THEY say that “Wensum” means winding, and certainly to the north west of Norwich, the river indulges in a series of textbook meanders. I went in at Ringland, at a shallow spot next to The Swan where everyone was out enjoying a mixture of sunbathing, paddling and swimming. Sometimes you could accuse the villages around Norwich of ignoring their local river, but not here, not on a sunny summer’s afternoon at least. But one of the great things about kayaking is how quickly you leave the crowds behind. One minute you’re slaloming between giggling teenagers, the next you’re around a corner and out of sight, out of sound. With the exception of the stretch through Norwich (which is great, go in at New Mills, more here) this was my first time on the Wensum. The river has recently attracted a lot of attention and a lot of money because it is an “internationally important chalk river”, and perhaps it’s those qualities which make it feel so clean and full of life. Fish were everywhere and so were the luxuriant underwater weeds. In fact sometimes it was difficult to get a clear paddle, such was the thickness of the greenery. From The Swan you are quickly out into open country with arable fields to the left and a more marshy, reedy habitat to the right. A stand of more than a dozen graceful poplars (main picture above) dominates the landscape, looking all the more impressive when reflected in the river. The Costessey to Ringland road meanders with the river and the two draw close just in time for river users to see Beehive Lodge, (below left) a beautiful building once part of the Costessey Hall estate. Rose Bay Willow herb flourishes on the banks, attracting the butterflies, particularly small whites. Blue/black damselflies danced around too, refusing to stay in one place long enough to be photographed. A kingfisher and a comma butterfly also escaped before I could press my shutter. This paddle is probably best done as a trip to Taverham Mill and back – a sluice prevents you from going any further. I did press on but getting back on the water to the east of the mill involved a lot of messy, trespassing portage and the kindness of a householder with a big garden. It wouldn’t be fair to mention the whos and the wheres.
To canoe this next section “legally” you would probably need to get in the water off Mack’s Lane which is another quarter of a mile south east. The landscape opens up as you leave Taverham behind. On the left bank horses are stabled, on the right you follow the flooded gravel workings at Costessey Pits although you don’t see the water from your own low vantage point. Costessey gradually hoves into view on this side. It’s a strange village Costessey. Two of its main streets shadow the river, but the flood risk means that buildings keep a very respectful distance. It’s only as you reach the bottom of another meandering “U” (roughly where Longwater Lane meets Townhouse Road) that even their gardens dare to make it down to the water’s edge. All this – with much messing around with a camera, portage and some conversations along the way – had somehow taken me more than 3 1/2 hours. The old “ride and hide” trick meant I had to hide the canoe near The Bush pub and then ride a previously dropped off mountain bike back to the car at Ringland rather cream crackered. Moral of the story: recce every mill first – even if it does spoil the sense of adventure.