Every other year we head down to our friends The Speeds at Great Yarmouth. Every other year we looks to do something different. We’ve done the beaches and pleasure parks, so what’s the plan this year? I suggested going on the broads in a boat. Ideally stopping on one over night, but apparently that isn’t as easy to organise. The picture I’d conjured up in my mind involved cruising along a canal, mooring up popping into a pub, getting back on board, pass though a lock, moor up visit a place etc. Something like Rosie and Jim on the old Rag Doll.
A Beginners guide to the Norfolk Broads
Captain Chris Speed, organised the boat and hire “The Thunderbird” for a day from Martham Ferry Boatyard. The rate was £135 (9am – 4pm) for a picnic boat that was large enough for 8 people. Complete with cooking facilities and a working toilet, it was the basis for a new adventure. Neither of us had had much experience of sailing a boat, but how hard can it be?
The boatyard gave us a map as part of a magazine to give us some bearings. Chris’s local experience suggested that we should aim toward Hickling Broad as anywhere else would be like a gridlocked motorway. Bare in mind that it was a Bank Holiday Weekend.
We were unhitched, pushed off and on our own. Chris took to the wheel and started following the map. The Broads have a general speed limit of around 4 MPH, which is quite slow, but enjoyable. Between the boatyard and our first turn were many riverside cottages / huts with their own private mooring space. They must get sick of day trippers waving like there is no tomorrow going by. As we continued on we passed our first boat. The family on boat, were very friendly and “wavy”, but also had a dog. “What’s your dog called?”, Chris’s youngest yelled. The reply was only just audible through the noise of the motor.
As were turned the corner towards Hickling Broad, there was a fisherman sat in between some reeds. “Have you caught any fish?” we yelled. A boat passed us with an onboard dog on the other side “What’s your Dog called?”. Another Fisherman was on the right “Caught any fish?”. We didn’t realise that this section of the broads was a little private fishing zone. There were loads of guys fishing every 20 – 30 meters. As we’d started we couldn’t stop the kids continuing the Picnic boat tourettes. They hollered the fish enquiry for the full stretch.
Hickling broad opens up into a larger wetland nature reserve, full of wildlife and… reeds. You see this is what I’d not really realised. My ideology of boating on the broads, was infact barging on a canal. Miles of reeds is the reality, while I was expecting towpaths and canal walks. Chris sort of knew this and realised the travel time as 4 MPH to our first port of call (Horsey Wind Pump) would take a while. He got board of crawling along the waterway and decided to swap steering for fidgeting. As I took control, he took the fold out table from under the seats and set up the dining facilities. Realising that it took up the entire walkway in the boat, it was put away within 5 minutes of it being set up.
The journey was taking forever. A few more dog loving sailors passed, which also ignited a request for their pets name!
Google maps took over and was so much better than the printed map. We knew exactly where we were going and had an accurate direction. The entry to our first pitch up was in view.
Horsey Wind Pump
We’d done the sailing / cruising, next challenge was mooring up. Horsey Wind Pump is a National Trust property, that is an old windmill water pump. What was about to happen here we were not prepared for at all. There were so many thing that we’d never thought about and we soon realised that we were day trippers that stood out like day trippers on a hired boat.
The waterway towards Horsey started to narrow, wide enough for 2 boats to pass comfortable. We turned a corner and… Uh OH!! This looked like the equivalent of parking up in the middle of town. There were boats on both sides of the water, and the inlet was narrowing even more. The boats were beautiful sailing boats, yachts and nicely varnished wooden versions of our fibreglass bumper car. The further up we got the tighter it got. At one point there was about 6 inches space on both sides of our boat. At one point there was 0 inches space on one side of the boat and a good 12 inches on the other. Our amateur attempt caused a few dirty looks and we felt out of out depth.
We spotted a parking space and aimed for it. I grabbed a rope, leaped off the boat. Then didn’t know which peg to tie the rope to. The Thunderbird was starting to drift sideways in the “canal” and everyone was looking. Chris shouted advice, I pulled the rope around. By some miracle we did the equivalent of a hand brake turn on the water and were parked up pointing in the righty direction for our departure. If no one could have heard us we possible looked like we knew what we were doing.
Horsey Wind Pump was closed for refurbishment, so a National trust coffee and Cake session was all we could do. The toilets were immaculate and the site was spotless.
Back on the boat and ready to leave. As we started the engine, the varnished boat that we rubbed sides with left before us. We slowly followed along, as many other boat owners started to pull their ropes and adjust their boats positioning. We’d clearly been watched on the arrival, so no one wanted a close encounter with the Thunderbird.
We headed over to Hickling to a pub called the Pleasure boat inn.
The journey took around 2 hours. I’m going to skim over most of the next 4 hours as it was pretty un eventful, bar lots of reeds, water, onboard dogs and fishermen.
It was in the last hour that we started to see some amazing wildlife. We slowly stalked a Heron, in the reeds, who stayed still long enough for some photos. One section of broad was teaming with blue Dragonflies. I spend ages trying to photograph them, while we were moving, but the darted back and forth so quickly.
We returned the boat at exactly 4pm. It was a fun day out, but definitely one that was for a much slower pace. If the kids weren’t on board, I think we would have parked up and watched more wild life. Or simply sat in the serenity of a mild breeze rustling the reeds, bird calls and kids yelling “have you caught any fish?” Hickling broad was possibly a good one to start on as it was in parts like a huge lake. If we’d took the other direction we would have had to pay a pilot to drive our boat through a bridge. And if amount of boats at Horsey was an indication of traffic levels, we would have been bouncing all over along the other route.
I’m glad I’ve done it, but next time I definitely want to doe some barging on a Canal, stopping over night for a few days. We spotted a nice section in Birmingham last year, or even Llangollen in Wales would be fun. See if you can spot the moment we crashed in the following video!