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Memories of my First Broads Holiday in 1954

By Alan Clarke

1950s History 1950s Memories 1950s Gallery

The year after I left school in 1953, my mates Bernard (Burns),Charlie (Snape).Frank(Rowley)and I decided that we would like to have a holiday on the Norfolk Broads, we were all keen readers of the Arthur Ransome “Swallows and Amazons” books so it had to be a yacht! The broads were beginning to be a popular choice for a holiday in those days and we were keen to have a go at it without our parents, having all secured jobs with money in our pockets to spare! We got together and looked at the brochures of “Blake’s” and also “Hoseasons”and duly made our choices. As time to book got closer Charlie and Frank decided that they could not manage to fund it so that left just me (Alan) and Bernard to go it alone. We filled in the booking form deciding that we wanted a week on the yacht “Bright” from Loynes at Wroxham, if I can remember right it cost us £10 and 10 shillings for the week. We sent off our postal order to “Blake’s” and received a reply that informed us that, because we were “minors” under 21, we were to get our parents consent in writing! The shame of it! Anyway consent was duly acquired and the hol was booked.

We travelled to Norfolk on “ Yelloways” regular coach connection that went to Great Yarmouth via Leigh on the Friday night, the coach dropping us off at Norwich bus station at 5 am the following morning! We hung around the bus station with our suitcases that had several cans of food in them to help us through the week, so we were unable to drag them around much to explore Norwich. The first bus to Wroxham only left at 7.30am and we duly arrived at Loynes yard a little bit early! They were very obliging and allowed us to store our food filled cases in the boatsheds till 4pm or until the boat was ready. The time arrived to take over our craft! We were duly taken aboard and shown where everything was to be stored, how to use the 2 primus stoves and collect water etc, and finally how to rig the sails and trim the rigging. We also had to nip round to “ROYS” to pick up our pre ordered rations, these were soon stored and we were all ready for our quick lesson trip on how to handle a Yacht! This was very informative but we had studied well and were able to take the little craft back to the boatyard to drop off the “Loynes instructor”

The holiday begins - Saturday Day 1

We headed away from the yard with a gentle facing wind, tacking from side to side and just managing to avoid the very busy boat yards unloading their clients on to the broads waters, most with not much idea about small boat sailing. But of course we were quite experienced, or so we thought! Anyway we managed to avoid any mishaps and sailed for a few hours passing Wroxham broad with a quick look around, we finally arrived alongside Salhouse  and decided that it was time for some supper. Storing the sails and lifting the cabin top we settled down for a meal of corned beef,(it may have been SPAM memories are somewhat distant!) cold and new potatoes. By the time we had washed up and sorted stuff it was time for bed, a very satisfying first day aboard.

Sunday - Day 2

We awoke at dawn for our first full day aboard and on peeping out from the awning were surprised to find a cruiser moored next to us and we hadn’t heard a thing. On greeting us good morning we found they had been next to us most of the night and fishing as well! They were either very quiet or we had slept soundly. Breakfast was prepared, fried eggs and fried spam that was left over from last nights supper, it smelled like a meal fit for a king. The weather was still settled just a gentle breeze and ideal for learner yachtsmen!

So lets get some sailing under our belts, so down with the awning and cabin top and hoisting the jib, tightening the topping lift and stowing the crutches its up with the mainsail, then slacken the topping lift. Pushing her bows towards the opposite bank to get some wind into the sails we were underway, we got ready to come about. Tiller over and around she comes sails flapping gently until a little gust filled them, on the opposite tack and over she leans! That’s when it happened!

The entry for the yacht Bright in Blakes brochure

An almighty crash from down below! We quickly moored up again against the banking and dashed below to see the scene of commotion, the two experienced sailors had forgot to store everything properly leaving the lockers beneath the bunks to slide open and spill there contents across the cabin floor! That meant crockery, pots and pans and clothing everywhere. Well that was a lesson learned! Luckily no plates were broken! Every thing was stored once again and we double checked all that we had done making sure everything was stored properly this time.

Once shipshape we had a quiet and slow uneventful sail down towards Horning. As we went round the “Swan” bend in the river a cruiser pulled away from the staithe and we quickly headed for the space, too quickly and bumped un seaman like into the banking. Another lesson learned, don’t do things in a hurry! We sheepishly looked around to see no one had witnessed us, luckily no one said anything. Lowering the sails and lifting the cabin top we got ourselves tidy and shipshape, locked up the cabin and set off to explore Horning. When we got back to our little craft it was time for tea, paste sandwiches and homemade fruit cake, sitting on the deck enjoying the sites of passing craft and people enjoying their hols! Across the river from the staithe were several moored craft and one of them a large cruiser. As the evening gathered on we heard the sound of music drifting across from it and a record player that they were playing provided us with some entertainment and amusement. It made us laugh reminding us of the Ransome book “coot club”, had we stumbled on the “Hullabaloos”?

We watched the sun go down enjoying our potato crisps and lemonade to the sound of the latest pop music! What better way to spend an evening for two young lads from an industrial northern town on their first holiday away from the family!

Monday - Day 3

Up again at first light and still fair weather to greet us as we got dressed and took down the awning, Quick breakfast of jam and bread, not forgetting to let the swans and coots have their share, after all they had been tapping on the hull for the last half hour! Then swab the decks of the overnight dew to get the craft ready for sailing again. We headed gently away from horning staithe it seemed like we were the only ones on the river, perfect! The broads belonged to us, a world away from our everyday life.

