Source to the sea
PUBLISHED: 12:38 25 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:21 26 May 2015
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Garth Cooper begins his exploration of the county’s waterways at the wonderful River Waveney, the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk
Running through gently rolling countryside out into the flat marshes of the Broads, the River Waveney is a peaceful and idyllic waterway on which to relax and contemplate one’s navel.
The river Waveney (Anglo-Saxon for Fen-river) is part of the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk. It forms the southern extremity of the Broads waterway system, an entirely man-made environment formed by ancient peat diggings. The upper reaches from Redgrave Fen through Harleston and down to Beccles are not navigable by anything larger than a small dinghy or a canoe.
The upper river meanders slowly through rich farmland and past Bressingham, famous for its steam attraction, over the old Roman crossing just upriver of the new A140 road bridge, past Scole with its famous 16th century pub, and on past Billingford Mill, Brockdish, Harleston, through Bungay and on through Beccles. The country downriver of Beccles changes, as the river runs through low flat marsh meadows and swings northwards towards Breydon water amid reed-covered banks.
The practical head of navigation lies alongside the Locks Inn at Geldeston where a low footbridge crosses the river where once stood the first of three locks controlling the upper stretches. However, boats with fixed masts won’t get further upriver than St Olaves fixed road bridge, which has an air draught of eight feet, unless the mast can be lowered. Navigation on the Waveney is pretty straightforward with good depths – up to 21 feet (6.4 metres) in places, especially in the middle of the channel. There are no channel markers but depths get shallower nearer the banks, there also tends to be less water on the inside of bends.
The river is tidal with moderate flows between Geldeston and Oulton Dyke, a man-made branch which takes a southerly route into Oulton Broad and out to sea via Lowestoft, and stronger flows below the dyke and out into Breydon Water.
In years gone by the Waveney was a commercial river, with produce and grain shipped out of the highly productive farming area surrounding the valley to the sea ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and onward to such places as London. Today it is a centre for a wide variety of leisure activities, both on and off the water.
You can read Garth’s full article in the June issue of Suffolk Magazine. Every month Garth explores a diffrent Suffolk waterway.