The Norfolk Broads
“Britain’s Magical Waterland”
In 1989 the Broads became England’s newest National Park. Since then much work has taken place to halt the decline of the waterways and to preserve the area. Thus allowing visitors to enjoy the many rivers and marshes that make up the Broads without harming the environment.
The Broads are mostly man-made, shallow lakes, also called ‘broads’. They were formed by Medieval man digging out peat over a period of 300 years. The peat was dug out in vast quantities to be used as fuel for fires. During the 14th century the sea level began to slowly rise and over a very prolonged period of time the land that was dug out, flooded.
Over several centuries these areas have evolved into an impressive wetland habitat for many birds and water loving animals.
Local rail services
The Norfolk Broads is a part of Norfolk that still has a network of local rail services. If you don’t drive you can still discover this beautiful part of Norfolk by simply jumping on a train or a boat or both!
The Norfolk Broads today
Today, the Norfolk Broads are made up of 30 shallow lakes that are connected by rivers and dykes that together form approximately 200 miles of tranquil waterways. The entire area is 303 kilometres in total and each year there are 1 million visitors to the area.
People flock to the Broads to discover the impressive variety of different habitats and landscapes that make up the area. There are long stretches of open waterways, some of them have strong tidal currents and others slow and winding. The largest freshwater lake is Hickling Broad, closely followed by Barton and Breydon.
You can also stop and visit some of the busy villages close to the area such as Wroxham, Hoveton, Loddon, Brundall and Reedham.
A fragile area
Tourism is vital to Norfolk’s economy and this is true for the Broads also. Each year there are so many visitors to this area, therefore it is vital that this fragile environment is managed with great care. During the summer there’s lots of human activity and this national park is under immense pressure as almost 13,000 boats are registered to use these waterways each year.
The Broads Authority
In 1978 an organisation was set up to help run, restore and preserve the Broads for future generations; this organisation was called ‘The Broads Authority’. Straight away, it began its important work.
Later, in 1989, an Act of Parliament was passed that set up a revised authority that was much more powerful. The Norfolk Broads was given the same status as other cherished national parks. Finally, this beautiful area got the recognition it deserved.
Our top 5 reasons to visit the Norfolk Broads
The Broads is the perfect place to try these fun activities…
Norfolk is ideal for cycling as it’s flat in most places; this part of Norfolk is no exception. Enjoy the gentle rolling countryside, quiet country roads and pretty villages. There are lots of bike hire centres; they offer bike hire rates per day, per half-day, hourly and family packages to suit all budgets.
Broads by Bike Trails: These are a network of 14 circular cycle routes that help you to discover the northern Broads area from Wroxham to Ranworth and South Walsham. You can follow the river Bure to Neatishead, Barton Turf and Dilham with many other pretty villages along the way.
The Three Rivers Way : Upon completion the Three Rivers Way will be a 9 mile cycle route connecting the Norfolk Broads villages of Horning, Ludham, Hoveton and Potter Heighan. It’ll be constructed by using many of the existing footpaths, lanes and bridleways. The aim of the route is to promote a more active lifestyle for local residents and to encourage visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the Norfolk Broads by bicycle.
Canoeing & Boating
The Norfolk Broads are perfect for canoeing and sailing along the many creeks and exploring the vast number of head waters. These are recommended because they have less tidal waves than the lower reaches. Canoeing is not recommended in the lower reaches, unless you are highly experienced, fit and physically able. Here are some boat and canoe hire links:
- Waveney Valley – Waveney River Centre
- Hickling Broad – Whispering Reeds
- Martham – Martham Boats
- Potter Heigham – Richardson’s
- Salhouse Broad – Salhouse Broad
The Norfolk Broads are also a perfect place to explore on foot. There are over 190 miles of footpaths and nature trails to explore. This is a great way to experience the quiet country lanes and scenic views.
The routes vary in distance from leisurely circular walks of 4-6 miles; details of the routes can be found at local tourist information centres in Hoveton, Ranworth, How Hill, Potter Heigham, Whitlingham and Norwich. For those that enjoy a challenge, long distance footpaths include Weaver’s Way, Wherryman’s Way and Angles’ Way.
The Norfolk Broads offers nature lovers unrivalled gardens, marshes and woodlands to discover and enjoy. All of these are bursting with rare plants and wildlife! Visit Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, 130 acres of beautiful ancient woodland with a private broad at South Walsham, set in the heart of the Norfolk Broads.
On the edge of the Norfolk Broads, Hoveton Hall is another popular choice. This fine Regency hall is an historic house of great significance and is on the English Heritage register. The estate covers 620 acres of parkland, gardens, woodland, arable and grazing land.
Hoveton Hall offers 15 acres of gardens with narcissi and bulbs in spring, azaleas and rhododendrons in early summer and peonies and herbaceous plants during the height of the summer. Across all seasons you’ll discover a mixture of formal and informal planting.
How Hill is near the village of Ludham; it’s a National Nature Reserve which forms a large area of established fen within the River Ant valley. How Hill is the residential environmental study centre for the Norfolk Broads and it offers educational activities for schools during term time and holiday courses for adults during the school holidays.
There are plenty of places to dine in the Norfolk Broads to suit all tastes and budgets, including restaurants, fast-food, take away outlets, speciality seafood restaurants and quaint tea rooms. Most of the establishments serve locally sourced produce, fruit, vegetables and seafood.
The Broads Authority started a Quality Charter scheme in 2001. To date, there’s now a fine selection of places to eat and drink, all of which are located in the Norfolk Broads.
During the winter months
You can visit and discover the Broads during the winter months. Some of the boat yards stay open all year round. So too, the bike hire centres and other interesting places to explore such as the Bure Valley Railway, Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden (South Walsham) and Wroxham Barns.