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The Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads is one of England’s most beautiful and unusual National Parks with its rivers and waterways meandering through picturesque landscape dotted with windmills, churches and thatched cottages. It is a haven for wildlife including rare butterflies, birds and wildfowl and the opportunities for pleasure boating through the scenic countryside have made it a major tourist attraction for many years.

The rivers and lakes known as “Broads” are believed to be the result of extensive peat digging over the centuries, the abandoned pits later flooded when the sea levels rose, while the surrounding fenland is believed to be the result of continued reed cutting to thatch roofs. The end result today is an idyllic landscape of reed-fringed rivers and lakes creating an important and treasured wetland ecosystem which includes many National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Among its wealth of natural attractions you might spot herons, coots, marsh harriers, otters, orchids, dragonflies and the rare swallowtail butterfly.

The Broads and their landscape have inspired many great artistic figures over the years like the famous painters Crome and Bright, photographers P.H. Emerson and G. Christopher Davies and children’s writer Arthur Ransome whose classic “Coot Club” was set on the Broads. The best way to explore the broads is by boat and there are 125 miles of lock free waterways to enjoy as well as a network of cycling trails and footpaths for cyclists and walkers. You can cruise, sail, row, and even canoe along the broads and there are plenty of craft to hire, stopping to relax in a waterside pub or inn along the way if you choose.

The village of Wroxham on the banks of the river Bure is a popular tourist centre packed with hire boats and cruisers and the starting point for many Broads boating holidays. Nearby, just out of Ludham, is “How Hill”; a 365 acre estate run as a nature reserve and environmental education centre with beautiful gardens and the fascinating Toad Hole Cottage, a restored eel catcher’s cottage. At How Hill you can take a boat trip in the Edwardian styled “Electric Eel” to view the wildlife along the River Ant or gaze at the windmills on the river’s banks or enjoy a wildlife walking trail around the nature reserve.

Ranworth is well worth visiting and is for many tourists the highlight of any trip to the Broads. The church of St Helen’s at Ranworth has a wonderfully preserved 15th century rood screen while the panoramic view from the top of the church tower is stunning, encompassing a patchwork quilt effect of green fields with the blue waters of the broads in the distance. You can follow a boardwalk nature trail through the woods and marshes to the thatched conservation centre on its pontoon at the edge of the water and from the upper gallery watch the waterfowl through binoculars and telescopes. Alternatively if the boardwalk trail through the marshes is too daunting the centre can be reached by electrically powered reed lighter boat trips.

From Ranworth you can also take a boat trip to see the stark ruins of St Benet’s Abbey whose history and origins can be traced back to the time of the legendary King Canute. Potter Heigham is regarded by many as a sort of capital of the Broads and is so named because it was originally a site of pottery and after the Saxon lord Heacham who first founded a settlement there. It is well known for its 14th century bridge with restricted headroom and church with Norfolk round tower which supports an octagonal belfry.

Surlingham is another must-see area for nature lovers with a nature reserve owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and “Wheatfen” the home of the late t.v. naturalist and author Ted Ellis. It is claimed David Bellamy described the 130 acres of marsh carr and woods here as one of the most important sites of its kind and it is widely regarded as prime fen land.

I spent an idyllic childhood holiday with my family in the Norfolk Broads one autumn half-term break. We rented a charming riverside cottage which had a garden that backed onto one of the broads complete with a wooden jetty and its own small moored boat. The rustic cottage had been restored and renovated and included a large picture window which straddled the entire exterior of the upstairs lounge giving us a fabulous view of the river, willowy reeds and vista of land all around us. It was situated in a quiet, secluded corner and we were even allowed to bring our pet dog, a small terrier, with us as long as he was house trained and behaved himself! The weather was dry, fresh and sunny with clear blue skies and we started each day feeding the ducks and swans who gathered hopefully at our jetty and watching all the different boats glide by on the water.

But the highlight of our holiday was when my father came to join us for the weekend and hired a large sleek boat for us all to cruise in. It was a memorable experience; the boat had cabins fitted with a kitchen and lounge, separate double bedroom and even its own toilet and shower and all the cabin windows had their own matching curtains and were most picturesque. You could have spent all day in the cosy cabins observing the scenery and wildlife from the windows but we spent most of our time outside on the prow and deck in the crisp fresh air. I wore a life-jacket, as recommended, at all times while our terrier dog sat sedately on the deck with his head facing the prow and seemed to love the feel of the wind ruffling his hair. We were able to moor and stop for a pub lunch where they even welcomed our dog before continuing our exhilarating journey through the reed-fringed rivers and expanses of water and tranquil countryside.

The Norfolk Broads is a unique and beautiful area combining rivers, broads, fens, woodlands, marshland and diverse species of wildlife and is one of Britain’s most outstanding and impressive landscapes.

Ricki Crookes has worked as an actress in the film and television business throughout most of her life. She has appeared in numerous commercials which have been shown on television and cinemas world-wide. She has also worked as a model and been in many prestigious photo- shoots which have featured in magazines and bill-boards. In addition she has written articles for both newspapers and magazines and is an award winning poet.