The River Bure rises near Melton Constable and flows through Aylsham, Coltishall and Wroxham, eventually meeting the Yare near Gt Yarmouth. The 32 mile section downstream from Horstead Mill was navigable from at least the middle of the 17th century but goods beyond Coltishall had to be transferred from wherry to wagon.
In January 1773 a bill was presented to Parliament to make the Upper Bure navigable and in April 1773 the bill was passed that created the Aylsham Navigation. Building costs were estimated to be £6,000. Work started in June 1774 and the navigation finally opened in October 1779 at a total cost of £6551. 5 locks were needed over the 9 miles of the navigation at Coltishall, Buxton Mill, Oxnead Mill, Burgh-near-Aylsham and Aylsham. The locks were designed to take Norfolk wherries with a shallow draft of 2ft 6in and were constructed at 54ft x 12ft 8in.
The main traffic was agricultural produce and flour along with coal, timber and bricks. Marl was carried from pits on the Horstead Hall estate.
The navigation continued as a major asset to the community until it's near monopoly was hit by the opening of the East Norfolk Railway in 1880 and the Eastern & Midlands Railway in 1883. Despite this competition, wherries continued to use the navigation until 1912 when extensive flooding caused £4000 of damage to the locks. That sort of money wasn't available so the navigation was abandoned although formal closure did not happen until 1928.
Buxton lock has been built over but remains of the others can still be seen.
To find out more about the Aylsham Navigation try and track down a copy of 'The Canals of Eastern England' by John Boyes and Roland Russell. This was the last volume in the series 'Canals of the British Isles' and was published by David & Charles in 1977.
There are some very interesting photos and some memories of the navigation on the Norfolk Mills website here.
There is also more information about this navigation on the East Anglian Waterways Association website.
A new group has recently been formed with a vision to raise the profile of the river and to identify and protect its history and wildlife in such a way that it remains available for the generations that follow to enjoy.
Find out more on the Aylsham Navigation Project website.
Two short videos of canoe trips from Coltishall to Buxton and Buxton to Oxnead.