Historical records from the 12th Century reveal the Norfolk Broads are man-made waterways created by the need for fuel in densely populated East Norfolk.
Woodlands were cleared to provide timber and vast amounts of peat dug out for fuel – Norwich Cathedral was itself responsible for burning 320,000 tonnes of peat each year. As sea levels rose these vast holes began to flood, creating channels which were used for transporting goods. In the late 16th Century, Norwich was the second largest city in England and Great Yarmouth became a busy port, exporting wool and agricultural products.
In the mid 1800s the arrival of the railway brought visitors to the area and the idea of boating holidays was created. The Norfolk Broads, home to a huge variety of wildlife, with its tranquil lakes and beautiful landscapes, now attracts around eight million visitors every year.
Our base was a lovely waterside cottage situated alongside the River Thurne at Herbert Woods boatyard in Potter Heigham.
While Herbert Woods provide a vast selection of cruisers to help holidaymakers enjoy over 125 miles of navigable waterways, we opted to hire one of their day boats to explore the Broads for ourselves.
With a maximum speed of 6mph, the Norfolk Broads are surprisingly easy to navigate and they help to provide a relaxing break from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. Your blood pressure can rise, especially when attempting to navigate through the medieval bridge at Potter Heigham, which is one of the most challenging – being extremely narrow and low. After we successfully maneuvered the boat through with only inches to spare, we continued our leisurely trip down the River Thurne to Acle, where after a few attempts, we moored up alongside The Bridge Inn for a very pleasant lunch.
Paddle boarding, canoeing and fishing are just a few of the popular activities, sharing the waterways with the many residents in the area who have their permanent or holiday home on the riverside. Feeling the stress float away we relaxed into this slower pace of life. Continuing our boating theme at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden at South Walsham which is home to two of Britain’s oldest trees and all kinds of flora, fauna and wildlife, we explored the nature trails and were expertly guided on a boat ride around their private Broad hoping, but failing, to see an otter or kingfisher.
If this vast inland waterway isn’t enough for you, then the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline offers traditional seaside towns, beautiful beaches and quaint fishing villages.
Towns and villages in Norfolk have the tradition of ornate painted signs to proudly announce their name on entering – they often depict a landmark or craft associated with that village.
The first decorative sign is believed to have been made for The Royal Sandringham Estate in the early 1900s and they were soon spread around the county.
An amazing sight welcomed us at Horsey Gap. As we approached the vast, unspoilt sandy beach through the dunes we were greeted by a mass of basking seals, all indifferent to the clusters of marvelling onlookers. Viewing platforms are in use in winter to ensure the breeding seals and pups are not disturbed and seal trips are available from the northern coast which is a great way to see them in their natural habitat.
The Broads National Park is the only National Park in England to incorporate a city within it. Norwich is an easy city to get around and combines history and heritage with modern culture. Built over 900 years ago by the Normans, Norwich Castle is now home to a museum and art gallery.
A meander down cobbled streets passing Tudor houses, the beautiful Art Nouveau Royal Arcade and two magnificent cathedrals takes you on a whistle-stop tour of architecture through the ages. Another historic building has been home since 1823 to Jarrolds, a family-run department store, with five floors of shopping, cafes and a deli.
The Forum, a millenium project which was built on the site of the original library which was devastated by fire in 1994, has become a hub for locals and visitors housing the new library, tourist information centre and a theatre - which hosts many activities, exhibitions and events. The riverside has also been successfully developed in recent years with pleasant walks and is bustling with restaurants and entertainment venues. We could have travelled in on our boat but it would have taken a few days.
Even if you’re not a boating type, the Broads are well worth a visit. The flat landscapes are an interesting contrast to Yorkshire’s rugged hills. Norfolk as a county has so much to offer, from picking up local crab to losing money on the amusement arcades. We had a fantastic and varied break and will visit this wonderful county again, but maybe next time try a bigger boat.
The Day family stayed in the Mallard apartment at Herbert Woods, Potter Heigham, NR29 5JF. 0800 144 4472, www.herbertwoods.co.uk
Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, School Road, South Walsham, NR13 6DZ. 01603 270449, www.fairhavengarden.co.uk
Norwich Tourist Information Centre, The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich, NR2 1TF. 01603 213999, www.visitnorwich.co.uk