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Castles and canoes for Redbridge 18 Plus (Extented)

Having holidayed on the Norfolk Broads for some 15 – 20 years with my 18 Plus Group, I opened it to EFOG members and 3 of them (Fozi, Marian and Ian) took the plunge (not literally) for the weekend. Here’s a summary of the weekend.

Arriving at Stratford station I made my way to the café to see who else had arrived. Three of my Plus group were already there, so I wandered off to see if anyone was waiting on the platform. On returning, Fozi and Ian had arrived and were chatting with the others. Marian and the other Plusser’s soon arrived and so we went for our train. At Acle station we met with Steve, the last of the group. The four EFOG folk (me included) plus Francesca, who was on our boat during the day, piled into his car for the short ride to the boat yard. Having checked in and gone through the daily checks we needed to carry out, and with the others having settled on their boat, we were ready to cast off for our adventure on the high seas (well the rivers Thurne, Bure and Ant).

I took the boat out of the boatyard and after a short stint at the helm, it was time for the Efog folk to have a go at the helm. Marian and Ian had previously been on canal boats so had some experience, although the cruisers handle quite differently from narrow boats, whereas Fozi had never done anything like this before. Many beginners over-compensate if the boat goes slightly off course, so end up zig-zagging across the river. However, all three of them did a superb job of handling the boat, keeping it on line and over to the correct side of the river (mostly!). I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it was their first time at the helm of a 40 foot cruiser.

Our stop on the first night was Salhouse Broad, a quiet (I thought!) broad off the main river, which required us to moor stern (the back of the boat) on. With Marian, Ian and Fran to guide us and handle the ropes at the back, we slowly reversed the boat against the bank (almost looking like I knew what I was doing!) and tied up for the night. The weather had been perfect, everyone had done well, and it was an ideal spot to moor. After a walk along woodland tracks and country lanes to the local pub, for some food and drink, we returned to the boat for a good night’s kip, With just 4 of us on a boat which could take 8 people it meant we had plenty of space.

I awoke at 4.30 to hear the rain hammering down on the boat, only challenged in its’ intensity, by probably the loudest dawn chorus I’ve ever heard. Now I like wildlife as much as most people, but at 4.30 a.m, ducks geese and other assorted birdlife, please BE QUIET!. After a leisurely breakfast, and having filled up the boat’s water tanks, we headed off to the town of Wroxham. Unlike yesterday, when the fine weather meant we had the roof of the boat down, we had to have the roof closed today, with me standing outside in the drizzle, leaving the steering to the rest of the crew, who were really getting the hang of it. At Wroxham, we found a riverside cafe, and watched the professional bridge pilots taking hire boats through the low and narrow arched bridge, making it look easy.

Departing Wroxham, we headed back down the river, along which we had come, passing the village of Horning, and heading up the picturesque but narrow river Ant, probably my favourite river on the Broads, to Stalham. We passed under the low and narrow Ludham Bridge, passing How Hill nature reserve and the wide expansive Barton Broads, now with the boat’s roof down, enjoying the glorious sunshine, which the afternoon brought. As we approached Stalham, with woods either side of the river, we spotted our first kingfisher, darting low across the water (5 spotted during the week, our best total ever).

Monday morning saw Fozi having to leave us to get home, so after “chef Steve” had cooked breakfast for both boats, Fozi caught a taxi back to Wroxham to catch the train. We then cast off, heading back down the river Ant. We stopped at How Hill for a break. Some headed out around the nature trail, some looking around the marsh-man’s cottage and gardens, whilst others were more interested in the contents of the ice cream fridge! After How Hill we then made our way to moor up for an afternoon stop at St. Benet’s Abbey, the remains of an old abbey, and somewhere we had never stopped before. Marian, Ian and some of the others went to look around the remains whilst I stayed with the boats. This would be our last stop with the 2 boats travelling together, as the other boat, which was booked for a week, was heading across Breydon Water to the southern broads whilst we were going to either Ranworth or Ludham, to return to the boatyard next morning.

With everyone having returned, we said farewell to the folk on the other boat. Fran having decided to stay with us, we cast off and headed to Ranworth, a short cruise away. Ranworth (or diesel-water as we usually call it!) is very popular and looked to be full, but as we approached the moorings, a boat left so we went into the vacated space. Marian wandered off to explore the area, whilst Fran, Ian and I spent some time at the moorings before visiting St Helen’s Church, where we met up with Marian, who had been up the church tower to enjoy the panoramic views of the Broads from the tower. We then visited the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserve, watching some of the birdlife on the broads.

Tuesday morning was an early start as we had an hour’s cruising to get the boat back to the yard by 9 a.m. This gave everyone a chance for one final spell at the helm. Arriving at the boatyard we moored up, and headed for the cafe , and met Steve who was also going home today. He drove us to Acle, where Marian and Ian were catching the train, and then dropped Fran and I off at Reedham to join up with Elliott and (young) Dean for the rest of the week.

It was a really enjoyable weekend, very relaxing and Fozi, Marian and Ian all did a fantastic job in helping on the boat, both at the helm and doing the ropes when mooring up and casting off (Fran and I weren’t bad either). Any takers for next year!. One last thing for those who went, Fran took the helm for a stern on mooring on the last night and landed it faultlessly at the first attempt.

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