The Norfolk Broads are thought to have been created by the flooding of ancient peat diggings. They consist of large expanses of water, long meandering rivers and smaller lakes and dykes and are unique throughout Britain.
For much of the year, the Broads are thronged by motor cruisers, sailing boats and other vessels transporting those people who want to experience the beauty and tranquillity of the Norfolk Broads. It is the perfect place to relax and unwind and offers some spectacular wildlife like the swallowtail butterfly.
Boating is one of the best ways to explore the wet-land and there are many varieties of boat available. Britain’s only solar-powered passenger boat, named Ra, takes you on a high-tech excursion across Barton Broad. Ra runs from Gay’s Staithe, which is near the Barton Angler Country Inn at Neatishead, and provides an excellent view across the broad and reed-beds. The trip lasts 1 ¼ hours and is accessible to wheelchair users.
If you want to step back in time then take a trip from Ranworth on a boat named Helen. This boat was used to carry bundles of reeds used as thatch and was originally punted along by someone known as a marshman. For those who want to get close to nature then the canoe is the ideal mode of transport. The Canadian canoe can seat up to 3 adults and the hire centres will offer you advice on safety and suggest suitable routes. Canoeing is silent so you should spot some local wildlife such as various waterfowl, voles and maybe even an otter..
The electric day-boat, with its electric engine, means that it is quieter than most boats and friendlier to the environment. It is a great way to explore the many waterways. How Hill Nature Reserve near Ludham is where you can hop on board the Electric Eel. This boat glides quietly along the reed-fringed dykes and incorporates a stop at a bird hide that overlooks Reedham Water. More information on any of these boating trips can be obtained from any Broads Information Centre.
Exploring the Broads by bike is great, with the twisting country lanes, beautiful countryside and gentle slopes. There are endless places to stop and rest and take in the picturesque surroundings.
There is an extensive network of riverside footpaths which can easily be followed from an Ordnance Survey map. This way you will see things such as the many wildflowers that you would miss when travelling by boat or bike.
The River Bure is at the heart of the Broads and flows through some of the most attractive countryside in Norfolk. It is a very popular water-way for all types of boat and for much of the year it is bustling with craft. Coltishall is at the limit of navigation of the River Bure and is a pretty village with woodland, fields and properties whose gardens lie at the waters edge.
The ruins of St Benet’s Abbey stand on the banks of the River Bure. It was founded in around 955AD and was once an important Benedictine monastry. Today little remains of the original monastic house although the foundations of the abbey church as well as a fine gateway can still be seen. The River Ant is a tributary of the Bure and its narrow winding channel leads to Barton Broad. Barton Broad is the second largest Broad and it is said to be where Nelson learnt to sail.
On the east side of the River Ant stands the fine house of How Hill. It was built at the start of the twentieth century by a local architect as his own home. It has a bog-garden full of water-loving plants and flowering shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons. It is situated next to How Hill Mill which is a brick tower mill that has been restored to its former glory. There are several mills that border the River Ant, but the prettiest must be Hunsett Mill.
Wroxham is one of the most popular parts of the Broads with its water covering an area of about 120 acres and which is roughly a mile long. Surrounded by woodland and meadows, it is considered one of the five major Broads and is a noted yachting centre. It has several boat yards and offers a good range of shops and amenities for those passing through. Ranworth Broad is in two parts: the Inner Broad which is private and noted for its wildlife; and Malthouse, which is popular with cruising boats.
There are many unspoilt Broadland villages like Neatishead and Barton Turf, the latter boasting a church containing a famous painted screen. The Staithe at Stalham is a very pleasant mooring place and in the village there is a gabled hall dated 1670 and a restored Perpendicular church.
Two miles from St Benet’s Abbey the Rivers Bure and Thurne join. The Thurne is six miles long and flows through some of the most unvisited countryside in Norfolk. It connects with some northern broads like Heigham Sound, Horsey Mere, Martham Broad and Hickling Broad. The Thurne is popular with all craft and Thurne Mouth is especially popular with sailing boats as it lacks overhanging trees which are present along other stretches of water.
The village of Thurne, although fairly small, has some useful shops and facilities for the many boats that use this frequently used stretch of water. Womack Broad is a secluded broad and a firm favourite with artists. It is an idyllic setting with beautiful scenery and leads to the village of Ludham which has excellent moorings.
Potter Heigham is a bustling village, especially during the summer months, and is one of the largest boating centres of the Norfolk Broads. There are riverside boat yards where boats can be hired and plenty of facilities for holiday-makers. Potter Heigham is renowned for its medieval three-arched stone bridge which crosses the River Thurne. Nearby is Heigham Sound where there is an abundance of waterfowl and it is a popular place for pleasure craft.
The area surrounding Hickling is rich in bird life with harriers, bitterns and bearded tits, to name but a few. The swallowtail butterfly, which is sadly unique to East Anglia, can be found around Hickling and Horsey. The largest of all the Broads is Hickling Broad. It is popular with sailing boats but its shallow water means it can be hazardous for yachtsmen. Fishermen favour the broad which contains such fish as tench, pike, rudd and bream.
Horsey Mere is the Broad nearest to the sea and is separated from the salt water by sand dunes. The National Trust protects 2,000 acres of farmland and marshland around the mere. Also under the care of The National Trust is Horsey Drainage Mill. It dates from 1912 and replaces an earlier mill that became dilapidated. In 1943 it was struck by lightning and ceased working and was left in a state of disrepair for many years. It has now been restored and from the top of the mill there are magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.
The village of Acle has a very interesting church with a round Norman tower with a 15th century octagonal belfry. Acle Bridge has shops, boatyards and an inn so is a convenient place to stop. The River Bure flows for eleven miles from Acle Bridge through flat marshland towards the sea at Great Yarmouth.
The longest Broadland river is the River Yare. This travels over 55 miles from near East Dereham, through Norwich, to the sea. One of the villages it flows through is Brundall which is one of the oldest boat building communities on the Broads. It is where Norfolk Wherries were built as well as some fine racing yachts.
Considered the UK’s largest and finest wetland landscape, the Norfolk Broads have been a popular destination to hire boats for many decades. These waterways offer open spaces, spectacular scenery, peace and tranquillity and are full to the brim with stunning Norfolk wildlife.
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust is the oldest Wildlife Trust in the country and aims to provide hands-on, learning experiences to develop knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the natural world. 400 acres of marshland at Cley, on the north Norfolk coast, was purchased in 1926 to be held ‘in perpetuity as a bird breeding sanctuary’. This has provided a blueprint for nature conservation which has since been replicated the length and breadth of the UK.
The marsh harrier is the largest of the harriers and is recognisable by its long tail and light flight with wings held in a shallow ’V’ formation. Females are larger than the males and have distinctive golden-yellow crowns and throat and chocolate-brown feathers. Males are lighter in colour and have a brown back, pale neck and head, gingery belly and long grey wings with black tips. In recent years the marsh harrier population has increased, and in Norfolk, it is not unusual to see this beautiful bird in flight.
The bittern is one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK, it is very well camouflaged and spends all year round in Norfolk, making its home in reedbeds on the Norfolk Broads. The male has a very distinctive booming call, that it uses to attract a mate, and this can be heard up to 2km away between March and June.
The Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio Machaon Britannicus is a large, strong and colourful butterfly that forms part of the Papilionidae family. The largest native UK butterfly, with a wingspan of up to 9cm, it is also one of the rarest. The Swallowtail Butterfly has very distinctive yellow and black markings and if you are lucky enough to spot one in flight, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.