It’s a funny old world that we live in. Bombarded as we are about the merits of eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight, yada yada yada, I could not believe my eyes when I read an article recently in The Daily Mail about ducks getting too fat! Yes, you read that right. Visitors to Ferry Meadows in Peterborough, UK, have been banned from feeding the ducks white bread as wardens there have noticed that they, (along with the park’s geese and swans too, apparently,) are getting too fat!
This got me thinking that perhaps ducks are changing in other ways too. Way back in June my family went on a lovely boating holiday on The. We have a bit of history with the Broads (see below!) but this time we couldn’t help but notice how brazen the ducks have become! We were often joined by one, two, several ducks flying right up on our boat, looking in at our widows as if to say, “Well, where’s my bread then?”. It seems that they have learnt to adapt very nicely, thank you, to the holiday trade.
Believe me, these ducks ate plenty of white bread and they didn’t look too fat to me!
Ahh, The Norfolk Broads – even the name evokes powerful, heart-warming memories for me. This is because every year when I was a young girl this is where my family took our annual family holidays. What made it even more exciting was that we would have one yacht for us and another for my grandparents, they making the trek from ‘up north’ and us from ‘down south’. We would meet in Horning, a delightful riverside village, at the boatyard.
I loved it when the waters were calm and still and we would pootle lazily along the meandering rivers, but I also remember being quite frightened when we would be sailing in strong winds across a broad, particularly Barton Broad. The yacht would heel over, the dark, grey waters lapping right up to the gunwale. I can hear now the cracking sound as the wind would whip sharply into the mainsail and someone yelling out, “Going About!” as we all had to crouch down and quickly move across to the other side of the well as the heavy boom would swing sharply just above our heads.
It was after a day’s sailing when we were safely moored up against a peaceful riverbank that I would feel the happiest. As an evening mist would begin to wrap itself all around us, we would put up the awning for the night. After supper, my brother and I would be tucked up into our cosy bunks in the forepeak where we would tell stories and laugh and make up silly games, finally falling asleep as our cheeks glowed from the Norfolk air, lulled as we were by the gentle lap, lap, lap of the water against the bow.
In the mornings, the first thing I would do was to pull open the tiny curtains covering the round port holes in our cabin and look out at the river only inches away, and I would be mesmerized by the early dancing light on the water.
It was my grandfather who started this family tradition in the 1930s when my mother was very young. He, my grandmother, Mum and my uncle took their annual holidays on the Broads but of course, as Mum tells it, things were very different then. There were very few motor boats, mostly yachts, and there were no frills.
Mum has memories of my granny having to get on her knees in the well of the boat to light the calor gas stove just to boil the kettle for a morning cup of tea. She also remembers mooring up to river banks and walking along fields and pathways to find the local farm to buy fresh milk for their breakfast! Health and safety today wouldn’t dare allow such a thing now, I’m sure!
This is one of my favourite photos from my childhood, I love the pure enjoyment in our smiles! This is me (in the middle) with my lovely little ‘bruv’ in front and my Granny behind. Notice our old style yacht, still with the front awning up, and notice the jumpers and coats – it is summer! 1960s
My brother and I were mere babes when we had our first Broads holiday. My brother learned to walk on a yacht as he could hold onto each side of the galley it being so narrow and so an ideal first-steps aid! I had a near miss once, so the story goes. Mum was bathing me in the galley sink (I was maybe one year old) when all of a sudden the bowsprit of a passing-by yacht which had obviously run into some trouble (this is not at all uncommon on boating holidays!) came crashing through the side of our boat, narrowly missing my back by inches. There by the grace of God…
Another family favourite. Dear Granny, ever vigilant, holding on to me for dear life as I look out into the early morning sunshine.
All aboard! Yet another favourite, my brother, in front of me, with my Granny and Dandy as we called him. Mum and Dad are in the other yacht taking the photos! 1960s
Some 15 years ago, we all (Mum, my family and my brother’s) took a holiday on the Broads together and we reminisce about it to this day with great joy. Going back this June after so long, we did notice some changes.
For one thing, where did all the ‘gin palaces’ come from I would like to ask? Now, if I was ever invited to go out for the day on a ‘gin palace’ to the French Riviera and pootle on down to, oh I don’t know, let’s say, Cannes, or possibly Monaco, do you think I would turn it down? No, of course not.
But on the Norfolk Broads? I don’t think so. It just seems, well, so obscene!
Just as a very quick explanation, the Norfolk Broads are an expanse of navigable rivers and lakes (‘broads’) that were once thought to be part of the natural landscape. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Dr discovered that they were in fact flooded medieval peat excavations. (credit: Wikipedia)
As early as 1878, sail boats could be hired from John Loynes and Harry Blake but in recent decades the number of people sailing has declined considerably. Even in the 15 years since we were last there, we noticed this time that there very few people sailing, chosing to motor boat instead. Indeed, that’s what we did!
Unfortunately, the huge popularity of motor boating holidays on the Broads caused serious problems with water pollution which in turn had an adverse effect on wildlife and plant life. All is not lost, however. Thanks to the efforts of the Broads Authority, since the 1970s the Broads Restoration project has been underway.
This has involved the removal of fish (biomanipulation) to allow water fleas to graze the algae to clear the water. Decades later, we certainly saw great evidence of this by the vast amounts of beautiful lily pads floating gracefully on the now clean waters, something we had not seen before. They only grow in clean water, so this is great news indeed.
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust is also undertaking constant conservation work to protect the wildlife and wild spaces of the Norfolk Broads and this is evidenced by the truly spectacular wildlife and nature reserves now found there.
One delightful animal we certainly had never seen before on our Broads holidays were otters. This is because by the 1970s entire river systems no longer supported them, mostly due to pollution. Now, however, thanks to an extensive conservation effort banning pesticides, providing otters legal protection and a significant improvement in water quality, otters have returned to their previous haunts on the Norfolk Broads. No photos unfortunately, but I did take one of a sketch of one at a nature reserve!
This, then, is the post which I had intended to write and share with you many weeks ago, but was unable to. I just wanted to share a piece of my heart with you, a place which means so very much to me.
A place where even the ducks have changed but what the Norfolk Broads means to me has never changed, and it never will.
My dear mum shared this delightful saying with me, although I am not sure where it came from, but I leave it here with you now:
“The Norfolk Broads are a breathing space for the cure of souls.”
- ‘Obese’ ducks put on no-bread diet (bbc.co.uk)