Maybe the lockdown has softened me up, but it struck me that I was taking on two rather risky adventures in a matter of days when I put myself down for canoeing on the Wensum and then crossing the border by road.
The river that snakes its way through Norwich is not widely feared for its rapids and waterfalls, but you never know. It is tidal, and it could rain.
In the event, it didn’t rain, though it threatened to, and as is well known among psychologists and chess players, the threat can be stronger than its execution. I took a raincoat. Surplus baggage, I think you call it.
I was accompanied by my two grandchildren and my wife – an enthusiastic and lively walker who also plays the violin. You may think this irrelevant, but it involves a lot of arm movements, as does canoeing. In the event it wasn’t the arm movements that did for her, but the restricted leg space. She stuck with it a long time, but in the end she disembarked rather athletically, climbing a ladder on to the riverside path not far from Carrow Road.
We were on our way back at the time, and she is very keen on Norwich City, which may have had a bearing. It proved a blessing in disguise, as she was able to get some rather nice pictures of the remaining three of us paddlers, two of whom were making excellent progress. I was quite pleased with my steering.
It goes without saying that my grandchildren are athletic and wield an impressive paddle. I will not say who they take after. To put this into perspective, they are not children: one is 19 and the other is 17 next month. I soon realised they were taking me for a canoe excursion, and not the other way round.
It was a lot of fun, dodging paddleboarders and boats with what appeared to be engines, which seems to me far too easy an option. We got as far as Thorpe Old Hall, which I take a professional interest in because it is a former residence of one of the Paston family, and I’m a trustee of the Paston Heritage Society. Pretty much a sleeping trustee nowadays, but a trustee nevertheless.
I mentioned the border crossing, and you’re probably thinking of electric fences, passports and quarantine. For some reason, none of this occurred, though we were crossing what is often a hostile frontier between Norfolk and Suffolk. By car, not canoe.
We do not often go to Suffolk, though it is admittedly beautiful in many areas. For one thing, I struggle with their absurd speed limits, and my wife has an allergic reaction every time we come across the word “Ipswich”. On this occasion we were meeting friends from Nottingham, who usually go to Blakeney but for some reason had decided to give Woodbridge a shot.
I had never been to Woodbridge, even by canoe, but was very pleasantly surprised. This was despite the esoteric parking system: I spent some considerable time downloading the app, registering and then paying. A policeman at Southwold with whom we struck up a conversation had told us it was quick and easy, but three or four people approached us as I was struggling at the meter and sympathised. I wouldn’t say they were contemptuous of it, but nor would I say they were singing its praises. Happily I know somewhere in Southwold where you can park for nothing.
Both Southwold and Woodbridge are easy on the eye, especially in the September sun, and some of the restaurants in Woodbridge are open, even on Tuesdays. May I recommend a tea and coffee shop called Honey & Harvey – for the name, the olive tree and the quality of its tea and cakes.
We didn’t stay long in Suffolk. We made it back across the border by taking the much underrated back road from Halesworth, where I once lost five minutes of my life. But that’s another story.