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My First Broadland Cruise c1960

or ...  “In those days”

1960s History 1960s Memories 1960s Gallery

By Brian Kermode

I suppose it was all my fault really? At the age of eight or nine I had been introduced to the Swallows & Amazons stories by Arthur Ransome and had access to around ten of the original twelve volumes. Because I wasn’t aware of the chronology of the stories I read ‘The Big Six’ before ‘Coot Club’ but I loved them both, particularly the latter. I was captivated by the meeting of Tom Dudgeon, from Horning, with the Callum children (at Thorpe Station) and the vivid description of the bustling scene when they arrived at Wroxham. Living in the North West: I had already been introduced to the Lake District and recognised, with some astonishment, its close resemblance to the locations in the stories involving the Walker and Blackett children camping at “Wild Cat” island on the lake. From this moment on I was desperate to visit the Broads and see for myself this magical land of waterside villages, boatyards with motor cruisers, sailing boats and all that exciting wild life.

Hence there began a fairly typical campaign of parent harassment with this goal in mind. A copy of the Hoseason’s brochure was obtained and I remember it was of the A5 sized type but as I recall (in the dim and distant) it was in ‘portrait’ format like the Blake’s examples from the post war period. That brochure was soon without its end papers and the pages were worn from my constant perusals. An activity that I have revived in later life but which is carried out with much greater care considering the extreme ‘collectors’ prices that these volumes now command. Upon reflection: It may well be that I was looking at an old [borrowed] Blake’s book and the Hoseason’s publication only appeared on the scene when my parents finally succumbed to my incessant pleadings? Eventually the decision had been taken and the day was dawning. It was 1960 or 1961, I am not exactly sure which but that would make me eleven or twelve years old? We had selected a four berth cabin cruiser from the Hoseason’s brochure and I have often reflected that this was a very lucky first choice. Our boat was ‘Royal Times’ on hire from Ernest Royall who was based at Hoveton but this was just Wroxham to me then and I am getting a little ahead of myself for the moment.

We four (Mum, Dad, my younger sister and myself) piled into our Morris-Minor Traveller and set off from our home in the Wirral. In those days the Wirral was in Cheshire, there were no motorways, and we faced a journey of around seven hours in duration. In fact it would be many years before the motorway system was of any benefit for this journey and in those days there weren’t even many ring roads and we had to travel down through towns in Cheshire, The Potteries and across the Midlands to Nottingham and Lincolnshire. We made excellent time and were approaching Kings Lynn by about lunchtime. The first sign of trouble was when we joined the queue for Sutton Bridge; which crosses the River Nene in Lincolnshire. It was quite a hold up due to one way traffic on the bridge and we were relieved to eventually take our turn to cross and get on our way. Little did we know that worse was to come! In those days there was just an uncontrolled T-junction where the A17 joined the A47 at West Lynn and the tail back on the A17 could be 3 or 4 miles long on busy Saturdays when crowds were thronging to the many holiday destinations of Norfolk on both routes.

Having started so well we eventually arrived at Wroxham feeling rather less composed and just in time for the four o’clock hand-over time! After this experience we devised an alternative route for future visits, avoiding Kings Lynn, by diverting via Wisbech and Downham Market. This was to cause a little consternation to my mother and some sniggering by my father when he later asked me to provide an itinerary for his work friend and I included the fervent instruction: “it is imperative that you fork off to the right at Long Sutton” …. and take the Wisbech road! Well, I was only about twelve at the time!

