It’s been an expensive month as I have bought several more Norfolk Broads related books to add to my collection, some new and some secondhand. I may well review a couple of these in the future, but for this post I am going to concentrate on one of the old books which I found to be a delightful read. Quays without Locks was written by Harry F.G. Griffin and was first published in 1953 by R.B. Bradbeer Ltd, the Broadland boating agency which was based at Lowestoft.
This pocket sized book was produced as a guide to cruising on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, some of the material for which was reproduced from the East Anglian magazine, and it was illustrated with 24 black and white photographs of the area. It contains a general guide to the northern and southern rivers along with some of the history of the region, but what makes this book worthy of interest is the wonderfully written holiday logs which the author named his “Ditch Crawler’s Diary.” Split into four sections, each covering a week long cruise taken at different times of the year, the diary entries are both informative and extremely humorous! They are an absolute joy to read – so much so, that I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it. I would dearly love to republish the diary in full on the Broadland Memories website but have no idea where copyright would now lie, Bradbeer’s having long since gone. It is such a delightful book that I at least have to share a few selected highlights on here though.
Harry Griffin was accompanied on the holiday cruises by his wife, Gladys, and I presume that they owned the boat featured which he named as Owl and Pussycat. Their first week afloat was during March and, having set off from a boatyard at Potter Heigham on a Saturday afternoon, he writes; “Cruise down the Thurne in bright sunshine, noting the decorative riverside bungalows. Point out one with particularly charming aspect. Wife has noticed it, also, and replies that view is not improved by scantily clad hussy mowing lawn. As an afterthought she adds the entirely irrelevant information that she was not born yesterday and requests that I pay more attention to the steering.”
Their first night is spent moored at the Boundary Farm Dyke and after eating an enormous meal onboard the couple settle down to sleep: “Awakened during the night by anxious wife requesting explanation of weird noises. Listen fearfully to dull, unearthly thuds. Recall recent television play entitled ‘Poltergeist’ but draw comfort from the fact that neither Gladys nor myself can be described as adolescent. Leave warm berth to investigate. Poke frightened head through canvas aperture and confront equally frightened horse. Return, thoroughly chilled, to stone-cold bed.”
The spring sunshine didn’t last, strong winds began to batter the area and, after a brief trip to Stokesby, the couple spent the next two days holed up in Upton Dyke. On the Tuesday they ventured out along the Bure to South Walsham and then back to Boundary Farm but mentioned the large number of yachts aground in the reeds due to the fierce winds which still raged. On the Wednesday morning they prepared to set off: “Start engine, turn bows and prepare to leave. Envious looks from yacht crews having no ‘bit of iron’ give way to shouts of alarm as steering behaves in most erratic manner. Take evasive action, to no purpose. Crash broadside into ‘Perfect Lady.’ Crew of ‘Perfect Lady’ appear on deck armed with mops, quants and boat hooks. As we are in Nelson’s country, hasten to assure them we are not a boarding party. Crew reply to this witticism by informing us what they think we are. Suggest they choose a more appropriate name for their boat next year. Climb into pre-war bathing trunks to disentangle motor tyre from steering gear. Embarrassment increased by ribald comments from ‘Perfect Lady’ and obnoxious youth with camera. Leave Thurne.”
Wednesday night was spent at Ludham Bridge and on Thursday morning they continue their cruise up the Ant: “Select Neatishead as our next port of call, turning left as we enter the Broad. Consult guide book for further information and learn we have to keep red posts to our left and black to our right. As all the posts are battleship grey, this proves beyond our capabilities. Posts marking the navigable channel now abruptly cease, with one exception. This isolationist bears the notice: ‘Mooring To This Post Not Allowed.’ Wonder why something should be erected only to advertise its uselessness? A little further on, another notice fixed at the entrance to a narrow inlet is equally baffling. It carries the caption NEATISHEAD and underneath what the elements have left of an arrow. Needless to say, both ends are missing and as a directive it is useless. Gladys suggests we explore the inlet. But I oppose this with charts, maps and logic. Shortly afterwards distinct protests from the engine necessitate a reversal of this decision. Return to inlet. Cruise through pleasant, tree-lined dyke and moor at sheltered staithe. Notice bids visitors: ‘Welcome to Neatishead’ and lists many commodities unobtainable in our part of the country. Discover they are also unobtainable here, it being early closing day.”
