The dull metallic clang of two cars colliding on the Thorpe Sainsbury’s roundabout marked the beginning of “Destination Tin Town”, or the repositioning of Sara’s sawn off yacht PERFECT LADY 2 and the marsh punt CUCKOO to our temporary summer moorings in Thorpe on part of the old J Hobrough, May Gurney site, now in private ownership, thanks for having us there Peter. We had been leaving a spare motor car at our new moorings when the collision took place in front of us as we drove home, having to skirt around the debris.
There are many reasons why the Thorpe area has relevance to our family and all this will be explained as we get going but in the meantime I will just remark that during the 1950’s when our boatyard was run from the buildings behind the Ferry public house on King Street Norwich the hire cruisers were occasionally moved during the winter season away from the bustling port area where they could quite easily get damaged by the coasters, lighters and barges. The boats were either moored up Trowse eye at a friendly watermans cottage or stored safely until they were wanted up one of the May Gurney’s dykes.
Sunday 9am, having loaded all our gear and the dogs aboard, and repaired a slight leak that CUCKOO had picked up with thick grease, we departed home. In bright sunshine we chugged down river, it didn’t seem particularly busy and in any case we were not in any rush as our tide across Breydon wasn’t until one thirty. I will not bore you with an endless description of the river as I am sure you will have passed that way many times before.
We had thought that Horning might be quite crowded as there was a boat show on but the show was either on the previous day only or was not apparent from the river. In any case there were moorings on Percy’s Island opposite to the Swan, at the New Inn, the Ferry and at the yard with the big silver Harnser sculpture, so in fact apart from the village staithe a mooring could certainly have been got here. Beyond St Benets Abbey there were surprisingly not many yachts about, we were pleased because as you may know we “Cant abear them owd yots a’ tacking about the show!”
In any case with an ebbing tide we slid swiftly onwards passing a yacht run hard up onto the rond bank at Upton and under Acle bridge and into the flat marshland beyond. Along the riverbanks from Horning there was hardly a section on one side or the other on which reed had not been cut and stacked for thatching and we could not remember ever seeing mile upon mile of this before, but where as at one time the motor wherries collected the reed from the riverbanks and transported it to a convenient staithe, it all appears to travel by road now. At 12.20 we pulled into moor at Stracey Arms to await the tide and let the dogs ashore as they had begun crossing their legs sometime back.
There was a fair amount of traffic passing through with the big gin palaces causing the most wash, one of the drivers peered down at us from his steering position way up on high and said as if apologising, “ Its the tide pushing us.” No, it’s because youv’e got your throttles fully open on a totally unsuitable broads boat, like all those type, at speed they simply dig there arses down and cause a terrific nuisance to every one with their tremendous wash.
Having departed Stracey we amble toward Yarmouth behind a motor cruiser that swings into moor at the yacht station leaving us to pass under the road bridge and the tram bridge sheathed in cladding and out onto Breydon around the Knowle. Lee Barbers has been flattened although the wildfowler’s houseboat and punt remains still lay upon the beach. Under the lift bridge emerges Punt Palmer on our ROYALL STUART, we are the only two motor boats on Breydons vast sparkling expanse and we have timed it perfectly. Graham is named after a rather flamboyantly dressed gentleman gunner mentioned in Arthur Patterson’s books. We all salute each other and Wilf (the dog) and Ros wave as they disappear up the North End and we pass under the bridge.
Two yachts are split arsing about, one hoists its gear and slowly overhauls us in the brisk breeze, but not until near the Narrows at the Burgh Castle end. Mostly the mud banks are awash and May is not the best time for bird watching on Breydon, although godwit day takes place soon but we do see a lot of shelducks, avocets and maybe a few shovelers.
The Norwich river is quiet, the flood pushes us onwards and we look longingly at the Polky’s mill moorings but we want to get a little further upriver. Soon Reedham up on its wooded ridge can be seen with the church tower silhouetted against the bright cloudless sky. Great grandfather Chris Royall used occasionally to moor his trading wherry on Reedham quay, maybe he wanted a pint in the Nelson, but he also had his eye on the landlords daughter, Alice, engaged to a railway man. On the day of Alice’s eighteenth birthday, her father who was also a wheel wright and general all rounder was up the church tower repairing the clock when he slipped and fell to the bottom of the tower stairs or ladder where he was mortally hurt. In his pocket was found his present for Alice, a gold sovereign. After this, Alice’s mother ran the Nelson, and Alice married Chris, despite the railway man. Chris was working for the Loddon company of Wood Sadd and Moore up the nearby river Chet, and that is where we are heading once we have paused to allow the Reedham chain ferry to cross the river.
One of the footbridges above an entrance dyke to the flood is under repair with a works platform floating alongside. On the opposite bank lays old Blucher Thains steel motor wherry JUNIOR loaded with flints and listing slightly. She was built for Bob Thain to replace the ex sailing wooden motor wherry FIR but the situation altered and it wasn’t until both Bob and JUNIOR began work for May Gurney later that they were united.
The moorings are fairly busy and barbeques out in smoky force, so we turn the fleet using the quant pole and chug back toward a newly dredged area of river at the bottom end of the flood. Here we plant two quant poles upright in the mud to keep PERFECT LADY from going aground and chuck the boarding plank ashore over which the dogs daintily trot for a quick walk along the riverbank up to the old concrete staithe where sugar beet was loaded into the motor wherries for transhipment to nearby Cantley, the afore mentioned FIR being one of them and it is not unlikely that JUNIOR might have done a freight or two from here also.
A spectacular sunset brings the day to a close. Shelduck in unheard of numbers swim and fly about the flood as trips of wild duck zoom in with lowered paddles to splash down. The pizzas are ready for tea and then we will shut up shop to keep the gnats out and turn in as it is very tiring on the river - Good night.