BBC Rivers series reaches the rivers of the Fens, the Broads, and finally the Stour

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GRJ on the Broads

The latest episode of Griff Rhys Jones’ BBC series Rivers visited the Fens, the Norfolk Broads and the River Stour last night – and delivered him to his own front door, which overlooks the Stour Estuary.

Yet again, the programme was a quaint combination of luscious photography, interesting segments introducing interesting slices of history, some appealing old boats and some daft rubbernecking from GRJ himself.

I can’t possibly hope to describe the film, so you’ll have to see the show yourself if you have access to the BBC iPlayer. But I can tell you that the boats in this case were a curious kind of eel fisherman’s flat-bottomed punt and a very nice typical old fashioned Broads sailing cruiser hired from Hunter’s Yard complete with a handsome and convenient balanced jib.

The rubber-necking including walking through marshes on stilts (GRJ fell over, naturally) and trying to navigate the bridge at Potter Heigham single-handed with a strong following wind (GRJ lost the quant and only just avoided hitting the bridge side-on). Of course, it doesn’t seem likely that he was actually single-handed, as someone else was clearly on the boat to capture the moment under the bridge, and again when a kind woman took the yacht’s stern line. I’m only glad the boat didn’t appear to be damaged.

A more genuinely funny moment was filmed in Roy’s ever growing shopping emporium on the Hoveton side of Wroxham Bridge, when GRJ described the kind of shopping his father considered appropriate for a sailing trip. It involved a huge amount of Spam, beans and breakfast in a tin, had a distinctly post-War feel about it, and seemed to me to be an amusing but fair account of how I remember men of Rhys Jones senior’s’ generation dealing with the problem of eating out of doors. (Chris Partridge of the Rowing for Pleasure weblog has written amusingly on this subject – and very much takes the elder Rhys Jones’s side.)

But perhaps the aspect of this show that will stay with me is that GRJ also mentioned that ex-Poet Laureate and hugely entertaining 60s and 70s TV presenter John Betjeman had written a moving poem about holidaying on the Norfolk Broads and the way his boyhood relationship with his father had changed over time. Well, that resonated strongly with me – the Broads featured in my youth and again in my son’s so I had to seek out the Betjeman piece. I wasn’t disappointed, and as I’ve pasted it below I hope you won’t be – but what I really want to know is what my son will have to say about it. Not that he reads this weblog very often…

Norfolk

How did the devil come? When first attack?
These Norfolk lanes recall lost innocence,
The years fall off and find me walking back
Dragging a stick along the wooden fence
Down this same path, where, forty years ago,
My father strolled behind me, calm and slow.

I used to fill my hand with sorrel seeds
And shower him with them from the tops of stiles,
I used to butt my head into his tweeds
To make him hurry down those languorous miles
Of ash and alder-shaded lanes, till here
Our moorings and the masthead would appear.

Then there was supper lit by lantern light
And in the cabin I could lie secure
And hear against the polished sides at night
The lap lap lapping of the weedy Bure,
Dear whispering and watery Norfolk sound
Which told of all the moonlit reeds around.

How did the devil come? When first attack?
The church is just the same, though now I know
Fowler of Louth restored it. Time, bring back
The rapturous ignorance of long ago,
The peace, before the dreadful daylight starts
Of unkept promises and broken hearts.

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