Norfolk Broads Picnic Weekend

The East Coast S&CA moved inland a little in September for a weekend on the beautiful Norfolk Broads. The advance party assembled at Martham Boat Yard late on Friday afternoon to take possession of our flotilla of traditional wooden boats: two gaff-rigged yachts (Japonica 1 & 7) and a six-berth motor cruiser (Judith V).

Having sailed from Martham as a teenager in the eighties I knew roughly what to expect. These boats, built in the 40s and 50s, have seen a lot of use and they’re not shiny, but everything works and they have bucketfuls of character (and bilge water) that the newer plastic bathtubs lack. A bit of a shock for some members, though! The boat yard toilets hadn’t even benefited from the basic maintenance and cleaning afforded the boats, and were truly frightening!

Since we weren’t fully assembled until after dark, we strolled through a beautiful Norfolk sunset to Martham village and the Victoria Inn. A local pub for local people, so a combination of not being local and the landlord preparing for a Saturday wedding reception meant that it was scampi and chips or chicken in a basket for dinner, but the Greene King IPA was in good shape.

An early challenge on Saturday morning was Potter Heigham bridge, just inches taller than our cruiser. We had to take on the bridge pilot who sagely advised “you can sit on the back if you like, but you won’t be there on the other side” and proceeded to whizz us under at frightening full throttle. The yachts didn’t need pilots but had to work out how to unhitch all the knitting and drop their counterbalanced masts into their ready-and-waiting low crutches.

Moored by mud-weight for lunch in the middle of beautiful South Walsham broad, we were joined by one of our local hosts Chris in Tim’s mast-less Colvic-Watson. He filled us in on local gossip and on Broads background. The rivers are natural but the broads themselves are the man-made result of peat cutting, dating back a thousand years or more.

Lack of wind meant that we didn’t make it to Wroxham but Tim and Chris found us moorings at the boatyard next to the New Inn in Horning. Air Hockey and a six-sided pool table provided entertainment either side of dinner for fifteen in the New Inn. The food was okay but the company (and the beer and the wine) more than made up for any lack of culinary sparkle.

Sunday brought some welcome wind for the yachts and those of us on the cruiser began to wish we’d opted for sail instead. River sailing brings its own challenges: Nick, John, Robert and Mike had a couple of close encounters with the bank with consequent deployment of the quant (sturdy punt pole). We squeezed into the staithe at Ranworth and worked up an appetite by climbing the 87 steps and two step ladders of the church tower for great views across the broads. A picnic followed on the grass by the staithe, filling up on endless and delicious roast chicken and pesto sandwiches courtesy of Paul and Jimmy. We exchanged waves with the crew of a posh plastic hire cruiser sporting a big rainbow flag – perhaps we need flyers and membership forms to hand out in such circumstances?

With demon driver Graeme at the wheel, Judith raced back to be at Potter Heigham before the pilot went home at 4.30, only to find him otherwise occupied until almost 5.30. But this let us admire the honed skills of Japonica 1 as she dropped her mast under way and shot the bridge. Safely back at Martham we went out separate ways, some staying on to return the boats on Monday morning.

The Broads are very pretty and very relaxing, ideal for a low-stress weekend afloat, and this may become an annual fixture. Many thanks to Tim Hallam for the original idea, recommendations and local knowledge, and to Graeme Thompson (VC East Coast) for coordinating and cajoling.

More photos in my gallery.

Leave a Comment