Upper Bure or Aylsham Navigation
14th November 2009
14th November 2009
I have a particular fondness for the Upper Bure Navigation in North Norfolk, even more so than the North Walsham and Dilham Canal, about which I waxed lyrical back in the spring.
Last leaves of autumn above Horstead Mill
It is fair to say that I spent most of my youth in or on this stretch of the Bure, and particularly the reaches around Coltishall and Horstead. If I wasn't canoeing, rowing or sailing on it, you would probably find me swimming or fishing in it. The place wasn't Nirvana, but for a boy with his head full of Swallows and Amazons it was a pretty good place to be.
I didn't really appreciate the significance of the river as a commercial trade route at the time, and I certainly didn't realise just how much of it's 9.5 miles had been adapted in 1779 when it was made navigable through to Aylsham, at a cost of £6,000. On reflection, there is almost as much canal along the line of the river as there is original watercourse.
Reflections in Coltishall Lock Pool
In it's heyday, the route between Aylsham and Great Yarmouth supported 26 wherries, which plied a week long route through five locks alongside five watermills - Horstead, Buxton, Oxnead, Burgh and Aylsham. Given the relatively substantial size of the river, and the shallow nature of the locks, the water loss to the navigation would have been a modest price to pay for access to such a convenient method of transport to and from the mills.
The navigation flourished in the 1800's, bringing prosperity to Aylsham and the villages along the route, that is until the M&GN railway was built up the valley in 1880 resulting in the inevitable demise of the waterway. It struggled on, but was hit by a huge flood in August 1912 which destroyed every lock and bridge from its source near Melton Constable to Coltishall. The waterway never recovered and was left to deteriorate back the drainage channel we see today.