The gales continued, accompanied by lashing rain, but the couple continued on up to Stalham where they spent Friday night. On the Saturday they travelled back down the Ant and returned to Potter Heigham; “Bring cruiser back to boatyard to the accompaniment of hoots, cat-calls, etc. Wonder if usually polite staff are showing disapproval of clumsy mooring. Quickly reassured by diplomatic foreman, who explains that his men are ambitious to become radio bird-mimics. Bid sad farewell to our floating home and return to civilisation strong advocates of a Broadland holiday – IN AUGUST.”
The couple returned in July to resume their tour of the northern rivers. On the Monday they visited Hoveton, mooring alongside the Horseshoes Inn: “Approach imposing building, claimed to be the ‘largest village stores in the world.’ Part company with Gladys, after receiving instructions not to miss anything good that is going. Wife, with eager gleam in her eye, enters building. Spend interesting hour in and around the boatyards. Return to shopping centre. No sign of wife. Note that, with the exception of antique shop and dairy, all shops appear to be operated by one firm. Doff my hat to these individualists but wonder how they survive. Watch middle-aged man emerge from dairy clutching bottle of milk. A few minutes later, jolly faced milkman leaves antique shop carrying hideous china monstrosity. Wonder if this is the answer to the problem – that they exist by trading with each other. Catch sight of long queue and, remembering wife’s admonition, join it. Arrive at counter and am offered the contents of two revolting tins. One is gentles, the other lugworms. Stagger out of the shop and into bar. Leave hospitable bar and confront accusing wife.”
The following day they continue upstream: “Belaugh, being too small to support a football or cricket team, has invented its own sport. This consists of collecting buckets, tins and iron bedsteads, dragging them to the waters edge and heaving them into the river. Regular river users inform me that it’s no unusual thing to awake in the morning and find one’s boat moored to a four-poster.”
By Wednesday the couple had reached Horning where they visited the Ferry Inn: “Question river man about damage to river crossing. Fail to get condemnation of Hitler but much adverse criticism of William the Conqueror. Change subject. Gladys remarks how nice it must be to have river at the bottom of one’s garden. Gather from pungent comments of riverman that gardens are often at the bottom of the river.”
Passing through Potter Heigham Bridge on the Thursday, the night is spent at Somerton: “Walk to Winterton for early morning bathe. Change in deserted look-out post. return to find post occupied by beach guard. Have difficulty in convincing him we have not swum the North Sea. Discover reason for Somerton’s declining popularity. Compelled to wait several hours to refloat cruiser. Return to boatyard. Join locals on bridge waiting expectantly for inevitable collisions. Listen to eye-witness account of giant pike caught in Heigham Sound. Interfering woman cuts in to say: ‘Fishing is a cruel sport. That fish would have been happier in the river.’ Eye witness replies: ‘It would still be there, lady, if it hadn’t opened its mouth at the wrong time.”
In August the couple took their third cruise of the year and made their way across Breydon to the southern rivers.: “Reach Reedham. Moor at Lord Nelson. Received with marked deference by elderly waterman. Remark on this to landlord whose cryptic reply: ‘We’ve learned our lesson’ leaves me puzzled. Pursue matter further and discover that because hospitality of local inhabitants fell short of expectations Viking king had ancestors massacred. Return to boat, shave off beard.”
I wonder whether the elderly waterman mentioned by Harry Griffin is the mystery Reedham man who appears in two sets of mid 1950s photographs I have on Broadland Memories, seemingly with associations to the Lord Nelson. I’ve cropped in on one of those which was taken by the Bell family in 1955, seen here on the right. He certainly looks to be a real character and did have the weathered look of an old waterman to me. I’ve appealed for information about this gentleman before on the blog and on the website but, so far, he remains unidentified. The reference to the “Viking king” is just one of the many legends which surround Broadland and it’s a story which has been retold in many books over the years. The tale revolves around Ragnar (also sometimes referred to as Lothbrok or Lodbrog), a Viking chief, who was caught in a storm and found himself washed up on the shores of Reedham in the mid 9th century, along with his faithful hound. At this time, East Anglia was under the rule of a young King Edmund who had a hunting lodge in the village. The foreign stranger was taken to Edmund’s hall where he was tended to. Ragnar shared the king’s passion for hunting and, once recovered, the pair struck up a great friendship and he gained Edmund’s admiration for his great hunting skills. The king’s chief huntsman, Bern, grew increasingly jealous of this friendship and, seizing upon an opportunity one day whilst out hunting, he murdered Ragnar. The only witness to his crime was the Viking chief’s dog, an animal which is said to have been endowed with great intelligence. Every night after his master’s death, the dog would walk into the great hall of the lodge and howl. He would then sink his teeth into Bern. Eventually, Bern confessed his sins and, as punishment, was cast adrift in a small boat onto the sea. By a strange coincidence, this boat found its way to the shores of Ragnar’s home country where his son’s were distraught at the news of their father’s death. Keen to exact revenge on Edmund, Bern informed the vikings that it was Edmund who had killed Ragnar. A large army of warriors was quickly gathered and they set forth in a fleet of ships to avenge the death of Ragnar. Landing at Reedham they proceeded to massacre the entire village and executed King Edmund.
