Sunday, 28 April 2013

Guest post: the Norfolk Broads - a perfect place to get away from it all

Peace. Quiet. Tranquility. Calmness. They’re words that have been used in thousands of travel guides and millions of brochures. From the beaches of Mexico to the coves of Thailand, everyone wants you to know that their destination is the most serene experience possible.

And that’s great. But what if you want to stay in the UK? Where’s a good place to get from it all? Where can you take your family for a relaxed summer break?

Well, a recent study found that Three Rivers in Hertfordshire and Maldon in Essex were among the most peaceful local authorities in the UK. But top of the peaceful league was Broadland in Norfolk - home to much of the Norfolk Broads.

Secret national treasure

A lot of people probably think of the Broads as some kind of bleak and boring wilderness. But they’d be wrong; this beautiful and laid-back region of Norfolk is fast on its way to national treasure status.

The Norfolk Broads are often overlooked both as an area of of beauty and a family holiday destination. In a way, that’s actually part of its charm and attraction. As this new peace report suggests, however, it’s an area that deserves a little more attention.

So what are they? Where are they? And what can you do there? Interestingly, although you’ll hear a fair number of people talk about the ‘natural’ beauty of the Broads, this 300 square kilometre area has actually arrived at its current look after some intensive reconstruction.

About 50 years ago researchers discovered that medieval workers dug all across the region to produce peat for their fires. The digging areas later flooded and formed the landscape we now know as the Broads.

A wet wonderland

What are the Broads, then? It’s a sprawling expanse of peaceful nature; a wetland wonderland of wildlife, windmills and whimsical afternoons spent enjoying the slow pace of life you find in this part of the world.

The Broads actually covers a pretty huge area, stretching all the way from Sutton and Wroxham at its northernmost points to Great Yarmouth and Reeham in the south, and taking in rivers like the Thurne, Bure, Yare and Waveney.

The best way to explore is probably by boat. Boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads have been popular for decades, and Richardson’s Boating Holidays are one of the region’s leading boating brand. This family-run business started out in 1947, and today maintain a fleet of over 300 boats.

It doesn’t sound peaceful, does it? Hundreds of boats? Aren’t you always bumping into each other? Well, no actually. While you certainly cruise by other boaters on the Broads, a few hundred boats spread over hundreds of square kilometres means that you’ll have plenty of room to sit back, relax and steer your way round the gorgeous waterways of East Anglia.

Going at your own pace

The great thing about boating on the Broads is the sense of freedom and leisurely adventure: you just cruise along at your own pace and moor up when you want. It’s all pretty low-stress, too - there are no locks to worry about - and every day you can pick a new route, with only fate knowing exactly where you’ll end up.

In between gentle river cruising, watching the swaying reeds and peacefully lapping water, there’s a world of local food and drink to enjoy. While cooking up a tasty breakfast on-board is popular among regular boaters, some would argue experiencing the riverside pubs and restaurants can be the highlight of the trip.

And who can blame them? On a warm summer afternoon, stopping off to enjoy some hearty food and cool, condensation-dripping drinks in a quaint beer garden by river is probably as good as it gets in rural England. Even on a colder, wetter day a cruise-by pub stop is a pleasure.

There are a number of celebrated pubs and restaurants on the Broads. Some of the most acclaimed by boaters include the Acle Bridge Inn, The Ferry Inn in Horning and The Malsters at Ranworth.

Mixing it up

If this sounds a little too sedate (can there be such a thing?) there are other activities beside on-board relaxing and eating stop-offs on the Broads. The speed limit on on the Broads is a pretty pedestrian 6mph, but speed demons can get a fast-paced fix by taking in some powerboat racing Oulton Broad.

Elsewhere, nature lovers recommend wildlife-watching at Ranworth, the marshes at Upton Broads and the nature trail in How Hill. History buffs, meanwhile, will enjoy the variety of mix of heritage on offer to explore. There are historic mills and abbeys to visit, fans of great views will love climbing the church tower at Ranworth, and motor history hobbyists will be fascinated by the car museum in Caistor.

There are plenty of family excursions as well. There are a number of theme parks, such as Pleasurewood Hills, and for family animal-themed days there’s Africa Alive and the Sea Life Centre in Yarmouth.

But if these day trips and excursions sound too far the other way, just too active for you and your kids, remember that many people head to the Broads purely for the family time away from normal life. They go for the peaceful nature and relaxed pubs and restaurants by the river.

There are obviously loads of family holidays in the UK. There are lots of places you could take your children, but for a peaceful, different kind of experience the Broads seem hard to beat.

This is a guest post by Andrew Tipp