Categories: Travelogue

by chris


A hesitant start from Wroxham to Loddon (Pyes Mill Mooring)

Our summer cruise was intended to start on the Monday, leaving Ranworth for an early Breydon water crossing however this plan failed when the original braised exhaust flange which bolts to the cooling water injection elbow failed, filling the engine compartment with water and fumes. Our mechanical saviour, Martin, kindly patched the elbow until a new exhaust elbow could be shipped to us for the Monday afternoon. Rather than sit around waiting, we cruised to Wroxham where we met up to replace with an offset injection elbow dispensing with the additional flanged part. A bit of cable re-routing and drilling was required but by nightfall we were back in commission.

This stutter in the plans did mean that we needed to catch an 8am tide at Yarmouth requiring us to slip moorings at 3:30 in the morning, in the dark under navigation lights. It was a calm and clear night but only moderately tricky to make out the river. What was a little disconcerting was the sound of someone shuffling around our lines around 3am before we got up at Wroxham !

The trip through the sunrise into the day proper was magical with wisps of mist covering the water as we passed St Bennets.

Crossing Breydon was uneventful having hit the tidal window to perfection passing the Berney Arms and Reedham with an open swing bridge. Entrance into the River Chet went smoothly although things started to cloud over; a sign of things to come for our summer cruise.

Pyes Mill Loddon to Norwich ending at Bramerton Common

The weather wasn’t looking great for Tuesday with sunny skies rapidly switching to grey showers. It was ideal for a run into Norwich to visit the market (and my daughter’s favourite bubble tea shop) along with sorting out provisions, laundry and fuel. The weekends are said to be a shade rowdy and recommendations to drop a mud weight and pass mooring lines through ringed bollards seem to verify concerns. We hoped to get some laundry done at the Yacht Station however they didn’t have the facilities so we ended up wandering back and forth through Norwich later in the day trying to find an open laundrette. We did find an open and friendly one having skipped one which looked filthy with most of the machines being broken. The walking directions by phone did pose their own problems, directing us through dubious areas with us looking like we were lost with phone in hand ready for easy pickings by muggers. We did have a couple of moments after 18:00 which were uncomfortable such as a group of weed-smoking youths listening to drill which prompted me to pick up my pace. On the whole, in ‘office hours’, Norwich does remain charming and vibrant with a far more pleasant atmosphere than Ipswich for example.

E95 petrol was available at the nearby Jet petrol station, just across Foundry Bridge and pretty much all major supermarkets are represented nearby.

It was certainly an enjoyable excursion into civilisation, but equally pleasant to get back out again. On the way in to Norwich we did encounter the fellow (Nick) who bought our previous sailing boat from us at the helm of a Freeman 26 and had a great little catch-up mid-river near Postwick Viaduct.

We decided to stop for the night at an old favourite mooring, Bramerton Common which surprisingly had plenty of spaces. We were told by phone message that a boat had caught fire, burned to the waterline and sank in the area but found no evidence to support this. It was probably someone getting mixed up with a ‘bathtub’ succumbing to that disastrous fate a couple of weeks before in Wroxham.

Bramerton Common to Brundall Church Fen

Only a short hop today from Bramerton to Brundall with a stop off for a fantastic breakfast in the sun at The Ferry House. The pub serves excellent ‘Pub Grub’ and represents great value. Service has always come with a smile and this morning was no exception. There was plenty of easy mooring space and as patrons, there was no mooring charge. This is a great approach as it really does encourage me to stop by for a bite to eat or a drink over some locations, particularly on the northern broads, which charge handsomely resulting in people mooring for longer than they need to in order to get their money’s worth.

We arranged to meet Martin at Brundall Church Fen moorings as he decided to join us for the next few days to cruise in company on Wey Rambler. There’s a ten minute walk along a straight boardwalk through the wilderness, lined with orchids and further along, brambles to a railway crossing and moderately steep loose track up to the main road into Brundall, close to a small garden and homewares shop, Chineese takeaway and reasonably well stocked mini market. It’s actually a quicker walk from the Church Fen mooring than from the main Brundall marinas and yards.

I bought a bag of sugar from the mini-market and a large tupperware tub which I then filled with blackberries on the way back. Then without a recipe as such, proceeded to make blackberry jelly on the boat. I was worried about it setting as I didn’t have jam sugar but in fact it set too well and could be sliced !

My daughter decided to do a spot of fishing and successfully caught a tree. We did manage to recover the tackle however.

Our next stop was to be Beccles.

Brundall to Beccles

With Martin’s family having joined his boat it was time for a slightly longer leg to get to Beccles to make use of their facilities, re-provision and fill up on fuel.

