We’ve not had a boating holiday before, so when good friends of ours were thinking of booking their next trip on the Norfolk Broads, we decided to join them.
The lovely thing about the Norfolk Broads is that it’s an easy introduction to boating, there’s 120 miles of waterways and no locks to deal with.
We had booked a 35ft Brinks Concerto for our week, with two double cabins and two bathrooms. As we had choice of cabins, we went for the one at the stern, which had an en-suite and doors out to the rear deck. The other cabin was in the bow with the bathroom next door. We were pleasantly surprised at the cooking facilities in the galley kitchen, and we planned to make good use of the “farm to fork” hamper packed full of local goodies.
Once we had loaded the boat, we handed over the car keys for parking, had our briefing and we were on our way. It was great to leave the crowded marina at Wroxham behind us, there were a few day hire boats heading back, as we navigated our way along the River Bure towards our first mooring.
There’s a good banter along the riverbanks, we raised a few laughs with our skipper attired in his captain’s t-shirt and hat.
We ignored the first few broads, our destination was Ranworth, where we were assured of a local pint and evening meal at the Maltsters.
We passed through Horning, which was very picturesque with a jumble of old redbrick buildings, thatched cottages and modern waterfront holiday rentals.
Rather than use a mooring on the Malthouse Broad in Ranworth, we decided to drop anchor a short distance away, and use our rowing boat to access the pub. It was good fun rowing across the broad for our supper, once we’d safely made it to land, we stretched our legs across the village green making a beeline for The Maltsters.
The pub was buzzing, it was a warm summer’s evening and we picked a table outside. It was very pleasant sitting there, supping a pint of Ghost Ship and the food was excellent. The beer garden pizza service was proving very popular for take outs.
We made it back to our boat, and as dusk was falling we set up the fishing rods. We were using maggots as bait, who were proving to be good escape artists from the plastic bait boxes, Mike was quite perturbed that they were stored just outside our cabin.
I caught a tiddler, on my second cast. Our fishing was rudely interrupted when there was a loud splash and we had a man overboard! Mike had toppled from the top deck into the broad after leaning on the wind breaker for balance, unbeknown to us the rivets were broken and it gave way, sending Mike tumbling into the water. Luckily the only casualty was Mike’s varifocal glasses, which were lost to the bottom of the Malthouse Broad. I’m sure we’ll be living on that story for a few years and we did laugh about it, once we’d fished him out!
Day 2 dawned cloudy, after breakfast we rowed into Ranworth and made for St. Helens church which is known as the Cathedral of the Broads. Our mission was to climb the tower for the panoramic view. We carefully climbed the 89 steps, up two ladders in the bell tower and opened the hatched door to emerge at the top of the tower. Timed to perfection, the sky changed to a lovely shade of blue and it’s a stunning viewing point from up there.
There were so much birdlife coming up to the boat that I purchased some duck food from the shop at Ranworth, as well as a bird book, as we couldn’t identify some of the breeds.
A great crested grebe was constantly diving to feed her two little ones with fish and a mallard came up on to the rear platform whilst her three little ones were fed. There was one duck we couldn’t identify, it had a brown back and an orange / brown ring around it’s eye, these were few in numbers and quite shy, staying on the outside of the group of white fronted geese, we later found out this was an Egyptian goose.
We left Ranworth behind us, out plan was to see if we could fit under Ludham bridge, our boat was 8´ and the clearance was mapped as 8’6. We prepared in advance, lowering everything on the top deck and rounded the last corner before the bridge, the measure was reading just over 8´, it was going to be close but we decided to take it easy and push on.
We cleared the bridge with a few inches to spare, the River Ant had a few windmills marked on the map, and we found a stunning example at How Hill. It was surprising to find some quite large yachts under sail along this stretch, it’s quite narrow and must require some skill to navigate this section. When we reached Barton broad we realised why, it was teaming with sailing dingies and yachts enjoying the breeze and racing around the wide open expanse of water. We cut along the bottom of the broad and moored for lunch at Gaye’s Staithe. We followed the Lime Kiln Dyke along to where the White Horse pub and shop can be found, but decided not to moor up here for the night, and went back to explore Barton broad. We found a lovely spot called Paddy’s Lane with free mooring at Barton Turf, and bagged the last space along the bank. There isn’t a shop or pub in this location within close walking distance, so Mike cooked a delicious spaghetti bolognese for our evening meal.
