Kayaking has been a bit of a struggle recently. Is it because I know every inch of every river , creek and coast for many miles around because I have paddled them so often, and a bit of boredom is setting in? Hopefully not. Or is it that the March weather has been pretty rubbish and I’m a bit fed up of being cold.I’mlooking forward to casting off my kayaking gloves and balaclava, but while the northwest wind (the direction I like least of all because it seems to suck out your spirit as well as your therms) blows that ain’t gonna happen. I’ve been creeping about in the shelter of deep creeks. Some quite big sea urchins exposed by the huge spring tide a couple of weeks ago:
I love to paddle along in complete silence and become part of the wildlife. That is my intention anyway. Spectacular failure is the usual result but increasingly the creatures I like to see seem to tolerate my close presence. The deer don’t even bother to get up.
But first I dusted off my fishing rod and rusting reel for a quick blast with a Rapala plug on my local freshwater patch.Nothing else was possible in a kayak on that day as the northwesterly was gusting at 60 mph. Two small trout and then a mighty beast that when it leapt out of the water after initially being hooked nearly caused my neck to dislocate. The severe gale force offshore wind meant that I had to keep paddling frantically to avoid being blown where I really didn’t want to go so I ‘cheated ‘ and paddled to the shore, got out of the kayak, and started to reel in the fish in a conventional style, almost like a real fisherman. The trout put up a suitable fight on my pathetic little boat rod , and then very nearly punished my amateurish techniqe by throwing off the hook as it was in shallow water. Near disaster. Fortunately I managed to grab it before it worked out that it was free to go.
By far and away my biggest brown trout ever….7lbs.
So I headed off to the Norfolk Broads. No fishing rod. Map and camera, and sleeping bag in the back of the car. And my jetboil of course. Otter encounters high on the wish list, with Marsh Harriers and booming Bitterns right up there too. I have never heard a Bittern boom. I have now heard a Corncrake crake but I have never heard a Bittern boom.
My first destination for an afternoon paddle was Hickling broad. Basically a windswept lake surrounded by rushes. No scenery as such but at least there was a bit of sun to give a bit of colour and make the water look vaguely blue. And there was the brown silhouette of a female Marsh Harrier hawking over the sedge. And another and another.
I worked my way down the east side of the broad and weaved in and out of a few narrow creeks, and then took a turn up the narrow canal to Horsey Mere. A grating primeval call from above announced the presence of a pair of Common Cranes. Never seen these before from my kayak.
I toured round the rather cold and featureless Horsey Mere and then continued down Heigham Sound to its confluence with the River Thurne.
Then back up the west side of the Broad. What is that weird ‘hoom’ing noise that sounds like a woodwind instrument doing a sound check (not that I would really know what that sounds like)?Good grief, it must be a Bittern booming. Tremendous.
After a dodgy night’s sleep on my inadequately thick self-inflating airbed in the back of my car, and being scowled at in the evening by a few locals who thought I shouldn’t be parked there, I emerged into the wind , and rain, and cold in the murk of dawn to paddle upstrem to Honing lock. Idiotically early of course to maximise chance of an otter encounter and minimise chance if a disgruntled local encounter. Or maybe the reason I was on the water just as it was getting light was because I had been asleep since 8pm. Not a lot to do in the back of your car in March, especially if your book is a bit of a yawn.
It was appallingly cold. 3 degrees, heavy rain and wind.My fingers ached beneath my gloves.At least the River Ant was very scenic and very wooded and was new paddling territory, and even had the odd windmill.
The moored river boats thickened up on the approach to Wayford bridge. Upstream of Wayford the River Ant twists and turns through woodland more akin to a mangrove swamp. A few small deer crept about in the undergrowth, difficult to see. Muntjac I would guess, or were they Chinese water deer? It was the sort of place you might expect to see a Sasquatch.
I continued on to the South Walsham canal as the river Ant fizzled out and ended up doing more punting than paddling through heavily weeded sections of marsh. At last I could go no further, wuth Honing Lock in sight. Actually it was the hissing swan that made me about turn.
I stopped for breakfast at the only non sludgy ‘beach’ I had been past. Even during the very short amount of time it took to down five Weetabix I became chilled to my very inner core (somewhere between my spleen and last night’s supper).
So I leapt beack onto my layak and paddled the five miles back to the car at Barton Turf absolutely flat out, in an effort to stave off hypothermia. It didn’t really work so I had to warm up in my sllepping bag for a couple of hours. This was quite fortunate because when the boatyard-type people arrived to scowl at my kayak they couldn’t see me prostrate in my fugged up car.
After vaguely warming up I paddled south down Barton Broad for a twelve mile return trip to the confluence with the river Bure. And would you believe it, there was a big dog otter working its way along the shoreline, stopping at every protruding rock and branch to ‘mark’ his territory. I sneaked along behind him following his trail of bubbles as he cut across the neck of a bay and then disappeared into some reeds. However I knew where he had got to when a swan suddenly hissed its disapproval as the otter popped up.
I left him to get on with his business and half a mile further on was puzzled by a brown shape that momentarily appeared above the rushes, as though jumping up. As I watched a group of three otters, I would guess a mother and two youngsters, took to the water and started to lark about as they worked there way along the shore. They stared and snuffled at me when I got too close, then carried on when they decided I didn’t pose a threat. I couldn’t quite believe that the brown shape I saw above the top of the reeds must have been an otter leaping three foot into the air.
As I paddled on down the Ant after the exit of Barton Broad I watched several Marsh Harriers doing a strange ‘flappy’ display flight with accompanying mewing call at an unfeasibly high altitude above the marshes.And astonishingly the sun came out and it became vaguely warm.
Excellent paddle past several atmospheric windmills, nice and easy with the wind behind me. Only one probem. I had to paddle back.
I thought I should find a different carpark to spend the night so drove round to South Walsham Broad, poised for an assault on the River Bure and its many associated broads.
Another early start ( surprise, surprise). But not as surprised as a heron which was attempting to down a carp seemingly far too wide to fit down its neck. Lucky for the carp I frightened the heron away. The flat and field-flanked Bure became more interesting and woody as I paddled upstream.More Marsh Harriers flopping and floating about.
The scenery took on a very Thames sort of feel through Horning, complete with fancy Hotel and a paddle-driven riverboat. At last it promised to be a decent day and the rising sun felt immediately generated a bit of warmth. I was a bit disappointed several of the broads marked on the map were fenced off so I stayed on the river and eventually weaved my way up at Wroxham which was a busy sort of place with pleasure boats starting to power up and lots of swan feeding going on in the park.
I raced a flotilla of small day boats containing a scout group back to the very pleasant and scenic Salhouse broad where I stopped for lunch on a surprise sandy beach…the only one in the area,