In those days Ernie Royall had not yet established the present day premises near Daisy Broad and operated from a seasonal base in the next dyke at Summer Craft, another family firm that survives to this day. I was very pleasantly surprised by this quiet back water with its trees, immaculate lawns, painted wooden bungalows and boatsheds. Nothing in the Arthur Ransome books had really prepared me for the sheer beauty of it all! The dyke broadened just by the Summercraft yard and I recall seeing the very smart Vesta and Vestella cruisers, from E.C. Landamore’s yard, frequently passing back and forth whilst their new hirers learned the ropes. Summercraft themselves had a Broom - Captain: ‘Glamour Girl’ and ‘Gaiety Girl’ which was a Moore’s ‘Babemore’ type; they also had a couple of Moore’s ‘Moorhen’ class, two berths but it is not possible for me to be entirely certain exactly what their fleet consisted of at the time. Another firm: Burecraft also based themselves at this location and they too had a Broom Captain ‘Lady Ann’ and two smaller cruisers, ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Lady Moya’; these boats were later incorporated into the Summercraft fleet.

We were greeted by Mr. Royall, his wife Gladys and their son Alan was also present. I suppose he would be in his late teens at that time? The boats I remember clearly were ‘Royal Times’ and her sister ‘Royal Trail’ which was a little newer (I think) and sporting a varnished hull. There was also a very new two berth cruiser (again - I think) ‘Royal Charm’ although ‘Royal Tiara’ was the first of these. In any event, the smaller boats also sported bright varnished hulls and topsides. We were shown over our boat and my sister and I were allocated the fore cabin with its twin berths in the bows. We were overwhelmed by the delicious boaty smell of wood and varnish and the tightly made up bunks which were taut enough to please a Regimental Sergeant Major!

Crested Ducks at Royall’s boatyard c1960

My other abiding memory of this location was the small group of very smart white ducks with little crowns of feathers set at a jaunty angle on the back of their heads. I had never seen their like before and was told that these were called Chinese Ducks. I think they are nowadays referred to as ‘Crested’ Ducks, a domestic variety that were probably pets of the boatyard. (I hope they didn’t fatten them up for Christmas like a certain Mr. Woods?) In any event they were a highly decorative addition to the premises; in a similar way that a dovecot with fan-tailed pigeons might be?Mr. Royall showed us over the boat and gave Dad the usual driving lesson. I can’t quite remember what the throttle looked like but there was no ‘single lever control’ in those days and forward or reverse were selected by means of a gear lever, of about three feet in length, which connected directly to the engine through the cockpit floor!

It had been a long day and as I recall we did not stray from the yard that night. I do remember our delight as we children wriggled down into those tightly tucked-in bunks feeling very excited about the adventures to come!

Crested Ducks at Royall’s boatyard

Next morning we made ready to set off towards Horning and, despite my tender years, I became the self appointed navigator, given my familiarity with the Arthur Ransome stories. Unfortunately my first act in this capacity was to send us off in the wrong direction! When we emerged from the boatyard dyke I judged the river too narrow to be the Bure itself and we turned upstream in search of the main river. It wasn’t until we reached Wroxham Bridge that I realised my mistake and we turned back onto the correct course. The river was full of traffic that Sunday morning and shortly after we left behind the riverside lawns and houses of Wroxham we saw a slightly upsetting collision. As we rounded a bend an oncoming cruiser deviated across the river and collided with another quite near to ourselves. It was quite a crunch and both cruisers were damaged around the strakes but what was more disturbing was that a young girl on the blameless cruiser was seated at the front edge of their fore cabin and the poor child screamed in terror at the collision which took place within a foot or two of her feet. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt at all, just frightened, but it was my first experience of the ineptitude of a few hirers on the Broads and we had hardly got going yet!

Dipping in and out of Wroxham and Salhouse Broads we carried on, without further traumas, to Horning where we had hoped to stop at the staithe. Perhaps not surprisingly we were unable to find a mooring there and carried on to the Ferry where we easily found space. In those days the Inn still had its more picturesque thatched roof and we were delighted by many more when we walked into Horning to visit the various shops. At that tender age I thought it quite a tedious distance to have to walk, I must have been a lazy pup! I enjoyed the visit to Horning but the developments at the Ferry Marina were not as extensive then as they were to become. I am a bit hazy about our next stop but it must have been to Malthouse Broad for our second night. I remember the Stores and the Blakes office on the quay (you could moor in both dykes in those days) but alas I was too young to see for myself the wonderful bar in the Maltsters’ lounge!

