Ellie Harrison journeys along the Norfolk coast. En route, she fishes for mussels, learns about a famous singing postman, and goes on the trail of a true local legend.
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This morning I'm starting a journey through the unique landscape
of the Norfolk coast.
It was the birth place of one of our greatest national heroes,
Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Throughout the programme, I'm going to be visiting some of the important places from his life
as well as exploring the area's beautiful water ways.
I start just off the coast of King's Lynn
before moving on to Nelson's birth place at Burnham Thorpe.
I'll stop at the coastal town of Sheringham,
visit the ancient city of Norwich.
Take a boat ride through the Norfolk Broads
and end my journey at Great Yarmouth.
Along the way I'll be looking back at the very best of the BBC's rural programmes
from this part of the world.
This is Country Tracks.
Things get under way in the early light on board a cockle and mussel fishing trawler
with local fisherman Bob Garnett.
What's the history of fishing in your family?
It goes back quite a long way.
As far as I know or remember,
really, especially on my mother's side.
And your sons as well?
-Yeah. I have one son doing it now.
-He followed you into fishing?
Have you always fished out of King's Lynn?
Yeah. We have, but we've gone round the coast a little bit
but mainly out of King's Lynn, most of the time, yeah.
There's quite a long-standing tradition of fishing from King's Lynn, isn't there?
Yeah. It goes back years really, to 12th and 13th century, you know.
Cockle and mussel fishing has been an important industry for this area for hundreds of years
but back in 1997, a dramatic fall in numbers threatened to jeopardise the livelihoods of local fishermen.
This is the riverside restaurant in King's Lynn of the Wash,
the shellfish capital of the country,
so what could be better than a plate of freshly-cooked mussels.
But the irony is that these molluscs are not from round here.
All the mussels in the Wash have disappeared.
It's a mystery. No-one knows why,
but everyone is blaming everyone else.
The Wash, once a sea of plenty, mussels and cockles galore.
Giant suction dredges could each hoover up eight tonnes of shellfish
in couple of hours.
Before this new technology, half a tonne a day would be good going.
A fleet of dredges regularly plied the Wash.
Were the fishermen just too plain greedy,
for today the only mussels being processed at King's Lynn come from elsewhere, the Kent coast,
-Wales, or even Ireland.
-Are the stocks being overfished?
The change from traditional hand raking methods
to mechanical suction dredging
which is considerably more effective
and possibly over exploiting the stocks.
Now, to be fair, the Environment Agency doesn't put all the blame on overfishing,
maybe that's just as well, for many point the finger at the Agency itself
and its sand dredging operation.
On the east coast thousands of homes are at risk from flooding,
so the Environment Agency is building up the beaches, using
millions of tonnes of sand taken from the Wash,
causing the waters to become cloudy.
I think one of the major causes is the dredging itself.
People don't really understand that. They seem to think,
"Well, they're just taking the sand from the the seabed,
"there's plenty of sand," but it's not.
There are others two blame the weather.
Over the past few years the Wash has suffered a series of severe winter gales.
The winds are going to be strong from a cold direction as well...
But as many people again say it can't be the weather.
Last winter was fine and normally stocks would have recovered.
I would have said we had an ideal year this year
to see an abundance of everything. We've had a cold winter,
we had snow. We had a nice spring, sunshine.
Then it turned to rain in May. Then we had a brilliant summer.
I would have said there would be an abundance of everything now, but that hasn't worked out.
Only one thing is for certain, if the mussels don't come back,
the shellfish industry on the Wash will go broke.
The irony is that King's Lynn was built on the back of fishing.
At the turn of the century the Wash was the best place for mussels in the country.
The fishermen would sail out with the tide till they grounded.
Hand raking mussels was a tough, backbreaking job,
but there were rich pickings.
Although stocks would sometimes drop, they usually recovered - until now.
It's hard to convey the scale of the natural disaster that's occurred here.
It's all below the water.
Let me give you a few facts and figures. In the 1970s and '80s,
two thirds of all the mussels, half of all the shrimp, a quarter of all the cockles landed in Britain
came from here, the Wash.
But now the cockle beds and the mussel beds have been closed
and an industry has been left high and dry.
It used to be worth £2 million a year
and that's dropped to just a couple of hundred thousand.
For the 70 or so fishermen sailing out of King's Lynn, the outlook is grim.
They used to divide their year fishing for cockles, mussels and shrimp, moving from one to the next.
But with two out of the three gone,
all that's left are memories of better days.
The good times were, well, very good.
We all used to make a decent living out of it.
But because there's no cockles and mussels any more,
we spend about three or four months of the year
with absolutely nothing to do, or we come out here
on the shrimps and take a chance on whether you earn anything at all.
Nine times out of ten, maybe not nine times out of ten, but quite often,
you'll go home barely covering the cost of the diesel in the boat.
Already half the fleet is tied up, possibly permanently.
Their skippers and crews forced to take jobs on land.
A sad end for some fishing families who have been sailing the Wash for more than 1,000 years.
