Friday, 3 June 2016

A Mast For "Albion"

Filming four tons of Columbian Pine being laminated and fashioned into a mast for the Wherry "Albion" has been a fascinating project.  "Albion's" previous mast was manufactured in 2002 so it is highly unlikely I will ever film a similar event.

Columbian Pine, grown in Scotland, was selected for the mast and milled by Summerscales Ltd of Grimsby.  At the mill the timber was cut into three inch thick planks and shipped to Eastwood Whelpton's yard at Upton, Norfolk in 2012.  Here the timber was left to dry and season in an open ended shed until September 2015.
Photo courtesy Roger Watts NWT.
Laminating the timber gives added strength and flexibility to the finished mast.  In the old days the boat- builder, or carpenter, would go to a plantation and select a suitable "Pitch Pine".  From it they would fashion the mast in one piece.  It was not uncommon for these old masts to break under stress. 
At Upton the roof of the shed that housed the overhead hoists had been been reinforced with upright timbers in order to support the fifty feet of bulk timber with an estimated weight of four tons.  

Timber batons were fitted between each length of planking to allow a generous coating of resin glue to be applied.   A team of four boat builders armed with lamb's wool rollers covered the upper and lower surfaces of each and every plank, under the watchful eye of Maynard Watson..

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When every inch of the timber had been treated with resin glue each layer of laminate was raised with the hoist, allowing the spacing batons to be removed with the use of crowbars. The planks were lowered and clamped when all the spacers had been discarded.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

Twenty six ratchet, tension straps were deployed along the length of the mast and tightened to within an inch of their lives.  To attain maximum tension the boat builders worked in pairs straining every sinew until their knuckles turned white and the resin glue oozed from between the planks.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When all the tension straps were firmly in place metal clamps were used to align the planks vertically while the resin was still malleable. The structure was left over a complete weekend to allow the resin glue to set and complete the first phase of the project.
Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

After a few days the resin glue had cured sufficiently to allow the process to continue. The next phase of the  project was to square the timber structure into four equally flat sides. Using hand held circular saws, a series of cross cuts were made every two or three inches along the entire length of the mast.  These cuts were removed with hammer and chisel and finally planed smooth. The floor of the shed shuddered with a resounding thud each time the mast was turned to present a different face. 
Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When the mast had been squared attention was turned to the peak. A chain saw was used to shape the top of the mast after establishing the diameter and angle of taper.  The resin had set as hard as steel and the cutting blades of the chain saw quickly lost there edge.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
Sawdust hung in the air as the whine of Electric planes echoed off the walls around the shed. After ten days the mast was gradually beginning to take shape.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The chainsaw was used to make a third and fourth angled cut to the peak of the mast. After several hours of planing the shape and the symmetry of the mast began to emerge.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The next phase of the project was to transform the four sides into eight sides forming an octagon. These eight sides would eventually be rounded off to form the finished mast. To square the timber the diameter of the mast had already been marked with a compass on each of the four sides. Using these same indicators a sliding bevel created cutting lines that would guide the saws to form the octagon.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The mast was hoisted and wedged at an angle to allow the chain saw to cut the bevel along the length of the mast. The foot retained four sides where the counter weight would be fitted.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The foot of the mast was flared to form a hip and then smoothed with an abrasive wheel.  Comparing the modern electric tools with the hand tools of a hundred years ago one can only marvel at the skill and energy required by those old time boat builders. 

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The mast had to be turned and wedged in order to cut each of the four bevels which in their turn were planed smooth.  For several hours the plane followed the chainsaw along each bevel until the mast was a perfect octagon.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The whole structure was now somewhat slimmer and lighter than three weeks earlier and looking much more like a mast.  Although good progress was being maintained there was a still a great deal of precision work to be done before the mast was complete.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The body of the mast was now octagon shaped with the foot flared into a square. 

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
At the peak of the mast a step was formed for the crane iron.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
The next task was to cut the Herring hole into the mast head.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
All the fittings had been carefully removed from the old mast ready to be transferred to the one in production.  The crane iron was the first piece of hardware to be fitted.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The the main body of the mast was carefully rounded off.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

At the foot of the mast the trunnion was was fitted and the counter weight prepared for mounting to the heel. The bottom of the mast was shaped to replicate the profile of the counter weight.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The extra long retaining bolts passed right through the body of counter weight and tightened. Although there was still work to be done the mast was all but ready.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

Autumn had arrived and winter was fast approaching when the mast was removed from the shed and put into storage until the spring.  On March 30th 2016 "Albion" arrived at Upton and the mast was loaded.  A series of checks and function tests were carried out before "Albion" left with her new mast.

Monday, 28 March 2016

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Part 2.