It was a stunning evening, we watched the full moon rising, the water was so still the boats were casting a perfect reflection on the water. We saw fish rising, so the rods were baited up for some successful fishing, I watched this time as our friends caught a few before bedtime.
We woke on day 3 to a beautiful morning, there had been a heavy dew, it was fresh and still, with a lovely warm glow as the sun came up. After breakfast we set off to explore the three tributaries at the top of Barton Broad. As it was Sunday, the mission was to find a good pub serving a Sunday roast! We passed the “Big Bog” and turned into Sutton Broad, which was lovely, hardly any boat traffic and free mooring available, it felt too early to stop. We topped up with water, and went back down the same stretch, taking a cut through for Stalham Dyke we arrived at Stalham, where there was lots of private mooring and the Norfolk Broads Museum, but we couldn’t spot any free mooring. We had read great reviews about the Sunday lunches at the Harnser at Stalham Green, which is a 10 minute walk from either of these locations but it wasn’t working out.
The third stretch of water was back on the River Ant, the Hunsett Drainage Mill was in a lovely setting and just before lunch we reached Wayford Bridge, which was the end of our exploration as we were definitely too tall to fit under this bridge. We turned around and used the free mooring available, after a 2 minute walk, we found the Wayford Bridge Inn and our luck was in, they were serving a roast. We were slightly early, so to work up our appetite we stretched our legs to investigate the Vintage Boat Yard. It was quite sad really to find an eclectic mix of boats in varies stages of decay, it was like wandering around a boat graveyard, and you couldn’t help but speculate on what stories their stories were.
After a hearty lunch, our task was to navigate back to Ludham bridge, this time the water level was a few inches lower, which was easier on the stress level. We were excited to spot an otter diving along the bank, close to How Hill. A quick dog leg from Ant mouth to the ruin of St Benet´s Abbey and we turned into South Walsham Broad, where we found a calm stretch at the channel through to the nature reserve to use the mud anchor overnight.
There was plenty of wildlife around us, however they seemed shy to approach the boat on this broad, unlike Ranworth. The forecast had been for thunder storms in the evening, and although some grey clouds built up and we could see rain falling in the distance, it remained dry for our evening fishing. My fishing tally was lagging in third place, although I had caught the first two of the holiday, both of my friends had been more successful since, catching some good sized species that required the landing net to release them.
The highlight for me was when a flash of blue and orange caught my eye, a kingfisher had just flown over the boat, to perch on a tree branch at the water’s edge, before disappearing into the thicket.
The birds woke us up before 6am on day 4, the black-headed gulls make for noisy neighbours! Despite the weather forecast, it looked like another good day on the broads, our plan was to explore the stretch of water between South Walsham and Acle which was to be our overnight stop before attempting Great Yarmouth.
There was surreal moment when I was working from our cabin, I heard a flapping and splashing noise, I looked up to see our dinghy gliding past the stern with a duck proudly sitting astride. It sat there for some time, preening itself in the sunshine.
After breakfast we completed a circuit of the nature reserve, the reason that the black-faced gulls were so noisy became apparent, they were protecting their nesting site. We spotted eggs and chicks on the purpose built island, with the parents were guarding them from the surrounding wooden posts.
We were lucky to spot two otters swimming too, they dived down and emerged by the bank, before disappearing into the undergrowth.
It was time to visit a pump out station, the toilet tank was full! We moored up at the marine services to fill up with water and empty out the waste. We had a quick tour of the broad to spot the gorilla in the garden before making our back to the River Bure.
