Lessons in nature at the house on the hill

Bird spotting on a boat trip. Picture: How Hill Trust

Bird spotting on a boat trip. Picture: How Hill Trust - Credit: How Hill Trust

Boat trips, thatching and finding out what an owl last ate are just part of the fun of a trip to How Hill

What did this owl have for dinner? Picture: How Hill Trust

What did this owl have for dinner? Picture: How Hill Trust - Credit: How Hill Trust

A landmark riverside house has been a home from home to thousands of Norfolk children learning about the stunning natural world on their doorstep.

How Hill, near Ludham, teaches them about the local Broads environment and the bugs and beasties that live within it. The marsh, woodland and river become their classroom to learn about important issues such as climate change.

Youngsters go pond dipping and study the fascinating creatures they find. They dissect owl pellets, hunting for bones to find out what the birds eat. They play an energetic food chain game to learn about the interdependence of plants and animals.

Children even try their hand at thatching using local reed from the marshes - and put their handiwork to the test with a big bucket of cold water!

Bug hunting in the dykes. Picture: How Hill Trust

Bug hunting in the dykes. Picture: How Hill Trust - Credit: How Hill Trust

Every year hundreds of primary school pupils spend happy days at How Hill learning science, crafts - all while having a great time, and making memories and a love of the countryside that last a lifetime.

And it all happens thanks to the charity that runs the residential environmental education centre, the How Hill Trust.

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It was formed 35 years ago in April 1984, when the county council, which originally operated it from 1968, looked to close it due to cost pressures. There was talk of turning it into a convalescence home - so the Trust was formed to save it.

Director Simon Partridge said: "Over the past 25 years 100,000 children have enjoyed residential or day trips to How Hill. And we get really positive feedback about what a great time they have and how they learn to understand and love the countryside.

"Although there is so much study information about nature out there on internet educational resources, it is so much more powerful when you experience it face-to-face. For some children it is the first time they have been on a boat."

The Trust generates its funds from a mixture of school fees, public donations and a supportive Friends group which runs money-raising events.

To find out more, including how to help, call 01692 678555 or visit www.howhilltrust.org.uk

House's golden history

How Hill was originally a holiday home for a prominent Norfolk family with Olympic connections.

Architect Edward Thomas Boardman's firm shaped some of the county's most iconic buildings including many on London Street, and the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

He came across an undeveloped How Hill by chance while sailing past on a wherry trip and designed a stunning thatched house which the family moved into in 1905.

The children enjoyed an idyllic countryside childhood there exploring the river, fishing, and learning to sail.

Christopher's sailing prowess saw him compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics - long before his 1992 gold medal winning cycling namesake (no relation.)

He won a gold but without winning a single race - so snubbed the medal ceremony. A prize oak sapling was however planted at How Hill, and its stump remains today, close to the tea room, as a memorial of his "triumph."

Walks on the wild side

Although its core role is to provide environmental education for children, How Hill also has plenty to offer for adults and families.

The Secret Gardens are a year-round attraction, created by the original owner Edward Boardman on a former windswept piece of rough grazing marsh.

Today they are a tranquil oasis of shelter and colour with walkways, ponds and bridges, as well as exotic species raised from seeds sent to the Boardmans by friends from all over the world.

How Hill also has a woodland walk, a picnic field with views of the River Ant and access to free riverside moorings.

Summer events include family fun days, open air theatre, and residential courses ranging from touring local gardens to sailing a wherry. They provide an important source of income for the Trust.

A tea room is open daily during the high season.

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