What to do on the Norfolk Broads

This green, serene network of man-made lakes and rivers — a watery web across the UK’s most easterly tip — is a boon for wildlife-lovers and have-a-go sailors, a place to go off-grid and get lost under wide, open skies.

Friday, September 4, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
RSPB reserve at Breydon Water is a stellar spot for frequent sightings of bitterns and a ...

RSPB reserve at Breydon Water is a stellar spot for frequent sightings of bitterns and a significant percentage of the UK’s once-threatened common crane population.

Photograph by David Street

Why go

A national park spanning numerous waterways and straddling the Norfolk-Suffolk border, the Broads’ 125 miles of navigable channels are largely accessible only by boat. This is a place to moor at villages crowned with round-tower stone churches, and to explore feathery fields of reeds, wildfowl-rich marshes and water-tangled woodlands. A place to see sunsets over flat, East Anglian horizons punctuated by the silhouettes of old abbeys and windmills, then settle back under vast, open skies that are among the UK’s darkest. Rising sea levels means these flooded medieval peat works may once again be returned to the sea, making the Broads an ever-more precious place to experience.

What to do

Get out on the water. Slow-winding and unspoilt, the Broads’ 30 waterways tick all the boxes for socially distanced days out. Rowers, canoers and standup paddleboarders seek serenity on Fritton Lake, Trinity Broads, and the tranquil River Thurne at Martham. Motor cruisers, holiday staples since the 1930s, now come with mod cons and are still the preferred floating-home base for Broads stays. Pack tackle and rods and head for such favoured fishing spots as Barton Broads to reel in a pike. Whether powered by sail, paddle or motor, boat hire is by the hour, day or longer. Or explore the area by bike; most waterways are flanked by peaceful paths and cycleways.

Paddleboarders on Fritton Lake, a private members club. 

Photograph by Fritton Lake

We like

Grade II-listed Somerleyton Hall, an extravagant Anglo-Italian Victorian stately home, has 12 acres of parkland, formal gardens and a walled garden complete with an ornate glasshouse. It’s riot of flowering cyclamens in autumn; in spring, rhododendrons bloom. Gradually being reimagined as a series of ‘interconnecting rooms’, by summer 2021 the gardens will have such grand additions as a tree tunnel walk, a grassland ‘prairie’ and an extension to Lady Somerleyton’s rose garden. The turreted Jacobean manor house, currently closed to the public due to coronavirus, is crowned by a clocktower that was submitted as part of a competition to find the design for Big Ben.

Where to stay

You’ll find a little slice of wholesome Canadiana deep in the Broads at the newly developed Fritton Lake. Check into wood cabins hidden in the beech and oak woodlands then pad down to the lakefront where canoes, kayaks and SUPs are available for exploring the two-mile-long lake, a private holiday club. Lake ‘safaris’ and wild swimming are also on offer, as are tennis lessons on the grass and clay courts. Or go foraging around the estate’s 1,000 acres of recently rewilded land, home to free-roaming deer, cattle, sheep and ponies. There’s also bocce and croquet, a discreet treetop zip-line and a giant, inflatable ‘pillow’ for wee ones to bounce on. Or just relax around the 22-metre heated outdoor pool, backed by a walled garden that leads down to the lakefront. The Fritton Arms clubhouse offers pre-booked breakfasts, hearty lunches, dinners and cocktails. Cabins, sleeping up to six with fully equipped kitchens and sundecks, cost from £647 per week.

The living area of one of the Hillwood Cabins at Fritton Lake.

Photograph by Fritton Lake

Where to eat

With deckchairs spread out along the River Thurne and a takeaway menu of 'posh pizza’, the Lion at Thurne has done a good job of catering to its socially-distancing customers’ needs. The pub also has a range of local Redwell ales and house-made gins. Hire a picnic blanket and set up camp on the bank in view of Thurne windmill, which, despite celebrating its 200th birthday this year, still sports sails that turn. It’s one of numerous of local windmills that once helped drain the marshes to enable farmers to make good use of valuable land.

Don’t miss

The UK’s largest nationally protected wetland, the Broads are a haven for winged wildlife. Rare Norfolk hawker dragonflies and swallowtail butterflies dart over reedbeds, while kingfisher, harriers, and greylag geese bring birdwatchers from afar. Winding, unkempt minor roads make Norfolk’s eastly corner its least visited. Expect frequent sightings of bitterns and a significant percentage of the UK’s once-threatened common crane population. Stellar spots for sightings include RSPB reserve at Breydon Water, and Martham Broad, both boat/foot access only. Hickling Broad nature reserve, meanwhile, is home to barn owls, while Whispering Reeds boatyard offers hire by the hour. 

More info: visitnorfolk.co.uk

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