The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads
With our movements restricted to home these past weeks, I have been reminiscing about days gone by when holidays were very much on our minds at this time of the year. The excitement of picking and choosing our next vacation was taken for granted and in particular my mind was drawn back to our family visits to East Anglia and in particular the Norfolk Broads.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, more commonly known as the Norfolk Broads, became part of my life as far back as 1976. Following a discussion with two married friends, my wife and I were invited to join them for a cruising holiday along with our two young children then aged just 6 years and 3 years. A handful you may ask – what with six of us on board a 6 berth cruiser with water all around us, and never having experienced this type of holiday before?
Challenging, yes, but with a whole two weeks of fine weather, in an area of the country teaming with wildlife, we fell in love with East Anglia and its flat terrain and endless skies. We found so much to do with navigating our way around 125 miles of inland waterways, walking the footpaths, visiting the small villages and hamlets, not to mention entertaining and supervising two young children. This love affair, 300 miles from home has lasted for the rest of our lifetime and we returned to ‘The Broads’ many times over the ensuing years. Culminating with my wife and I, purchasing a Broads cruiser and owning it for 10 years. Before I expand on these many visits and our own cruiser, let me give you some insight into the history of The Broads and what they actually comprise of.
The Broads are a series of large lakes and 7 rivers that navigate through eastern Norfolk and Suffolk. They were the result of flood surges over the centuries, but closer inspection by conservationists determined that the lakes were actually manmade peat diggings going back to medieval times. In those days East Anglia was the most populated part of England with many large monasteries and abbeys supporting the spread of Christianity. There were in fact over 150 churches and Norwich was the second most populated city after London. Indeed records at Norwich Cathedral, taken from that time show that in one year alone, 400,000 divots of peat were delivered from these cuttings to the Cathedral. Since that time the diggings have flooded thus creating the large lakes or Broads that we see and use for leisure and wildlife preservation today. There are over 60 Broads altogether, many non-navigable and the preserve of conservationists with a wonderful selection of wildfowl, insects and birds.
The navigable Broads are of various sizes, some as large as four miles long and over a mile wide. Many are the home of local sailing clubs and Regatta’s are part of the sailing calendar every year. A sight to behold is the annual August bank holiday Regatta at Barton Broad on the river Ant. Observe a sea of sails, with yachts racing and tacking to arrive first over the finishing line. These Broads, however, remain open to visitors and hire craft. It was on Barton Broad that Admiral Lord Nelson learnt to sail, having been brought up in Burnham Thorpe.
As well as The Broads, the navigable waterways consist of seven rivers: four main rivers, the Bure, Yare, Waveney and Wensum and three smaller tributaries, the
Ant, Thurne and Chet. The Norfolk Broads are landlocked and not linked to any other of the English inland waterways. All are tidal and the effects of the tides are quite significant, particularly the closer you are to the estuary at Yarmouth. Here you can enter the North Sea, not recommended for inland cruisers and prohibited to hire craft. There are no locks to navigate but good use of the tide times depending on your location can result in a quicker passage from place to place and save on time and fuel. There is one lock at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft that affords access and egress to Lowestoft and again the North Sea. Again this is also out of bounds to hire craft.
The two largest navigable rivers are the Bure and the Yare. Both these rivers enter the North Sea at Yarmouth and are the most tidal. You can navigate the Yare right up and into the city centre of Norwich, where it joins the river Wensum. You can moor at the Yacht Station less than 200 yards from Norwich Cathedral, with just a short walk to the city centre and its market and main shopping areas.
The river Bure gives access to the main tourist area of the Norfolk Broads, its many boatyards, Broads, moorings and hostelries. Head on up to Wroxham, the capital of the broads where many tourists start and finish their cruising holidays and where the largest number of boatyards are located. Wroxham is a village with a variety of shops supplying everything you could possibly want. The majority of them are owned by ‘Roy’s of Wroxham’, a company set up in the village in 1931. Today you can visit its many outlets from the supermarket and department store, to the smaller chandlers, DIY store and many others all trading under the name Roy’s of Wroxham.
The two other larger rivers are the river Waveney and river Wensum. The Wensum joins the river Yare just outside Norwich and gives you access to the city of Norwich, whereas the river Waveney affords navigation down to the Suffolk Broads, and up as far as Beccles, a popular market town, again with its many shops and hostelries. Beccles has an outdoor swimming pool, a great favorite of ours and a must on warm Summer days. A couple of miles above Beccles is Geldeston, the end of navigation of the river Waveney. Visit the Geldeston Lock Inn, again a popular mooring serving hot food and some traditional Real Ales. It is a typical isolated mooring, ideal for those who prefer a quiet location.
