Set sail across the Norfolk Broads

As we all have our lives compressed by the lockdown in Britain just now, perhaps set sail across the Norfolk Broads this spring. Perhaps you have never heard of them.

Norfolk BroadsThe Broads are a large collection of lakes and rivers extending inland a little way from the coast in East Anglia. They extend outwards from the east and south east of Norwich in Norfolk. They include parts of Suffolk to the south but the greatest concentration remains in Norfolk. They are a manmade component of the geography that were created in medieval times. Peat was extensively collected in this part of East Anglia as a fuel for agricultural purposes. When all the peat had been consumed, the empty pits were flooded and slowly taken over by rising sea levels. The area is known nowadays as ‘The Broads National Park’.

Broadland is quite an extensive area. It covers 117 square miles and includes 120 miles of navigable waterways and inland lakes. Generally, the water is less than four meters deep and there are no locks to operate. There are 13 ‘Broads’ reserved for navigation out of a total of 63. Five of them are referred to as the ‘Trinity’ Broads. They are linked only to themselves and do not connect beyond their boundaries. The Broads elsewhere are all joined by seven natural rivers. Nowadays the parkland is used for leisure purposes only and boat craft of all types can be hired by the day, week or for longer periods. I went to visit and I found the region beautiful, peaceful and surrounded by countryside providing a homeland for protected wildlife, birds and rare insects.

In the spring and summer months many companies provide boat hire facilities covering all types from quite elaborate and substantial motor cruisers down to racing yachts and rowing boats. There are electric boats provided with many charging points along the way and contemporary solar-powered craft too for sunny days. If you wanted a racing sailing-vessel I would imagine that you would need to produce a training certificate of some description. Visitors will observe larger vessels navigating the Broads too, such as the classic Norfolk Wherry. This is quite a large wooden boat with a grand sail that might plod on past you. The Broads and associated rivers provide port side spots for many privately owned vessels as well.

Norfolk BroadsAs you cruise along you will find many now long redundant Norfolk windmills. These can be a very grand and spectacular sight. They were used in the 17th century to simply drain the water levels into the rivers and dykes and ultimately out to the sea. They all stand quite still now but are maintained robustly by their owners. The windmills, as they are back-dropped against the wide open Broad areas of water, create a profoundly tranquil vista. The whole district is currently run by ‘The Broads Authority’ which was created in 1989.

The Norfolk Broads are splendidly protected and maintained as they contribute so much to the natural countryside. The water area with its surrounding marshland and rural life is kept as a breeding ground for so many species of increasingly rare wildlife. There are a number of ongoing projects that are sponsored and supported by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The ecology is additionally protected by the Norfolk and Suffolk councils from agricultural chemical pollution. The Broads are the largest protected wetland area in Britain.

Many species of birds spend their lives among the Norfolk Broads. There are Geese, Ducks, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks. There are large spreading Cranes as well along with many others. Increasingly, rare insect creatures have found a home too including unusual copper plate butterflies. The Norfolk Broads are one of nature’s masterpieces in the depths of the countryside.

Filby BroadSailing on the Norfolk Broads is an experience well beyond the pace of life going on along the rest of the planet beyond the horizon. Take some caution if you hire a boat. There are just five low bridges along the routes that permit passage of only the smaller sizes boats. The hire company will advise where these are.

The Norfolk Broads are surrounded by Fens, Sedge and Reeds which are used for local thatching. Many naturalists and ramblers patrol the surrounding land routes studying the rare wildlife creatures. The Broads have also been the setting for a number of children’s books and a few well known films. David Bowie sang a song with the words ‘Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’.

Ted Ellis was a local naturalist who had a brief TV career. He was well known in East Anglia and retired to the Norfolk Broads. He said that the Broads were a breathing space for the cure of souls. I know what he meant.

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Bob Lyons

Retired airline pilot and European explorer

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