The trip went without a hitch, encountering many Freeman’s en-route, perhaps because it was a bank holiday weekend. Martin, who is a mobile mechanic recently specialising in boat engines, had to stop off to complete a small job on a Freeman 22 MK1 in St. Olaves Marina. We popped in briefly and then continued on our way through Somerleyton swing bridge heading further south.

The heavens decided to open at this point with a fairly fierce thunderstorm shaking it’s fist at us.

We arrived at Beccles to find there was ‘no room at the inn’ with a Broom motorboat owner’s meet being held with the basin bursting at the seams. As we really needed supplies we rafted both our boats on the only available public mooring just before the Beccles New Bridge. We did this properly with all the appropriate springs and lines running ashore from both boats.

After some provisioning and re-fuelling we settled in for the night although the children on Wey Rambler were restricted to quarters as crossing boats onto the staithe could have been a little unsafe. Provisioned with fishing bait we were ready to cruise to the limit of southern navigation, Geldeston Lock, the following morning.

Southern limit of navigation at Geldeston Lock

We seemed to have a talent at unintentionally finding all the busiest spots on the Southern Broads despite the waterway being quieter than previous years due to the cost of boating. In Beccles we clashed with the Broom owners rally and heading to Geldeston we were tipped off that the chances of finding a mooring were less than slim owing to the Locks Inn Community Pub hosting a sausage and cider festival. We thought we’d give it a go anyway under the threat of having to wild moor if necessary.  It was low tide, so no trouble leaving Beccles under the old bridge and we stopped off at the Lido to re-fill our water tanks as we couldn’t get in to the Yacht Station. The cost for water was £3, a bit steep in my opinion but I guess it’s to dissuade live-aboard boaters from filling up nearby.

The stretch from Beccles to Geldeston is very similar to that of Wroxham to Coltishall – absolutely beautiful and fairly inaccessible to most hire boats and larger vessels. It does mean a profusion of paddleboarders and canoeists but we all get along fine given a little mutual awareness.

Geldeston remains a favourite spot and as anticipated, the public staithe was jam packed. We chose to moor back to back at the meadow using rhond anchors, braving HUGE spiders wishing to make our white plastic hulls their new homes. (I put my hands up for resorting to chemical discouragement).

Everyone was quick to tackle up fishing rods, open beers and take in the live music playing from outside the pub. Sadly we didn’t join in as the pub prices were simply too steep.

It’s an amazing fishing spot with pretty much all fish species being represented. I caught a first with a tiny Chubb and some beautiful slabs of gold in the form of big Rudd. We fished into the night using mini glow-sticks mounted on floats from the boat cockpit, given occasional rain showers.

The following morning I meandered over the bridge, now quiet prior to being used as a diving platform later in the day. Swimming under it you could see shoals of perhaps ten or more big Chubb, perhaps a foot long cruising. Why do I never manage to catch fish like that !

Geldeston represented the watershed of our holiday and it was time to head back up to home waters and I put it to everyone we might try a bit of an epic trip from a Broads perspective…

The big one – The furthest south to the furthest north in a day

It was time to head back north to home waters but looking at the tide times for Yarmouth, it looked possible to make an epic one day voyage from the limit of navigation in the south at Geldeston lock, to the limit of navigation to the north at Dilham. Ideally we would consider this trip closer to the summer solstice with an early afternoon tide but as both boats are equipped with the correct navigation lights it was game-on to give it a go.

We departed Geldeston with the intention of a swift supplies top-up at Beccles now that the Broom flotilla had left. As it was close to high water, the bridge clearance at the Beccles Old Bridge was tight with us having to remove our windscreen and lower mast. I was quite surprised how quickly Martin managed to drop his on the realisation he wasn’t going to fit under otherwise.

We managed to find a spot to stay in the Yacht Station and made a dash for Angling Direct and the Tesco’s next door to top up on bait, hooks and food. Of course all of this took longer than intended and we found ourselves chasing the tide up to Breydon Water. We made good time with the ebb tide pushing us through St Olaves like a squeezed pip. A medium sized cabin cruiser bailed out of going under St. Olaves Bridge with only meters to spare against the tide. They would have just made it.

The throttle was opened up to 1800 rpm and we had a good run across the open water without having to fight the tide. Martin on Wey Rambler found his engine starting to run erratically so we accompanied him limping in to the Yarmouth Yacht station to see what was going on. Martin dis-assembled his carb, cleaning out the jets, the smallest appearing clogged although it shouldn’t have given a new fuel filter and fuel pump. He got Wey Rambler running again and we were now into the northern territories up towards Stokesby.

