Everything you need to know about the Broads

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From sailing to walking, fishing to birdwatching, sight-seeing and more, there is plenty to do and see in this tranquil National Park, and you can do it all by train. So whether you’re planning a restful holiday or a flying day trip, let Greater Anglia take you to the very heart of the Broads.

What are the Broads?

Comprised of 40 inland water-filled Broads, connected by 125 miles of rivers, the Broads are a vast area of waterways, reedbeds, marshland and woodlands, punctuated by historic towns and villages. Often referred to as the Norfolk Broads, part of the National Park actually lies in Suffolk and the area can be broadly divided into two areas – the Northern Broads and the Southern Broads. And yes, they are man-made. The Broads are actually the result of Medieval peat digging. The peat was extracted for fuel and then, when sea levels rose, the vast holes created were filled with water.

Top five things to do

  1. Walk the Weaver’s Way from Cromer to Great Yarmouth on a scenic 61-mile trail.
  2. Spy otters, bitterns and marsh harriers at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.
  3. Lose the kids for a day in the tree tops of BeWILDerwood.
  4. While away the days on your own boat, even if you’ve never sailed before, and see vast areas of the Broads unreachable by car.
  5. Spend a night under the stars on a canoeing and bushcraft trip with The Canoe Man.

Best place for watersports – Hoveton and Wroxham​

See the many waterways of the Broads by sail

Whether you want to sail, kayak, canoe or paddle board, Hoveton is the perfect place to base yourself for an action-packed visit to the Broads. Situated on either side of the River Bure, the picturesque villages of Hoverton and Wroxham are generally thought of as the capital of the Northern Broads. Here life runs at a slower pace, and a twisting network of waterways around the River Bure make the place a sailor’s paradise.

Book a guided canoe trip with The Canoe Man to see the quiet back waters of the Bure, or rent a canoe and head out on your own to explore. If you fancy something a little bit more Ray Mears, you can book a bushcraft course where you’ll canoe into the wilderness and camp our under the stars. Also on offer are paddle boarding and fungi foraging.

If you’d rather tour the Broads in a more salubrious vessel, rent a boat from Norfolk Broads Boat Hire. Suitable for beginner boaters and seasoned sailors alike, the boat hire agency can set you up with everything you need to know, from moor points to route plans, packing lists to itineraries. They also offer pick up points across the National Park.

Just 20 minutes by bus from Hoveton, you’ll find the Nancy Oldfield Trust, which offers accessible boating on the Broads. For a small donation (carers go free) you can sail, cruise or canoe for a fantastic day out on the water. The Trust also offers residential stays.

Where to eat: Choose The Old Mill Restaurant for traditional pub-style grub, or visit The River Kitchen for some fantastic Norfolk seafood.

Where to stay: There are a host of B&Bs, pubs and holiday cottages to choose from in the heart of Hoveton and Wroxham. Just 15 minutes away by bus, Amber’s Bell Tent Camping is a great glamping option offering spacious tents with their own fire pits and on site shower facilities. If you want something with a few more home comforts, choose Backwater [backwaternorfolk.co.uk] just south of Wroxham, for a stylish holiday home stay right on the river.

Nearest station: Hoveton & Wroxham

Also try:

Best place for wildlife – Brundall and Buckenham​

There's plenty of wildlife to see in the Broads

If it’s wildlife you’re looking for, you can’t do better than a visit to the River Yare. Step off the train at Brundall or Buckenham and it’s just a short walk until you find yourself deep in the Mid-Yare National Nature Reserve. Here bitterns creep through the reeds while marsh harriers sky dance overhead. Look for the tell-tale marks of otter prints around the water’s edge, and listen for cuckoos in early summer.

RSPB Shrumpshaw Fen is a 19-minute walk from Buckenham Station. In summer, see six species of orchid and swallow tail butterflies. Ospreys pass on their autumn migrations, and bearded tit and starlings flocks can be seen towards the end of the year. In winter, resident bitterns are joined by those from the continent. You can even rent a warden at this site, and have a guide show you the best the reserve has to offer.

Close to Buckenham station, RSPB Buckenham Marshes offers a wealth of waders, ducks and geese. Visit in winter to see huge flocks of Taiga bean geese, or come in summer to see avocet and lapwings feeding their chicks, while barn owls hunt in the last light of the day.

Where to eat: You’ll need a boat to reach country pubs The Ferry House and Coldham Hall or, if you prefer to stay on dry land, pay a visit to the highly-rated East Hills Cafe Bistro.

Where to stay: There are plenty of B&Bs and holiday homes to choose form in the area. Try Yare View Holiday Cottages, a set of three stylish holiday cottages overlooking the river.

