Sunday 29 December 2013

Sunset On The Marsh.

An old friend, a reedcutter, telephoned to tell me flocks of Starlings were murmerating above the marshes at Haddiscoe and I should get my camera over there.  Christmas was only two weeks away and the days were very short.  With this in mind we set off for the Waveney during the afternoon in order to arrive at Haddiscoe before sunset.   The day had been particularly mild for late December as it had been for several weeks.  It was probably the mild spell that had prolonged the the Starlings' arial activity.

The sun was very low when we arrived and carried the equipment onto the marsh.  We did not know exactly where the Starlings would perform so we set up the camera and waited, assuming that a group of a few thousand birds would be fairly easy to spot.

Haddiscoe Marsh

The temperature fell sharply as the light faded and we scanned the marsh for a sighting.  The skyline was empty except for groups of seagulls flying line astern and heading due West with their familiar lazy wing action.

Out on the marsh the report of a shotgun rang out as another duck booked its place at table for Christmas lunch.  Our interest was raised when a small group of Starlings sped toward the Haddiscoe bridge but then dropped out sight.

A Small Group Of Starlings

I cupped my hands and blew into them warming my fingers momentarily.  Just a few yards away a Barn Owl flew silently over the Marsh. 

A glorious sunset was developing before us - crimson and gold light lit up the flooded marsh. Out in the haze another shotgun echoed over the reedbeds sending up a small flight of geese, probably "Pink Footed", but they were to distant to identify.

A Glorious Sunset
Apart from small packets of Starlings darting low over the marsh there was no sign of a major group.  The sun dropped ever lower and the temparature grew markedly colder.  I ran my fingers impatiently over the cold body of the camera - where were they?

The Sun Dropped Ever Lower
 A dark cloud formed in the East, it looked like smoke rising above the trees.  We soon realised this was not smoke,  it was Starlings. Wheeling and diving some distance away, not an enormous group but large enough to fascinate anyone who took the time to watch them.  How do so many little birds turn as one?  Why don't they collide with each other?   What induces them to perform this ritual every year?

Wheeling and Diving 

 We filmed the arial choreography for about fifteen minutes before the Starlings dispersed and disappeared into the woods.  Then we were alone on the marsh watching the dying embers of a truly memorable winters day.  Priceless!


Saturday 23 November 2013

"Hathor" On The Slipway.

            Four years ago along with a large group of people I watched the pleasure wherry “Hathor” cast off from the quay at Wroxham and move slowly downstream until she was out of sight.  It was September 2009, “Hathor” had just completed her “Farewell Tour” during the summer and she was returning to base to await overhaul and renovation.

"Hathor" Moving Downstream
             The intervening years have not been kind to “Hathor”.  She endured a full winter out in the open in 2010 while essential modifications were being made to the base to accommodate her.   Ironically it was the severest of winters for many years.  Three months of sub~zero temperatures and damaging frost took their toll on the pleasure wherry’s varnished timbers.

Panels Of Inlaid Sycamore
             Now four years on “Hathor” is safely on the slipway at the WYCCT and her restoration is under way.  Her last major overhaul was in 1986 when she was acquired by Peter Bower and Barney Matthews from Martham Boat-builders. It took them two years, and a considerable sum of money, to repair the damage caused during the decade she was used as a  de-masted “live aboard”.  “Hathor’s” luxurious interior suffered grievously during this period. 
Egyptian Hieroglyphics
            “Hathor” was originally commissioned by the misses' Helen and Ethel Colman and  built by Daniel Hall of Reedham in 1905 for a cost of £575.00.  John Hurn was paid a further £1400 for the interior woodwork.   “Hathor's” luxurious, no expense spared, interior brought the grand total to £2039. 5s. 4d.  An astronomical sum of money in 1905.
            For almost fifty years “Hathor” served the Colman and Boardman families with an unfailing reliability, cruising the Norfolk rivers and broads until she was sold in 1953.  She was bought by Claude Hamilton – author of “Hamilton’s Navigation Guide to the Broads”.

           To see a video of "Hathor" being hauled out click the link below. 

          This truly iconic vessel is scheduled to return to sailing condition in the spring of 2015. Follow her progress on facebook.

          For more details of "Hathor's" intriguing history go to

Thursday 31 October 2013

Keep Yew a Troshin Bor.