The Eastern Sea Fisheries who regulate fishing here
say they had to close the beds because stocks were fast disappearing.
It's probably a combination of a great many factors,
climatic changes, decreased nutrient run-off from the land.
We've had low river flows,
we've had factories closing, the canning factories closing down,
they were obviously putting a certain amount of nutrient into the water
which flows into the Wash.
You see, the clean-up is everything that everybody wants,
but it's not what the mussels and cockles want,
because that's what they feed on.
Dirty water is actually quite good for them, but obviously not for the esoteric reasons.
Lack of nutrients, overfishing, sand dredging -
no-one knows for sure what's gone wrong in the waters of the Wash.
Spawning mussels produce billions of spats every year.
What's happening to them?
Fortunately on all sides there's a realisation that there's no one single cause
for the decline and the bickering is beginning to stop.
Instead, people are working together to find a solution.
The first step is to commission an independent scientific study of all the research work
that's been carried out on the Wash.
There's data on the fisheries going back 100-200 years.
There have been a large number of studies of various aspects
in the last few years.
No-one is entirely sure to the extent to which these have overlapped or left critical gaps.
We're hoping, at least in our own modest way, to start pulling this together.
But the tide is running out fast for the fishermen on the Wash.
They can't afford to wait years for a scientific solution to be found.
They can only hope the mussels and cockles return as mysteriously as they disappeared.
After years of research, official studies have pointed to overfishing
as the primary reason for the sudden drop in cockle and mussel numbers.
Meanwhile, working closely with the Government's advisory body, Natural England,
the fishermen are reinvigorating the stock numbers, by cultivating new mussel beds
and turning back to more traditional methods of fishing.
Great news for the local fishermen,
but after the work replenishing stocks, there is now concern
that they may be under threat again.
Some people fear a new off-shore wind farm,
the first phase of which is completed,
could disrupt fishing grounds in the Wash again.
How are things at the moment? Stocks wise?
Stock's fairly good. The boats have been relaying a lot of mussels
into the the fishery in the last few years.
Cockle stocks have been up to the highest they've been for as far as the records go back.
What kind of worries have you got about the wind farms?
They're coming down building the wind farms on sites.
They had all these plans to build the wind farms
and then see what impact the wind farms would have on the fishery.
They done a short study beforehand.
They decided they're going to build some more and they haven't waited three, four, five years
to see the effect of the wind farms on the environment.
Once they do get built, would you not be able to fish around them,
once they are all in place?
They have to have cables connecting them.
A 30-mile run of cable and it's not single cable.
They're planning on, as we understand it, about 12 of them.
The routes they've planned, they go through cockle beds, mussel beds,
they go through shrimp-trawling ground.
We won't be able to do any of those things where the cables are.
If the new plans go ahead, and the new turbines get built,
is there a way, is there a third way where you can accept
that they'll be built and they can keep fishermen happy? Is there a way they can do that?
Our concern is that as soon as there's a single accident somewhere,
which is going to happen because there are so many of these things,
we're going to have the Marine Coastguard Agency saying
"This is too dangerous,
"you can't be fishing commercially inside this area."
Then that whole piece will be closed off to us.
Wind farms are increasingly becoming a feature of our coastline.
But they're rarely far from controversy.
The representative for the farm here in the Wash is Alan Thompson.
We've been out with some of the local fishermen this morning.
They've expressed a few concerns.
The first one is about the environmental impact study.
Their feeling was that it wasn't accurate enough,
it didn't go into enough depth, and it wasn't carried out for a long enough period of time.
Basically, in order to gain consent
you have to satisfy the consenting authorities
that there will be no detrimental impact of the wind farm.
You do that through an environmental impact assessment.
We also did some commercial fishing assessment, using the local fishing fleet.
We did take their views into account during the process.
-During the survey process?
Another concern they expressed was about the piping and the cabling
that goes into the construction process.
They were worried they would be exposed by this really strong tide we get here,
that their nets might snag and they might go through active mussel beds.
We survey the routes for cables very, very accurately.
We we have to establish where the commercial fishing beds are and avoid those.
So the mitigation for both commercial fisheries and for certain environmentally-sensitive species
is to avoid the area. So, we route the cable around those things.
In relation to cables being exposed, well, we would be concerned about that as well.
We don't want the cables snagged, so we lay these cables to a sufficient depth
to where they're protected, sometimes of the order of two metres below the seabed.
What I thought was interesting, was that once the construction is finished,
they are allowed back into fish among and around the turbines,
but they were concerned that they thought it likely that an accident would happen
with all those obstacles, then the coastguards would not want them fishing there
because it was a higher risk for health and safety,
and they were worried that that area of fishing would be taken away from them completely.
Fishing vessels will be able to go into the wind farm.
Of course they have to do their own risk assessment, and their own assessment of risk
as to where they're fishing.
But we have, you know, or we will be giving them all the information necessary
to make sure they can do that safely.
