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Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 14:31 UK
Prose: Broad Water

By Lavinia Greenlaw
Blogging Norfolk contributor

When I took this picture, I had yet to learn about this water. That it is not naturally formed. That it is neither sea nor pond nor river and that the names of its flora and fauna also blur boundaries: swallowtail butterfly, milk parsley, freshwater seaweed.

On that bright April day, it seemed neither warm nor cold and looked thick with life, possibly too much so. There were signs along the bank warning of an outbreak of cyanobacteria, the toxic algae that lies on the water like a spill of bright blue-green ink.

I had no desire to swim in (or drink) this water, but I was very happy to be upon it. It's not often we get to move slowly and quietly and we are most likely to do so on, or in, water: swimming, rowing, sailing or, as I was that day, on a punt.

J grew up on this broad and learned to punt as a child. He moved us so smoothly along those narrow creeks that I thought it must be easy and insisted on having a go. I could push the pole into the mud and propel the boat forward but I was unprepared for how firmly the mud would grip, how hard it was to yank the pole free and then how a slight push at the wrong angle would propel us into the reeds.


This place was not as simple as it looked, but except for the occasional motorboat, it was certainly peaceful. In those narrow backwaters, the tall banks of reeds cut off not only the view but what little noise might have disturbed us.

The only sounds were the creak, splash and trickle of our punting, and the leisurely flap of ducks and geese coming in to land. This is bird country, where shallow water and flat land take up only a fraction of the horizon. The primary element is air and the atmosphere is dominated by light or the absence of light.

This looks like a simple journey out of the reeds and into a world that is equally low and simplified. The reeds thickened and blackened as the sun went down and the sky and water took on the same chilled pale flush of spring. Hickling Broad looks timeless and fixed, even more so given how it completes itself in reflection. Yet it was brought about and is sustained by tension. It is thought to have been created when the land was dug for peat and clay.

It is vulnerable to pollution, rising sea level, erosion and flood. When I looked again at this picture, I saw the two banks of reflected reeds as a pair of dense soundwaves: an image, perhaps, of continuous intense disturbance, what might be the endless adjustments made in order to achieve equilibrium, the tension holding it all together.

And so the break between the reeds might suggest a moment of silence, which we passed as we entered this backwater and through which we will move back towards the world.


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