Rural Rides . . . . . . .
Ashort distance away from the village of Thurne and further along the river is Potter Heigham, one of the main boating centres on the Broads and a popular place for holidaymakers to stop off during their adventures and enjoy the Norfolk landscape and its history.
The village takes its name from a medieval pottery which was found here and the most famous feature of Potter Heigham is the distinctive, hump- back stone bridge just outside the village overlooking the boat yards. The bridge is thought to date from 1385 and with its low, small semi- circular arches is notorious as the most challenging to navigate on the Broads, with only small cruisers able to pass through even at low water, while larger boats
are forced to go through a complex and tiring procedure of dismantling and lowering their masts and then having to reassemble them on the other side. Due to its difficulty, and the clearance height of less than six- feet six- inches, a pilot is often required to provide assistance and standing by the river bank it is interesting to watch the occasional boat squeeze underneath as the local swans gather for attention.
With the growth of pleasure boating along the waterways in the early 20th century, Herbert Woods founded his well- known boat yard in Potter Heigham in 1928 and soon after constructed the first marina on the Broads, known as the Broads Haven, a sizeable two- acre basin which was dug out by hand and completed in 1931. Boating was a passion for Woods and the marina was home to his growing fleet of hire craft, including yachts known as the “Lady” fleet and “light” fleet
motor cruisers. He also designed many other types of private boats including the Ladybird, his own personal racing yacht, as well as a Norfolk dinghy and the Limelight, a 22foot punt. Many of these boats are still sailing the waters, a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the boat builders at the yard.
The name Herbert Woods continues to be a significant presence in the village even today and the unmissable Herbert Woods tower stands at the centre of the marina a few yards from the river and is now an apartment block for tourists as well as accommodating an estate agents and shop selling used boats at the Waterside Marine. There are a number of moorings by the bridge and in the summer it can be a busy and colourful sight for a walk back to Thurne village along the Weavers’ Way or following a branch in the river towards the Ludham- Potter Heigham Marshes and National Nature Reserve, which is an excellent place for appreciating the variety of wildlife on the Broads.
The village itself is a short distance along the main road, consisting of a collection of pleasant houses and cottages and is particularly notable for its distinctive 13th- century church of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of fishermen and children. The church stands a short way out of the village and complete with its characteristic Norfolk- style round tower and attractive stone appearance is well worth visiting. The tower is the oldest remaining part of the church, dating from the 12th century with an unusual octagonal extension added during the 14th century and is one of the best preserved of its kind in the country. Inside there are several 14th- century wall paintings as well as an unusual 15th- century brick font and hammer- beam roof.
Potter Heigham provided inspiration for Arthur Ransome, serving as one of the locations in his children’s book, Coot Club. In the book Dick, Dorothea and Tom pass through Potter Heigham on their way towards Horsey Mere further up the River Thurne:
“They came into a long water street of bungalows, built on the
banks made by dredging mud from the river. The little wooden houses took the wind from the Teasel’s sails and made things difficult. One moment a dead calm, and then, a good wind slipping through the gap between one house and the next. They came at last to the boatyards of Potter Heigham, and the staithe and the lovely old bridge built four hundred years ago and maybe more.”
During the journey back from Horsey, the children moor Teasel in the dark at Potter Heigham, but fail to notice they are right next to the Margoletta, a boat which they are trying hard to avoid.
In The Big Six, Ransome’s sequel to Coot Club, the children catch an immense 30lb pike upstream from Potter Heigham at Kendle Dyke, which is taken to Norwich and stuffed.
Over the years silting has been gradually occurring and as part of the recent restoration work on the Broads, the Broads Authority successfully dredged Candle Dyke heading towards Martham. The Broads Authority has also been carrying out work to dredge and increase water depths in Heigham Sound, improving access for boat users. The dredging itself is a long and difficult process and care has been taken to ensure that wildlife is not unduly disturbed and that algal growth is kept to a minimum by carefully monitoring water quality to prevent an outbreak of Prymnesiums, a naturally occurring alga which is always present in the Upper Thurne and if allowed to prosper can prove highly toxic to fish stocks.
A swan swimming serenely along the River Thurne. This area of Norfolk was also a source of literary inspiration.
The 14th- century bridge is one of the most difficult to navigate on the Broads.
Potter Heigham is a popular stopping point.