There are many bridges crossing the various rivers, some large and some small. The smaller bridges can restrict headroom to 6’ 5” at high water, so some tidal planning has to be taken into account when negotiating the lower bridges. Two of the low bridges are arch bridges at Wroxham and Potter Heigham, but the assistance of Bridge Pilots are available during navigable times, compulsory for hire craft, and a small fee is charged. I recommend the experience of passing through these bridges, sometimes negotiated with inches to spare. Have your camera ready but watch your head.
The type of holiday you choose can vary from family to family. Our choice was to cruise each morning for a couple of hours and choose a mooring for lunch and
couple of hours and choose a mooring for lunch and visit the local villages to top up with provisions. We did the same in the afternoon selecting a mooring for an overnight stay, sometimes near civilization and other times just out in the middle of nowhere. Moorings are everywhere on The Broads, most of them are free for 24 hours, but sometimes a fee will be charged where facilities such as water are available or alternatively limited mooring space outside one of the many riverside pubs. All these hostelries offer good lunchtime and evening meals so cooking on board is not a necessity. Knowing our way around The Broads afforded us the luxury of choosing our meals in a local hostelry or taking advantage of the locally sold produce to cook aboard. Every hire craft has a fully fitted Galley. Many villages have vegetables, fruit, eggs or other such produce for sale outside their houses with ‘honesty boxes’ and we often took advantage of this fresh produce.
After our first visit to The Broads in the mid 70’s we returned many many times for what was in those days our main and only annual holiday. On a number of these holidays we were joined by my sister, brother-in-law and their two children and spent many a fortnight cruising our beloved waterways in sister boats named Master Peter and Master Paul. These were old traditional wooden Broads cruisers, 6 berth, quite basic, but enjoyed by one and all. As our children grew older, they enjoyed many experiences, some of which they discuss even today. Indeed when they became independent young people and arranged their own holidays, the first place they returned to with their friends was The Norfolk Broads.
During 1988 my family and I moved back to Wenvoe, and have remained in the village ever since. We had resided in Wenvoe in the mid 70’s when I was stationed in the old police house carrying out my duties as village constable. We had moved two years later due to a career move but loved the village so much we were determined to return someday and came back as I say in 1988.
At about this time my wife and I began to take holidays further afield to the usual sunny destinations abroad. Even so, we invariably booked at least a week visiting Norfolk hiring smaller craft, with just the two of us. In 2003, having retired from my career in the Police Service, I set up my own business and was able to schedule my work with holidays to suit us both. Following a visit in June of that year back to The Broads, we were loath to return home, and we started to discuss the possibility of buying our own cruiser. During the ensuing weeks and months, I returned to Norfolk on two weekends, staying in B&B and spending the time plying the length and breadth of broadlands chandlers and boatyards, searching for an ideal craft.
By this time private ownership of older hire craft had become very popular as well as enabling the cost of these boats to be available to the pockets of the everyday working couple. It actually took three visits to find our ideal cruiser; a glass fibre traditional broads design ‘Broom Ocean 30’ with the name ‘Rambler’. She began her life as a hire craft but had been sold to a private buyer when only 4 years old and clearly had been lovingly maintained over the years. She was for
sale at a boatyard in Wroxham and when I first set eyes on her I knew she was exactly what we were looking for. Thus began a 10 year love affair with what I described as my ‘pride and joy’.
She was 25 years old when I bought her. This made her affordable to us and with a full survey arranged, we took her over in September, 2003. We did consider changing her name but was informed this could be unlucky so we stuck with the name ‘Rambler’.
From that time on, we spent at least a week, sometimes two weeks on our cruiser during each month from April to October. The fact that she was berthed 303 miles from home was no barrier to us and every time we set out to visit her, the excitement never waned. We upgraded and modernized ‘Rambler’ over the years, with my wife renewing the internal furnishings and fittings whilst I concentrated on replacing worn or broken deck fittings and upgrading and maintaining her single diesel engine and the on board gas and electric systems. It was a learning curve, and we both learnt many new skills.
The annual costs for maintenance, mooring fees, insurance, river license and general running costs was approximately the same cost of a 2 week holiday abroad, so by maintaining her ourselves, it made the enterprise of owning our own cruiser manageable. Each year we would spend at least 10 weeks cruising our favourite waterway at a relatively low cost. We never tired of Norfolk and although we sold her in 2014, we still visit the Broads from time to time and relive those exciting adventures on board our very own cruiser.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, offer a healthy, relaxing and enjoyable holiday. Hire craft today offer all modern conveniences such as wi fi, satellite TV, mains electricity and they are fitted to a high specification. There are cruisers of all ages for hire that would suit most pockets.
I would suggest, as holidays go, there is no better way of recharging the batteries and getting out in the fresh air once again. So when planning your future holidays, why not give the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads some thought. You can research the various hire boats on line, have a look at Hoseasons Holidays or Blakes Boats. It is a holiday for all ages and for families in particular it is an ideal choice. Good luck and enjoy, but most importantly, stay safe.