We followed the river until the sign for the River Thurne to take us up to Potter Heigham. This was a dead end for us as we definitely couldn’t get under this bridge. The river banks are really pretty when you reach Potter Heigham, we enjoyed looking at the different buildings and planted gardens. There were two good sized sections of free mooring, we picked our spot and followed the path to the bridge.
It was busy with tourists in Potter Heigham, we topped up our supplies by shopping at Lathams which is an experience in itself. Fish & chips wasn’t on the plan for lunch but the take away by the bridge & pilots office was too tempting to pass by!
We back tracked and took the Womack Water up to Ludham as we wanted to see a Wherry, but sadly there wasn’t one moored or in dry dock at the Wherry Boatyard when we passed. We laughed at the Gators sign, at the bottom of someone’s garden, plus we noted the free mooring at Womack’s Dyke was a popular mooring spot.
We had been lucky so far with the weather, we could see dark rain clouds in the distance, and as we motored towards Acle on the River Bure it started spitting. We had just reached the mooring for an overnight at Acle bridge when the heavens opened. There are three places for mooring along the bank here, with a fee to either the Acle Cafe, Pedro or the Acle Bridge Inn. We were too late to secure a spot outside the pub, and there was no fishing allowed on the cafe side, so Pedro’s it was. Despite the rain, one of Pedro’s staff was straight over to offer advice about mooring in the “fearsome current” and helped to secure the boat.
The £5 fee is knocked off your bill if you eat at their restaurant, and the Spanish menu looked good, but we had previously decided to eat at the Acle Bridge Inn that evening. It was only a short walk, over the road to the pub where we had great service and good food. As we emerged from the Bridge Inn into the evening sunshine, the rain started again, creating a spectacular rainbow over the pub.
Day 5 was going to be an adventurous one, we were heading into Great Yarmouth, which would test our tidal skills. We set off from Acle on the River Bure, it was strange to hear traffic and train noise, it’s not something we associated with boating. We passed through the village of Stokesby, which looked very quaint with a row of cottages, and a waterfront pub. There was a distinct lack of ducks, in this area, but we began to spot some different birds on our journey. We needed our binoculars to identify the Reed Buntings flitting around the banks. We saw two pairs of Oystercatchers which were resting on the bank at high tide, and wading in the mud later as the tide was receding on our way back. There was a warning for “dead slow” due to river works, and although we spotted the dredger and diggers, we didn’t see any men at work on either pass.
The windmill shop looked like an inviting place to moor up at Stracey. There was free mooring and a warning that this was the last stop and shop before Great Yarmouth. We continued our journey to the coast, the river was notably dirty, there was lots of reed clumps floating by and we laughed at the black-faced gull hitching a ride on one of them, but also plastic items, glass bottles, and even an oil drum in the water. We spotted a large bird hunting, which we thought could be a Bustard according to our bird book.
As we rounded the last corner into Great Yarmouth we spotted blue and orange flashing lights ahead, a working boat was lashed to a tug which was working hard against the current to manoeuvre it around the corners, they were both running engines so we assumed their steering had gone. The Broads Authority boat was in front of them with a blue flashing light, warning oncoming traffic.
The Yacht Club was on our left, we moored up taking note of the other boat’s ropes, to create a swing, so that the vessels could move with the tide. It was £6 for the day 10:00-18:00 or £13 overnight. Just around the corner was the 6`7” bridge which we couldn’t fit under, so this was the end of the river for us, and prohibited us from navigating the south of the broads.
We set off walking, the town centre was to our left and the South Quay straight ahead. Our mission was to find a seaside restaurant for lunch serving Cromer crab & lobster. We walked to the pier as the restaurant Chicos was situated in this area, to our dismay it was closed! Not to worry we thought, it shouldn’t be too hard to find an alternative…… it was, we walked for a while and couldn’t find a place to eat that tickled our fancy, what a disappointment. The ones we liked the menu and the look of were either only open in the evening or closed on Tuesdays. We spent three hours in total walking around the sea front & town centre, and gave up.