I think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact, or the reason we're building these things,
which is, you know, part of a Government's objective, to generate power from renewable sources,
up to about 30% to 35% of electricity generated in the UK
which should be by renewable sources by 2020,
and that's because of the whole issue of climate change, which is real.
It's ironic we're standing on this beach today, in a low-lying part of Norfolk,
which, if you look at the studies in terms of sea-level rises,
this area is under threat.
If we do nothing about climate change,
then certainly that will have a bigger impact
than the construction of a wind farm.
Cockles and mussels are not the only wildlife to be threatened
in this area.
Adam Henson came here to report on the plight of pink-footed geese.
Today we're in north-west Norfolk.
It's first light and it's pretty chilly.
We're close to the coastal village of Snettisham
and Ciaran from the RSPB has brought me here to see one of nature's most impressive sights -
the flight of the pink-footed geese.
It's remarkable. How many geese do you think are out there?
A conservative estimate would be between 20 and 30,000.
Wow! I've never seen anything like it.
They form these incredible Vs.
Yeah. It's an amorphous mass, then somebody must take charge.
They come together in skeins as they head inland.
Where are they going?
They're heading inland to feed on the remains of the sugar-beet harvest.
Sugar beet is a fairly widely-grown crop in north Norfolk
and it's a really great food source for these geese.
A lot of farmers, when they harvest the sugar beet, leave the tops and the tails on the fields
and the geese graze on the remainder of that crop.
Because it's such an energy-rich food source for them,
it helps them keep in tip-top condition
so when they leave here in spring to head back to Iceland and Greenland,
they're in good shape to breed and to raise a family.
-They're big open spaces out there.
-Some of the fields are really large.
That's quite an advantage for the geese,
because they're pretty wary, they get spooked quite easily
and they like big, expansive open areas where they can feed and graze during the day.
It makes them feel safe, just like being on the Wash does overnight.
'Edward Cross is a wildlife-friendly farmer
'who encourages the geese onto his fields.'
There's a huge amount of geese. But you love them.
I do. They are part of being a farmer in north-west Norfolk.
We harvest sugar beet from September through to December, January.
Once we've harvested it, the geese come onto the farm.
I see pink-footed geese as part of being a farmer here.
A couple of winters ago, Norfolk had half the world population.
So we have a responsibility. There are huge numbers looking for food
and we can provide them with the leftovers after a crop has been harvested.
This helps us support the geese while keeping them off barley and wheat crops where they cause damage.
So we can hold them here - it keeps them off neighbours' crops.
And they're spectacular. They've been coming to this farm for 15-20 years,
and I can't imagine a winter without them. They're just fantastic.
The relationship between farmers and geese here in Norfolk is symbiotic.
But it's one that could change in years to come.
A reduction in EU subsidies presently granted to British sugar-beet farmers
means that potentially the crop could become economically unviable for them to grow.
Edward, how important is the beet to you on the farm?
This is a harvested root of sugar beet and this crop is very important.
-It's a financial mainstay of the farm and it's important for employment.
-Where do you see its future?
If the price falls to such an extent that we can't grow it viably,
we would have to stop growing it as a crop.
Then when the geese arrive, the only crops they'll have to eat will be things like winter barley and wheat.
Farmers will have to frighten them off those crops. We can't afford to let them eat growing crops.
That will create the conflict with geese and Norfolk would become a less hospitable place for them.
How would you feel if they didn't come here for the winter?
I'd be... Like a lot of people in Norfolk, we'd really miss them.
Many people are used to them flying over at dawn and dusk, and come out to see them in the fields.
It would be an empty place without them.
It feels to me that if we don't provide a food source for them, we're letting them down as a species.
And it's not just the pink-footed geese that could suffer.
Sugar beet's incredibly important, not just for the geese that come here in the winter,
but also for the birds that nest here.
Because it's a spring-sown crop it provides a good habitat for lapwings and stone curlews to nest in.
They're both birds that are suffering quite a lot in the UK at the moment.
That's why it's an all-round important crop for farmers to carry on growing.
And the risk is if the growth of sugar beet diminishes over the coming years,
the geese will still come back in the same numbers,
but there will be less places for them to feed, less food sources,
they could switch to other crops, increasing conflict with farmers,
which we don't want to see happen.
The latest news from the RSPB is very good.
They say pink-footed geese numbers are now on the increase in England,
particularly in Norfolk.
Leaving King's Lynn behind, I'm travelling 13 miles north-east
to Burnham Thorpe.
The reason I've come to this sleepy village
on the banks of the River Burn
is because it's the birthplace of one of Britain's greatest heroes,
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.
'This is the church where Nelson's father preached.
'Visitors looking for the house where Nelson was born, though, will be disappointed.
'It was demolished soon after his father's death.'
But one building that IS still standing is his local pub.
Built in 1637, it was the first pub in the UK
to change its name to the Lord Nelson,
following the victorious Battle of the Nile.
Landlord Simon Alper
has done research into the pub's famous namesake.
-Can you describe the relationship he had with this pub?
