Holiday reading. What beats a book crammed full of twists and turn, thrills and spills to keep us occupied while lazing on the beach or reclining on a deck chair by the side of a pool somewhere hot and Mediterranean? What indeed!
When Lisa set her prompt for this week’s Bite Size Memoir challenge as ‘Holiday Reads’ my memories took me not to the beach or the pool but back to the annual holidays we took as a family when I was a girl to the tranquility of the Norfolk Broads.
A boating holiday is certainly not relaxing in the usual sense, particularly if sailing. In fact, it is quite physical with all the leaping on and off boats, mooring up, gathering in the sails and generally messing about on the river. Not to mention all those misadventures that seem to go hand-in-hand when on the water, and I’m not just talking about losing one’s sunglasses.
Yet, nothing beats that feeling at the end of a boating day when you are moored up and hunkered down for the night, huddled in your bunk and settling in to your summer read.
Our holidays began with a several hour’s-long drive from Surrey to Norfolk, this being the 1970’s and motorways not what they are today, but oh the joy as we pulled in at last to the narrow roads of the delightfully historic Norfolk village of Horning and headed straight to the boatyard.
There we would set eyes on what would be our holiday home for the next two weeks and so the exodus began of transferring all our luggage, equipment and food from the overflowing car to our boat. Then finding a home for everything, which on a boat is often far from easy.
One year, when I was about twelve, as we took a walk down to the local shops of Horning to gather up some last-minute necessities before heading out, I treated myself to my summer book: it was called Ghosts of the Broads by Charles Sampson.
What captured my attention was that there was a ghost story for most of the places we would be visiting so I could time my stories when we were at the actual location. I couldn’t wait!
Some of the stories went on a bit, but there I would be, in the dead of the night, lulled by the gentle motion of our boat to the passing current of the waters surrounding us, my little overhead lamp burning the midnight oil, scaring myself witless.
What filled my imagination like no other was the story about St. Benet’s Abbey.
Approaching from the narrow and meandering River Ant as it merges into the strong currents of the River Bure, the sight of St. Benet’s Abbey looming up at the river’s edge of this convergence always struck a sense of foreboding into my heart as a child.
I came to learn that it was a monastery founded in Anglo-Saxon times and the only one which went on to function well into the medieval ages. A wind pump was built into the gate of the ruins left behind. Hence the unusual structure.
Visiting the ruins today, my imagination still runs riot but I will write about this at another time, taking up a post of its own as it merits!
The ghosts of the Norfolk Broads and I go back a long way. They have fascinated and enthralled me for as long as I can remember. So it was, that fifteen years ago and after a gap of many years, I was fortunate enough to take my three children on a Norfolk Broad’s holiday, together with my mum, brother and his family. Eleven of us on two boats!
We cruised and sailed for two glorious weeks in August and it was steaming hot every day. Sometimes things work out better than planned and this was no exception.
As ever, I took my ‘Ghosts of the Broads’ book with me. To my amazement, I soon discovered that the very night we found ourselves mooring up for the night on Barton Broad (a huge expanse of water which, you might be interested to know, Admiral Horatio Nelson himself learnt to sail on as a boy) happened to be the same night that one of these ghostly apparitions was to appear.
If the conditions are perfect, the face of a woman appears in the lake, so the story goes. You can imagine, out there alone on the water with nothing but our ghost stories and hyped up children to tell them to, just what the atmosphere must have been like!
In all my years of ‘ghost hunting’ on the Norfolk Broads, I never did see a ghost, which disappointed me greatly and caused me great relief all at the same time. Quite what I would have done if I had found one of ‘my’ ghosts, I will never know.
However, on this particular night something extraordinary did happen, something that neither I nor my family can explain to this day.
Here then is my ‘bite’ for this week, in 150 words exactly:
Moored up in a cosy inlet, the winds that earlier had provided a full day’s sailing had died to a breath and Barton Broad lay as smooth as glass.
Orange skies darkened and a light mist danced across the waters. Conversation and laughter echoed beyond the riverbanks, then silence.
I don’t know who saw it first, but in seconds we were all standing on the gunwale, watching.
It was almost dark now, no wind and boating after sunset was forbidden, if not impossible without navigation lights.
A yacht, in full sail as the waters lapped at its bow, forged ahead in the darkness, the moon giving the merest hint of reflection in the water. No helmsman in sight, yet the sails billowed.
We gaped in hushed disbelief, not comprehending this eerie encounter. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the yacht vanished, swallowed up by the mist.
Just like that.