The Dilham Canal
The Dilham Canal
Introduction It was a golden afternoon and I was on my way somewhere else. I haven’t the foggiest where – and happened to be taking one of my typically meandering “short”-cuts across country through some cutesy Norfolk hamlet called Briggate. I was probably muttering some comment to myself under my breath, as I often do, rating it in terms of its attractiveness, rather as some people do when they see members of the opposite sex – when the trusty Transit hiccupped over a little red-bricked, humpbacked bridge of a certain age. Nothing out of the ordinary, I hear you cry. And there isn’t. And I would have driven on, and possibly this book wouldn’t have been written, or written many years later, had I not randomly looked to the left as I bunny-hopped over the bridge and my stomach temporarily lifted my breakfast a few inches. What I saw caused me to slam on the brakes, totally ignoring whether or not someone was behind me in a large vehicle travelling at speed (unlikely as this would be in Briggate). What I had seen did not at first register, so I reversed, and looked again. A minute later I had stumbled out of the door in a panic of ecstasy and was sniffing around the place, wondering and asking questions of the air, and of myself. What I had found just didn’t seem right. This was 2006 and now, four years later, I’m sitting here writing this with some very sore arms, having recently completed the canal by kayak – or, at least, completing it as far as Bacton Wood Lock, where the water really disappears. Thereafter, it’s been a matter of wading and walking. And I’m still as fascinated, indeed more so, by the North Walsham and Dilham Canal (I always call it the Dilham Canal, it’s snappier) than I was when I first wondered why there was a lock sitting in the middle of Norfolk, surely a county of dreaming slow rivers, gorgeous sandy estuaries and quaint villages in rolling farmland. To me, Norfolk primarily was the North Coast, and although I had been discovering its other beauties (especially the Broads by kayak) for some years, nevertheless I was raised in the industrial Midlands where canals are two-a-penny and the sight of one in Norfolk, land of beaches, farms, aristocratic country seats, no motorways and no real hills (except the Cromer Ridge), was a shock. I’ve got over the shock, a bit. But I’m still in love, yes in love, with the canal, as much as with the River Waveney, and for much the same reason. They remain, the two of them, the principal waterways in Norfolk that are (a) free and (b) free of motor craft – as the Waveney is above Geldeston. Two blessings which will forever endear them to me. Oh, and there’s a third; they are both rhapsodically beautiful, in very different ways. But whereas the Waveney is a true country girl, honest-to-goodness, charming, sometimes willful and with an attraction for farmers and fishers, the Dilham Canal is Sleeping Beauty – a stately princess (of admittedly rather common origins) sound asleep behind her brambles, nettles, thistles, trees, reeds and grasses and waiting for her prince to come… if he can raise the money to save her…
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