Wednesday 1 August 2012

The North Walsham and Dilham. Part two.

Like a vision from a Jerome K. Jerome novel, three men, a canoe and a camera set off from Wayford Bridge  to explore the North Walsham and Dilham canal and paddle up to Honing lock.   Dragonflies and Swallows swooped low over the water ahead of the canoe as we made our way into the main channel.  By sheer good fortune we had picked a perfect day for our trip during  the wettest June for thirty years, bright sunlight with just a hint of a following breeze .

To see a video of our trip along the canal click here.

Great tracts of the North Walsham and Dilham canal have remained derelict and untouched for years since the last wherry traded there in the 1930's.  As nature has encroached and reclaimed the banks and water margins only small craft  are able to navigate the waterway.  This splendid isolation has created a semi wilderness and provided a truly memorable journey for those prepared to make the effort.    The canal still has a generous width at the Wayford end with enough depth to allow cruisers up to the staithe at Dilham.  Fork right (or starboard) at the Dilham turn and the old canal sets off toward Honing, Briggate, Ebridge and Bacton Wood.  Built almost two hundred years ago the canal served the mills along its nine miles.    When it was first opened the canal reached as far Swafield and Antingham but this section was abandoned and de-watered  in 1893.   Currently the only navigable sections are between Wayford Bridge and Honing lock, with a recently opened section from Ebridge mill to Spa Common.

Wayford Bridge
 Our plan was to paddle from Wayford Bridge to the lock at Honing a popular trip for canoeists and the most accessible.   For the first mile or so the canal is fairly wide with overhanging trees, in spite of this prolific canopy  the canal flows beneath an open sky.  Lush green trees confused with blue sky and white clouds reflected in the water and rippled past the canoe as we headed west.   Fallen trees floated out  into the water anchored to the banks by their roots, there was ample clearance to pass them by on these wider sections of the canal.
Fallen trees anchored by their roots.

There are very few man made features along the this stretch of the canal, once the noise of traffic is left behind at Wayford bridge there is a sense of remoteness, of glorious isolation.   We were travelling back in time to the days of the wherries where no clocks or timetables held sway, only wind and tide. 

Our little canoe glided over the water toward Tonnage bridge where a toll keepers cottage once stood.  Every cargo on the canal had to pay tolls at this point with few exceptions.   The original Tonnage bridge collapsed in 1980 but was rebuilt in 1982 with a grant from the Broads Authority. 

Tonnage Bridge

 "Tonnage Long Reach" so named by the early watermen is the stretch of water leading up to Tonnage bridge.  This is a particularly picturesque section of the canal, it was like paddling through a John Constable landscape complete with long horned highland cattle wallowing in the shallows.   It is not difficult to understand why there is resistance to parts of the canal being renovated, who would want to share this idyllic stretch of waterway with the chattering masses if they did not have to?

Onward beyond Tonnage bridge great floating rafts of water-lily's slip beneath our canoe. Lush reed beds line the banks punctuated by overhanging tree branches that gently break the surface of the still water.
The canal winds through open country passing lush, rolling pastures.  Crows call out from a distant wood while a host of dragonflies fly alongside us, the only sounds are birdsong and the rippling water flowing out behind the paddles - priceless!

Around half distance the canal begins to narrow dramatically, the encroaching reed beds grow tall on both banks and threaten to choke the channel.   Decaying trees line the margins their skeletal remains stand stark against the sky.   The breadth of the canal recedes until there is barely enough room to continue.  The reeds stand taller than our canoe, whispering to us as they chafe the gunwale of our little craft as we push through   them.   

The Canal Narrows Dramatically
The channel is so narrow we begin to wonder if we will  be able to complete the trip.  Then to our relief the waterway begins to open out again. Small patches of  foam drift downstream warning us that Honing lock is ahead.  As we get closer to the lock the sound of rushing water grows louder and louder and the surface becomes increasingly turbulent.    Around one last bend and the old lock hoves into sight ending what has been a really enjoyable paddle.

Honing Lock

The impressions and views expressed in this article are solely my own and may differ to the views of  land owners and other interested parties along this beautiful canal.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Jonno,

    One quick question. I've got a blog a bit like yours, but I don't know how to put captions on my photos. They look great. Can you let me into the secret please!