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North Walsham and Dilham Canal information day encourages visitors to see the transformation of the waterway

PUBLISHED: 08:51 08 June 2015 | UPDATED: 08:56 08 June 2015

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust's open weekend at Norfolk's only canal with locks at Ebridge Mill pond pictured is Chris Black vice chair of the trust.

Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust's open weekend at Norfolk's only canal with locks at Ebridge Mill pond pictured is Chris Black vice chair of the trust. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

It is one of Norfolk's forgotten gems, neglected for decades and overlooked even by many locals.

The canalisation of the River Ant, was opened in 1826.

The Norfolk canal’s length was just short of nine miles from Antingham Bone Mills to Wayford Bridge and there were six locks capable of taking small wherries.

Although the canal was built for the carriage of coal, it was cheaper to transport this onland from the coast.

And so the main cargoes went to and from the mills and local area, including the weekly cabbage wherry to Great Yarmouth.

In the late 19th century some of the first pleasure wherries converted from commercial craft were based on the canal.

But trade fell and the canal from Swafield locks and up to Antingham was closed in 1893 and then abandoned in 1926.

The section from Swafield to Bacton Wood Lock was breached by the August floods of 1912 and The East Aglian Water Association said the following repairs were poor.

The last wherry to use the canal was the motor wherry Ella in 1934 and, shortly after, the section above Bacton Wood Mill dried out while the remainder of the canal fell into disuse.

But enthusiasts hoping to breathe new life into the North Walsham and Dilham Canal used the weekend to bring attention to this derelict piece of the region’s heritage.

The waterway - the county’s only canal with locks - was celebrated at an annual event at Ebridge Mill Pond, at which those working to restore sections of the route met to discuss their work and allow the public to find out more.

The day was organised by the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust (NWDCT), which was set up seven years ago, to explore ways to work with local landowners to conserve and improve the route, to allow it to be enjoyed by greater numbers.

Opened in 1826, the canal remained in operation throughout the nineteenth century, but went into steep decline in the twentieth century. The last wherry to navigate its waters was in 1934.

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust's open weekend at Norfolk's only canal with locks at Ebridge Mill pond pictured is Chris Black vice chair of the trust.

Picture: MARK BULLIMORENorth Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust's open weekend at Norfolk's only canal with locks at Ebridge Mill pond pictured is Chris Black vice chair of the trust. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

David Revill, trust member of the NWDCT, said: “People get to know what it’s all about. A lot of people have never heard of it and don’t know where it is.”

David Ling, of North Walsham, started work at Ebridge Mill in 1954 and remained there for 42 years.

“It’s great, it’s wonderful it’s even better now than it was when I worked here. It was sad to see it deteriorate but now it’s something to be admired,” said the 81-year-old.

Attempts to revive the waterway have not been without some controversy. In 2012, the Environment Agency intervened in a scheme to dredge along one stretch, amid fears wildlife could suffer.

Are you involved in a project to restore some of north Norfolk’s heritage? Email sophie.biddle@archant.co.uk

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