Now for something completely different.
A few weeks ago I visited the Skeyton "Trosh".  A Trosh, for the uninitiated, is an event that celebrates our farming heritage.  Congregating in a large stubble field was a wonderful assortment of  old farm equipment.   Among the equipment and machinery assembled were several traction engines, and tractors from the era of the land army girls.  The machine that aroused my interest was a Ransomes Threshing machine.

The Thresher arrived by road behind a Fowler traction engine, these combinations would have been a common sight just after the second world war, today they are as rare as hens teeth.   Once in the field the Thresher was carefully levelled, I imagine this was to make sure the driving belts did not slip off the rollers when the operation started.

The Thresher was levelled
  With a deep throaty pulse the Fowler engine edged forward to align its flywheel with the Thresher's driving belt which had been laid out on the ground.  After some serious pushing and pulling the driving belt encompassed the Fowler's flywheel and the machine was ready to go to work.

Fitting the Driving Belt
 Andrew Meikle developed the first Threshing engine in the later years of the eighteenth century.  Meikle was a Scottish millwright and a talented mechanical engineer, he also invented  louvred sails for windmills.  Up until then sails were made of canvas, like the sails on a ship, but in stormy weather mills often caught fire due to friction.  In bad weather the louvred sails could be opened or closed by levers allowing the wind to pass through them.

Back at the Skeyton trosh a more modern example of Meikle's genius, the Ransomes thresher, came to life.  Through a series of driving belts powered by the Fowler engine shoves (sheaves) of wheat were fed into the hopper on top of the the thresher.  The actual machine has a mesmerising quality as it quite literally shakes, rocks and rolls sending grain out of one end and straw out of the other.  The air was thick with smoke from the Fowler and the unmistakable smell of warm oil and burning coal that only steam engines can produce.
The Thresher Came To Life

For the farm workers who had to work these machines in the harvest fields for probably fourteen hours or longer it would not have seemed so appealing.  But for a large slice of farming nostalgia a Thresher takes some beating.

 To see a short video of the Thresher use the link below.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

A "Moth" In The Moonlight.

The phone rang on Sunday morning.
"Would you like a trip on White Moth?" asked the person at the other end.

"Would the cat like another goldfish?" I thought to myself.
Too right it would.

"White Moth" was moored at the Cantley "Reedcutters"  She had just completed a weeks charter and was on the way home.  The volunteers, who had put in some really hard work over the  last twelve months, were being offered the trip from Cantley to Acle in appreciation of their efforts.

Slack water at the Vauxhall bridge in Great Yarmouth was expected at about four thirty in the afternoon this determined that the days sailing would end at Acle bridge.
During my unspectacular career afloat I have only crossed Breydon on three previous occasions.    This trip would be my first time under sail and I was really looking forward to it.

I joined "White Moth" on her mooring just before midday on August 20th.  Gently rising and falling in the wake of passing cruisers she looked a picture of Edwardian elegance. I stowed my cameras and equipment below in one of the cabins.  The whole interior of the Wherry yacht consists of varnished wood panelling and brass fittings.  Forward in the main saloon stood a five octave piano.  The piano would have provided the evening entertainment in the 1920's and cost an extra few shillings per week  as an optional extra.

"White Moth" may be coming up to her 100th birthday but she is still, most definitely, a working boat.

Just after midday we cast off, a stiff breeze carried us swiftly past the sugar factory toward Reedham. We glided past the "Ferry Inn" and through the open swing bridge toward Breydon.

Through Reedham Swing Bridge
A freshening wind on a beautiful summers day.  Sailing through a never ending carpet of rural views stretching out in every direction and coloured in shades of green, gold and blue.  The silence only broken by the sound of water rippling along the hull and an occasional flapping sail.
Absolutely priceless!

A Beautiful Summers Day

Past Polkeys mill and the Berney Arms, as we reached Breydon the wind dropped dramatically, hardly enough strength to fill "White Moth's" sail.  The people on board who knew what they were talking about assured us we would pick up the sea breeze once we were out on Breydon.

The Wind Dropped Dramatically.
There was barely a breath of wind on Breydon, we kept station with two of  Hunters "Hustler" class sailing boats who like us were hardly making any headway.
Conditions were so still we were able to hold a conversation with them.  Then as predicted the wind began to freshen and fill the sails. gradually the little "Hustlers" pulled away.