Royal Times at Stalham c1960

Swabbing the decks at Stalham Dyke

Next day I must have been sacked as navigator because we made our way up the river Ant and over Barton Broad to Stalham; which does not feature in the Coot Club stories. I am sure we would have stopped at Ludham bridge to visit the stores and have a good browse in amongst all the tempting souvenirs on offer. Nice stuff or tacky it mattered little to us kids!  In those days you couldn’t stop at Howe Hill but mooring was easy at Stalham because you were welcome to use Richardson’s basin in the week. Here we were again though, another good walk into the village for lazy kids but at least there was no ring road to negotiate then! Mum and Dad really seemed to like Stalham for some reason and my main memory was the Vicar mowing his grass in the church yard. He was a really jolly and out-going individual who had a cheery word for all the passers-by and was exhorting them to come to his bring and buy sale, or such like, later in the week.

The next day we set off in our own sweet time and cruised to Womack Water. This was our first experience of mooring stern-on and it seemed a bit foreign at first. It was a very pleasant location though and it remains a favourite to this day. I can recall seeing Hunter’s Yard with its “No Mooring No Petrol” sign, the significance of which would have been lost on me at that time. However the highlight of this particular evening was our neighbour at the staithe. She was a large and powerful motor yacht (possibly of the Staniland type – think Dunkirk Little Ships) with an extensively equipped central wheel house, deck rails and spray dodgers. She had twin diesel engines and obvious seagoing capability. My father got into chatting with her friendly owner and was invited aboard for a full inspection. Her name, as far as I can recall, was ‘Aquagem’ and I was very envious as the invitation was not extended to children! It would be lovely to hear from anybody who remembers this boat as I have never found any other reference to her in my later research.

The following day came high adventure: the navigation of Potter Heigham Bridge. Firstly, we went ashore and I was very excited to visit Latham’s Stores and be enthralled by the huge variety of fishing tackle and the numerous photographs of monster pike (just like Ransome’s “world’s whopper”) taken from the surrounding district. At that time I had never seen such a large fishing tackle emporium, which took up about half the premises; much more than is allocated these days. My mother had an equally good time and purchased a full dinner service. I think it was Royal Worcester and I remember they guaranteed to supply replacements for any individual pieces that may be broken in the future. Certainly Mum had that dinner service for the rest of her life and some of it survived until I had to clear my parent’s home in 2008. I remember then we had to get the Pilot to take us under the bridge. I think there were two guys who fulfilled this role; one looked after the Blake’s fleet and the other Hoseason’s boats. We called at the little office just inside Broadshaven, near the footbridge, and our pilot came aboard and took us through. I remember the pilot as white haired and weather beaten and he told us that Royal Times was a good high water boat (because she had low air draft, I suppose, but that term had probably not come into use by then?) and he demonstrated how he opened the throttle once we where half under the bridge to make her stern sit down lower in the water. He made it look very easy! Certainly it was very exciting and impressive for an eleven year old boy steeped in maritime doctrine from the likes of Arthur Ransome and C.S. Forrester!

I was disappointed not to see Hickling Broad properly but we spent the night at Horsey Mere and enjoyed a visit to the Mill. My only other memory of this was occasion was the discovery of a lizard sitting on a tree stump by the side of the Horsey to Martham road. I had wandered off alone quite early in the morning and he was sunning himself, not yet having warmed up enough to zoom off upon sight of my inquisitive face. I had encountered Common Lizards at home and I would like to say that this was the much rarer Sand Lizard but that might be just wishful thinking on my part? I am a bird watcher and so, like any such, I am very familiar with that kind of delusionary optimism!