It saddens me to see Norfolk slowly giving up more of her woodland and pasture in return for more tarmac roads and numerous housing developments.  No one can halt the onward march of progress as the demand for houses and urban development increases unabated. Everybody needs somewhere to live and bring up their children but how much longer can we sustain our rapidly growing population.

As we hurtle headlong into an uncertain future leaving the natural world behind us in a thick cloud of pollution, we seem to have forgotten that we are only caretakers that have been entrusted with our little corner of England. As the county of my birth slowly disappears before my eyes I am driven to record as much of it as possible before it is gone forever.

In this seemingly endless period of change there is one bright spot.  The North Walsham and Dilham canal.  The canal is being restored as close to its original condition as possible.
I began filming the restoration work carried out by the Old Canal Company and the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust six years ago.  In this time the progress has been nothing short of astounding.

The North Walsham and Dilham was opened in 1826, after an act of parliament was passed.  But  it fell into rapid decline after the last trading wherry left in 1934.  The development of the railway and road transport sounded the death knell for the waterway.  However, the canal is still officially a navigable waterway.

In the last twelve months alone the progress has been remarkable.  Last summer (2015) the section between the lock and the bridge at Bacton Wood has been restored. It took from April to August to remove the trees that had colonised the banks and the vegetation that had choked the channel. Removing tree stumps and de-silting has transformed the area from an overgrown backwater into a tranquil waterway.
Spa Common facing Downstream

Spa Common facing Upstream

Throughout Autumn and Winter, in spite of a record rainfall the work has pushed on, driving all the way from Pigney's Wood to Swafield staithe.   Already, regular visitors to this freshly restored length of the canal include deer, Kingfishers and the Little Egret.

Pigney's Wood

In the Autumn the canal by Pigneys wood, overgrown with trees and brambles, was cleared and reclaimed.  Heavy rainfall throughout the winter did little to stop the momentum although it did make conditions for working very challenging.  I know this from my own experience, carrying forty five pounds of video equipment through several inches of mud to film the action.  

Challenging conditions on Paston Way

Along Paston Way to the old M&GN Railway bridge, the canal owners and volunteers pressed on with the restoration.  Clearing decades of ivy and vegetation that had covered the bridge piers and the footpath.

Old M&GN railway bridge.

Hauling Ivy and growth from the bridge.

At Swafield staithe a giant Bamboo plant was removed along with a number of trees that were growing in the canal bed.  After the vegetation had been cleared the banks between the staithe and the bridge were graded and profiled. 
The canal at Swafield Staithe.

Removing trees near Swafield bridge.

The owner of the canal assisted by the volunteers of the trust have worked in all weathers and conditions to restore this priceless example of our history.  There is still a great deal of work to be done and as more of the canal  is restored more and more routine maintenance is required. Reeds need cutting, banks need mowing.   Visitors to the canal cannot fail to be impressed by the progress to date, but very few realise just how much hard work and determination it has taken to get this far.

All the photographs in the blog are kindly supplied by Alan Bertram, a stalwart supporter and volunteer of the canal trust.  Use the links below to follow the news and progress of the canal.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Mist On The Marsh.

"The Mist On The Marsh"
My five year epic is finished at last and about to be released.  The day I thought would never dawn has arrived and gone some way to restoring my inner calm.
The film takes a look at the remains of the old way of life in and around the Norfolk and Suffolk waterways.  Recording fragile links with the past that still cling on in spite of the remorseless march of progress.

On A Wherry Fore Deck
 In that five years I have made many new friends and collected many unforgettable memories.
Filming "Reed cutters" working out on the Suffolk marshes on frosty winter mornings.
Spending gorgeous summer days gliding silently through the water on the fore deck of a wherry.  Sharing a pitched roof with Thatchers and summer evenings out on the broad with an "Eel catcher ".
An intriguing night shoot in Suffolk filming the Old Glory Molly dancers and a canoe trip along the only true Norfolk canal in the company of squadrons of dragonflies.
Priceless days under those big East Anglian skies.

Priceless Days

In my small way I like to think I have captured a little slice of local history, which may be enjoyed in the years ahead.   There is still so much out there to be recorded that "Mist On The Marsh II" is already being planned.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

No Time To Blog.

What happened to summer?
I can remember the Easter holiday quite clearly that is when I planted my potatoes. Elated by the thought that spring had arrived and the whole English summer stretched out before me.
 Next thing I know it is October and our British winter is beckoning.
There is nothing wrong with winter for it brings - fantastic brittle light -   sunlight on frost covered trees and winter visitors on the wing.   This is all very well but what of my missing summer.  For the most part my time was devoted to the North Walsham and Dilham canal and "Hathor's" restoration programme.  Both these major projects kept me occupied for three or four days most weeks.