The "Hustlers" Pulled Away.
In the strengthening wind the "Hustlers" decided to enjoy themselves and turned about to make the most of the conditions.  They sped past us creating a substantial bow wave.  "White Moth" continued on her way between the mud banks with feeding Lapwings and Avocets on either side.

Enjoying The Conditions.
With the sail and the mast lowered we passed under the Breydon Road bridge, and turned into the Bure.  The tide was running very fast under the Vauxhall bridge, it was quite clear we would have to wait for slack water.  "White Moth" was skillfully moored against the quay. The gas was lit under the kettle there would be more than enough time for a brew while we waited. 

It was early evening by the time the flow of water slowed to a trickle and we set off again.
"White Moth" was fairly gliding along the Bure on a stiff breeze.  It was now much cooler after the heat of the day, with very little sound save the rippling water, a flapping canvas and a dog barking somewhere in the distance.

Gliding Along The Bure.

The sun was getting ever lower in the evening sky.  Swallows swooped and dived in and out of the reeds, an unseen fish made rings in the calm water ahead of "White Moth's" bow wave.  Bemused cattle watched from the bank as we silently passed by.

The Setting Sun.

A warm glow lit the Western sky and detailed shapes stood stark against the setting sun.   "White Moth" sailed past lines of cruisers moored for the night.  In the gathering gloom nature's night shift was clocking on.  An owl skimmed over the marsh while the last of the swallows made best use of the fading light.

Shapes Stood Stark Against The Setting Sun.

A full moon was rising astern of us, casting a silver light on the water that rippled in our wake.  The reed beds were now black silhouettes lining the margins of the river.  The lights of the Ferry Inn at Stokesby lit up the darkness as it drifted by on our starboard.  Then gradually the old wherrymans pub receded  into the darkness as "White Moth" continued on her way.

The "Moth" In The Moonlight

The night air was turning cold  
It was quite dark when we arrived at Acle bridge, "White Moth" turned through 180 degrees and gently drew alongside the quay.  I had been on board this wonderful old vessel for ten hours and I was sorry we had reached our journeys end.   I shall always remember the "Moth" in the moonlight.

To see "Albion" making a similar journey click the links below.

Monday 29 July 2013

Boats Return To North Walsham and Dilham.

"Never thought I would ever see that again." stated a visitor to the North Walsham and Dilham canal open day as he watched a little sailing dinghy tack in front of Ebridge mill.   

The event was organised by the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust on Sunday July 27th and 28th 2013.  Giving an insight into the possibilities this priceless slice of Norfolk heritage has to offer.

The little wooden sailing dinghy reminiscent of the "Swallows and Amazons" era, created a view of a peaceful bygone age, caught in the ripples of the mill pool.

"Swallows and Amazons"

Just before mid-day the "Hoi Larntan" arrived and was launched from the canal bank.  "Hoi Larntan" is a skiff,  built in Thurning near Wood Dalling.

"Hoi Larntan"
She was launched at Blakeney in May this year in time for the Skiff World Championships in Ullapool.  The Coastal Rowing Association brought the skiff for a training session in the still waters of of the canal at Ebridge.

Skiff and Dinghy at Ebridge

"Hoi Larntan" is Norfolk dialect to describe a really good boat or skipper - it was also used as a derogatory term for someone who was too big for their boots.  

Both these boats can be seen sailing at Ebridge from the link below.

Visit the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust new site

Learn more about the "Hoi Larntan"

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Steel Keel For A Wherry.

At the WYCCT yard at Wroxham on March 5th 2013 "White Moth" was hauled onto the slipway to have her wooden keel replaced with one of steel.  The wherry yacht "White Moth" was built by Ernest Collins in 1915.  King George V ruled Britain and the commonwealth and Henry Asquith was Prime minister.  Since then, to the best of my knowledge, "White Moth's" wooden keel has survived three monarchs, twenty seven Premierships and two World wars. 

When I was first told "White Moth" was having her wooden keel replaced with steel I thought it would make some interesting film footage - I never realised just how interesting this rare piece of engineering would be.  Having spent thirty years in the aviation industry I am no stranger to the many problems that can present themselves during heavy maintenance.  Remarkably this tricky project worked like clockwork from start to finish as each stage was meticulously planned and executed.

"White Moth's" keel clear of the slipway
The first step was to carefully raise and support "White Moth" clear of the slipway.
Then the old keel was surveyed and measured to ensure the steel replacement would retain the same amount of draught.  The old keel bolts were located and exposed by chiseling away sections of keel allowing the bolts to be cut through.