Most of the relationship was between the ages of 30 and 35,
when there was no war with France, he didn't have a ship,
because there were too many captains and not enough boats
and he'd fallen out with the people who were in the admiralty.
So, he was living with father and wife in the village, using the pub,
writing letters from here and generally living a quiet life,
waiting for orders.
-And how has the pub changed in the time...
-..since his death?
The core of the pub hasn't changed very much at all.
This room is...pretty recognisable
as to how it would have been when he was using it.
Is there anything still here that would have been here in his day?
-Yes, the bench along the wall over there.
And the front entrance floor is also original to the building of the pub.
-Hence the wear and why it's all uneven...
-I was going to say,
it's quite uneven - obviously had quite a bit of footfall.
-Yes, it has.
The name of the pub is a giveaway,
but you also have other reminders here of Nelson.
We have - we have Nelson's Blood!
Eugh! How is that possible?
Um, Nelson's Blood is a spiced rum
that's been made in the pub for a long time.
It commemorates the fact that his body was put in a barrel of rum
to transport it from Trafalgar to Gibraltar,
before it was then put in a barrel of brandy,
because the sailors had allegedly drunk all the rum from around the body,
in order to get some of his spirit.
In the brandy, it was then transported from Gibraltar to London.
So what have you got in your mix that gives that sense of Nelson?
Well, I could tell you, but I'd have to shoot you!
-It will warm you on a cold day.
Also, for toasting the immortal memory, which is a silent toast.
So when we have dinners here,
people don't stand up and say, "The immortal memory."
We say, "We're going to toast the immortal memory,"
and everybody stands and has a moment of contemplation.
Let's do it properly, then.
-That will warm all the way down.
-It certainly is!
I'm moving east from Nelson's home town, heading for Sheringham.
Between the two lies Blakeney Point, famous for its seals.
I started doing trips when I was 11
and they just stuck you in the boat in those days and you was away.
But things weren't so good then.
We didn't take so many people in those days.
We was only running boats carrying 12.
Now the family runs four boats,
ranging between one carrying 25 and the biggest one carries 40.
We run every day from the beginning of April until the end of October,
then once or twice a day during winter.
Can you make ends meet doing this during the winter
or are you having to do other things, the family?
During the winter, all we ever do is just get our housekeeping money if we can.
My son does most of the trips during the winter time.
I only go when I feel like it, really, on a nice day.
This time of year, grey seals have been having their pups
for the last fortnight.
There's one over there now,
suckling a young one - that's probably about a week old, that one.
You've got a mixture here.
The one just here,
that's a common seal, a young common seal.
That'll be about three or four months.
Of course, the common seals, they have their pups July and August.
Do they mind you getting so close?
Well, as you can see now, they're lying here, not worried at all.
There's one or two just coming ashore, even with us here.
Of course, we're here every day.
They're used to us and they aren't worried at all.
-You're just part of the scenery?
The seals of Blakeney Point.
Seal numbers in the UK have doubled since the 1960s
and over half the world's population of grey seals
can now be found on our shores.
Travelling from Burnham Thorpe,
I've arrived in the traditional seaside town of Sheringham.
Sheringham has a relaxing ambience.
It's not a place you'd expect to find showbiz glamour.
# I had a girl, a very nice girl Down in Wroxham Way... #
But in 1966, local postman Allan Smethurst burst into the charts
with the classic tune Have You Got A Light, Boy?,
winning him an Ivor Novello Award for best novelty song of the year.
The song even knocked the Beatles from the top of the East Anglia hit parade.
Smethurst was a real postman who used to deliver the mail on these streets,
whilst humming songs as he made his way on his rounds.
But his hit brought the region's distinctive accent to the attention of the nation.
'Colin Burleigh is passionate about keeping that accent alive.'
That sounds like a Norfolk accent to me.
It certainly is - bred and born in Norfolk.
What's the difference between an accent and a dialect?
Accent is the sound your voice makes,
whereas dialect are words that...
perhaps my great-grandfather and great-grandmother used to use way back,
which sadly is now disappearing, unfortunately.
It's not just Norfolk that has dialect, obviously.
They're all over the place. Devon has a lovely dialect as well.
Was it the Singing Postman that made the accent so famous?
A lot of the people outside the area picked up on it
when his song Have You Got A Light, Boy? actually made the charts
and outsold the Beatles' record at the time.
People started taking note of the Norfolk accent,
and it certainly made Norfolk come to life, as it were.
And certainly the singing postman helped,
a great deal to do that because...
You notice we've stopped outside this pub?
-Yes. The Windham Arms.
-One of the songs, my favourite, is Have The Bottom Dropped Out?
About a fella that had an old boat that was 30 years old
and people kept asking him, "Have the bottom dropped out?"
In the very last verse, this pub gets a mention because on a Saturday night
Tommy Long used to sit here with his pint mug with nothing in it
and hold it up and say, "Have the bottom dropped out?"
Which was a cagey way of asking, "Is somebody going to buy me a drink?"
-Very sneaky, I like it. Let's explore more of the town.
