How Hill is one of those places which once entered is never quite forgotten. It has the feel of another world as you walk across the freshly clipped grass towards Toad Hole Cottage.
The ground slopes gently down to the River Ant and through the cascades of distant branches can be made out a red flag dancing upon a light spring breeze. The flag is atop a shiny red and green mast, and then as you wind down the little garden path beside the chocolate-box Toad Hole Cottage, emerging through the trees you come face to face with the mighty and magnificent wherry Hathor.
Moored at How Hill, the wherry Hathor is awe-inducing, floating harmoniously upon the river. She seems all at once perfectly at home in her surroundings and at the same time otherworldly. This is probably because this wherry, though an archetypal boat of the Broads, was not designed for work but instead for pleasure and has a history every bit as colourful as that mast gleaming in the sun.
Rewind back to the year 1897 and to a place far distant from the Broads National Park. The Colman family are on holiday in Egypt on account of the health of Alan Colman who is there on doctor’s orders due to a condition of the lungs. The family have hired a boat upon the Nile and are captivated by the antiquities that they visit. Black-and-white family photographs reveal fez-wearing tour guides, and the Colman sisters sat upon donkeys side-saddle outside half-ruined monuments.
Sadly the dry desert sun could not save Alan from his condition and he passed away in Luxor, Egypt. When the family returned they wanted to celebrate his life with a boat that was inspired by the magnificent Egypt, which Alan had so loved during his time there. They decided to commission a pleasure wherry and to name it after the very vessel they had sailed while on the Nile: Hathor.
Inside, the wherry Hathor is a warren of beautifully polished wood and inlay hieroglyphics, with a unique Arts and Crafts oil lamp featuring serpents' heads hanging from the saloon ceiling. Large windows and lofty headroom gives the wherry a feel of opulence below deck. The surface woodwork is predominantly sycamore polished to a near glow, and inlaid lotus flowers of teak decorate the cabins, while dyed sycamore characterises the saloon. It oozes bygone glamour and is a subtle nod to the imagery they must have encountered in far off Egypt.
Now, having passed through many eras, Hathor finds herself moored at this staithe again, within sight of the big house at How Hill, which is closely associated with the Colman family, still coloured as she always was in the reds and greens that pay tribute to a son and brother who could never return.
Today, on a bright sunny morning during the Broads Outdoors Festival, Hathor floats like the passing swans with a self-assured splendour. She is surrounded by members of the passionate team at Wherry Yacht Charter who maintain her and are educating members of the public admiring the magnificent vessel. As I walk back, I can see, just pointing out above the tips of the trees, that red flag upon her mast moving back and forth and fancy for a moment that Hathor is waving to her old friend, the house.
If you’d like to see Hathor for yourself, you can visit on Sunday 20 May, when you can also find out about joining the volunteers at Wherry Yacht Charter. Hathor will also be open for viewing at How Hill on 26-29 and 31 May, then Sundays and other selected dates until late September.