The River Thurne begins at a junction on the River Bure in the Norfolk Broads (ref TG400152) and runs to West Somerton (ref TG459214).
The River Thurne is now a popular part of the Norfolk Broads cruising network and it has (presumably) been navigable for many centuries. It is officially a tributary of the River Bure though on a map the River Thurne’s waters head straight on (from north to south) at “Thurne Mouth” (TG400152), while the River Bure enters from the west. Despite this, it is the River Bure which “rules the waves” and it takes the River Thurne’s waters on to Great Yarmouth. There is a camp site on the east bank of the junction at Thurne Mouth and the village of Thurne is about ½ a mile to the north.
The River Thurne, as we follow it upstream, starts by heading north, within ½ a mile it reaches one of the most photographed locations on the Broads, Thurne Dyke wind pump (TG400158). This is a tall, slim, white windmill which stands on the east bank. It is open to the public at weekends and affords a good view of the surrounding fens and marshes. Access to the top is via a very steep ladder. Alongside the wind pump is Thurne Dyke, heading east for just a few hundred yards and giving access to Thurne village. The Lion pub is across the road at the head of the Dyke.
Half a mile north of Thurne is the unnavigable Hundred Dyke which leaves the River Thurne and heads west for 1¼ miles to join the River Ant. Past the dyke the River Thurne curves north eastwards and within another ½ mile it reaches the entrance of Womack Water (TG398171) on the north west bank. Womack Water is ¾ of a mile long, heading north west into Ludham. It is actually the remains of Womack Broad, it was once very narrow and difficult to navigate but it was restored in the 1960’s and is now wide and deep. Half way up on the eastern bank there is a hire base and the Heritage Fleet Trust. At the terminus is Ludham Marina where there are moorings and a car park. Ludham village centre is just to the north.
The River Thurne continues north easterly after passing Womack Water and in the next 1½ miles it passes Ludham Marshes National Nature Reserve on the north bank, then Repps Staithe on the south, then a hire base on the north and finally Repps wind pump on the south. At the end of the 1½ miles is Potter Heigham. Just before the town’s old road bridge (TG420184) there is a massive marina complex on the north bank with moorings and all boat facilities – day boats can be hired nearby. Potter Heigham now has two road bridges, the new one (on the site of a former railway bridge) has helped traffic congestion in a big way but the old one remains to be a problem for boat users. It is over 700 years old, it is very low and the navigable channel is very narrow. Hire craft must acquire the service of a “Bridge Pilot” to navigate under the bridge. The pilot station is situated on the south bank just west of the bridge. The new road bridge, which carries the A149, is just 100 yards east of the old bridge and the Broadshaven Tavern is on the north bank between the two bridges. In 1996 the first ever dedicated museum of The Broads opened in Potter Heigham, situated within the marina. It is open throughout the summer with exhibits including many types of boat as well as a history of work and leisure in the Broadlands.
The next stretch of the river is one mile long in a north easterly direction. Half way along is High’s Windmill on the north bank and just before the end of the mile is Martham Boat Building & Development Company on the south bank. One hundred yards further on is the entrance to Candle Dyke.
Candle Dyke (TG440192) is the narrow corridor leading to Hickling Broad. The dyke is just ½ a mile long with a Z-bend in the middle. One of the very few remaining eel catching sets is situated on the bend and boats most approach with caution because the eel man needs to lower his net to allow passage. At the top of Candle Dyke is Heigham Sound (TG437197) which is a wide stretch of water though it is not safe to venture off the marked course.
At the north end of Heigham Sound (TG432207) is a Y-shaped junction. To the north west is Deep Dyke which is ½ a mile long and leads to White Slea Mere (TG428210) which is also about ½ a mile long. These two stretches of waterway take craft into Hickling Broad (TG425213), by far the largest in the Norfolk Broads. Hickling Broad looks very appetising to boat users but most of it is very shallow and reedy. Boats must keep to the marked channel.
There are two routes across the broad; the first heads in a straight line to the north west where Catfield Dyke heads off in a north westerly direction for ¾ of a mile to Catfield Common (TG399217). This dyke is narrow and not suitable for boats over 9 feet wide. To the south of Catfield Common is the very formal sounding “Mrs. Myhills’ Marsh”, while Lings’ Windmill is nearby on the west bank of Hickling Broad.