-Now, say "Bootiful!"
-You've got it!
Not quite, I need a few more lessons from you yet.
# Ha' the bottom dropped out?
# Ha' the bottom dropped out? #
So, Colin, can you teach me some of the phrases the Singing Postman might have used?
Yes, I can. I'd like you to repeat them and see.
-He went to Swaffham to do a day's trar-shing for na-thing.
-He went to Swaffham to do a day's...
-It sounds awful when I do that.
-You did very well.
-Give me an easier one.
-That's wholly black over Will's mother's.
-That's not easy!
-That's wholly black over Will's mother's.
-Go on, let's hear it.
-That's wholly black over Will's mother's.
-Do you know what that means?
-It means it's going to rain over there.
That's where Will's mother lives. She lives wherever it's black.
I can barely understand you. What happens when two people from Norfolk get together?
Well, you usually say to them, "Do your father keep a dickey, bor?"
-What does that mean?
-That means, "Does your father own a donkey, boy?"
If he's a true Norfolk man, he'll come back with the reply,
"Yes, and he's looking for a fool to ride him, can you come?"
-Then you know you have found a local?
-A Norfolk man. Yeah.
That's brilliant. I love it. It's like another language.
So far my journey has taken me from the waters of the Wash,
to Nelson's birth place at Burnham Thorpe
and on to Sheringham. Now I'm heading into Norwich.
The ancient city of Norwich is steeped in history.
It claims the largest number of medieval churches
of any city in Western Europe.
They say there's a church for every Sunday of the year, and a pub for every day.
At the heart of the city, the Norman cathedral has dominated the skyline
for nearly 1,000 years.
Next door, in similar medieval splendour,
are the hallowed halls of Norwich School.
The school has a fascinating history, dating back to the foundation of the cathedral.
Its alumni is long and distinguished,
but for me, its most famous pupil is Horatio Nelson.
I've already drunk in the pub where Nelson drank.
Now I'm going to meet the head master of the school where he studied.
-Goodness! It's a very light chapel, isn't it?
It's a wonderful space at the heart of the school.
-How old is it?
-1316, but since about the 1550s,
or from the 1550s
until the 1800s, this was the main school room.
When was Nelson here at the school?
We think 1766 to 1768,
so a couple of years between the age of eight and ten.
He then went for a further two years to another school in Norfolk
-and then off to sea from the age of 12.
-That's young, isn't it!
He would have had his lessons in this chapel?
Every single one, we think. Imagine about 50 to 60 boys crammed in here,
having all their lessons and being taught by two masters,
-the high master and the usher.
What was school life like, apart from all being here in the chapel?
What was it like then, compared to now?
It was the traditional diet of the day. Most of the day in lessons,
learning arithmetic, geometry, Latin and Greek and divinity and very little else.
-Do you have anything of Nelson's at the school?
We have three documents that are particularly interesting.
We have some orders sent to a clergyman,
and he was then written to in Nelson's own hand.
What's fascinating about this letter is that Lady Hamilton herself
writes a footnote, pleading with this friend to come over and be in their area.
-That's a particularly valuable one.
-Her handwriting is neater than his.
-This one, we're very excited about.
This one has been donated to the school. It's the rendezvous signals,
the codes that Nelson used when signalling to the fleet.
Instead of saying, "See you in Cadiz," he'd put a flag saying, "67"
and they'd know what he meant.
This may even have been used in Trafalgar.
-So this is a really important document?
-You must be really proud to have this.
It's very exciting.
It feels quite impressive to be walking in the same footsteps of a man who went on to such greatness,
-such an extraordinary man. Do you get that sense as well?
-I really do.
Every day. There's a tremendous sense of history. To think of young Nelson
strolling around here, going into chapel, into cathedral,
-it's quite a thought.
Are there any stories of what he was like as a pupil?
There are some, we think they're apocryphal, but they're interesting.
There's certainly one story about him keeping geese while he was here.
And getting into trouble for it.
Also, there's a story about stealing pears from the head master's garden
and when challenged about it apparently he said he felt no fear
and perhaps this was a sign that here was a man of courage.
-A future sign of greatness perhaps?
-Perhaps, maybe stretching it.
Travelling again, I'm heading towards Barton Broad,
deep in the heart of Norfolk Broads.
It's the perfect place for messing about on the water.
I wouldn't exactly say messing around.
Boating on the Norfolk Broads is a British institution,
up there on the with Brighton rock, beach huts
and caravans clogging up our motorways.
Every year thousands of people descend on these waters.
Most of those visitors think the Norfolk Broads are a natural habitat.
In fact, they're man-made and it's all because of this stuff.
Peat marsh, not water, used to cover the Broads. In the ninth century,
local people started digging it up for fuel, a practice that continued
for centuries, leaving behind massive trenches. A rise in sea-level
in the 14th century flooded it and the Broads were born.
But with lots of big flooded holes and carts unable to get around,
how did people transport goods from A to B? The answer is a wherry.
