Monday, July 18, 2011
Back to Britain - part 1; the Norfolk Broads
For the next couple of weeks I'll be posting quick blogs on some of my favorite places in preparation for my visit to Britain in August.
They're not all places I'll have time to visit as I'll probably spend three weeks slumped over a pint in a murky London pub getting all misty eyed over the existence of warm beer.
Maybe I'll visit the Norfolk Broads; maybe not. The Norfolk Broads are about 117 square miles, mostly in Norfolk, of navigational waterways.
I was somewhat freaked out to Google them up and to pull up the Norfolk County Council website with the tourism motto "a time to explore," mainly because I broke this world shattering exclusive story and then had to hang out in the market place at Norwich (Narrrrwich to the locals) getting disinterested people to give their comments on the new motto and illustration.
These kind of exercises are never easy but, on reflection, it was easier than getting the good people of Barking to comment on genetic modification.
"What the fack, mate?"
So now that chilly day when we boarded a rather incongruously shaped Mississippi paddle steamer from Wroxham to see the broads, seems like a very different lifetime.We had seen all the rich pictures of windmills and lilly pads, but the Broad seemed rather gray and bleak. The photographs were all deeply uninspiring. Why had we moved to Norfolk?
Their attraction has always been somewhat elusive, requiring a love of remote and often chilly places.
Then there were boat trips with the former inlaws; the former FIL directing all the boat traffic in his cable knit that made him look like a gigantic sheep in a science experiment and the former MIL insisting we sit outside the hotel with an icy wind racing round our underpants so as she could smoke. Ah happy days.
I attempted to pilot a boat at Potter Heigham, but accidentally put it in reverse, smashing into two other boats and a pier. All attempts to dislodge the former in-laws into freezing water proved fruitless. There's a video on YouTube describing "two muppets" trying to get under the bridge at Potter Heigham; this sums up the abilities of many Broads boaters who show up from London having never operated anything more difficult that a paddle boat in Hyde Park.
There's something unedifying about the squat little boats that plough their trade from functional waterside pubs reeking of diesel, but the Broads do have an allure if you know where to look. You can still see a few wherries under sail, like feluccas on a chilly Nile. The days when reed workers lived in remote dragonfly filled cottages and the waterways were choked with lily pads are long gone, but the Broads still have an aura.
To drive across the Acle Straight under a leaden sky and to and see the bleak landscape unfold, scattered with ruined wind pumps and criss crossed with quick silver ditches is to feel as lonely as you ever will on this planet, even though there are far vaster wildernesses.
And at How Hill where there's a visitor center the Broads of so many childhood dreams still survive under the vast Norfolk skies. Here there are antique wind pumps, thatched cottages and the only reed cutter on the Broads. If you picnic here on a sunny day all seems right with the world, until you realize there's a big bad world beyond this little patch of Swallows and Amazons paradise and somewhere, someone is stubbing out a cigarette and cackling into the teeth of an easterly wind.