Aside from my gigantic post about the many vegan dining options in Norwich, I haven’t really written about the place I actually live. This is partly because when I first started this blog a couple of years ago, it was mostly just read by my friends and family – many of whom live in, or not far from, Norwich. That, and writing about a place I go all the time didn’t seem as interesting as writing about temples in Thailand or social projects in Cambodia.
Now that the clocks have changed and we’ve gone from snow and ice to everyone walking around in flipflops here in the space of 24 hours, this seems like a good time to finally write about a place I’ve spent many a silly summer day out: the “famous” Norfolk Broads. (I put famous in inverted commas because I strongly suspect that those of you reading this in the United States or in Australia might not have any idea what I’m talking about.)
The Norfolk Broads are an official National Park here in the UK, made up of around 125 miles of waterways – all of which you can tackle with absolutely zero prior boating experience, and which are plentifully dotted with really great pubs at pretty much every turn. You can see why this might be a good place to be in the summertime. Being a big old bundle of lakes and rivers, you’ll understand that some of what there is to see can’t actually be reached very easily by road, even though there’s plenty to investigate if you aren’t so keen on the water itself. This is why you need a boat.
In the mood for some time in the sunshine drinking lukewarm ciders, spotting diving birds and pub-hopping in scenic places? Prepare to channel your secret inner sailor.
Where to hire your trusty boat
As quite a big tourist attraction, there are plenty of places you can go to hire a (non-sail) boat for navigating the Broads. Non-sail boats are good for this area, because they are stupidly easy to be in charge of, even when you’ve drunk a lot of Pimms and been in the sun for six hours and can’t remember which way you’re supposed to be going.
You don’t have to go far from the centre of Norwich before you’re in prime boat rental territory, but where to set off may depend on where you want to go. (If you’ve only got a day, have a vague plan. If you’ve got a week, who even needs plans?)
10 minutes by train from Norwich or a 20-minute drive, Brundall sits on the River Yare – making it part of the Southern Broads. From here you can take a leisurely 4 to 4.5 hour float down to wildlife-rich Oulton Broad, or across to the arcades and amusements of Great Yarmouth. Alternatively, head in the other direction for excellent pint stops at Surlingham’s Ferry Inn and The Rushcutters in Thorpe. More on pubs later in this article.
Hire a boat from: Broom Boating Holidays
Wroxham is probably the most popular starting point, half an hour by train or 20 minutes by car from Norwich city centre. (If you’re getting the train, note that the stop is actually called Hoveton&Wroxham, just to see if you’re paying attention.) Straddling the River Bure, part of the Northern Broads, Wroxham has plenty of shops for stocking up on supplies and if you fancy a cracking fry up (meat, veggie or vegan) before you set off, I’d highly recommend the River Kitchen. They’re wheelchair accessible from the car park, and have their own moorings so that if you’ve floated up from elsewhere you can step straight off the boat and into the cafe!
A Broads Tours boat trip service runs from Wroxham if you don’t want to self-sail, but if you do you can reach Woodbastwick in an hour and a half for a trip to the Fur and Feather, or reach Hickling Broad in just under four hours to admire some stellar scenery. Broads Tours also offer boat hire, including wheelchair-accessible boat hire, which is basically awesome.
The furthest of my three picks from Norwich but the closest to Norfolk’s beaches, Potter Heigham is around a 40-minute drive from the city centre and another spot on the Northern Broads. You can catch a train to Acle to get here instead of driving, but will need to taxi the last bit of the way, about a 10-minute stint.
If you’re starting at Potter Heigham and you’re also a fan of wildlife, make sure you bob up to nearby Hickling Broad and Horsey with your time afloat. Hickling Broad, just over an hour away on the water, is an absolute haven for tonnes of species of bird and small mammal. Once you’ve had your fill of birds and wildflowers there, head to Horsey for one of the best places to spot wild seals in the county. If you’re boating with dogs, be kind and keep them on a lead when you’re at Horsey so as not to disturb the seals and their pups.