Pony and carriage rides at Gt Yarmouth 1960s

A 1960s postcard of the pony and carriage rides at Gt Yarmouth

Later that morning we returned to Potter Heigham, got piloted back through the bridge and moored on the Repps staithe. Then we all piled onto the local bus and set off for an afternoon in Yarmouth; a day at the seaside! Hailing from the Isle of Man, and by that time, the Wirral you might think we would have no enthusiasm for a seaside visit but no such thing! Off we went for a day of Candyfloss and Arcades etc.  Having said that: my only strong recollections are seeing the Ormesby Broads, either side of the road, and being upset by the sight of the Shetland ponies being asked to pull children in miniature Stage Coaches and Covered Wagons along by the Pier. They looked so bored, downhearted and un-loved! I got quite indignant and carried a childish pique for the rest of the day! I have to say, though, that last time I was in Yarmouth (about five years ago) I saw that this attraction still exists and the ponies looked perfectly happy and well cared for; so all is well apparently.

Upon return to Potter Heigham we had a short cruise, past the bungalows with the dads and granddads fishing off deck chairs on their lawns, to Thurne Dyke where we spent that night. I have no special memories of the occasion except to say that the house by the staithe was, of course, a shop at that time (Curtis’s?) and we will certainly have visited. Looking back, it seems we didn’t miss out any shops on this cruise although I don’t suppose we spent all that much? Like Womack this remains a favourite spot and a visit to the Broads always includes a visit to these places, to this day. Nowadays, though, I am much more inclined to walk in the nearby countryside and villages than I was as a child! As much as I love the bustle of the Marinas I prefer to visit the quiet villages, their churches and their surviving independent traders like a local butcher’s or post office; Its not so easy to find such local atmosphere these days.   

Next day (Thursday) was one of comic adventure and minor mishap! Well, it made my sister and I laugh and fortunately it did not involve any of the serious misadventure that can befall the Broads visitor. I was going to say novice but changed my mind, I expect you know why! First port of call was Acle Bridge and yet another flipping long walk to the village! I’m not sure if its comfortable or even possible to do that any more due to the recent bridge work and road widening? I don’t recall being all that impressed with Acle at that time but we returned to the Bridge Inn for lunch and that was better! Mum and Dad decided that they would have a drink and we sat outside (no kids in Pubs in those days!) and they had a pint of cider each. I can’t be sure now but it may have been rough cider or scrumpy (as we know it) and they may have just had the one, possibly it was two? In any event, they definitely thought it was strong stuff and they both felt quite tiddley. Much to the amusement of their heartless off spring! To be fair they were neither drinkers and this was the first occasion they had been to a pub during this holiday. Not a tradition that survived very long after my eighteenth birthday, it has to be said!

The Kermode family with Royal Times c1960

The Kermode family with Royal Times c1960

After lunch we returned to Horning and again ended-up mooring by the ferry. That evening we sat out on deck and I tried my hand at a spot of fishing – more about that later. My father, a dedicated pipe smoker was unfortunate enough to lose his grip on the implement and saw it fall onto the side deck and bounce over the side! We have all had that moment when you stare dumbly at the rings spreading across the water? What a panic there was though: Dad grabbed the ships bucket and hurled it after the pipe in a somewhat futile attempt to retrieve it! Luckily he had the presence of mind to hold on to the rope that was used when dipping river water for mopping the decks! (In those days we were very particular about things like that and stowing fenders underway etcetera, all very shipshape and Bristol fashion we were, I only wish I had been sea-man like enough to have kept a log) We also might have been forgiven for thinking that the loss of Dad’s pipe was the beginning of end of the world and, although it was after six o’clock, he stomped off to the village in the hope of being able to purchase a replacement. He returned an hour or so later calmer and having managed to buy some cigarettes. I have always suspected he got them from one of the pubs and had a couple of sneaky pints in the process!

