Oxburgh Hall launches new boat for its moat

Visitors to a magnificent Norfolk manor house could soon appreciate it from a whole new angle with the introduction of boat rides at the attraction.

A bespoke rowing boat, made using traditional methods, was launched on the picturesque moat at Oxburgh Hall yesterday, following a joint project between the National Trust and HMP Blundeston, in Lowestoft.

Joinery shop workers at the prison spent six weeks making the 14ft vessel and it was initially intended for use by maintenance workers trying to access hard-to-reach spots on the 15th century building, near Swaffham.

But the end product was so professional and refined, the National Trust hopes to make it available to the 70,000 visitors Oxburgh welcomes each year rather than condemn it to a life of drudgery.

Property manager Teresa Squires said: 'We hadn't seen the boat before and weren't sure what to expect, but we were astonished at how beautiful it was.

'It is obviously a labour of love and we were wowed. We are exploring the possibility of using it for pleasure rides to give people the chance to see Oxburgh Hall from another point of view.

'I was privileged enough to have the first ride and it was very special.'

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The boat has been named Lady Sybil after Lady Sybil Bedingfield, who saved the house from demolition and presented it to the National Trust in 1952.

Joinery shop workers at the prison, more used to making doors, windows and staircases for the prison service, were initially daunted by the task, but more than rose to the challenge.

The project came about when joinery shop manager Jim Stuart contacted the charity's buildings team to offer a helping hand.

'This is a category C training prison, so we give prisoners skills to take back into the community so they can re-settle rather than re-offend,' he said.

'The boat has taken about six weeks to make, with two people working on it from start to completion. It's a one-off design for a specific purpose, flat bottomed to be stable in the moat for working out of.

'It's quite heavy, made of plywood which is better for the environment than fibreglass, using traditional construction methods. The National Trust supplied materials, and we provided the labour and odd bits and bobs from the workshop.'

The joinery shop team is currently working on some disabled access picnic tables for the caf� area at Blickling Hall, near Aylsham.

daisy.wallage@archant.co.uk

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