Back to the Ditch Crawler’s Diary, and as they pass Reedham Ferry they come across the old Cockatrice pub which had been a private house since c1920s but was advertising eggs and dairy produce for sale: “Discover Cockatrice to be a ‘fabulous reptile, said to be hatched by a serpent from a cock’s egg and whose look and breath are fatal.’ Decide to purchase victuals through the normal channels.”
On Wednesday they reached Brundall where they tie up at a boatyard: “Gather from employee that first boat built in Broadland was launched by the Romans at Brundall. Irate skipper of cruiser undergoing repair confirms this and asserts that said boat is still in commission as part of unmentionable boat owner’s hire fleet. Awakened in the night to discover we have broken loose from moorings. Wife switches on lights as I rush aft to investigate. Cries of terror from opposite bank greet my appearance.” The following morning they stop at Surlingham Ferry House: “Join excited group discussing reappearance of ‘Bishop of Brundall.’ Riverman explains that bishop, dressed in long white gown, passed down the river in ghostly barge the previous night. Make hurried exit. Gladys insists that from now on I discard old-fashioned nightshirt and take to wearing pyjamas.”
The “Bishop of Brundall” is one of the many ghosts which are said to have haunted Broadland over the years. Twice a year, in June and again in September, his ghost may apparently be seen gliding down the river on a barge being rowed by white-robed figures, blessing all those he passes. To witness the event is said to bring a year of good health and good fortune.
After visiting Norwich on Friday, the couple head to Thorpe St. Andrew: “Bring boat alongside quay in quite professional manner. Regret absence of witnesses. Trip over warps and fall face downwards in mud. Regret presence of witnesses.”
The final week is taken in October and the couple continue their exploration of the southern rivers. Monday is spent visiting Beccles: “Purchase replica of giant ‘bellringers mug.’ Gather that original when filled with strong ale was responsible for some amazing displays of campanology. Leave Beccles. Cruise to end of navigable waters at Geldeston Lock. Receive permission from licensee to moor alongside front garden. Belligerent gander vetos this concession and bars return to the boat. Join clientele in taproom. Listen to ‘fishy’ stories. Local character takes umbrage when doubts expressed as to truth of outrageous yarn. Agrees to be placated with pint of ‘arms and legs.’”
The “bellringers’ cup” used to be kept in the St Michael’s Church tower and, in times past, was filled with strong ale to be passed around the bell ringers on duty. I’ve seen more than one reference to the fact that the bell ringing would get progressively more interesting as the session went on! Fred Morris had been the landlord at the Locks Inn since 1932 but mention was made in the book of the fact that he had recently passed away and would be much missed in the area. His successor was the infamous Susan Ellis who had previously worked alongside Fred at the inn. I have no idea what a pint of “arms and legs” was though!
On the Wednesday they make a pre-arranged rendezvous with the “in laws” at St. Olaves: “Decide to leave boat and spend day at Yarmouth Races. Wife’s mother registers disapproval. Attempts to sabotage operation by delaying tactics. Take short cut across the fields to make up for time lost. Fractious horse gives chase. Surprised to see mother-in-law outdistance the rest of the field.”
Quays without Locks is probably one of the most entertaining Norfolk Broads guide books to have been written over the years and is well worth purchasing if you happen to come across a copy in a secondhand bookshop. I managed to secure mine for the bargain price of £2.54 including postage via a well known online auction site, but average prices seem to be around £10 for a copy in reasonable condition.