Springtime on the canal - Brrrr.

Hathor's restoration took precedence over all the other current film projects as the June deadline loomed.  The closing stages, the work became so intense there were occasions when I put the camera down and helped out with some of the more unskilled tasks.  There are small parts of  "Hathor's" varnished interior that allows me to puff out my little chest and proudly say "I did that bit."

Hathor was on the slipway for eight months while her hull was restored then a further ten months in the wet shed for interior renovation.
All things considered the double DVD set  covers the wherry's restoration fairly comprehensively.
From "Hauling out", steaming planks, constructing the new rudder and restoring her interior cabins.
The production opens with a brief history of the vessel's design and ends with the re-launch and blessing at How Hill, "Hathor's" spiritual home. 

Although I am reasonably satisfied with the final result I was quite relieved when the project was completed.  Although probably not as relieved as the staff at Wherry Yacht Charter who had spent two years with my camera in their faces.

Repairing "Hathor's" Hull
The DVDs are now on sale, they can be purchased in Norwich from the City Bookshop, in Davey Place.   Or via       All profits will go toward maintaining "Hathor."

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Swan Song

Day old chicks

Last summer (2014) a pair of young swans settled on the upper reaches of the North Walsham and Dilham canal and raised their very first brood.
From the day the chicks were born and took to the water I have filmed their progress and watched them grow and thrive.
Amusing little characters

Swans are common on most stretches of water and are taken for granted when compared to the more exotic species of wildlife, but these little characters kept me fascinated and amused on my twice weekly visits to the canal.  During those long summer days it was a delight to see them paddle "line astern" between mum and dad.  With butterflies fluttering overhead and dragonflies darting low over the water as they patrolled the tranquil waters between Spa Common and Ebridge lock.

The youngsters grew at an alarming rate in no small thanks to the hoppers of grain and bread left out for them.   In just a few weeks they morphed from fluffy little chicks with enormous feet and two   useless, stubby, wings, into scaled down images of their parents.

By mid July the youngsters had eased into the daily routine of eating, sleeping and preening.
Some nights they returned to the old nest at Bacton Wood which became almost submerged under their combined weight when they all clambered aboard, oblivious of Mum's valiant efforts to maintain the overcrowded nest.

Issued under Creative Commons (author unknown)

As August gave way to September stubby little wings had been replaced with an almost, adult wingspan.  Although still not powerful enough to get the young swans airbourne they frequently practised flying with their feet remaining firmly anchored to the rond.

Summer drifted into Autumn and the youngsters overall grey plumage was showing traces of white as they matured.  The family no longer travelled "line astern" between Mum and Dad, now they would spread out and move as a flock as they patrolled the waterway. 
Courtesey of Roymartinlindman

The family group had become a unit. Demonstrating their ability to defend themselves when
a young Otter working its way along the canal was spotted by one of the cygnets.  The juvenile raised the alarm and the entire family turned and hissed in the direction of the Otter.  The collective show of aggression was enough to deter any would-be predator.  The Otter left a stream of bubbles in its wake as it swiftly retreated downstream.

Young wings were now fully developed and airworthy,  strong enough to lift the young swans into the air.  By the turn of the year the cob began to harass his offspring.  He would chase them, often grabbing their tail feathers.   The cygnets could not understand this show of aggression toward them from the parent who had protected them for all of their short young lives.   Gradually the cygnets detached themselves from their parents and moved a mile or so downstream.

On a cold February morning the cob flew into the Ebridge pound and attacked the youngsters without mercy.  After a  furious period of flapping, splashing and anguished cries.  Wings slapped the surface of the canal and the younsters took to the air and flew off into the mist never to return.    The cycle of life had turned full circle.  On days when I look out across the canal reed beds I wonder where those youngsters are now and how they are coping on their own.  I guess I will never know.

Courtesey Adrian Pingstone.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Ebridge Project.

The old mill at Ebridge, on the North Walsham and Dilham canal, has lain dormant for many years.  Apart from becoming a spacious loft for a flock of feral pigeons, the only conversion that took place was from flour mill to rumour mill.  Various projects were put forward from several quarters but none ever reached fruition.  Every failed application generated more rumours and precious few facts.  That was until Barn Owl Conversions took over and got things moving.

Ebridge was owned by Cubitt and Walker from 1883 until 1998 when it was sold to W. L. Duffield and son of Saxlingham.   In its time the mill has been powered by water, steam and finally electricity.
Wherries served the mill via the North Walsham and Dilham canal until the 1930s when waterborne trade was superseded by road transport.

Over the last few months work has begun clearing the site and renovating the mill buildings.  It is only fitting that the old mill is beginning a new career in the form of residential properties and not suffering the same fate as Briggate mill, her near neighbour a few miles downstream.

