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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. (Or an Autumn week aboard Contessa.)


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The good fortune of living in Leicestershire is that we observe a different school holiday pattern to the masses. This week is half term which offers excellent value for boat hire. On that basis, we would be foolish not to take the opportunity for one last look at Norfolk before winter sets in, and like all good bears I hibernate. It's twelve months since we booked Contessa, from Richardson's for a northern week, taking advantage of the early booking discount on top of the already very competitive for this ageing tub of a six (originally eight) berth twin steer Aquafibre 37.


This boating holiday number 60, the 50th on the Broads and second visit to Richardson's, the first being 21 years ago. We usually hire Princess from Pacific at Loddon but having spent the last time out purely on the Southern rivers we decided this time for a northern only week, and Contessa is the ideal solution, sister ship as she is to Princess. I'm very impressed with the boat, so much so that I shall cover that separately, rather than take up pages of this holiday tale.


One point of note, a long standing record was lost this holiday. In all of those previous 59 holidays we had never started in wet weather. Sadly today that claim can no longer be made.


We had hoped that our old mate Roya would be able to join us for a couple of days afloat, there being plenty of room on board, but sadly that hasn't been possible but we stopped in at Lynn on the way and caught up with news, not to mention partake of a good feed courtesy of Gill and a plate full of sausage cobs. That left a slightly different route to the Broads for us. Instead of returning to the A47 we took the Cromer road from Lynn, then turned through Melton Constable and Aylsham, North Walsham and on to Stalham. That's a lovely route and avoids that rotten stretch of the A47 between Lynn and Swaffham.


We arrived at the boatyard around twenty past two. Take over time is 4pm but the confirmation said the boat may be ready early and we checked in to be told she was indeed ready and waiting. A visit to the bouyancy aid shed, then on to Swan Quay where the boat was sitting waiting for us. A an appeared from the arrivals office and checked our paperwork and assigned a colleague to check over the boat with us which he did straight away. Are you comfortable taking the boat out of the yard? He asked. With that formalities were concluded and we loaded the boat, parked the car and headed out for the open river. I noticed a weathered eye watching us as we manouvered through the moored boats, just checking that we were indeed as competent as we claimed, no doubt.


We had just left the boatyard, when the race began. A formula one grid has nothing on the exodus from Richardson's yard on a Saturday afternoon and quickly one, then two then three boats came past us with engines roaring. They'll just about make Beccles before dark I joked with Elaine. It didn't matter to us, our first night destination was Sutton Staithe and, as the case for the rest of the week were in no hurry. Moorings are rarely full at this time of the year. We has a pleasant cruise through Sutton Broad and indeed, as we approached there was plenty of space on “Sutton Staithe 2”, though the original staithe further along was fully occupied, with several of the boats looking as if they didn't often move very far. I wonder if the Rangers ever make it to this forgotten little corner of the Broads?


The weather remains unsettled, with periods of quite sharp rain, persuading us against a foray to the pub, instead we cook on board and finish stowing the gear away. There is so much room on this boat that once finished you can hardly tell anyone is on board, with plenty of storage throughout the cabins and wheelhouse. A last woodbine topsides then we turn in for an early night. The fresh air and peaceful location invokes the sleep of the dead.

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Mellow fruitfulness, I like that, sums up autumn a treat. Today my wife and I headed off up the Waveney looking for that fruitfulness, a free meal. Marsh mushrooms, the blacker the better, and probably what will be the last of this years blackberries. Blackberry & apple pie, bacon & mushrooms, yummy! Enjoy, Paul, the nights are getting colder but the mellowness of autumn takes some beating.

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Sunday. A Bridge Too Far (or Why Not To Take The Wife To Lathams, part 1)

Sunday dawns grey and overcast, there is little promise in the sky of the sunny intervals which the forecast had promised. At home, Sunday morning means Radio Leicester's "Clueless", the local version of Norfolk's Treasure Quest, and so at 9:00 on goes the radio and it's David Clayton time. The first clue this morning seems to be taking Sophie to Stalham and Jamie thinks it's well cool that the radio car will soon be passing the end of the lane. We listen along as we eat a leisurely breakfast before leaving Sutton at precisely 10am. The plan for today is to head down river, that is as much as a plan as we have this far. The Ant is as pretty as ever. It may be grey and gloomy but it is not cold, it's a thin fleece day. We take a trip around The Heater past Cox's boatyard before heading out on to Barton Broad. Pennygate Staithe at Barton Turf is one of my favourite moorings and I note with some consternation that even the Broads Authority seem to be calling it Barton Staithe nowadays. As we exit Barton towards Irstead we pass the ranger heading upriver. I ask if there is any danger of sunshine today. Apparently there was a brief interval earlier that morning downriver but our tardiness means we have missed it. Never mind. We continue on through the pretty village of Irstead at barely tickover pace. These Aquafibres do tend to move very nicely through the water at low rpm, and this one is no different. We make our way past the lovely houses with hardly a ripple on the water. Once we leave Irstead behind it is not long before the post mill at How Hill comes into view. There is also a spit of rain in the air, not enough to force me inside to the lower helm but the clouds are building. It's looking black over Bill's mothers, as we say in our parts.