Hire a boat from: Herbert Woods (dog-friendly boats available)
Top Norfolk Broads Waterside Pubs
An important part of any good Broads expedition are the pubs. There are some absolutely cracking pubs at the waterside and if you don’t fancy a boat trip you should still note these down as being worthy of a road-trip sometime. There are so many too choose from it would take days to list them all, but without further ado, some of my favourites;
1.The Fur and Feather, Woodbastwick
This is a name that crops up again and again when people ask where to get a good Sunday roast or where’s good to go for a pint in the countryside, and it also happens to be a place I had a grand time while camping at Salhouse Broad’s ‘Camping Corner’ nearby recently. (Big fan of Camping Corner – discount canoe rentals and suitably wild / campfire friendly while still having toilets and a water supply. Salhouse Broad also has moorings reserved for visitors with mobility issues if needed.)
The Fur and Feather do great grub and posh pints AND there’s a massive beer garden for catching rays, AND you can moor up alongside it to save your legs the strain of too much walking on dry land. The staff are dead nice too, as is the atmosphere. Nearest start point: Wroxham.
2. The Ferry House, Surlingham
Proper pub grub, plenty of mooring space, loads of outdoor seating and loads of stuff to drink – could you ask for much else? My feelings towards The Ferry House may be somewhat biased because I’d already had a few boozes by the time we arrived and moored up, but key recollections include marvelling at the homely menu and cosy indoor area, cooing at lots of dogs outside (dog-friendly pubs are good pubs) and being really pleased that pints weren’t as expensive here as they were at lots of other places. Top pubbing. Nearest start point: Brundall.
3. The Maltsters, Ranworth
The Maltsters is good in the winter too, with an open fire and snug corners to hide in, but visit in the summer for maximum beer garden activity and stonebaked pizzas. There’s a car park and campsite here if you’re not doing the boating thang, gorgeous views and plenty of good stuff on tap to choose from. Nearest start point: Wroxham
4. The Dog Inn, Ludham
A lot of the pubs you find on ‘best of the Broads’ lists are swanky gastropubs and restaurants disguised as pubs. The Dog Inn is a good honest pubber’s pub, with overnight moorings and seriously cheap food – admittedly it isn’t the most vegan-friendly place, but it’s another welcoming venue with low beamed ceilings and no pretentious edge, and there are veggie and gluten-free things if you’re a fellow ‘I’ve got dietary requirements’ traveller. Worth a look in for sure. Nearest start point: Potter Heigham
5. The Bridge Inn, Acle
Things being described as ‘family-friendly’ are normally enough to make me and my habit of avoiding children at all costs think twice. I say this because this pub really shout about their family-friendliness and if you’re anything like me you’ll be thinking ‘overrun with screaming wee ‘uns’. But it is not a creche with beer in it. The Bridge Inn have fantastically friendly staff, reasonably priced food, overnight moorings and lots of lovely drinks. They’re also wheelchair accessible, woohoo! Nearest start point: Potter Heigham
Other things to see and do around the Norfolk Broads
Okay, okay, it’s not all pubs. Realistically unless you’ve got children it’s probably mostly pubs, but there are other things you should definitely do while you’re enjoying the broads. I won’t go into detail here, but get ready to Google anything you like the sound of.
- Canoeing/Kayaking at Salhouse Broad
- Nature trails at Hickling Broad
- Strumpshaw Fen RSBP Reserve
- St Benet’s Abbey ruins at the edge of the River Bure
- An ironic trip to Great Yarmouth (for Pleasure Beach mini theme park, arcades and paddling)
- Horsey Gap seal-spotting (note – the boardwalk here is wheelchair-friendly)
- Burgh Castle Roman site at the edge of the River Waveney
If you’ve any reservations about being in charge of a motorboat for any length of time, don’t! The boat rental places will show you what’s what before you set off, and it’s about as easy as ‘here’s the steering wheel, here’s the thing you push to make it go faster, this is how you get the radio on’. All you need to remember is who’s bringing the snacks and who’s bringing the drinks.
As usual, if you think I’ve missed something awesome do let me know – I haven’t explored every bit of the Broads so I’m sure there are a few things to add!