We took the decision to leg it back up to Stokesby and have a late lunch / early evening meal at the Ferry Inn pub there, before heading to a broad for the evening. There were a few waders exploring the mud banks on our way back, as well as the Oystercatchers, we spotted a Curlew and a couple of egrets. A black cormorant fished just ahead of us, almost the whole section of this river, taking flight as we reached it, to land in the distance.
Just as we approached the village the rain started, there wasn’t any mooring left outside the pub, but the farm next door has free mooring before 5pm and £5 overnight, and there was one space left along the bank. The sign also said that double mooring was allowed in this area.
The rain really bounced down whilst we were eating in the Ferry Inn, we considered if it wouldn’t be best staying put for the evening, but our friends were keen to enjoy a peaceful night under mud anchor in a broad. We visited the village shop and tearooms situated behind the pub, to top up supplies, which was really rather quaint.
We navigated our way back to South Walsham Broad and the rain began to ease. The ducks were pleased to see us again, this time flocking to the boat on arrival and the rain broke for an hour or two for some fishing before the light went.
Day 6 started off with strong gusts of wind and grey skies, we stayed at South Walsham Broad until late morning, and then set off for lunch in Horning, pausing for a water top up on the way. We had found the children’s booklet in our information pack and had some fun spotting other Brinks craft, noting their registration number, location, date and time. We also spotted a speed check radar, highlighting our speed, which was spot on the limit of 4mph. Before we knew it, we were looking for a mooring on the busy waterfront, as we had a dinghy, we decided to moor up on Percy’s Island and row across, lunchtime fees are £4 and overnight £8.
We weren’t sure where we wanted to eat, so browsed the menus at the Staithe ’n’ Willow, Swan Inn and The New Inn whilst having a wander through the village. Horning is very picturesque, there’s a butchers, Mace superstore, cafe / bakery, post office, deli, gallery and Chinese take away, as well as craft and souvenir shops. We really loved the look of the Bure River Cottage Restaurant, which is only open in the evening, without a doubt we would have eaten here if the timing had been right.
We all agreed to eat at the Swan Inn and as the blue sky was breaking through we sat on their waterfront terrace. The queue was growing for the Southern Comfort boat excursion trip, which departs from next to the pub. This Mississippi style paddle boat offers day trippers the chance to experience the Broads, without having to navigate it themselves with a day hire boat.
We had a very pleasant lunch at the Swan Inn, it’s the perfect spot to watch the boats going by. Armed with a few supplies, we rowed back across to our boat, and motored to Ranworth Broad where we planned to anchor for the night. We felt the need for some exercise, so once we had secured out spot, Mike and I rowed across to Ranworth to drop off our rubbish at the bins and stretch our legs. This time instead of walking up to the church, we followed the road around the back of the shops which became a track and then a public bridleway. It felt good to get the legs going and work off our lunch, we passed a thatched cottage, with a stack of dry reed bundles, we assumed that a thatcher lived here. As we were striding out along the bridleway, a flash of brown caught our eye. We had startled a small deer, which ran alongside us in a field and then darted ahead of us down the footpath for a while before plunging back into the undergrowth. I’m not sure if it was a muntjac or roe deer, it was around knee height, made no sound, and was on it’s own.
Later when we returned to the boat, the wind had dropped and it had turned into a lovely evening, we sat out the stern doing a spot of fishing, and watching the birdlife. Our maggot bait was turning into chrysalis, so we were throwing handfuls of them into the water where we were fishing. A pair of common terns started swooping to feed of it, right there in front of us, it was magical. These birds are so graceful and light on the water, just skimming the surface to collect food. They were flying off with the bait so we assumed they had young ones close by.
We heard a large splash followed by laughing, someone else had fallen into the broad! This time is was a lady from a family of three anchored close by, the boy and dad thought it was hilarious and it took sometime for them to calm down and haul her back onboard. It seems Mike wasn’t the only one to take a dip, we’d met another couple during the week, where the woman had fallen in during the boat handover!
We’d been enjoying playing dominoes, or card games in the evenings. Tonight the boys were having a game of chess, so we turned the TV on for the first time to watch the second of the Joanna Lumley series about India.