The work on the moorings alongside How Hill have made an excellent stop over location but they haven't half made the river narrow. With a string of moored boats, and a string of oncoming vessels, not all of which are being steered in as straight a line as might be, it proves quite a challenge to pass safely. Contessa hugs the starboard bank and makes her way along with hardly a nudge to the steering.

Between How Hill and Ludham Bridge we are joined by a kingfisher, darting low along the river just in front of us before coming to rest in a bush just a little way ahead. Sadly, the drizzle means that the camera has gone inside and before it can be recovered the kingfisher has long gone. It seems to be my luck. I see plenty, but photograph none! During the cruise downriver we have formed our plan for the day. Potter Heigham, Lathams and a coffee, then either Womack Staithe or Thurne Dyke.

The sight of moored boats means Ludham Bridge lies just around the bend in front of us. I had not given much thought to the tides today, these boats normally go under at most states of the tide and now, around 11:30 the water looks pretty slack. Slack, but quite high. I wasn't to realise quite how high until we made the bridge itself. The board shows the river lapping squarely on the 8 foot line. Not good as our clearance is listed at 8 foot 4. I turn the boat and we pass the demasting mooring and tie up for closer investigation. The boards by the upper and lower helm both state a clearance of 9'6, the handbook states 8'4. I know the latter to be correct. Princess is listed at 8'3 and there is little reason why they should be much different. Still, that makes me four inches short. The water is slack. No movement whatsoever. This could be bad news. If we can't make Ludham bridge then a week on the Ant is starting to look likely. Don't get me wrong, I like the river Ant, but I'm not sure I can make a whole week of it. As I step ashore and head down towards the brodge the heavens open. The threatening clouds are now depositing their unwanted payload and I imagine I can almost see the river filling up as I watch the bridge. I retreat to the shop, stock up on woodbines and stand under their umbrella whilst I sample one and consider the options. This is low tide. The next will be the middle of the night. We could take a walk along the lane to The Dog and catch up with Geoff and Lorraine but I have a feeling they are away. We could return to How Hill or Gay's and try again tomorrow. Whilst I am weighing the options Bolero clears the bridge. That gives me some initial hope but checking the handbook, which lists the heights of all Richardson's boats she is listed as 7'8 with the folding sides and windscreen lowered. Not much help there then.

I'm just about to announce the decision to head back to Neatished when Siesta motors past. She is a couple of inches taller than we are, and I'm sure I didn't see her go down. Thankfully she moors just above us and so I hop off and make the enquiry. Yes, they had just come under, with about three inches to spare. That does it, we'll head down and offer the boat up. There are times when we have virtually "legged" boats under Ludham Bridge with hands on the underside of the span and a fag paper to spare. The water is slack, there is little if any breeze so I should be able to inch the boat to the bridge and the benefit of an upper helm means you can line up precisely whilst still in control. I cast off and we head slowly to the bridge. I wave a little ankle biter past which has motored up behind us. I may be some time, there is no point in holding anyone else up, and the smaller the audience the better. That said, strangely enough the anglers on boats moored either side of the river next to the bridge suddenly become photographers. The cameras are produced, the video is rolling. Get this wrong and it's likely to be on Youtube before I can even call Clive and tell him his boat has been "redesigned".

I will point out at this point that the port side handrail is already showing the signs of over close contact with the underside of a bridge, and Ludham would be my guess. There is a small dent in it at the very front. Given the conditions I am confident we will not enlarge it. The TV aerial is taken down, the helmsman's chair laid over as it projects above the roof and kneeling at the helm I inch contessa towards the bridge. I've lost an inch with my procrastination, the 8 foot line is now underwater. Line of sight along the highest point of the cabin roof is the trick here, and it looks good. A clear flash of daylight between roof and bridge. Even so I am taking no chances. Into reverse and arrest all forward motion about three yards short of the bridge. Still looking good, in fact, it doesn't even look close. Ease the throttle forward, click, idle ahead. Contessa starts to move as if in slow motion. At this speed there is no helm control but I would rather nudge the bank edges with the rubbing strip that the span with the cabin roof! The front rail is under the span now, the wheelhouse roof is next.

