What are the Broads?  

A network of rivers and lakes stretching from east Norfolk down to north Suffolk. They include more than 120 miles of navigable waterways along seven rivers and across 63 broads and are the third largest inland navigation area in the UK. 

How were the Broads formed? 

The Broads are man-made, created by peat digging. By the 12th century much of the woodland of east Norfolk had been felled for fuel and building materials and people began digging peat to burn. Eventually the peat pits began filling with water and by the 14th century the flooded pits were abandoned and wildlife colonised the new wetland landscape. 

Until the 1950s they were believed to be a naturally occurring landscape 

Where are the Norfolk Broads?  

The Norfolk Broads are obviously in Norfolk but the lesser-known southern broads of Suffolk are also part of the Broads, including Oulton Broad near Lowestoft and both the Norfolk and Suffolk side of the river Waveney including Suffolk’s Beccles and Bungay. 

What are the Broads famous for? 

Britain’s largest protected wetland is renowned for boating, wildlife, history and holidays.  

A quarter of the UK’s rarest species live here including the fen raft spider which was believed to be extinct across the country until it was rediscovered in the Broads. It is also the only place in the UK to see swallowtail butterflies – and the only place in the world to see the subspecies Papilio machaon brittanicus. Other rare wildlife found here include the Norfolk hawker dragonflies, bitterns, cranes and black longhorn beetles. 

The Broads also includes the only monastery in England not to be closed by King Henry VIII. Instead St Benet’s Abbey on the River Bure was united with the bishopric of Norwich and on the first Sunday of August the Bishop of Norwich, who is also Abbot of St Benet’s, arrives by wherry to lead an outdoor service. 

Eastern Daily Press: St Benet's AbbeySt Benet's Abbey (Image: Denise Bradley)

Eastern Daily Press: Trinity BroadsTrinity Broads (Image: Mike Page)

Is the Broads a national park? 

The Broads is looked after by the Broads Authority, a special statutory authority that was established by the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988, with similar powers to those of a national park authority. It has a duty to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Broads, promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Broads by the public, and protect the interests of navigation. It is the local planning authority for the Broads and must also have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry, and the economic and social interests of those who live or work in the Broads.  

How many Broads are there? 

The Broads includes seven main rivers and 63 lakes or broads (of which 13 are fully navigable and five partially navigable.) The largest broads are Hickling Broad, Barton Broad and Oulton Broad. 

Are the Broads tidal? 

Yes, the height of the water varies with the tides. Larger boats can only get under some bridges at low tides and anyone navigating on the Broads needs to be aware of the tide times and heights.  

How deep are the Broads? 

Most of the Broads are less than four metres deep. 

What are some of the attractions on the Broads? 

Along the edges of the waterways are a wide range of visitor attractions including the treehouses, slides, zipwires, and storybook creatures of Bewilderwood near Hoveton, the Museum of the Broads at Stalham, a museum of 200 years of wind energy at Repps with Bastwick near Potter Heigham, and scores of historic mills and medieval churches. 

Eastern Daily Press: The Wherry AlbionThe Wherry Albion (Image: Denise Bradley)

What is a wherry? 

The Norfolk wherry is a unique type of sailing boat, used for cargo and passengers. The first wherries carried cargo through the Broads from the 17th-century. There were three main types: trading wherries, pleasure wherries converted to carry passengers, and the sleeker wherry yachts created for holidaymakers. Just eight trading wherries survive – mainly looked after by charities and trusts such as the Norfolk Wherry Trust and Wherry Maud Trust and regularly available for people to visit, or even sail.  

Can you walk the Norfolk Broads? 

Three long distance trails – Wherryman’s Way, Weavers Way and Angles Way – take in many miles of Broads landscapes. There are also countless short walks beside rivers, on boardwalks and through marshes in villages right across the region. Try the Barton Broad boardwalk near Stalham or the Herringfleet Hills walk near Lowestoft. 

Can you kayak or sail on the Norfolk Broads? 
Boating is a favourite activity in the Broads and everyone from beginners to experts and can enjoy anything from canoeing and kayaking to a luxury hire boat holiday. 

There are also boat trips, and day boats, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards for hire by the hour, half-day, day or beyond. Sailing is another traditional Broads pastime and there are even traditional flat-bottomed sailing dinghies called Norfolk punts. (And punting, as in propelling a boat with a long pole, is known as quanting on the Broads.)