England // East Anglia //

The Norfolk Broads

Three rivers – the Yare, Waveney and Bure – meander across the flatlands to the east of Norwich, converging on Breydon Water before flowing into the sea at Great Yarmouth. In places these rivers swell into wide expanses of water known as “broads”, which for years were thought to be natural lakes. In fact they’re the result of extensive peat cutting, several centuries of accumulated diggings made in a region where wood was scarce and peat a valuable source of energy. The pits flooded when sea levels rose in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to create these Norfolk Broads, now one of the most important wetlands in Europe – a haven for many birds such as kingfishers, grebes and warblers – and one of the county’s major tourist attractions. Looking after the Broads, the Broads Authority maintains a series of information centres throughout the region.

The Norfolk Broads are crisscrossed by roads and rail lines, but the best – really the only – way to see them is by boat, and you could happily spend a week or so exploring the 125 miles of lock-free navigable waterways, visiting the various churches, pubs and windmills en route. Of the many boat rental companies, Blakes and Norfolk Broads Boating Holidays, are both well established and have rental outlets at Wroxham, seven miles northeast of Norwich – and easy to reach by train, bus and car. Prices for cruisers start at around £700 a week for four people in peak season, but less expensive, short-term rentals are widely available too. Houseboats are much cheaper than cruisers, but they are, of course, static.

Trying to explore the Broads by car is pretty much a waste of time, but cyclists and walkers can take advantage of the region’s network of footpaths and cycle trails. There are Broads Authority bike rental points dotted around the region and walkers might consider the 56-mile Weavers’ Way, a long-distance footpath that winds through the best parts of the Broads on its way from Cromer to Great Yarmouth. There are many shorter options too. As for specific sights for landlubbers and boaters alike, one prime target is Toad Hole Cottage, an old eel-catcher’s cottage holding a small exhibit on the history of the trade, which was common in the area until the 1940s. The cottage is at How Hill, close to the hamlet of Ludham, six miles east of Wroxham on the A1062. Behind the cottage is the narrow River Ant, where there are hour-long, wildlife-viewing boat trips in the Electric Eel.