Boating On The Norfolk Broads

Since my childhood I have always wanted to spend a weekend boating on the Norfolk Broads

My appetite for travel has made that seemingly easy feat near impossible as each time a free weekend comes along I am instead gripped with my next destination abroad or fishing trips to Scotland to catch the ever elusive Salmon.

My desire to visit The Broads in particular above other domestic boating destinations is down to the man who essentially sparked my lifelong love of fishing, John Wilson. From an early age my brother and I religiously recorded John’s ‘Go Fishing’ TV series onto video tape. Each week we learnt about a new and exciting species of fish and the fishing techniques to catch it, it truly was a great programme to watch with all disciplines of fishing covered from seas to rivers and lakes including fly, lure and coarse fishing even trips abroad to catch river monsters. I was hooked! And above all the place I liked the look of the most was the Norfolk Broads which John sold so well with his often mentioned passion for these inland waters.

If you are wondering what exactly The Broads are then quite simply a ‘Broad’ is a broad open expanse of water; essentially a lake. What makes this area so special is that these Broads are all joined together by rivers and canals to become ‘The Broads’ a unique environment containing 125km of waterways. The Broads were formed initially by the flooding of ancient peat excavations from the middle ages run by nearby monasteries. The ruins of one of these monasteries called St Benet’s Abbey which has escaped the complete destruction from the dissolution of the monasteries in the 15th century can still be visited from the banks of The Broads today with it’s chimney stack clearly visible as pictured below.

With slightly more refined tastes than in my formative years I wished to travel in style and we chose to hire a quite luxurious boat aptly called ‘Royale’ from the company Herbert Woods in Potter Heigham. We were all really impressed by the standard of cleanliness of the vessel and the instruction we received that allowed us to set off on our trip with the minimum of fuss. GT would happily recommend this boatyard as a great choice to book with.

The weather in Norfolk is perhaps the best in the UK and despite this mass of inland waterway Norfolk as a county is officially the driest in the UK and therefore in my opinion offers the best weather all year round. The county is much flatter than the rest of the UK so you are always greeted by beautiful wide sunrises and rich pink sunsets but unfortunately for us this weekend was mostly cloudy with some rain, however we did enjoy two spells of glorious sunshine which was much hotter than it has been back in London for some time.

Our trip was split over two days a Saturday and Sunday and our very loose weekend itineray consisted of the following:

Saturday

We decided to cruise along away from Potter Heigham to the West where we passed lots of neat riverside homes and the jaw dropping site of a traditional Wherry boat with it’s enormous sail before we stopped to take a look at the first notable feature in our Norfolk Broads guide, the St Benet’s Abbey ruins. At this point in the trip we had all managed to shake off any London related stress and it has to be said being on the water has an almost magical ability to take your mind away from daily life, by this point we were all sporting broad grins as we sipped champagne and cruised along gently.

We then visited our first Broad which was Ranworth Broad shortly followed by Malthouse Broad where we saw all manner of wildlife including Kingfishers, Swans, Grebes, Herons and my least favourite the Cormorant which i’m not a fan of as they are far too good at fishing. Most impressive was a Marsh Harrier circling it’s prey and a water vole which swam at us very fast indeed to try and get onto our boat.

Following this we headed North along the River Ant and under Ludham Bridge which proved to be the first small test of our boating skills made rather easy by Royale’s bow and stern thrust which I would have dearly loved on my recent sailing trip from Athens to Kefalonia.

Once we had passed underneath the bridge we went past some majestic looking windmills onwards through Barton Broad which is home to a sailing club and it’s peaceful sail boats making lazy turns as they tacked back and forth in what little wind they had. Once through Barton broad we decided to look for somewhere to moor our boat up for the evening and settled for a quiet spot in a wide stretch of the river Ant.

We were well prepared for dinner having stopped at an impressive Farm shop in Pulham called Goodies Farm Shop where we bought some rib eye steaks and said from the local butchers along with locally produced cheese and an array of snacks and essentials. We also managed to pick up a bottle of English Whisky from the imaginatively titled ‘The English Whisky Company’ which I know has won some awards and hails from Norfolk, it was quite smooth and received favourable praise from our group.

Sunday

We woke up to a misty fog over the water which soon dispersed giving us some fabulous weather and after a breakfast of delicious local bacon and eggs which eased our whisky heads from the night before we formed a plan to visit the nearest pub.

In order to get to the pub we cruised back down South into Barton Broad and West into the narrow Lime Kiln Dyke which presented us with a view of the nicest riverside properties we had seen all trip with their own boat sheds and sprawling lawns, giving us all a little riverside home envy.

The moorings for the pub were a little bit of a tight squeeze but provided us with water and facilities for the boat, so we tidied up and got ourselves ready for a Sunday lunchtime in a countryside pub.

A short walk from the moorings we found Neatisham a delightful small village with a friendly village store called White House Stores and the ideal country pub The White Horse Inn that was near perfect offering house brewed Neatishead Brewing Co ales, my Norfolk favourite Woodforde’s Wherry, a decent menu, period features, beer garden,I could go on, suffice to say it helped make our trip that little bit better.

After lunch our only plan was to finally go fishing and motor all the way back to the boatyard before dark. We managed to execute our plan perfectly despite the good weather finally turning bad and raining throughout the rest of the day.

We dropped anchor by a very promising looking reed bed in Turkey Broad opposite Barton Broad and baited a swim to entice a shoal of fish along. At this point my fishing companion and I were getting absolutely soaked by the rain, we did however persevere and were rewarded after an hours fishing by getting into a good shoal of fish and we started catching several roach, rudd and bream of which John Wilson himself would be proud.

We did however endeavour to make it back to the boatyard before dark and with our by now well honed boating skills we managed to guide our boat through the narrow yard into the very same spot we left from.

All that was left of our weekend was a sleepy car ride back to London during which we all agreed to do this again soon!