OPINION: My week on the Norfolk Broads has made me appreciate this gem on our doorstep
PUBLISHED: 11:10 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:10 08 October 2020
Do we take the Norfolk Broads for granted? Our columnist says we should celebrate them more
As Prince William was worrying on TV about rising waters swamping Sandringham and swathes of Norfolk, I was up close and personal with the potential damage climate change is threatening to our beautiful Broadland.
Spending precious time by the farmland, communities and wildlife habitats that stand to be lost forever unless we change the way we live was a real wake-up call.
“I’ve never seen the water this high,” was the oft uttered comment, with a resigned shake of the head, every day during my week sailing on the Norfolk Broads.
Water swelled on every river and broad, slopping over tops of quays, banks and turning riverside gardens into ponds. Our beautiful waterways were full to bursting. Bridges were impassable, leaving entire areas of our beautiful Broadland out of bounds and unexplored by the early autumn visitors.
Our plan to slither under Potter Heigham bridge for a sail on Hickling Broad and a meander to Horsey Mere for a walk to see the seals was a no-no. We needed a 6.5ft clearance and it didn’t allow anything over 5ft-ish even at low water.
All those businesses beyond the bridge were deprived of the last of a difficult summer’s visitors. How frustrating to know how busy the rivers were the on other side of the bridge but their holiday spends out of reach, when they most needed it.
Water levels was the talk among sailors and boaters and dominated locals’ chat in the village pubs. It was tipping it down most days, but the level of water was far beyond a long wet spell.
The effects of climate change had reached the Norfolk Broads and, unless there was quick action, this natural network of wildlife, peace and wonder was doomed.
After 50-odd years of taking these waterways for granted, viewing them from the land and the odd short boat trip, it was a privilege to spend seven days afloat, drinking in the incredible views, wildlife sights and the revelling in the peace.
The draw that pulls in hordes of holidaymakers every year was clear. So calming, it should be on prescription.
On our blissful travels, we met people who come back year after year to the same boat hirers to relax, unwind and enjoy the slow pace on motor cruisers, drinking and eating in our incredible riverside pubs, spending money in our shops and on our attractions.
“You live here!” several exclaimed. “You are so lucky.”
So lucky. It’s taken me half a decade to appreciate just how much, and how much needs to change to preserve them as they are.
Our home for the week was classic sailing yacht Leda, originally built by the Herbert Woods company as a part of the “Lady34” fleet for regatta sailing.
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She was hired from Eastwood Whelpton at Upton, just a stone’s throw from my old house and past which I walked for years with Leo, my elderly golden retriever, who shared our adventures last week in his own lifejacket.
I used to wonder who sailed those fabulous old boats as we wandered past. Turns out, it was my partner years ago, who used to travel from the East End of London as a teenager in the 1970s, first learning to sail them and then teaching other young people.
In his 40-odd years sailing on the Broads, he had never seen so much water, or been prevented sailing where he wanted. He was taken aback by the washing over the banks.
Listening to local talk of water levels, I thought of the changes Leda had seen through her decades on the waterways. The tales it could tell.
A top change was how unwelcoming people living in magnificent waterside properties appear to visitors.
Probably perfectly lovely people, I’m sure, but the proliferation of PRIVATE. No mooring. KEEP OUT. PRIVATE PROPERTY signs was overwhelming.
Norfolk people have been accused of being not the most welcoming of folk, but the prohibitive attitude of people fortunate enough to afford riverside living was uncomfortable.
There must be a warmer, more polite way of asking visitors not to moor at the end of your garden.
It’s expensive living broadside, I get it. And no one wants grockles in captain hats mooring by their bi-fold doors but being a bit nicer about it wouldn’t go amiss. Just say, please?
And where’s the harm in sharing a tiny bit of the privilege sometimes?
Plumping for a holiday at home because sailing in the British Virgin Islands was out of the question caused much mirth among friends.
A friend who met us for dinner one night at Ranworth quipped that I could have walked home to my own bed most nights.
So it wasn’t the sheltered Bays, white sandy beaches and amazing crystal clear seas of the BVI, but Thurne (twice), Barton Turf – thanks Cox’s boat yard for the shower – Ranworth (twice), ‘wild’ mooring at Ludham and a night at Stokesby gave as much joy, rest and recharging, in the rain too.
And it eliminated a flight, which can only do good.
And, as well as opening my eyes to the absolutely spectacular natural gem we have on our doorsteps, it also hit home how crucial it is that we work hard to save and preserve it.
Perhaps no more flights, and another attempt to get under Potter Heigham bridge to explore the other side next year.
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