Profiles were fitted to the thirty two feet, or so, of keel on both port and starboard surfaces.  Then using the profiles as a pattern, shallow rebates were sawn along the entire length of the old keel with an electric saw, forming a guide for the serious surgery that was about to follow. 

The keel undergoing serious surgery

A two - man saw of an undetermined vintage was brought into the daylight for, what I imagine was,  the first time for many moons.  It was akin to the type of saws that were once used in saw pits.   Starting at the stern, the two-man saw began slicing its way efficiently through "White Moth's" ancient wooden keel.   The relentless effort needed to drive the saw through six inches of close grained Pitch Pine was nothing short of hard labour.  In spite of the frequent breaks required in the interests of rest and recuperation the keel was cut through surprisingly quickly.

One half of the two man saw in action

After cutting through the keel only a combination of clamps and wedges held it in place. As the clamps were slackened off  the wooden keel was dropped neatly alongside the slipway track, precisely where  intended.  It was difficult to estimate the exact weight of the old keel, but thirty odd feet of Pitch Pine in free fall could not underestimated.  With this in mind great care was taken to ensure that when the keel fell it did not disturb any of the props supporting "White Moth".  The plan worked perfectly. 

Wooden keel removed
While the old keel was being removed it's metal replacement was being fabricated in the "wet shed".  From there it was suspended by an ingenious arrangement of block and tackle and conveyed over the water.  Finely balanced and resting uneasily on a dinghy the new keel was eventually aligned with the slipway where it was submerged onto the slipway track.  

New keel crossing the water
Accompanied by the familiar sound of the ratchet rattling over the cogs on the winch "White Moth's"  new keel, shark-like in appearance, emerged from the water.  Gradually it was winched up the slipway into position beneath the Wherry yacht.

The new keel was winched up the slipway

The keel was temporarily jacked into position to allow the new keel bolts to be aligned with the fixing points inside the hull and the corresponding points on the keel. 

Keel bolts aligned
Nuts were welded to the upper surface of the metal keel and the keel bolts were turned into them with mole grips.   Everything was now aligned and ready for the keel to be raised and secured to the hull.

Nuts welded to the new keel.
A liberal application of Sikaflex marine sealant was applied to the keel's upper surface to form a watertight seal.  Finally the new keel was jacked into position and bolted down inside the hull.
Job done!

Job done!

Sunday 17 March 2013

Wherries and Waterways in Winter.

Winter arrived quite late in East Anglia this year and once established it has seemed very reluctant to leave.  The winter sun which can add a real sparkle to film at this time of year has remained hidden behind layers of oppressive grey cloud.   In spite of the poor conditions it has been possible to shoot some film on the better days.

Some of the most interesting footage this winter has been the progress the of the wherry yacht "Olive" being overhauled at Wroxham.   "Olive" was built by Earnest Collins in 1909 and named after his youngest daughter.  She began working as a holiday cruiser for Blakes the same year and continued working until 1958 when she was sold into private ownership.   Now in the care of of the Wherry Yacht Charter Trust  "Olive" was re-floated in February this year looking very spruce as her freshly painted hull slipped into the water.  Such a dramatic change compared to the tired looking craft that had been winched onto the slipway in July last year.  

Re-floating "Olive"

A few days later it was the turn of "Olive's" sister ship, "White Moth", to be winched onto the vacant slipway.  With the exception of the giant airbags I imagine the operation was not so very different from the traditional methods used long ago in the boatyards.  Watching this grand old vessel inching her way up the track  was a fascinating sight.   

Coltishall Boatyard c1900

Hundreds of man-hours are worked on these essentially Norfolk craft through the winter months.
Fingers numbed with cold and breath vapourising in the frosty morning air are just part of the job.

Another of my regular haunts is the North Walsham and Dilham canal. Spectacular progress on the canal has been maintained over the last twelve months.   Work has been concentrated on the dried out section around Bacton Wood and Royston bridge when the weather has permitted.   The very wet December and the January snow has slowed down the determined work parties but not stopped them altogether.

Winter on The North Walsham and Dilham
We have recorded several hours of video on the canal this winter.  The latest footage will soon be added to the series of DVD's which are now available from the NW&D Canal Trust.
Details also available from 

Winter on the canal can be an in-hospitable place when a stiff  North Easterly is blowing across the open Norfolk landscape.  My fingers have turned blue many times this winter operating the camera and my thoughts have often turned to the wherrymen who sailed these waterways in winter.  Imagine slipping the keel in mid January - Hands in ice-cold water removing stubborn bolts. 
Hard as nails!

