Undiscovered East of England: Stories from the 2017 Best Loved Hotels directory
To celebrate the launch of the 2017 Best Loved Hotel & Travel Guide, we are pleased to bring you a series of stories on Undiscovered Britain by leading travel writers.
SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS
“Follow the withies,” advises Henry, as I tug on the wooden tiller of his clinker-built, 1950s crab boat My Girls with trepidation, watching the narrow, marshy creek zig-zag before her prow.
“Swallows and Amazons, remember? Secret Water? Withies are the sticks that mark the channel, so you know where it is at high tide,” he explains. I spot them, a reassuring line of thin willows, standing upright above swirling eddies of muddy water, steadfastly marking the deep water and our safe passage.
It’s early on a cloud-scudding Sunday morning and we (skipper, Henry Chamberlain, plus Ed, his crew, and me) are navigating our way along East Fleet Creek on the North Norfolk coast with the wind filling the lug-rigged, brown-canvas sail.
We are barely 10 minutes into our voyage from the small port of Wells-next-the-Sea, and already we are plunged into a saltmarsh wilderness of dark mud banks flecked with purple lavender. Nothing breaks the silence except the lazy flap of the sail and the startled seabirds flying up from the low-lying scrub and gorse as we pass.
We drop anchor to brew coffee and lean out of the boat to gather handfuls of succulent, emerald-green samphire for cooking later. It will be lightly steamed, we decide, served with melted butter and tiny, flavoursome cockles (the local “Stewkey Blues”), which we forage from the exposed sand beds.
Henry points out the hidden landmarks as we go, Gun Barrel Creek, Devil’s Pool and further ahead, Cabbage Creek, where we must cross submerged banks to reach the sea. The tide is ebbing fast and there’s a moment of uncertainty despite the boat’s shallow draft, which is purpose-built for these unpredictable waters. She grounds with a lurch and Ed has to jump out to give her a helping shove. Twisting slowly, she heaves away from the sand with a slithering tummy roll.
In open water, we battle against the tide and the wind. There’s a powerful swell and hopes of mackerel fishing are dashed. Henry uses his Royal Marine training combined with local knowledge to manoeuvre the boat starboard onto the waves, minimising the drenching impact of the water.
We skirt East Hills and approach the entrance to the harbour. Brightly coloured beach huts come into view and the water calms. At our mooring and sheltered by a canvas awning, we dry out after our adventure and agree that a cooked breakfast has never tasted so good.
Sophie Butler is a travel writer who specialises in consumer affairs and is a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel. She has lived in East Anglia for more than two decades.
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Coastal Exploration Company