At this point I offer apologies to the camera crews waiting for their picture of a lifetime. The gap between bridge and boat is a good eight inches. I can almost hear the sigh of disappointment. Sorry if anyone was planning to collect their £250 from the dozy bint on You've Been Framed (or whoever presents that dreadful program now). No pay days today. I ease the throttle forward to restore helm control and we motor under with ease. I needn't have taken the aerial off the roof there is so much clearance.

So an 8'4 boat goes under a 7'11 bridge with 8 inches of clearance. And they say you can't change the laws of physics.

We motor down towards the river mouth. Westminster Bridge closes on us from behind, I hear it before I see it but when it does come into sight it looks like a destroyer on monouvres, spray and wash everywhere. They pass us round the outside of a right hand bend but are lucky. The boat coming the other way, which I can see from my raised helm, but they cannot is just far enough away to give them room to complete the pass. Strangely however, having moved past they make no attempt to move back to the right side of the river. The oncoming boat, a grey Richardson's bathtub takes evasive action and visits the reeds to avoid contact. Clive, if such a boat comes back with a scratch or two I can so vouch that it was not your hirers fault. He and I shrug to each other, wave and continue on our separate paths.

We reach the river mouth and turn left, towards Potter Heigham. I hear a groan from my pocket. The credit card has realised what is happening.

Edited by Paul
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Part 2

As we pass the entrance to South Walsham a familiar noise comes from astern. Westminster Bridge is lining us up again. Don't ask what happened, how come they are behind us again. I guess they turned the wrong way at the Ant Mouth, or changed their minds. I wonder if they realise that displacement hulls don't plane? Actually, they are having a dam good try. As they disappear into the distance we pass the long line of fisherman which always seems to line the banks by St Bennets Abbey. In the days when I fished I never seemed to do any good along there, but it is halied as the Mecca of the Northern Rivers. Perhaps the fact that I was a rubbish angler had something to do with it. A few hasty conversations as we pass by suggests today inhabitants are doing little better than I did. The waters too cold apparetnly, at least at this end. Further down it will be "too clear". Never heard that one before. I do like taking my time. I can sit back and talk to people as we pass by. At least the rain has stopped.

As we continue along the river, round those big looping bends before Thurne Mouth a familiar boat moves alongside us, at a more leisurely pace. The Corsican joins us for a few minutes. She's a good looking boat and well kept. We exchange hellos and as she heads down river towards Acle and Yarmouth we enter the Thurne, bound for Potter.

I like the River Thurne, it is a little more wild than the other northern rivers, a little more authentic broads, to me at least. It's a pleasure to chug slowly along, passuing Thurne Dyke, Womack until at last we come to Shedland. I'm not sure when that label was first attached to Potter Heigham's bungalow strewn banks but it was certainly in use when we used to holiday in them back in the 70's and 80's for a half term fishing break. Today, they are far from sheds. Almost without exception they have been developed into very desirable riverside holiday homes. I love to look at the variety of them and pick out old favourites which I have hoildayed in, to note any changes, any new improvements. The river is very quiet today and most of the cottages seem empty. In fact there is an almost eerie quiet to Potter Heigham this afternoon. I think it was Chris De Burgh that sang about "an out of season holiday town in the rain" and that song runs through my head now.

As we approach the bridge I am not tempted to let the success of Ludham go to my head. I could hardly get a dayboat under Potter, the water is lapping the top of the bank almost and it is still far from high tide. I turn Contessa under the footbrodge and into Herbert Woods where I plan to top up the water. The yard is a hive of activity, no doubt getting ready for next weeks half term and the last hurrah of the season. The yard is pretty full but there is a stretch of empty key heading opposite the entrance. I slopt our boat neatly on the end and tie her stern on whilst I check she is not in the way. No probelm comes the reply. Water is there, if you need a pumpout ask at the shed over there. You are welcome to stay overnight but we would ask you to leave by 9:15 as we have a number of boats due back tomorrow. You can't beat that for a warm welcome. I confirm we need water, no pumpout (with two toilets between three people I am hoping we will last the week!) . We are not planning to stay overnight, there are plenty of spaces available on the river bank if we do decide to stay in Potter overnight, courtesy of the Thurne Bank Management Comitte who should be applauded for providing and maintaining a large number of free moorings along the riverside.


