Norfolk is: The changing face of Britain’s magical waterland on the Broads

Russell Wilson from the Broads Authority who has worked on new canoe trail guides around parts of the Norfolk Broads. Also pictured is Lucy Marynissen from Bank Boats.

For a surprising number of Norfolk people the Broads remains an undiscovered paradise on their doorstep – just a signpost on the A47 as they speed to the coast.

Boats moored at Ludham Staithe on Womack Water.

And research by the Broads Authority (BA) has shown that many youngsters who even live within the boundaries of the Broads fail to exploit the potential for carefree play and adventure.

Chief executive of the Broads Authority, John Packman, and press officer Hilary Franzen enjoy a trip on the Electric Eel at How Hill, with warden Brendan Russell-Wells, right.

If your memories of the Broads hark back to the 1970s and 1980s, when the waterways resembled the M25 for the number of hire craft, captain's hats and stag groups per square mile, it's even more important to take a fresh look.

As the BA's tourism officer Bruce Hanson is quick to point out, the Broads now has far more to offer than just boating.

Hiking, canoeing and cycling – easy without the hills – have become an important part of the mix in Broads tourism which still drives the local economy, supporting 6,500 jobs directly and many more indirectly, and generating close to half a billion pounds each year.

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Mr Hanson said: 'Big changes have taken place since the Broads boating holidays of the late 1970s.

'While there are fewer hire boats there has been a striking rise in the quality on offer, with some even offering luxuries like whirlpool baths, and environmental standards are at an all-time high. As a result, the decline has been arrested, new boats are being built again and there is renewed confidence in the future.'

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The trend in boating holidays has shifted from two weeks and one week to short breaks – and this is particularly an area of the market where hire boat firms see potential in attracting more bookings from around Norfolk.

Earlier this year, one of the leading hirers, Herbert Woods of Potter Heigham, launched an advertising campaign in Chapelfield aimed at the untapped Norwich market.

Mr Hanson said: 'Although water will always be at the heart of the Broads experience, figures now show very clearly that the great majority of Broads visitors are actually land-based.

'People are enjoying a greater variety of activities like going on bike rides, hiring a canoe, visiting different attractions, hiking or taking the opportunity to spend a day exploring the diverse attractions of Norwich. The focus on getting out and about on land has seen a big increase in the numbers of high quality bed and breakfasts and self-catering accommodation. Camping, too, has become increasingly popular and some of the best sites in the UK can be found in the Broads.'

He said tourist attractions had also markedly upped their game with places such Wroxham Barns, Horning's Bewilderwood treehouse adventure park and The Waterside at Rollesby offering top-quality visitor experiences.

Mr Hanson said: 'We may take the quality of food on offer in the Broads for granted but it was really refreshing to hear the team from, who produced the recent 'The Broads – Where Adventures Begin' book, commending the fantastic array of local produce.'

Another welcome fact was that many of the best-run and most successful businesses now took their green credentials seriously.

'They have realised that their profitability depends to a large degree upon the quality of the environment in which they operate, and they need to look after it to keep people coming back to the Broads,' he said.

Mr Hanson said tourism businesses now worked much more closely together than they used to.

'Broads Tourism, which represents around 60 of the very best businesses, takes the lead on marketing the Broads as a whole, as well as driving forward quality,' he said.

'Perhaps the most obvious result of Broads Tourism's work is the branding initiative that it developed in close co-operation with the Broads Authority.

'Funded by European money, the Britain's Magical Waterland brand has now been widely adopted by the tourism industry and it features prominently in marketing and promotional material.

'Hoseasons will be using the branding in future copies of its brochures and incorporating it on all their new signage.'


1. Visit How Hill National Nature Reserve, near Ludham. A microcosm of the Broads buzzing with rare wildlife. Explore the secrets of the hidden dykes behind the River Ant aboard the Electric Eel wildlife water trail with a stop at a bird hide on the way. Look out for the very rare swallowtail butterfly, the Norfolk hawker dragonfly, bittern and marsh harrier.

Stroll along the nature trail through marshes and woodlands, and visit the tiny Toad Hole Cottage museum where a Victorian marshman's family once lived. Arrive by boat or car.

2. Go Canoeing. Explore the narrowest, quietest and clearest waterways by Canadian canoe, which allows you to glide silently up to wildlife. You will probably see great crested grebes, kingfishers, families of swans and if you are lucky snakes and otters. You can hire a canoe and sometimes a kayak from one of 10 centres in the northern and southern Broads. Some offer canoe camping and four canoe trails can be down-loaded from

3 Go Sailing. Take a two hour skippered sail aboard a traditional 1930s yacht at Hunter's Yard, Ludham. Or if you are feeling more adventurous hire a cabin yacht for a seven day Learn to Sail holiday and get five days tuition.

4. Charter a wherry from the Edwardian era and watch the Broads slip by in style. You can opt for the 115-year-old black sailed trader, Albion, or go for one of Wherry Yacht Charter's pleasure wherries.;

5. Bewilderwood, Horning. Kids, young and old, will love this award-winning forest of family fun with treehouses, zip wires, jungle bridges, Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles, boat trips and marsh walks, in the middle of the Broads.

6. Take an electric boat trip to explore the quiet backwaters of Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Hickling Broad National Nature Reserve which is a haven for rare plants and animals. You will climb a 60ft tree tower with a panoramic view over the broad to the sea.

7. Whitlingham Country Park, Norwich's gateway to the Broads, offers all kinds of water and land-based activities on the city's doorstep. It has a wheel chair accessible path around the Great Broad, is great for cycling and has an adventure play area with a boat and low ropes course.

The solar boat Ra gives a hi-tech boating experience on the Great Broad and is wheelchair accessible. A visitor centre in the flint barn is open all year round with a café and wildlife touch screens and a new camp site with bell tents and shepherd's huts.

8. A holiday aboard a luxury Broads cruiser is the best way to explore the 122 miles of waterways and these days the boats have all mod cons.

9. If you just have a few hours to spare pack a picnic and skipper your own all weather day launch. For more details visit

10. Museum of the Broads. Take a trip back in time at this waterside museum at Stalham Staithe to discover the boats of the Broads and see how people's working lives shaped the landscape. While you are there take a trip on the Victorian steam launch, Falcon.

Supplied by Hilary Franzen from the Broads Authority

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