These magnificent boats carried thousands of tonnes of goods
to and from ports of the east coast. But their dominance was short-lived.
The Industrial Revolution brought steam trains, which killed off
the wherry, but whose passengers started something completely new.
The very trains that drove the business away from the canals
now brought tourists. And the Edwardians came in droves.
These hedonistic visitors were to transform wherries
from industrial cart-horse to palatial pleasure cruiser.
It started with the trading wherries
which would be stripped out and cleaned up for holidaymakers,
proving very popular. They gave way to the pleasure wherries
and they gave way to these wherry yachts, like Olive we're on now.
The pleasure wherries were specifically designed
to provide comfort and pleasure for their hirers.
-Can you show me about the boat?
-Yeah, of course. Delighted.
-Right, so what room is this?
-This is a saloon.
What was this used for?
This is where the crew would serve the meals.
There's a bell there. In days gone by, I think what would happen
is that when the crew had served the meal
and it was ready for the passengers,
-the passengers would come in here and sit down.
-It even has a piano.
-It's amazing. There it is, quite well-tuned.
Hopefully, one of the members of the passengers,
or possibly a member of the crew would be able to play tunes.
-Just going through here.
-What do we have here?
-This is the galley.
-This is where the crew would do all the cooking.
This is gas now, but in days gone by,
-it would have been a paraffin cooker, I should imagine.
-The sleeping accommodation is here.
A couple of bunk beds here.
-How many people would have been able to sleep on this boat?
A lot of the hires were for blokes.
One is not at all certain how easily females fitted into the set-up,
because obviously it's not exactly conducive to...
-To great big skirts and all that?
Edwardian ladies would have their bustles and rest of it.
It's rather amazing to think of.
But I think it was very much the part of the Edwardian holiday experience.
But of course, not everyone could afford the luxuries of Olive
and in the '30s,
there was a demand for smaller, cheaper, more economical boats.
Now, 70 years on, they're still made at Hunter's Yard on Womack Water.
'But there's not many people left making lullaby class boats. Maybe they could do with a willing helper?'
Graham, what are you doing now?
We need to put another plank on above this one.
I've put a spoil board on here. I've got a block
which I am a now going to mark the shape of this other plank onto there.
-Can I have a go?
-Course you can.
I know there aren't that many places that make these traditional boats.
Is there a danger of this craft dying out?
There is a danger, although at the yard here, we took on an apprentice five years ago.
Hopefully, we'll continue the tradition at this yard if nowhere else, really.
The next thing we have to do is remove this and then put it back on to our planking stock.
Then we mark this edge onto there and we'll cut the new plank out.
Right, so I just undo that...
And this is the finished product.
I've come down to meet some holidaymakers
who are part of a group that have been sailing here for over years.
-Nice to meet you.
-What's the first thing we have to do today?
The first thing we have to do is take the mast down on this boat
in order to get the bridge there.
How long have you been coming along on the Broads?
I've been coming here 14 years. As a group, this is year 51.
For a week in every September.
What are the advantages of a holiday like this?
The advantages... The fact that this boat is without an engine,
there are no creature comforts at all.
We get away from absolutely everything.
-It's very low, isn't it?
-You can see all the scrapes where other people have...
-The water is particularly high.
Wow! We're through.
Are we able to put up the mast now?
That's right, we have to go across to the bank, moor up and put the mast up.
-It doesn't have an engine. It's like a giant punt.
It's quite a manual holiday here, isn't it?
Yes, when the wind doesn't blow, it's hard work sometimes.
Is this quite heavy?
Oh! We're all there.
'Luckily the winds are picking up, so I help the crew put up the mast so they can get under sail.
'As I cast them off, it's easy to see the lasting appeal of a traditional
'Broads holiday and its truly beautiful boats.'
The wherry boats are a peaceful and environmentally-friendly ways to get around the Broads,
but I'm about to take a trip in a modern and hi-tech equivalent.
Named after the Egyptian sun god Ra, this is the world's first solar-powered passenger boat.
Ra has been ferrying sun worshippers on the Norfolk Broads since 2000.
She traverses the waterways of the nature reserve, silently storing
power captured in the seven rows of panels overhead and providing
passengers with the opportunity to view the restoration taking place on the Barton Broads.
I'm here with Dan Hoare, the Waterways conservation officer.
What made you commission this ground-breaking, fantastic boat?
The design of this solar boat enables passengers to come out on Barton Broads
experience the waterways without the need to own a boat.
Why not go for a regular boat?
The design of this one is ground breaking and it does showcase
the kind of innovation available for boat design and carbon-neutral,
carbon-free ways of powering craft on the Broads.
And it stays as quiet as this?
It enables people to get right up close to the wildlife on the Broads,
otters, all the wildlife you see on the Broads here.
You can really get up close in this boat.
It hasn't always been this way.
The Broads have needed restoration in recent years, why?