We head for Lathams. It's coffee first at flour & bean, or should I say coffee and cream buns! Well, we are on holiday! Refreshed, we attack Lathams. Gifts for home, sweets for the boat, a nice new dressing gown for jamie who never wears one at home so we did not realise that those he had were three sizes too small until we came to pack. We are entertaining twelve for Christmas lunch this year so we top up on table decorations, and Elaine took a fance to a Christmas laser projector!

That groan from the Credit Card is proving prophetic. Plastic bagless we haul sweets, garments, decorations, crackers et al back to the boat. Even Jamie is loaded down. We check the laser thingy works (it's a long way to bring it back if it doesn't!) fill up the water then cast off downstream to Womack. It's an equally pleasant journey back downstream, ticking over gently. I get the GPS speed app on the phone and guage the boat whilst we have the river to ourselves. 1000rpm gives us 3.2, 1200 is 4.4 and 1400 just over 5. Even at 1400 rpm there is hardly a ripple behind the boat. She does glide through the water very nicely.

We turn into Womack. Bank works here have led to a lot of vegetation clearance. Actually it looks like a disaster zone in the Amazon, but I guess it will soon grow back, but it does look wierd all exposed as it is. The moorings along the dyke are closed, they were my intended destination. Never mind, we continue to the staithe which has plenty of space but I decide against it in favour of Thurne. We head back towards the river past one of my favourite broadland homes, Little Holland. I'm not sure what it is about the house but it has been on and off the market for years, and if Zoopla is to be believed it is on again at the moment. I murmer a silent prayer for Tuesdays Euro numbers and we continue along. If the balls smile favourably you are all invited to the housewarming. Just to be on the safe side though I wouldn't bother buying the cards yet!

We make Thurne. My favoured mooring on the end of the dyke is Roped off and there are barrels all along the "pub" side saying "danger", "reserved" or simply "no mooring". It matters not, there is plenty of room on the farm side and I nudge the boat into a large gap. I plan to turn before mooring but I have found one, slight downside to Contessa. She has the turning circle of a supertanker. I land myself ashore and number one takes the helm. I swing her around the front rope and we tie up facing down the dyke, ready to leave in the morning.

We enjoy a pleasant evening. The threat of rain has been with us all day and the sky is looking threatening again, in fact it looks like a storm is brewing. Huge, deep black clouds swirling above us. Jamie feeds the ducks before we retreat below decks. I knock a chicken curry together, oven baked with fried rice. Chocolate Sponge and custard to follow. Heaven.

As we eat I track a boat heading up the river, nav lights blazing in the gathering gloom. A minute or two later it turns into the dyke and proceeds alongside the line of moored boats. It's a lovely Broom flybridge, 40 footer plus. It's a shame the owner doesn't have the brains to match his wealth and was able to work out what the wash from a boat that size travelling at speed in a narrow dyke does to moored boats. I catch the teapot as it flies off the table. The crash from the boat in front, followed by string of expletives suggest they were not so lucky. The boat moored at the top of the dyke, off loaded passengers and then left, at slightly (only very slightly) better speed.

What is it with people on the rivers now? If they are in so much of a hurry, why not use the roads?



Edited by Paul
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What a wonderful descriptive way you have, Paul.... I was just about to start a write up of yesterday's cruise from Brundall to here in Beccles when I decided to read your narrative.... I'm not too sure that I can come anywhere near your standards!   :clap

I'll go and have my morning bacon butty and cuppa and think about it! (I do have quite a few pics to show).

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Wow Paul, fantastic tale so far. Your title made me chuckle right at the start and I loved the Ludham Bridge section.

I'm glad Contessa compares favourably with Pacific Princess and as a Richardsons regular I'll be very interested to read more. I actually think Richardsons have priced Contessa in too low a bracket. For me, it's every bit as good as it's smaller sisters like San Julian but it's priced considerably less - very bizarre.

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Monday: A Quiet Ranworth, or Lucky Ducks!

