In the 1970s my good mate Rex and I were young RAF technicians serving at the Air
Defence Radar Station, Neatishead, just up the road from Horning and where the excellent
Radar museum is now situated. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to hire a Broads
cruiser for a holiday so plans were made and we managed to secure the same week off
for June 1975.
Ever diligent, we had conducted extensive research at riverside pubs and observed
people’s mooring patterns. It seemed to us that if we got cracking early every morning
we could enjoy a few hours cruising before finding some more leisurely inclined soles
just leaving their previous night pub side mooring. We would then be able to slide
in and have a wander about before opening time. Then without hanging about the pub
too long, we could get going before closing time for a few more hours cruising. In
the late afternoon there was bound to be someone just leaving a convenient (pub)
mooring having enjoyed a relaxed lunchtime session and we could nip into the vacant
space. Modern all day opening leaves this strategy in tatters but back then it proved
to work quite well.
Now, in those Cold War years aside from the actual Soviet threat, there was an ever
present spectre of the sudden Tactical Evaluation (TACEVAL) exercise and when the
sirens went, that was it. Everyone had to get into work sharpish and if you were
away on leave you were ok but if you were about to go on leave it was TS (Tough Sh..).
An exercise could last an indeterminate amount of days. Although these exercises
were meant to come as a surprise, in reality some sort of clandestine information
network existed whereby local traders in Coltishall village often seemed to have
a shrewd idea of an imminent exercise. Being Servicemen, Rex and I usually accepted
our lot but the thought of losing our holiday was too much and a TACEVAL was rumoured
to be in the air. This was confirmed during a few visits to Coltishall pubs so we
drew up a cunning plan. Rex lived in billets at RAF Coltishall where it would be
hard to conceal one’s presence (hide) but I lived out in Norwich and was therefore
fairly unobtrusive. So, on the night before our mid week (I think) start date Rex
stayed over at my place. Next morning we were up, bright and breezy, loaded up Rex’s
white Anglia 105E Estate car and drove to Horning crouched as low in the car as possible.
We had no idea if a TACEVAL had been called but as we were unloading our baggage
at Ferry Boatyard we heard the sirens begin at Neatishead. Phew! We’d made it.
One of the pub’s local characters was Arthur, the river inspector and we’d got to
know him very well. Some weeks earlier he advised that spaces at the Neatishead staithe
were often in short supply. “Not to worry,” he said, “I’ll set some red flags out
on an end mooring and people should avoid that space. Just moor there”. So, having
crossed Barton Broad we sought out the staithe and sure enough, there were the red
flags. We duly tied up to be greeted by the whingeing of some snooty woman who was
clearly miffed that her boat was no longer on pole position for the off in the morning.
Her complaining was loud enough to hear but probably more directed at her hen pecked
husband. We ignored her.
Within a short period we heard and saw Arthur’s patrol launch approaching, as did
the woman who loudly uttered words similar to “Ah, here’s the inspector, he’ll soon
see orf this riff-raff!”
This was closely followed by Rex calling out, “ Wotcher Arthur, you old bugger, how’re
“Fine thanks Rex, sling me my flags would you and I’ll catch you later”
At this point I saw steam rising from Mrs Snooty’s galley and I don’t think it was
from the kettle.
Late one afternoon we ventured into Ranworth and after looking around, thought that
we’d have to moor out with the mud anchor and row the dinghy ashore but then a proper
‘end on’ mooring suddenly became available. Rex motored across, snicked the boat
into reverse and backed her in as cleanly as a person would a back a car into a space
at Tescos. But unlike the Tesco scenario, there was no contact whatsoever with any
of the surrounding vessels. This earned Rex some plaudits from casual observers but
he confessed to me that he doubted he could repeat the exercise. Rex then decided
to have a swim. Now, Rex is a chunky chap and he was famed then for his spectacular
back rollover ‘dives’ at the swimming pool. In he went with the most almighty splash
and plume of spray which caused many a head to pop up from all the other boats. I
then got into the dinghy and followed Rex while he swam all across the Broad and
I wasn’t to venture into the water until later that week when I was tempted by the
then crystal clear water further up Coltishall way.
One morning we were cruising along a stretch of river with no other boats in sight
when the fabulous sound of a Merlin engine split the tranquillity and a Spitfire
from BBMF (then at Coltishall) shot along the river route towards us at low altitude,
banked over with the port wingtip pointed down and seemingly at the same height as
the tree tops on the banks. Had it not been for the modern look of our cruiser it
could have been 1945. On the day that we had to go under Potter Heigham bridge we
duly lined up waiting for the Pilot. I believe this was probably the character Charlie
Crow. He walked along eyeing the boats dismissing some as he went. When he reached
us he said that he reckoned he’d get ours through if we crammed ourselves as far
forward as possible in the bows. So, off we went and we shot under with what seemed
like less than an inch to spare.I believe the Pilot fee was inclusive in the hire
costs but it was customary to give him a bob or two for beer money. A stop at Hickling
was quite enjoyable and I remember it as a very pleasant place.I was saddened in
2009 on a re visit there to witness a generally run down scene with the pub closed
and half sunken boats languishing. I hope it will return to some of its former glory.
I can’t recall exactly everywhere we went that week but the weather was mostly bright
and sunny. The one grey day when it rained saw us moored up near Acle for an onboard
lunch. Just then, a boat went by with a bunch of Rex’s old schoolmates from Kent
Mutual recognition was instant, they did an about turn and we ended up rowing across
a choppy and windy river to have a session in the pub. And there was us intending
to have a quiet lunch….
I can’t recall the exact boat we had but the name Ferry Overseer sounds familiar.
Anyway, it was one of the more modern fibreglass 4 berth jobs with forward steering
position and a sliding canopy. Sadly, neither of us has any surviving photos of that
holiday but I seem to recall that the boat was white hulled with a green upper structure.
After the obligatory ‘teach idiots to drive a boat’ course we set off along the Bure
seeking the Ant. This was because we’d decided on a first night stop at The Eagle,
Neatishead, this being our favourite local where the Landlady had promised us a cooked
meal. At this time, the Landlord was an ex Navy chap named Norman and he kept the
brass and copper pipes in the loos gleaming. The pub sign bore the image of HMS Eagle
and not the feathered variety. The pub is now a private dwelling.
That evening we had a good laugh with Arthur about this in the Eagle. He was a great
chap and very pleased to have been awarded a boat and patch to work at a relatively
young age. He had many amusing stories about encounters on the river. The week before
our holiday, the landlady had asked Arthur if he could relocate a grumpy and stroppy
Muscovy duck which had taken up residence in the garden and was terrorising anyone
who came near. This particular evening she asked Arthur if ‘her’ duck was happy in
his new home.
“Yes”, said Arthur, “I only just saw him today at (such and such) a place”
The landlady eyed him a bit suspiciously and asked if he was fibbing, “You haven’t
killed him have you?”
“Certainly not!” replied Arthur doing his best to look offended.
Satisfied with this the landlady went out to the kitchen. Rex gave Arthur an enquiring
look and made a discreet wringing of duck’s neck sort of action to which Arthur slyly
grinned and nodded.
Ferry Overseer - this 4 berth cruiser cost between £63 and £115 per week to hire