The shallow lakes were very susceptible to nutrients, so
nitrates, phosphates, generally rare in the natural environment
but increased human use of the landscape, agriculture and sewage being
discharged into the rivers has meant in the bottom of the Broads,
the sediment has trapped a lot of this nutrient and that has stimulated
algae to grow within the water column.
This algae, these microscopic plants mop up the excess nutrients.
Once they get established, they turn the water cloudy green,
which limits then other life in the lake,
especially the water plants that grow from the bottom of these lakes.
The water plants really provide the habitat that you need to support
the fish and the birds that it's famous for.
What's this structure we're coming up against?
This is part of the restoration work.
The water fleas that naturally live in these lakes are
the main consumers of the algae.
These little chaps eat the green algae
which were fuelled by the excess nutrients.
So, to give them a bit of a break and reduce the amount of
predation by fish on the water fleas,
these barriers were installed in little calm bays
and the fish were removed from this side and put back into the main Broad
and this gives the ecosystem a chance to correct itself
and get the water clear again.
Because this boat is so quiet we've managed to get very close
to some of the birds, the birdwatching is fantastic.
I think this should be the future of water travel.
It's certainly a classy way to glide through the water.
Traditionally these Broadlands were managed by the people who farmed and fished them.
The reeds that grew in these wetlands supplied a thriving thatching industry,
but as that declined so did the art of re-cutting.
Eric's been cutting reeds for nearly 40 years, but the man-made
reed beds have been here for centuries.
The cut reed is sold to thatchers.
It's a prized traditional roofing material.
Even though it has to compete with imported reed, it's much in demand.
Today Eric cuts reed with a modern machine,
but has fond memories of the old traditions.
So, when you first started doing this job,
were there a lot of reed cutters?
Yes, three full-time marsh man on the estate when I first come.
The old man, the old general,
he was the main man and he taught me how to reed cut.
But you have to put up with the cold, wet, snow, ice.
You have to be a bit hard, you know, to do this job.
I'm a farmer back at home, do you think I could put up with it?
Well, it took me about a couple of years to learn it, from the old man.
Things are a bit easier now regarding machinery,
but I still think the old ways are still good ways.
You always mow with the wind.
Never fight the wind.
'There's reed as far as the eye can see.
'Surely we haven't got to cut all this lot just that old scythe?'
A little spit in the hand.
Always keep it low.
If you go like that, you'll break it every five minutes,
you always keep the heel down.
-There, Adam, have a little go. See how you get on with it.
-As I say, keep your heel down, boy.
-Keep you fit this, Eric!
Look, you're leaving about a foot,
the very bit you need, the hard bit.
As you go along in life, you would learn you need that bit right down tight.
Yeah, it's where the money is, I suppose.
You've done fairly well for a first time.
You have to remember, you have to do eight hours.
-You gotta do eight hours!
The Broads authority which manages around 4,000 acres of fen,
commissioned research which showed
about a quarter of that area has potential for commercial development.
Is the reed cutting important for the sustainability of the reed and the wildlife?
Apart from commercial reeding and sage cutting everything else we have
to manage by just putting money in and doing it either by hand or
by machinery, we have to develop machinery and we don't have any use for the products.
The reed and sage industry is the only truly
sustainable form of management that we've got in the Broad Fens at the moment.
What would happen if you didn't do it?
If you don't do it gradually you get a lot of build-up of dead vegetation
and the sites dry out gradually. Eventually you get trees coming.
You lose the actual species which have developed through man's cutting
them, things like the swallow tail butterfly, the classic species.
But there's a huge host of others.
The biten, the bearded tit...
and the marsh harrier all depend on the reed beds for their habitat.
Now, Adam, this is the technical bit, this is the bit where the skill is needed.
You've cut the reed.
The next bit is dressing the reed.
Very important to dress the reed well so you get all the rubbish out,
so the when the thatcher get the bunch of reed, there's no bits in it.
You get a bit of the tarn, look.
You always work with the wind so you don't fight the wind.
Down on the board, let your reed flow down.
You make it look very easy.
-Well, if I had a pound for every brush, I'd be a rich man.
Tuck it under your arm. That's right.
-Is that about a bundle?
-No, you want a shade more.
-My muscles aren't as big as yours, Eric, so...
Yeah, tie it like that. You'd need a bunch like that.
-You can see the comparison, look.
-What a model!
-I'll give you a mark out of ten!
Eric reckons to cut and tie up 100 bunches a day would be good going,
so I'm just a bit short of the target.
-I'll carry mine and that will be it.
-That will do, then.
The traditional ways have nearly all gone, but is there really a living to be made today by cutting reeds?
There's about 16 cutters currently in the Broads working.
Over half of them are at or beyond retirement age, but still working.
Obviously, over the next ten years or so there's a replacement element,
but there's also the potential to double the amount that is currently cut.
Billy Burgess is a reed cutter fresh to the trade.
He uses modern equipment owned by a newly formed cooperative of reed and seg cutters.
He's left a well-paid job to cut reed, even in weather like this.
-What was being a welder like?
-That was OK.