So, where was I, ah yes, Thurne Dyke. I am writing this on Thursday, you will have to keep reading to find out where, but Thurne Dyke already seems a long time ago. We are in no rush, like the river we will get where we are going when the time is right. I look at the clock at 7:30, another hour between the sheets will do no harm. And so it is a lazy start to Monday. I am awakoen from my doze by Jamie banging around in the wheelhouse, he is old enough now to look after himself and the door to the deck is locked so he cannot get into any trouble. Let me rephrase that, he cannot come to any harm. I eventually decide to check on him, see that he is alright. He is happily playing and watching Milkshake on the TV. I put the kettle on and check on the store cupboard to see what we need to stock up on. There seems to be no bread. I am sure there were two loaves. Jamie, have you seen the bread? I don't know daddy. I don't know is Jamie speak for Yes Daddy, but I don't want to tell you! Jamie, why there are so many ducks around the boat? I don't know daddy. The outcome is that two loaves of Aldi's finest multigrain has been catapulted through the wheelhouse window to the waiting ducks. Wildfowlers in the Thurne area please be aware that the ducks are already stuffed! We have a leisurely breakfast, which needless to say does not involve toast, then walk into the Village. Thankfully Sid has a loaf in the shop and we restock, with a stern warning to Jamie that if it get's fed to the ducks, then so does he!

It's late morning before we cast off and head out towards the River Bure. I am so wrapt in admiration for the very smart boat heading towards us I almost ignore the helmsman waving frantically. In the end a shout of "Hello Paul" brings me back to reality. I know I should have recognised the boat, but I still associate Lord Paul with the old one. Sorry M'lord. We wave, shout hellos and continue on our way. It is a pleasant morning, overcast still but not cold and at least the outlook might hold a little sunshine later. But for now the grey skies accompany us up towards South Walsham, St Bennets, Ant Mouth and Ranworth, and we turn down the Dam. A lunchtime stop and Ice Creams are in order, plus I could do with refilling the woodbine supply. The staithe is not busy, yer read that again, not busy. About half full maybe along the front and just the odd boat moored down the side. I head for my preferred spot on the very end and ease Contessa in gently. It looked a perfect mooring, in truth I stopped to take stock and the wind blew us in just right. Don't tell the onlookers though. We visit the shop but at this end of the season there is not much in stock, but we do find Ice Creams, and very lovely they were to! Whilst we eat them I read through the Parish Council minutes pinned in the notice board. I note that they report the issue of dog fouling on the staithe to be improving. Sadly not today. Three great heaps along the quayside. I don't know if this is coming from boat borne animals, local dogs or ferral strays but I am guessing the former. Our little terrier is in the kennels this week. She used to come with us but is getting a bit long in the tooth now. She doesn't like the car so I'm guessing life alfoat would not suit her now. As a dog owner it sickens me that other owners show so little respect for the people around them by allowing dogs to foul, and not clean up after them.

The sun is starting to smile down and we leave Ranworth to continue our journey upstream. It is a lovely cruise up past St Bennets Church, Cockshoot and into Horning. The Ferry has a few boats moored alongside, plus three or four tied stern on by the car park. I thought the stern mooring at The Ferry had been discontinued? It certainly made that part of the river very narrow. We pass serenely by, admiring th properties along the river, dreaming of thos six numbers as always until we reach the staithe. There is space, two spaces in fact. I chose the on in the middle and we slide in, again assisted by a gentle onshore breeze which helos us into a gap about five feet longer than the boat.

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I noticed the same as you at Ranworth on the Thursday while we were out - plenty of room on the staithe.

I also thought the same about the stern on mooring that was going on by The Ferry and commented how tight it would have been through there if the river was busy.

That certainly is a lovely stretch from Ranworth to Horning ... a firm favourite especially when the yachts are safely tucked up in their beds! 

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We decide that Horning will suffice for an overnight stop. We visit the shop and stock up with fresh milk. As usual there is no signal for phone or wi-fi. We do get a decent TV signal though so we sit Jamie in front of c-beebies whilst I start writing the blog. It will have to wait to be uploaded, our plan is to head upriver to Wroxham tomorrow. We have stocked up with the vital bits but need food for the second half of the week so a visit to Roys is on the cards. Jamie could do with new school shoes, I note the ones he has been wearing are a bit scuffed plus there are a few people I would like to take presents back for. I'm thinking I'll even push the boat out and treat Elaine to a lunch at one of the places by the river. We share cooking duties during the evening but Elaine ends up doing the lunches, normally whilst I am driving the boat. Lunch by the river will be nice, especially if the weather is good tomorrow, which the forecast suggests it will be. I will also take the chance to bank a brownie point or two. We take the opportunity for a walk along to the New Inn for a beverage, catch up with Gus and give Jamie a chance to play in the arcade. A pint of Nelsons goes down a treat then we let Jamie loose on the machines. An hour later and several toys better off we head back for the boat, dinner and an early night.

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