No sooner had we cleaned up from our stomping through the Scottish Highlands than another holiday rolled around, a Bank Holiday which, as far as I can tell, means everyone takes the day off but there's nothing in particular to celebrate. It would be unlike us to stick around home for a three day weekend so we casted about for something to do. France was high on the list since C still hasn't been. But then a friend told us about the Norfolk Broads and we were hooked.
The Broads, as they're known, are a perfect example of England's adaptive use of land over the centuries. The North and South Broads are only the third largest inland waterway in Britain but have over 125 miles of navigable channels and 190 miles of footpaths. Remarkably, The Broads are man-made shallow lakes, dug out in medieval times when peat was used for heating and cooking. Eventually, water levels rose and, despite attempts to salvage the operation, peat harvesting was abandon in the 1400's. Over the next 300 years, channels were dredged between the lakes to create a waterway trading route, especially useful to the large city of Norwich for shipping goods to the coastal port of Great Yarmouth. These days the network is a national park and even though the waters are crowded with pleasure boats, it's still home to nearly a quarter of England's rarest species of birds, fish and insects.
Our little rented boat was called the Jazz 4, an old French cruiser with a flat-topped roof where we did most of the steering, and a wheel down below, where I spent my shift since no amount of clothing could keep me warm up above. Our first night we moored at a grassy park with a fingernail beach of dark sand. A gravel path led us through a forest of water plants to our left, meadows and tall oaks on the right, to the main road which led to the pub.
Let me just digress here to talk about English pubs. I'm convinced that in a past life I lived in England because I've been known to set out on a journey assuming I could find food along the way. This has not served me well in the Western U.S. where I have, on a few occasions, found myself in a food-deprived screaming fit with C over where the hell we're supposed to eat because, though I'd remembered my headlamp and moleskin, all I was packing for food was a stale bag of nuts. In England you can't go hungry, as long as you have some money, because there is always a pub. And the economics of supply and demand don't seem to apply to pubs because there are more than a few that soldier on after 400 years with only a few passable lagers and a handful of patrons. So even if you end up in one of these you can at least get some calories from fermented grain.
We poked around every little finger of water, every channel fringed with low-hanging foliage. Swans and ducks would suddenly appear off the bow looking for a handout. Great Blue Herons frequently crossed our path to the other side of the fishing hole. The village highlight was Ludham where we stumbled onto a local arts fair taking place at the cathedral. Some of the art there was world class. Check out the prints by Robert Chaplin. Another artist promised to send me her step by step guide to transferring the imprint and the essence of a flower onto watercolor paper but I'd have to be in a place where I could let vinegar-soaked canvasses dry for two weeks with good ventilation. Maybe in my next life.
This village was also home to a charming tea shop where we had our bi-annual high tea. We only do this a few times a year because scones in England are served with a baseball sized glob of chilled double cream and just a slightly smaller portion of local butter and strawberry preserves. To finish off tea and scones in one sitting is accepting that you've taken in a week's worth of calories and done potential harm to your cardiovascular system so had better not do it again for six months.
In Ranworth we climbed the 14th century clock tower and actually got Z interested in the medieval alter paintings, particularly the one of St. George slaying the dragon. Then, to allow myself more time to enjoy the artwork, I told Z to go hunt for more dragons, knowing there probably weren't any. But I think he's on to me, and usually he just slouches in a pew and practices adding more syllables to the word b-o-r-i-n-g.
The nights were lit by starlight and the only sounds came from the few mosquitoes that managed to sneak into the cabin. On Monday morning we joined the putt-putting procession of rental boats heading back to their landings. We chugged past newly-built retirement cottages with thatched roofs; pubs selling roasts and Yorkshire puddings; innumerable swans and duck families with puff ball babies. Though we miss our wild parks and mountains we often remark that life in England is just so civilized. Tame, perhaps, but we haven't once, since moving here, had an argument over lack of food.