It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a month since the end of our summer holiday in England. We packed a lot into our time there both up in the North West and in East Anglia. On our final week, we hired a day boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads, I took quite a few photos, so thought I’d share our day’s cruise with you.
Our first port of call that morning was Potter Heigham, where we collected the keys to our boat and our life jackets and had a quick driving lesson before negotiating our way out of the ‘parking space’ and out onto the water.
Within a few minutes, we were soon on our way and the dark clouds over head began to get a lot lighter… things were looking good.
Chugging along on the water gives you such a different perspective to things. First of all, you can’t do anything quickly. Even steering the boat takes an inordinately long time – or so it seems when you have a sailing boat bearing down on you at a fair lick.
You also get to see so many diffent things which you miss as you drive around the Broads by car. There were so many lovely houses backing onto the water.
They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and colours. Some were homes and others holiday rentals.
Of course, this being Norfolk, there were a fair few wind pumps on our route too.
We headed west from Potter Heigham on the River Bure towards Thurne, and then to St Benet’s Abbey.
Most of the other boats on the water were day hires like ours and holiday cruisers but there were some really beautiful wooden sailing boats too. Of course, these didn’t use their engines, just the wind to power them along. This meant that we had to give way to them, which wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, when your boat doesn’t want to slow down, go faster or turn exactly the way you want it to! We had one or two hairy moments trying to avoid collisions!
The wildlife we saw on our trip was varied. The Little Postcards had a list which they made of all the creatures we encountered along the way. This was our first heron.
After rather a lot of maneouvering about, we managed to dock at St Benet’s Abbey – a place I knew absolutely nothing about.
This family of swans soon cottoned onto the fact that we had a picnic lunch and came along to see what we had to spare!
After our refreshments, we followed the sign-posted path towards the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey.
All that really remains of the original Abbey is the gate house, with the addition of a Georgian mill.
The monastery (or what’s left of it) has been a venue of Christian worship for over 1,000 years. It’s thought it was settled by a small group of religious hermits as early as the 9th Century but that the Benedictine Abbey was established in the 1020s. It became a pivotal player in the development of the Broads and became a large land owner.
St Benet’s Abbey is unique in that it was the only one not to be closed by King Henry VIII, when he shut down the rest of the English Monastery’s in the 1530s. Instead, the Abbot at the time, Abbot Rugge, was made Bishop of Norwich and remained Abbot of St Benet’s in exchange for properties given to the Crown.
The Bishop of Norwich still conducts an annual service here on the first Sunday of August.
We were greeted by a very impressive dragon on our arrival at the Abbey. Made by local artists and children out of locally grown willow, yarn, ribbon and cloth, it was created to depict the legend of the Ludham Dragon, or the Ludham Wyrm.
A series of children’s paintings nearby told the story of the dragon, which used to live in tunnels under the church and occasionally came up from below to eat local farm animals and scare the villagers. One day when the dragon was out on the marshes, a local blacksmith blocked the entrance to the tunnel with a large stone. When it returned, it was furious and flew across the marshes to St Benet’s Abbey where it knocked down the walls in it’s fury and then went down into the tunnels beneath the Abbey, legend has it that it still sleeps there to this day.
The dragon project was produced by the Barrington Farm artists and Withy Arts with funding from the National Lottery. If you click on this link you can read all about how the Ludham Dragon was created on the Withy Arts blog, also how the Bishop of Norwich blessed the project on his annual visit to conduct the service at St Benet’s Abbey.
On the ‘inside’ of the Abbey walls, you can clearly see what used to be very grand architecture, which has somehow been commandeered into a mill!
It’s a very interesting building none-the-less with what look like bricked up windows up the internal walls.
On the internal side of the archway, some of the original carvings have only just survived the test of time.
There’s also a fair amount of carving of a less ‘professional’ yet no less interesting sort!
The soft stone was covered with ancient and modern graffiti.
It’s hard to imagine what the Abbey must have been like in it’s hey day, huge and dominating the surrounding countryside.
Beyond the gatehouse lay a field with a cross a the end. The cross marks the spot where the original altar would have stood and this is where the annual service takes place at the start of August.
It is a very tranquil place and so atmospheric. Made even more so by the sounds of choral music which can be heard emanating from a ‘talking’ bench nearby.
The Abbey stands in a very prominent position by the river side.
Our wander around the ruinous Abbey came to an end and we headed back to the quayside to pick up our boat again.
After lunch and a nice walk, a spot of crochet was in order as we cast off on our way…
I had no idea that there was a paddle steamer operating on the Broads…
We continued on our journey westward towards Ranworth Broad.
Cormorants were added to the Little Postcards’ list of wildlife which had been spotted.
Ranworth Broad was so pretty with so many beautiful homes backing onto the water.
Never before had I seen an ice-cream boat! It even played the tune to ‘Messing about on the River’ in the usual tinny ice cream van way! The two ladies on it were very jolly and gave us a wave on the way past. I’m not entirely sure how you negotiate buying your strawberry split or 99 flake boat-to-boat, so we decided to give it a miss!
As we only had the boat for the day, the time had come to turn around and retrace our cruise back to our starting point. By now, the clouds which had earlier threatened rain were all gone and we had beautiful blue skies and wispy clouds overhead.
We chugged back past St Benet’s Abbey, seeing it to advantage from the water.
As we approached Potter Heigham again, the traffic on the river got busier.
We got another opportunity to ogle at the many beautiful river front homes…
…small ones and beautiful thatched ones…
…and very grand ones with their own private watery drives near Ludham.
How’s that for an impressive collection of hydrangeas?
Before we knew it, we were approaching our destination.
There were lots of other people at Potter Heigham handing back their boats or mooring up for the night. The swans clearly were in the know it was a great spot to get a snack!
And there we were, back where we had started. Such a lovely day travelling around a little part of the Norfolk Broads. It was a chance for us all to experience a very beautiful part of England up close and it certainly won’t be the last time we do it.
And as for the wildlife spotted by the Little Postcards on our voyage? Here goes: Several dogs, many ducks, multiple swans, half a dozen great crested grebes, a couple of cranes, cormorants, Egyptian geese, hundreds of seagulls, three herons and a wasp. Not bad for a few hours spotting – just as well the Little Postcards had a nature loving Uncle on board to help with identification!
I hope you have enjoyed this Postcard from the Norfolk Broads, thank you for stopping by.