Passing the Ferry Inn people were beginning to awake and we were greeted with “good morning, good sailing weather” on more than one occasion. Making good headway and by now getting to grips with sailing we passed the entrance to Malthouse broad then the entrance to the river Ant, which way to go? After much deliberation we decided to go on farther, turn down Fleet dyke and explore South Walsham Broad. We never reached Walsham Broad, the narrow dyke proved a stern test of our sailing capabilities. With gusts of wind coming unexpectedly from both banks, it seemed it had strengthened a little since setting sail and was testing us to the limit. After a struggle with the elements for a while we decided to reverse our journey and moored up for a bite of lunch. When we plucked up courage to set off again we seemed to have learned from our experience and slowly made our way back to the main river, the Bure. Heading back up river we turned towards Malthouse Broad and managed to make the staithe and found a space to moor up. That was our sailing done for that day.

We were moored next to a big cruiser with a very friendly family on board and maybe it was because of the two twin girls they had on board that we were only too pleased to chat to them. They were from London and, by the way the girls giggled when we spoke, they found our broad Lancashire accent a bit strange, and we theirs I should add. After supper we went for a walk to explore the area, secretly hoping to meet the girls but alas it was not to be.

Tuesday - Day 4

When we awoke in the morning the weather had taken a turn for the worse and we were greeted by a light drizzle, that was a disappointment, so it was down to looking for something to do. We read for a while, constantly watching for a break in the clouds. Our friendly family meanwhile had set off with a wave and a “see you again sometime”, another disappointment. By late afternoon the weather had improved and we got the chance to sail again, this time making it back as far as Horning. Once again we were lucky to get a mooring on the staithe. We posted our post cards off that we had written earlier whilst in Ranworth, and calling off at the butchers shop, purchased some sausages for our supper. It started to drizzle again which seemed to dampen the spirits of most people. No music tonight to watch the sun go down.

Wednesday - Day 5

We realized this morning that there was no improvement of the weather. During the night it felt like we were sleeping on deck, the condensation in the little cabin was coming down like rain, and the noise of the rain outside on the cabin top made for a restless night. After breakfast and chatting to a local on the staithe, who said there would be no change for a few days, we decided the only thing to do would be to head back to Wroxham and the boatyard, not knowing how long it would take us to get back using the Quanting pole. Oh how we wished we had hired the outboard motor which we could have had for just a few pounds more, but not to be, this was going to be a day of hard work!

Setting out from the staithe Bernard was at the tiller first whilst I tried my hand at quanting. This was going to be quite difficult, the decks were wet and slippery and narrow as well! We hardly made any headway at first but after a while I managed to master the technique and we made headway up Horning reach towards Wroxham. What made it harder was now and again a motor cruiser would pass us and make the little craft bob up and down, the pole would stick in the mud sometimes and I had to hold on to stop from losing it! This was accompanied with howls of laughter from my best mate! Also from the occasional cruiser that passed! After what seemed hours, with blisters on my hands I decided that it was my turn on the tiller. Bernard set to with great gusto, showing me he could out run me at the quest, we moved a little quicker at first but as he became tired I could see him wobbling. Then it happened, one stride too many and over the side he went. Luckily we were close to the right hand bank and he managed to jump and cling on to some branches of an overhanging tree. I quickly turned towards the bank and managed to stop and with a struggle helped him back on board. We both collapsed in the cockpit and laughed our sides away! We looked like two drowned rats soaked to the skin.

It was late when we arrived back at the Loynes boatyard we moored in the dyke from where we had picked her up from, next to her sister ship “Merrie”. The two boys who had hired her had not ventured very far the last few days so we felt very superior at what we had achieved. After a supper of fish and chips we collapsed into our bunks.

Thursday - Day 6

When we finally arose and looked out it was looking like a very good day, so much for the locals weather forecasting! So over breakfast of bacon and eggs we decided that we could afford to hire a day boat for today, both having scraped and counted what spending money we had left. Across the river we noticed the cruiser we had moored next to in Ranworth. Bernard suggested he would go along to it and invite the twins to spend the day with us in the launch. When he arrived back he told me they would have loved to but were setting off back to their boatyard at Stalham that day, so we were never to see them again. An hour later two disappointed teenagers set off in their launch for the day. First we headed up to Coltishall, each taking turns to steer the little open boat with its noisy, smokey engine that almost deafened us. But the weather was fine and we were seeing things for the first time around us, not having to work to keep headway. We reached Coltishall in no time at all and, without stopping, turned around and headed back. This was sailing too easy. We came back into Wroxham, negotiating the bridge just before a cruiser went through, and headed down river to Horning again.

I don’t remember there being any Broads Authority boats watching for speeding in those days but if they had caught us we would have spent the rest of the holiday locked up! Several times people on the banks waved fists at us shouting “slow down!” Eventually it dawned on us and we duly obliged, becoming responsible sailors again. When we arrived back in Wroxham we could not believe we had covered more miles in a few hours than we had in days on board our yacht, but having enjoyed both enormously. That evening we spent hours talking about what we were going to do next year back here on the broads.

Friday - Day 7

Friday was again wet and drizzly so we went to the boathouse and picked up our suitcases to pack up our things ready for the trip home next morning. The rest of the day we spent wondering around Wroxham, looking at the various boatyards and sailing craft that were about. The smell of varnish and cut wood never left me and I can still recall it all these years afterwards.

That last day went over very quickly and soon it was Saturday morning, up very early to catch the first bus into Norwich. We arrived at Norwich bus station to find the “Yelloways” coach waiting for us and our return back to Lancashire. It was the 1960s before I was able to get back to the broads and since then have spent many holidays there, all of them enjoyable, but you can never replace that feeling of your first holiday as a young man discovering the thrill of boating, the smells of the boatyards, the pleasure of sailing your very own craft and the romance of the Norfolk Broads.

Alan Clarke 2012