I woke early on day 6, it was our last full day on the Norfolk Broads as the boat had to be back for 9am tomorrow. I peaked out on deck at 5.30 am it was a stunning morning, so still and quiet with a mist hanging over the water.
We weren’t going far, we had spotted the Woodforde Brewery on the map within walking distance of the Salhouse Broad. It wasn’t a place our friends had moored in before, but it seemed a good alternative to the larger Wrexham Broad before we made the short journey to deliver the boat back.
We had an explore of the Hoveton Little Broad on the way as the gates were open for visitors. We decided to use the mud anchor again at Salhouse Broad, and had a choice of position as we were there at lunchtime. There’s quite a bit of river traffic that passes through here, we spotted some different boat excursions, as well as the icecream boat! We caught his attention and enjoyed a 99 icecream, in fact he was such a nice guy, he gave us all extra flakes.
We chilled out for a couple of hours, feeding the ducks and we managed to catch a few more fish, although mainly tiddlers again. The duck above made us laugh, it flew up onto the front of the boat and waddled around to the stern to almost be hand fed.
Our last pub was the best in my opinion, I just loved everything about the Fur & Feather. It’s a mile walk from Salhouse Broad, the first half is via a footpath through a forest trail, the second half is up a lane, where there’s a place you can also buy fresh duck eggs from on the way.
We set off for our evening meal at 6pm, although the traffic wasn’t busy, we saw all kinds of vehicles including cyclists, tractors, sports cars and some classics. Three partridges ran across the road in front of us, their bobbing heads going down the lane amused me.
We visited the Woodfordes Brewery Shop next door first, we had tried to book a brewery tour, but these are generally at the weekend, so there wasn’t one available on the Thursday night we visited.
The Fur & Feathers Pub was my absolute favourite of the trip, I ordered a flight of Woodfordes Ales to try 4 taster beers, and we sat outside in the pub garden where we had a fabulous meal.
Feeling rather full, we strolled back down the lane, spotting a rabbit along the way, and dodging the midges lurking under the trees. We managed to row our dinghy back to our mooring without mishap and played card games until bedtime.
As our boat was due back in Wroxham at 9am, it was all hands on deck to get ship shape and packed up. It’s a very slick operation at the boatyard, we were directed to a mooring on approach. As we unloaded the boat, the cleaners were ready to take our bedding & towels, and it was being refuelled to calculate the fuel rebate. Despite all our motoring and trip to Great Yarmouth we had only used just over half a tank of fuel during the week.
All too soon, the trip was over, the Norfolk Broads had been fun, we’d learned some new boating skills, had some laughs and got close to nature. It seems like this is the kind of holiday for everyone, we saw families, couples, pets are welcome, same sex groups and even stag & hen parties are encouraged. It seems amazing that anyone without any prior knowledge can hire a boat and motor along the broads. Everyone is very tolerant, the speed limits are enforced by the Broads Authority, we passed through a speed trap, and radar readings a couple of times on our journey. There’s lots of friendly banter, information signs and plenty of tips offered along the way.
There’s lots of wildlife to be seen on the Norfolk Broads, we spotted a variety of butterflies, brightly coloured dragonflies, Greenland white fronted geese, Canadian geese and Egyptian geese, herons, cormorants, great crested grebes, swans, mallards, black-headed gulls, common terns, otters, kingfishers, and what we think was a bustard. It’s a fabulous place for birding.
The only downside of our week on the Norfolk Broads was the lack of phone signal and WiFi. We were lucky to have 1 bar on our mobiles and I struggled to connect my laptop to the boat’s internet, despite paying for an upgraded service. I wasn’t able to clear any urgent emails / tasks easily, or update our social media pages with images & video of what we were doing, which I found frustrating. If it hadn’t been for the weak phone signal, the Norfolk Broads would have been a fantastic place to take time out from a busy lifestyle, for most other people this would be the perfect chill out location.
We’ve uploaded an album of our photos to our Facebook page Norfolk Broads
Have we inspired you to book a boating holiday in the Norfolk Broads? Do get in touch for more information and a personal quote.