Martin started to have problems again and mud weighting close to the reeds gave him a chance to trace the problem. It looked like his coil was overheating with the stop-off at Yarmouth having previously allowed it to cool down and run again for a while. Fortunately I had a working spare coil on White Lady left over from an upgrade to electronic ignition. Martin fitted the coil but knew his problem was most likely pitted points.

We continued passing under Acle Bridge, Thurne mouth and up past St. Benets Abbey ruins then hanging a sharp right into the River Ant towards Ludham Bridge.

It was beginning to get dark with navigation lights on. There was plenty of clearance under Ludham Bridge with the moorings being typically congested. Fortunately at this time of night there were no boat movements.

Passing How Hill, I began to run out of light to take photographs but had sufficient night vision to navigate safely going past Irstead Staithe which was remarkably empty of any boats. The Ant opened out into Barton Broad presenting the first major navigational challenge given that there are no lit markers. We could reasonably clearly make out the stakes on our starboard side so chose to follow them, leaving the ‘island’ to out port side. At this point, using Google Earth on a tablet at lowest brightness became invaluable showing us where on the broad we were.

The Broad started to funnel back into a narrow river and we were careful to turn to starboard at the triangle of land that sends you to Barton Turf or on towards Hunsett Windmill. The windmill was illuminated and made for a good landmark but we were now in uncharted territory. Martin was ahead of us but we chose to maintain our own pilotage rather than blindly follow. Picking out the corners of bends with a narrow beamed torch was very successful as the river continued towards Wayford.

Martin tried to message us that Wayford Bridge would be quite low, but we had it in hand lowering our mast but not needing to drop the screen.

Beyond the bridge, the river broadened for a short distance, next to the floating holiday platforms but quickly narrowed to a tree-lined and weedy gutway. At this point our deck-mounted search light would have worked well as preserving night vision was less of an issue given the width of the river and the catchment of the searchlight being sufficient to cover both banks.

There were a couple of dog-legs and a fork in the creek but we could then see the lights of houses on the port side of the boat. The moment of truth was about to arrive… Would there be any moorings available ?

We were in luck ! The moorings at Dilham were thankfully completely clear. We arrived at around 10pm and toasted with a celebratory cherry brandy and Coke (although I’m a rum kinda guy)

53 miles, south to north in one day using around 13l of fuel, mostly cruising at 1300 revs, tide either slack or in our favour for most of the trip.

Dillham and meandering home

Following the extended trip back into home territory, we spent out last couple of cruising days exploring parts of the Ant which we hadn’t explored before such as Stalham, which is like a huge caravan park for boats. It has a charm with the tiny public mooring sitting in a cute little corner near the Broads Museum. It’s also a fairly short walk to a reasonably large Tesco’s which I think also sells petrol.

The Broads Museum was pleasant to browse around but it was expensive at £7 per adult. The entry fee does allow you to visit free of additional charge for 12 months, which is handy as they closed before I could look at everything. Certainly worth supporting though.

We decided to spend our last day cruising in company with Martin and family by heading to Gaye’s Staithe as neither of us had moored there before. It was a really nice spot and we managed to tuck in to a far corner. Fishing was good and most people seemed to wander up to the pub at Neatishead. All of us on White Lady opted for a fairly early night given there was not mobile signal to watch a movie.

The following morning we decided to try and top up on bait for a final night on our own, fishing at either Cockshoot Dyke for Perch or Fleet Dyke on the way to South Walsham. I phoned  the shop on the Womack Staithe to see if they had any worms and was told they had, so made a detour with the boat to buy some. Womack Staithe and the public moorings beforehand were rammed with people on mud weights waiting for moorings to clear. We managed to pull alongside an amiable chap’s boat next to the pump out berth that was happy for us to dive into the shop and back out again. On going to the shop, an extremely unhelpful shop assistant told us and the previous customers that they had no bait, muttering tones of complaint under her breath. I was then directed to go to Horning for bait but as I left she added, almost with glee, that the Horning shop was shut. It’s a real shame to have that kind of laisse faire service as it really won’t tempt me to return any time soon and local shops claim to be struggling.

We then took stock of our maggot supplies and concluded we had enough for a minor session to close off our trip. Once we got to Fleet Dyke we even had a bash at digging for worms with a rhond anchor – Not incredibly successful but fun nonetheless.

The following morning we returned to our home berth at Ranworth to tidy up and wash the boat down for our next adventure.

A huge thank you to Martin and Kelly Bulldeath for taking photos of us whilst underway, cruising in company and particular thanks to Martin for sorting out our exhaust manifold which failed at the start of our trip.