Saturday, 14 March 2009

North Walsham and Dilham Canal - the lower reaches

North Walsham and Dilham Canal
The lower reaches - Ebridge to Dilham
14th March 2009

This post is the fourth and last in the North Walsham and Dilham Canal series, covering arguably the most interesting section spanning about five files of water, three locks and a very real possibility of full restoration to a navigable standard.

Before we move downstream from Ebridge I thought you might like a final backward glance at a wherry tied up alongside Ebridge Mill.

There are no bridges between Ebridge and the next lock at Briggate. The lock runs out of the Briggate millpond with the the remains of the mill festering in the undergrowth. This was a splendid example of a Norfolk watermill but unfortunately it was burned down in an arson attack during the 1974.

The Lock chamber is well preserved and even sports a couple of complete (but very rotten) bottom gates with their balance beams in place. They look almost "boat ready" but don't be deceived, even 35 years ago a small gang of us vainly tried to close them!

The East Anglian Waterways Association have been active again and the site is all spick and span with the lock and its surrounds more visible than it has been since my schooldays. The area is all fenced off for safety so sorry guys, I admit that my enthusiasm caused me to dive over the bridge wall to take a closer look. It was a shame that the ground on the other side was 2ft lower because I had a heck of a struggle to get back over!

Canal crossings are few and far between in these parts and the next structure is Honing bridge alongside the recently dredged Honing Staithe. With the Yarmouth and North Norfolk Railway running behind the staithe (closed in 1953 and now part of the Weavers Way footpath) I suspect that this was another transhipment basin.

The Canal Bridge is in good condition but the iron road bridge over the railway bed is well worth a look as well.

The final lock on the canal is Honing or Dilham Lock. No one seems to be quite sure which hamlet "owns" it as it is equidistant between the two of them. Finding it is a bit of a puzzle as well and the only clue is to identify a dead end track usefully called "Lock Lane" and then, just as you become convinced that you are going to end up in farmyard, or stuck in axle deep mud, there is a path leading off to the right into the woods. Follow this path for a couple of hundred yards and the splashing of water will become audible and then, voila, the lock complete with an EA monitoring station. The lock is in pretty good condition, built to the standard NW&DC dimensions of 50' x 12' 4" and 3' draft.

The lock comes complete with a bottom gate which is just visible under the water.

Beyond Honing / Dilham Lock the canal enters the open expanses of the Broads, continuing for a mile or so and passing a short side arm to East Ruston and under Tonnage Bridge which was rebuilt in the 1980's after it collapsed under the weight of farm machinery.

The canal finally joins the Ant above Wayford Bridge on the Wroxham to St
alham road. Whilst it isn't strictly part of the NW&D canal, a short canalised arm of the Ant extends to a staithe in Dilham, complete with a close replica of a NW&DC bridge.

So there you have it. The North Walsham and Dilham Canal in four chunks. A unique construction in Norfolk and one which is rapidly being brought back to life by the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust. But before you get too excited and start making plans to have your narrowboat craned to the Broads, remember that the max length is 50 feet (that's OK because Wand'ring Bark is a mere 42' 6") and also the course of canal restorations rarely run smoothly. I seem to recall a certain Mr Hutchings paying the canal a visit in the 1960's and observing that it would be a relatively easy restoration job. Here we are, 40 years later and the task remains.

But hey, I am an optimist. Given the lack of obstructions on the line all the way up to Swafield, an enthusiastic owner and a dedicated team of restoration volunteers I think I might just see it finished before the bottom of Wand'ring Bark rusts through.

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