Monday 11 February 2013

When You And I Were Young.

The winter months with the cold days and poor light has restricted filming this year.   However it is a good time to research and review the projects in hand.  To do this I have been reading a lot of local history books which has highlighted many of the changes that earlier generations had to cope with.  It seems the rate of change was much slower for our ancestors until the mid nineteenth century when Britain changed from an agricultural economy into an industrial power. 

Of late, I have become acutely aware of how quickly things have changed in my life time mainly due to advances in technology.
Growing up in the austerity of "post war" Britain was character building to say the least.  For us kids, a "bombed site" was our playground and it was only the better-off kids who didn't have a patch sewn into the seat of their trousers.

Post war bomb site.
 Instead of computer games and iPods we had catapults and tin cans and I can't ever remember school being closed because of bad weather.  In hail, rain or snow we would walk to school, the tops of our Wellington boots chafing red weals on our skinny little legs.  At school, thirty or so nine year olds would heap their wet coats in front of a luke warm radiator and pretend they would be dry by "home time".
After school mum would often send one of us to the corner shop to get a shilling for two sixpences to feed the electricity meter.  Heroically we would plead with the grumpy shopkeeper who would not let us have the shilling unless we were buying something.  Sometimes it was necessary to try two or three shops in order to get the shilling that would restore power to the house and save Father's evening meal by the time he got home from work.

Our family's first black and white TV set had a nine inch screen that flickered continually - just one channel to watch and that closed down for an hour in the early evening.  Programmes then resumed until about ten pm.  At the end of transmission the tv was turned off and we would sit msmerised until the little white dot had completely disappeared.

Courtesy Paul Townsend CC licence.

The excitement that was generated when the first commercial TV channel opened some years later and wonder of wonders, the arrival of colour television.  

To hear the latest popular music most youngsters listened to Radio Luxembourg which always seemed to fade when the best records were playing.  An alternative was "Two Way Family Favourites" at Sunday lunch time with Jean Metcalf and Cliff Michelmore.  BFPO's - Frankie Lane - Lita Rosa - Anne Shelton such wonderful memories.

At nineteen years old I became the first one in our family to own a car  -  a 1937 Y-Type Ford which cost me twentyseven pounds ten shillings.
An eight horse power engine that would drain the six volt battery on a frosty morning in no time at all.  No heater and windscreen wipers that went ever slower as the car went faster.  Screen washers did not exist. To clean the windscreen an old bottle of washing up liquid filled with water was held out of the drivers window and squirted onto the screen - most of which was propelled back up the drivers arm by the slipstream.      Before the days of filling stations we went to the the local garage for our petrol,  At the garage a man would clean the windscreen and and ask how much fuel you required.  He would then pump in the usual two gallons (approx nine litres) of National Benzole which cost seven shillings (thirty five pence).

1937 Y-type Ford (Courtesy Charles 01 CC licence)

Around this time I became a bus conductor.  Every bus had a driver at the front and a conductor at the back.   There was a bus every six minutes on most city routes.
On Saturday nights we would queue round the block for the cinema, the cheapest seats cost one and ninepence (eight pence). The uniformed commissionaire would call out when seats became available. There were no defined performances just a continuous programme running all day until it ended with the national anthem at about ten fifteen in the evening. The smart folk would make for the exits before the National anthem was played and before everyone in the theatre stopped and stood to attention, otherwise you would miss the last bus home.

Queuing round the block for the cinema.

Health and safety tended to be left to God and providence, staying sharp was essential.
This was true of my time spent in a coal yard - the loaded railway trucks were free-wheeled down an incline into the yard where we would shovel the coal by the hundredweight into sacks and load them onto lorries.    The railway trucks would be set in motion with a pinch bar and they would run silently down the gradient amid lots of shouting and whistles.  To stop the truck we would push a brake stick onto the brake handle and bounce up an down on it to stop the truck - a lightweight like me would have to do a lot of bouncing to slow the waggon.

Coal Train (Courtesy Ben Brooksbank CC licence)

Soon after this England won the World Cup and computers began to confuse the entire nation.
Our reliable old red telephone boxes were abandoned for mobile phones.  The modern age had arrived - for a little while at least.