Here we are with ‘Royal Times’ at Horning Ferry. In the picture are Dad, my sister Barbara and myself. Mum took the picture with my Brownie box camera but I demand the credit for its composition. Please note the white plimsolls, ubiquitous pullover anoraks with stitched-on badges and compulsory bobble hats – knitted by our mother, of course; although we made the bobbles ourselves.

In writing this piece I keep remembering more things. They just seem to keep springing back to mind from the foggy depths; no wonder it’s taking so long? The last night was spent at Coltishall where we encountered a friendly family that we had met at the boatyard and at Horning Ferry that first day. Our friends had also moored near the Anchor Hotel that night. I don’t remember their names but they had hired Lady Jane from Burecraft at the same Summercraft  base as our own. The family comprised a man and wife and their son who was a few years older than myself. I remember that we went aboard and squeezed into their saloon for mugs of tea. They were astounded that I had managed to catch no fish at all during an entire week, on the Broads, and the advice of their angler son was sought. I was a raw beginner and had equipped myself with a 7ft spinning rod and fixed spool reel but the problem proved to be the beautiful cork bodied float I had bought in my local tackle shop. I can picture it now: It had a broad cork body painted in a fluorescent yellow above and bright varnish below. Trouble was: the short tapered body had a diameter of about 2cm and was really more suitable for light live-baiting. It was far too buoyant for small roach or bream to register a good bite upon. That explained the incessant bobbing, all week!!

The best story though, was the adventure they had witnessed the night before at Horning Ferry. At that time there was still a ferry boat of sorts at Horning. I do remember it as a large, light coloured, box like punt which carried brewery advertising on its hull sides. It was chain operated and passengers were left to operate the ferry for themselves. Apparently a party of two gentlemen and a lady left the pub at closing time and embarked on the ferry in order to return to their houseboat on the far bank. Unfortunately the first gentleman was keen and he began to operate the chain before his friend had managed to get aboard. The result was the classic one foot ashore, one foot afloat and the inevitable cold bath. I expect that sobered him up pretty quick! I cannot report upon the subsequent conversation between the two friends but I would have loved to be a witness at the ferry!

And so we were back to Wroxham and the end of a glorious week’s holiday. How sad I was to be going home, I never did want to leave Norfolk at the end of my holidays. Even at this stage there was one final incident that amused Mr Royall and embarrassed my father. In a conscientious effort to have Royal Times all shipshape and prepared for handing back Dad took the dip-stick and placed it in the petrol tank ready for Mr Royall to record the remaining fuel. Unfortunately it was a little while before he came aboard and Ernie had to explain to Dad that seeing as the stick was wooden the petrol had soaked into it and given a falsely high reading! A new dip stick had to be provided for a correct reading and Mr Royall took pains to spare my Father’s blushes.

We said our goodbyes to the Royall family, I remember that a young Alan Royall was there too, as were our family of friends from Lady Jane, and we set off for our long journey home. I will always be grateful to the Royalls for the excellence of our first Broads experience which was to become our yardstick for quality over the years. Having enjoyed our first visit, so much, we saw other fleets that fell well below their standards of presentation. This meant we were able to judge which were the best boatyards and we went on to enjoy many excellent craft as well as visiting Royalls on several more occasions; right through to the 1980’s when our Broads Holidays became rather less frequent. Our last sight of the Broads, from the Bridge, came only too soon and was then cruelly terminated until our return. I always remember that this road between Norwich and Wroxham was the longest seeming stretch of the journey, just when you thought you were almost there! Something which I never believed until I saw the herd of little Dexter cattle that grazed to the right of the approaching road for many years; somewhere near Rackheath I would think?

Finally, just to say that all the events in this account are true memories of a holiday which took place fifty years ago. I am confident that there are no memories from later holidays that have been confused with this occasion.  The only difficulty I would mention is the actual itinerary that was followed. We definitely visited all the places mentioned but after all these years I cannot guarantee that the order of events is precisely correct.

Brian Kermode 2012