For a full history of Ebridge mill please see Norfolk mills site

Friday, 5 December 2014

A Busy Ol' Summer.

With frosty mornings and icy winds to look forward to this seems a good time to look back over the last six months.  As far as summer's go this year has been one to remember.
It seemed to stretch endlessly into infinity,  reminiscent of my school holidays from long ago, when those precious school-free weeks ran out long before those wonderful summer days.

If I ever had a busier summer with a camera than this one I really don't remember it, and with seven projects in progress the cameras have been in constant use almost every day since early spring.  But if there is a better way to spend my time I can't imagine what it is.

Hathor's Restoration.
One of my regular weekly visits is the Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust's yard at Wroxham.  Here the pleasure wherry "Hathor" has been under-going major restoration.

"Hathor" was winched onto the slipway over twelve months ago.
On February 19th, with her hull fully restored, she was re-floated and work began immediately on her topside and interior. First stage was to repair the plankways and cabin sides.  Then her decks were lined with plywood and covered with hard wearing lino.  Work has recently begun refurbishing the cabins and saloon.

Each stage of "Hathor's" restoration has, and is being recorded.  As the summer finally faded away this grand old lady was beginning to look her best once again.
Lining "Hathors" foredeck with plywood.

Fitting the Hawk benches.
"Sam" enthusiastically watches proceedings..

The  North Walsham and Dilham Canal.
On the North Walsham and Dilham Canal the restoration continues apace.  The banks of the dry section between Spa Common and Royston Bridge are well on the way to being reconstructed.  This is due to the extended dry spell from June to August which allowed a fleet of tipper trucks  to haul in tons of high grade subsoil.  Day after day they emerged through the dust creating some wonderful shots for the camera.  On the North side of Royston Bridge the progress has been equally impressive as the reconstruction heads unerringly toward Swafield.

Tippers bring in high grade subsoil.
Trucks emerge through the dust
A section of restored banking.
In late summer, with the help of a friend using his "Phantom" drone, with a GoPro camera on board, we were able to shoot some stunning arial footage of the reconstructed banks.

A magnificent distraction on the canal was the brood of Swans that hatched near Spa Common.   They have been high on the filming agenda on my regular, weekly visits to the canal. We have a record of the day they hatched to the present when they are now almost full grown.
They were the subject of an earlier blog.  If you would like to see the brood click on the links below.

On September 26th as the summer was drawing to a close,  Doug Hamilton Cox, a retired Royal Engineer, walked the canal from Swafield to Tonnage Bridge.  We filmed the event which is intended to raise funds for the "Help For Heroes" charity.  Doug plans to walk every canal in the UK and raise £100,000.00. 
"Help for Heroes" Canal walk at Swafield lock.

Mist On The Marsh.
My labour of love continues to move toward completion, albeit very slowly.  All the documentary sequences are complete and most of the dramatised folklore is safely " in the can".   My undying appreciation for the cast, who with unswerving loyalty, have stuck with me and the project through some very trying times.  An extra special effort to complete this epic is scheduled for early 2015.
A clip from "Mist On The Marsh".

M&GN Dray.
While all this was going on, the M&GN  horse drawn dray was undergoing overhaul which I filmed whenever possible.  The film started at Banningham, where the hundred year old cart was renovated.
Dray off to Weyborne works.
This included the metal tyres being heated and fitted to the wheels.  From there the dray was taken to the sheds at Weybourne where the overhaul was completed.  Finally the dray was filmed arriving  at Holt station drawn by a magnificent shire horse.
Dray in the carpenters workshop.

Fitting the metal tyres.
The Dray arriving at Holt station.

Slipping "Albion"
On October 9th, in the dying weeks of our wonderful Indian summer "Albion" was being hauled out at Oulton Broad.  We arrived at Excelsior's yard to record the wherry being winched onto the slipway.
A brisk south-westerly rippled across Lake Lothing as "Albion" was secured to the cradle and hauled out of the water.
"Albion" almost out of the water.

Secured in the cradle.

On November 24th "Albion" was re-floated after her routine maintenance was completed.  Once again we made our way to Oulton Broad in time for "High water".  The wherry was smoothly lowered down the tracks and into the water.  With the tender standing by, the bilges were checked for leaks before we set off for the lock.  The traffic was stopped as "Albion"  slipped under the road bridge and into Mutford lock.  The summer was finally behind us on this shoot, but even at this late date the sun followed us into the yacht station to round the year off nicely.
The skipper checking tide times.
The tender standing by.

Stopping the traffic.

Inside Mutford Lock.

I hope the above demonstrates why the blogs have been few and far between in recent weeks.  We will try harder in 2015.
Merry Christmas  and a Happy New Year!