Long hours, expected to do a lot of overtime. I used to get burnt,
your face'd be black every time you came home with the dirt and grime,
and wearing ear plugs throughout the day, 10, 12 hours a day some days.
So this is very different, but how is the money?
It's about half of what I'm used to, but I'm sure I can adapt and I am.
Is there enough room on the Norfolk Broads for more reed cutters to join in?
There's a good future. There's so much demand for our reed,
they can't get enough Norfolk reed in the county.
It's certainly a hard life out in all weathers, at the same time quite romantic,
amongst the wide open scenery and the wildlife.
But a reed cutter's wage only comes from the amount of reed they can cut and sell.
If the tradition of reed cutting is safe in the hands of people like Billy,
I think I'll let them keep the reed to themselves and head for home.
Since 2005, Norfolk reed cutters have received a government grant
enabling the purchase of new equipment
with a scheme now in place to train a new generation of reed cutters.
Leaving Barton Broad behind, I'm heading to my final destination,
I've arrived at the final spot of my journey, Great Yarmouth, the most easterly town on the Norfolk coast.
It was the place to which Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson returned victorious
after the Battle of Copenhagen and the Battle of the Nile.
Great Yarmouth is also home to a vibrant tourist economy,
but beyond the buzz of the kiss me quick hats and the candy floss
came a new excitement in the 1960s at the discovery of the North Sea gas fields.
I'll be finding out more about that after the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
My journey along the Norfolk coast has taken me
from King's Lynn through Nelson's birthplace at Burnham Thorpe and the small town of Sheringham.
I visited the ancient city of Norwich, then took a boat ride through the Norfolk Broads.
I've now reached my last stop, Great Yarmouth.
ORGAN MUSIC PLAYS
Great Yarmouth is well established as a traditional British seaside destination.
Its bright lights and golden sands make it ever popular with families.
In the 1960s, Yarmouth also became the unlikely location for a latter-day gold rush
when natural gas was discovered in the southern North Sea.
I'm meeting a local man who experienced first hand
the impact this new industry had on this traditional coastal resort.
I'd just left school. I intended to be a butcher. I ended up in the merchant navy.
-How did you get from butcher to Navy?
-An argument with the boss in the shop.
-And ended up, as I say, in the merchant navy.
In about '67, I'd had enough of going away for a long period of time
and they were working ships out of here for the gas.
They were doing two weeks on and a week off. I thought, "I'll have some of that."
Working from the port here in Great Yarmouth, leaving here and going out to platforms
and dropping the supplies off or pipes or drill bits or whatever,
-then returning to Yarmouth.
-You were glad you made the change from the navy to the rigs?
-How did Great Yarmouth change at the start of that gas rush?
Well, I mean, that was...
There we were fishing one minute and the next minute there was lots of Americans about.
The whole town really did change.
Large numbers of skilled workers were required to operate the many rigs appearing in the North Sea.
Experienced oil prospectors came from Texas to commence the drilling and train the British workers.
One American who was drawn to Great Yarmouth during the boom years still lives here today.
You've travelled around the world and you come from America.
What did you think of the place when you got here?
It was totally different, a complete culture shock.
The English people had never worked in the oil industry.
They didn't know anything about drilling, the technology, the tools, the equipment,
how to put the programmes together.
The Americans brought that expertise from the Gulf of Mexico
and other places around the world.
What was amazing though, in a short period of time, five to ten years,
we had many British people who had trained up and were probably better than the Americans they replaced.
We worked hard, we played hard.
-We were on seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
When you had a break, there were a lot of social activities, a bowling league, a softball league,
different companies put on barbecues at different times.
When I say a barbecue, they invited everyone in the oil industry from this area,
so you'd have 50 to 200 people at a company barbecue.
They were fantastic events. It was a real social network.
What about the future of the power industry here?
It's diversifying. The gas in the southern North Sea is not quite depleted,
but it's certainly not anywhere near the scale it used to be.
As you can see, behind us, windfarms have been installed.
There's a lot of future for windfarm installation.
There's also a lot of wave energy being developed now.
Yarmouth will play a part in that. It has the infrastructure and technology to support those type of things.
It's a matter of people getting together to do it.
After the oil rush, a lot of Americans went back to America, but you stayed.
-Why did you stay here?
-Mainly because my wife was English and by that time we had set up a home here.
We had lots of commitments - family, friends and social life.
Plus I'd been gone so long I don't fit into the American way of life.
-I'm not quite British and not quite American any more. I'm in between the two.
-An honorary Brit?
I suppose so. I get to pay all the taxes.
With the strange story of the Great Yarmouth gas rush, I've reached the end of my journey.
It's been a journey full of surprises and beautiful seascapes,
and it's shown me what makes the Norfolk coast a special place.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Ellie Harrison goes on a journey along the Norfolk coast.
En route, she goes fishing for mussels, learns about famous singing postman Alan Smethurst, and goes on the trail of a true local legend, Admiral Lord Nelson.
She ends her journey in Great Yarmouth, with the strange story of the town's 1970s gas rush.