, we left Horsey and went on to Hickling, mooring at the Pleasure Boat Inn for the night, arriving at about four. A stroll (limp, limp) to the village and back actually served to improve the mobility in the knee.
Last time I was here, dinner in the Pub offered sausage and chips, burger and chips, chips in a basket. This time it was a delightful surprise -- wonderful, imaginative food in a properly redecorated dining room, with a textbook caricature Essex Girl waitress -- luveleeey.
Just a brief note -- Reading 0, Wolves 1. Mother's boyfriend very depressed.
After overnighting at Hickling, we wonder what to do with our morning. The tide at Potter Heigham bridge only goes up and down about four inches, but for us those four inches are crucial, and we're not going to attempt to pass under the old bridge until 2pm, low tide. I take the boat back down to meet the river at Martham, and turn left instead, to pass over Martham Broad to West Somerton.
The water all over this river system is muddied and opaque. But upstream of Martham, where there's hardly any traffic and hardly any current, it's perfectly clear. Beautifully clear. The plant life is all still-water plants, including marestails and lillies, stunningly picturesque.
West Somerton is the limit of navigation, just enough space to turn the boat round. The village shop is only open Monday and Thursday mornings, from 9 till 1 -- but we ignore this happy coincidence and scorn the shop because we'd shopped at Potter Heigham the preceding day.
We're back at Potter for Lunch, and carry on downriver to meet the Bure, and then head upstream and, following a brief turn around South Walsham Broad, we arrive at Horning.
My replacement XDA is waiting at Ralph's Stores. Hurrah!
A brief stroll around the village, and then to the Swan Inn for dinner. Uninspiring but tasty.
Friday is spent travelling up the river Ant and back.
The Ant is another fairly narrow, tree-lined river -- and it meanders a lot. A lot. It's called the Ant because it crawls all over the place.
Ludham Bridge is much larger than it looks, especially for someone who's been under Potter. It's not huge, and it's just after a blind corner so you can't see if there's any traffic coming towards you, but we didn't meet anyone.
How Hill is a large estate on the right as you travel upstream. The How Hill Trust is keen on restoring wind pumps, and there are two excellent examples of small wooden pumps immediately adjacent to the river. There were photos.
Barton Broad is a beautiful piece of water, and there were hundreds of small birds -- swifts? swallows? -- catching insects just inches above the surface. There were the usual mallards, ruddy ducks, grebes, herons, fulmars ... and a surprising community of crested ducks!
Stalham was dull and crowded, Sutton was charming and (unusually) deserted. We walked up to the church, past Bush House, Sutton Hall and the Mill, and then back to the staithe. Lunch, surrounded by progressively less entertaining ducks. And then back down the Ant and up the Bure, returning to Horning. This time we moored outside the New Inn, a hundred yards or so downstream from the Swan.
Fish and Chips for dinner.
Up early on Saturday, because this is the day we have to return the boat. Wroxham is about an hour upstream from Horning. I wake up and pack, drink a cup of coffee, and then set off upriver while Mother and the Boyfriend sort out the boat. We pass the alleged site of George Formby's house (see LJ passim) and head upriver. We dip into Salhouse and Wroxham broads to make a change from the river, and eventually arrive back at the yard, about a quarter past eight. I make as if to moor in the same place we found the boat last saturday when a cry of "Boyur!" from the car park reveals itself to be from Matthew Thwaite, one of the three people in charge of the yard. "Not there, here" he says.
The yard is more crowded than it was last weekend, because we're just on the edge of busy season. I manouever the boat into the space with my usual skill -- Matthew comments knowledgeably "Yes, I never say where it'll end up till I get there either" -- and we tie up.
We load back into the car, I go to the office and complete the paperwork, and we set off back home.
Back in a couple of years, I hope.