Welcome aboard the Waterland wildlife tour boat. We are making our way along the River Ant, near Wayford Bridge, through the now familiar countryside of grazing marshland and reeds. Friendly moos are exchanged with a small herd of Highland Cows we have come to know as we continue on a southerly course. Soon the welcome sight of Hunsett Mill greets us and we follow the twists and turns of the now tree-lined river, through Sutton Fen and, before long, pass ‘The Heater’, an island which splits the approach to the Broadland village of Barton Turf. Here, the river opens up to the large expanse of Barton Broad and we see the pontoons of the sailing club. It’s not long before we hear a claxon, signalling the beginning of a race, so we press on and make our way through the gap by Pleasure Hill Island known as ‘Dead Man’s Hole’ taking a Southerly heading to re-join the River Ant.
Here a flash of Blue streaks past the boat and disappears into the trees on the bank of the river. As we get closer I can see two Kingfishers perched on branches in the trees. One soon disappears out of sight, but the other seems more interested in a spot of fishing than noticing me. I’m used to seeing the giddying flash of blue low along the water that signifies a passing Kingfisher, but it’s a real thrill to see one standing still.
With the Kingfishers passing out of sight we find ourselves gazing admiringly at the charming riverside houses of Irstead. These houses and their bank side moorings somehow recall a lost era that still seems to live on in some Broadland villages. ‘When we win the lottery…‘ Mrs Waterland begins. ‘I know…‘ I reply with a smile…
We continue along the river as it meanders generally Southwards, passing the many wild moorings we have so enjoyed over the course of what has been a wonderful summer. Eventually Reedham Hill and then How Hill pass behind us and here the landscape opens up to marshlands and big skies. Past Turf Fen and Neaves drainage mills we go, into the fens of How Hill Nature reserve and Horning Marshes.
With Ludham Bridge in view, we moor up briefly to lower the windshield. We might fit under the bridge with the windshield up, but perhaps I won’t risk it today. With the windshield safely stowed and the canopy down, we easily sail under the bridge and on our way to the mouth of River Ant, where it joins the River Bure. A Heron lands on a sign, reminding us how much room there is under Ludham Bridge. As we pass, it takes off and lands down-river, on another sign, reminding us of the speed limit. Perhaps this cheeky Heron is employed by the Broads Authority to help point out useful information to boaters!?
Reaching the River Bure we sail East and soon pass the remains of St Benet’s Abbey, which has watched over the river for over 1000 years…
We are now deep into ancient marshland, passing South Walsham and then Upton Marshes and, just before Thurne Mouth, we moor along the Southern side of the Bure. This will be our home for the night.
As I take in the view across the marshes, I notice a Kestrel hovering over the river bank. It is a pleasure to be able to watch this young bird until falling darkness drives it back to it’s nest for the night.
I realise just what a rich bounty the river provides for wildlife. The Norfolk Broads, long loved for boating holidays, now has a good Eco-system for many birds and animals. There is still much to be done, but it has been wonderful to see so much wildlife today… far more than I would have seen 20 years ago.
I stay outside, happy and contented, watching darkness fall over the river and the marshes. The clouds begin to glow, almost appearing painted in light by a moon I cannot see. And then it is revealed in all its glory and the landscape is alight with highlights and shadow. What a wonderful night to be on the river…