The second route across the broad takes a right-hand curve to the north east corner. There are hire bases, moorings, boat facilities, a yacht centre and the Pleasure Boat pub at the head of the broad (TG412226). Hickling village is along the minor road to the north. On the north east banks of the broad is Rowland Green’s Windmill and Hickling Broad Nature Reserve. Access can be gained to the Reserve Visitor Centre and to Stubb Windmill (TG419223) from the minor roads to the north east of the broad. Guided nature trips by boat can be taken on Hickling Broad, birds are the main attraction though there are many types of rare plant as well.
Back at the Y-shaped junction on the north of Heigham Sound – the route to the north east is via Meadow Dyke (TG432207). This one mile dyke is completely isolated with no villages or roads in the vicinity. At the end of the dyke is Horsey Mere (TG445217), a large triangular shaped broad with Horsey Mere Nature Reserve on the northern bank. The mere is owned by the National Trust and the whole area is very popular with migrant birds because the North Sea is just 1½ miles to the east. Heading off the eastern point of the triangular mere is a short dyke leading to Horsey Staithe (TG457222). There are moorings and a car park at the staithe and Horsey wind pump stands tall close by. This is a 4-storey windmill which is open daily from 11am to 5pm and gives excellent views all round. It was still in use up until 1943 when it was struck by lightening. In 1948 the National Trust took it on and fully restored it. The B1159 runs right past the windmill, Horsey village is ½ a mile north and West Somerton is 1½ mile to the south.
Heading north across Horsey Mere takes boats into a man-made channal, Waxham Cut (TG447225).This is 1¼ miles long, heading north to Waxham Bridge. It is very narrow and most full sized boats will not be able to turn around at the top. Half way along the cut is Brograve Windmill but there is little else on the route – apart from good boating water of course. The head of the current navigation is at Waxham Bridge (TG444246). A lot of privately owned boats are moored here in an almost hidden corner of the Broads. Reaching this spot by road is not officially possible. The bridge is on a private lane off the B1159 about a mile south of Waxham village. The private lane has warning notice boards at its entrance saying “private holiday homes – keep out”. I drove along it! (looking for a holiday home of course). After about 800 yards Waxham Bridge is reached. The bridge itself is well used because a lorry depot is situated on its far side.
The cut used to continue north west for another 1¾ miles to Lound Bridge where there was a brick works. This section is now completely silted up and not navigable. In 1947 the North Sea broke through its barriers in this low lying area and caused considerable damage to the canal and to local fishing for many years.
Returning all the way back to the junction of Candle Dyke on the River Thurne – less than ½ a mile further north east along the river is the entrance to the dyke leading south east to Martham (TG445194). The dyke is only a few hundred yards in length and is now home to a hire base and boatyard. Just under a mile further north east the River Thurne takes a sharp turn east into Martham Broad (TG454204). The broad is actually split into two smaller broads, one on the north side of the river and the other on the south side. Although the broad is, in effect, the head of the River Thurne, the navigable route travels straight across the middle from west to east and continues for another ½ mile along a dyke which leads to West Somerton (TG459214). There are moorings at the end of the dyke beside a pretty village green on the B1159.
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Thurne Dyke and Thurne Windmill pump (TG400158), in Thurne village, on a minor road running west off the B1152 north of Acle.
Womack Water (TG391180), In Ludham village a lane (Horsefen Road) heads south off the A1062 to a hire base and marina. There is a car park at the waters edge.
Potter Heigham and the Museum Of The Broads (TG420184), the ancient bridge crosses the river on the former route of the A149. This can be reached from the new A149 bypass and from the A1062. There are lots of parking places near the bridge.
Catfield Common (TG399217), situated on Staithe Road. Reached on a minor road heading east off the A149 at Catfield.
Hickling Broad (TG412226), situated to the east of the A149 on a minor road heading south east out of Sutton. This road passes through Hickling Heath and curves about until it reaches the Pleasure Boat pub at the northern tip of the broad.
Horsey Mere and Windmill (TG457222), situated on the B1159 between West Somerton and Horsey.
Martham Staithe (TG445194), reached via a minor road heading west then north off the B1152 at Martham village green.
West Somerton (TG459214), the dyke at the head of the River Thurne is situated on the west side of the B1159 just north of the village.
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