Travel: Experience the bliss of a trip away on the Norfolk Broads
- Credit: Archant
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis and family leave the tech at home and enjoy a leisurely weekend boating on the Norfolk Broads.
My last experience of sleeping on a boat wasn't a good one. It was a 10 (possibly 11) hour sailing from Portsmouth to St Malo. I managed to sleep through the rocky waves. I felt kinda smug that I could walk in a straight line through the public areas (although I was really tensing my core). And I didn't feel sick. Not one little bit.
When we got to the other side though, it was another matter. I think I spent three days wobbling sideways with vertigo on the Atlantic Coast.
I'd forgotten about that misadventure until a couple of weeks ago when I found myself, en famille, aboard a Herbert Woods cruiser, Silverlight 1, in Potter Heigham.
It was stupid, I suppose, to think the boat wouldn't rock!
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After a fish and chip supper in Yarmouth (15 minutes away) and bunkering down under a swathe of blankets, I expected to feel sick as a dog, but actually the gentle, side to side motion of our home-from-home lulled me off to sleep.
She was quite well-equipped, the Silverlight. Two bedrooms (both ensuite, don't you know) with a small galley kitchen and central living area with a sliding canopy roof that peeled right back and let the 25C spring sunshine beat down on us.
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After a great value breakfast at BridgeStones café (where they have simply the most enormous, massive, gorgeous cakes) and stocking up on supplies at Lathams store, we were taken for a spin out with a member of the Herbert Woods crew.
Sadly I misheard said crewman when he talked about opposite steering and almost careered the Silverlight into one of Potter Heigham's holiday homes!
So that was that then – Mr Jarvis was in charge of all the 'driving'. Not that I minded. I had optimistically brought three books with me anyway.
Armed with more tourist information brochures than we could possibly read in a weekend, loads of boardgames, cards, colouring in stuff and enough snacks to bribe the kids, we set off, bound for Ludham.
Both my husband and I have hectic lives. Often working late, shoe horning in ferrying the kids about, helping with homework, football, music lessons etc etc. So to be telly and tech-free, sitting on the top of the boat, the kids playing games, and the soft spring sun on my face was utter bliss.
Passing by tilled fields, reeds and windmills, with birds swooping overhead, we agreed there was no better place to be. 'God I could live on this boat!' I shouted over the hum of the engine. 'I can't believe this is on our doorstep!'
About a 45 minute amble from Potter Heigham was the mooring for Ludham where there's a little shop for supplies. The village itself is a five minute walk away. We'd taken a break to visit the Alfresco Tea Rooms overlooking the church, where there was a apparently a rock concert happening that night. It just goes to show villages aren't all jam and Jerusalem.
The tearoom folk were ever so friendly and the café was chintzy in a charming way. It reminded me of the kind of place you might find in Last of the Summer Wine. The menu showcased lots of home cooking and local ingredients, and we really enjoyed our sandwiches, Norfolk pasty and huge wedge of apricot and coconut cake here.
Filled with grub we climbed back on the boat and carried on towards Wroxham which we were told wasn't too far away. Leaving Ludham at about 1.30, we didn't, however, make it to Wroxham until about 4.15 so missed the opportunity to take the kids to Wroxham Barns. That was a shame as they were desperate to play crazy golf. And we wanted fudge and cider! You should definitely check the barns out if you boat this way. Or, if you have a whole day to spare, stop at Horning and go on to Bewilderwood, which is one of the most magical places for kids (and adults) to play.
We did an about turn (Wroxham isn't one of the prettiest places) and ended up mooring overnight at Salhouse Broad. This is a lovely location with a big green space for children to play in, and a small adventure play area. There were lots of friendly families around us. Our highlight was when one of the Broads cruise boats went by in the early evening, blasting out 80s music. I think most of us moored had a bit of a boogie!
On the final day of our weekend jaunt we cruised to Ranworth Broad, about 40 minutes away.
We'd been told we had to visit the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's floating centre here and weren't disappointed.
After a short stroll over a boardwalk we found it, bobbing amongst the trees and reeds. What a brilliant spot. As well as selling much-needed ice creams, there were charts upstairs and downstairs of the types of animals and birds you're likely to encounter on the Broads – accompanied by binoculars and telescopes.
The kids soon scrambled upstairs and sat avidly at the windows, looking for interesting arrivals. Upstairs were also a collection of objects to handle – from bird skulls and skeletons to deer ribs (you know, the kind of macabre things children like to look at).
There were puzzles, games and books and we spent about an hour or so up there becoming learned birders.
Sufficiently wiser we walked back to the boat and pushed on to the river Ant. There are a few places to visit along here including How Hill, but we had grossly miscalculated how long it would take us to get to Neatishead and had to forge straight ahead.
The Ant is one of the Broads' prettiest rivers, winding around narrow inlets and by a couple of villages before it opens out to Barton Broad where sail boats dance on the water as the wind tunnels through.
We hooked a left towards Neatishead and felt like we were in the middle of a jungle, or the tangles of a bayou. It was dead quiet, still and calm. The waterway here is trickier to navigate, so you have to be careful with your steering. And the mooring at the end is small. Luckily there was one spot left when we arrived (an hour or more late for our booked lunch) but Mr Jarvis overshot the turning and had to do a million point turn, and ask another kindly boat owner to move his cruiser so he could get in! We caused a 'traffic jam' about six boats long and the air was a bit blue, but he did it in the end (and is never allowed to moan about my parking again).
Flustered, hot and hungry we were welcomed at the White Horse Inn – a traditional pub serving good food and its own beer and gin no less.
I can highly recommend this place for a pit stop. The menu was varied and delicious. And there was a very comprehensive gin and beer selection. Even the fussy kids gave it their seal of approval.
I was allowed to take control of the boat on the way back (after a bit of further instruction) and it couldn't have been easier. But I was a little reluctant to follow the river back to Potter Heigham. After two days of peace, quiet, games, giggling, pub lunches and nature spotting, the idea of being back on dry land again didn't seem right.
We all agreed on the journey home we'd have to book another boating holiday sharpish – but to go for a week next time. There's so much more we need to see and do!
1. Remember to stick to the speed limits. There are speed cameras and the river is policed – apparently the fine for speeding is about £1,000.
2. Make sure you check exactly how long it will take you to get from place to place and plot your journey. While it sounds like a nice idea to just bob along aimlessly, when it comes to lunch/dinner time, making sure you are close to somewhere to eat if you don't have supplies is important.
3. There is free mooring at Broads Direct in Wroxham (before the bridge). So don't be caught out by the riverside businesses trying to sell you spots for £10.
Book your holiday
Charlotte stayed on the Silverlight 1 with Herbert Woods. For booking information call 0800 144 4472.