Nearest station: Brundall or Buckenham

Also try:

  • RSPB Berney Marshes and Breydon Water, where up to 100,000 wildfowl and waders arrive each winter. In summer, things will be a little quieter, but you can still enjoy some of the Broads best scenery, including historic Berney Arms Windmill. Nearest station: Berney Arms
  • Horsey Gap is renowned for it’s wildlife. In winter, grey seals will be pupping on the beach and you even have a chance of seeing porpoises off the coast. You’ll need a strong pair of legs or two wheels to reach this remote part of the Broads. Nearest Station: Great Yarmouth or Acle
  • Take a 12-minute bike ride or a 40-minute walk from Acle to NWT Upton Broad and Marshes to be in with a chance to seeing the peculiar Chinese Water Deer, a strange looking deer with tiny tusks, introduced to the UK in the 19th Century. Nearest station: Acle

Best place for walking – Beccles​

Walking is the perfect way to explore the Broads

It’s hard to choose just one place for walking in a National Park that boasts such a wealth of trails and tracks. But with a multitude of easy paths and some of the best views in the Southern Broads, Beccles is the perfect place to get out into the remote countryside.

The Beccles Marsh Trail is approximately four miles long and is rich with historic interest. The main attractions here are the wildflowers that blanket the dyke edge and rare varieties of birds and insects that can be spotted as you stroll. There are three alternative routes that use the same site, so you can choose from the full walk at five miles, or opt for shorter routes. Beccles is also a fantastic place to stargaze. The Broads Authority recommends heading out on the Marsh Trail after dark as one of the best places in the Broads to see the stars.

If you like to sketch while you stroll, take a short taxi journey from Beccles to Raveningham Centre, where Sarah Cannell offers courses on landscape drawing and painting. Get out into the countryside and capture the landscape in bold colour, or spend a day exploring an orchard with Sarah and herbalist Nathalie Chidley on a botanical walk and draw.

Where to eat: Indulge at the riverside restaurant The Waveney House Hotel or opt for traditional fish and chips at The Cod House.

Where to stay: Wild camp at Three Rivers Camping and marvel at the wide East Anglian skies that open up above you.

Nearest station: Beccles

Also try:

  • Weaver’s Way – for the ultimate challenge, walk the Weaver’s Way from Cromer to Great Yarmouth on a scenic 61 mile trail. Or just do part of it and rest up in some great pubs along the way. It heads through several beauty spots such as the National Trust grounds of Felbrigg Hall and Blickling Estate, as well as the Broads at Hickling and Thurne. Nearest station: Great Yarmouth or Cromer
  • The Wherryman’s Way – This 37.5-mile walk is a Broadside ramble that follows the course of the River Yare between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. The route is punctuated by sculptures, information panels and even audio points to enjoy. Nearest station: Great Yarmouth or Norwich

Best place for cycling – Hoveton and Horning

Horning in the Norfolk Broads

Bike is the perfect way to travel from Hoveton to the ancient village of Horning. Hire bikes, trailers, helmets and other kit from Broadland Cycle Hire and set off along the Three Rivers Way, which takes you 2 ½ miles past beautiful countryside with ancient hedgerows. The route links up with adjoining paths so you can create your own circular walk, and there’s easy access to many local attractions such as historic churches, BeWILDerwood and the RAF Radar Museum.

While you’re here, why not join Linda Matthews on a painting holiday in Horning. Staying at Hall Farm in Horning, Linda will lead you on four days of scenic inspiration, including demonstrations, tuition and critiques.

Where to eat: This area is packed with highly-rated pubs. Break your bike ride at The Swan Inn or The New Inn for some of the regions best pub grub. Or stop at seafood restaurant Bure River Cottage Restaurant.

Where to stay: Stop overnight at the Swan Inn which, as well as it’s high quality food, also offers a bed and breakfast overlooking the River Yare.

Nearest station: Hoveton & Wroxham

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  • Marriott’s Way – ride from Norwich to Aylsham on this 26 mile route. Following the routes of two disused railway lines, Marriott’s way has wide, flat paths and can be used all year round. It will take you through wildlife-rich habitats, such as the Wensum river valley and Whitwell Common. Nearest station: Norwich
  • The Southern Broads loop – Start at Whitlingham Country Park and cycle to Reedham, Strumpshaw Fen and back. You can decide where to start on this loop. Whitlingham Country Park is a 12 minute road cycle from Norwich station, while starting from Reedham or Brundall station will take you straight into the countryside... Nearest station: Norwich, Reedham or Brundall

Best place for fishing – Wroxham​

Fishing in the Norfolk Broads

The Broads are teeming with fish, look out for bream, rudd, tench, roach, perch, carp and the carnivorous pike on a fishing trip here. The coarse fishing season runs from 16 June to 14 March, and you’ll need a current Environment Agency licence to take advantage of what the Broads have to offer. The River Bure is a great place to situate yourself, with good fishing all year round. good for fishing. In October, fish move upstream, and Wroxham harbour is a haven for silver fish. Fish between the bridges here at any time of year for roach, perch, bream and tench.

Where to eat: Try the excellent Wherrymans, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Where to stay: Norfolk Broads Direct offer holiday cottages right on the river. So you can step out your front door and start the day’s fishing.

Nearest station: Hoveton & Wroxham

Also try:

  • Filby Broad – Accessible fishing platforms have now been made available for wheelchair users at Filby Broad, and some spots in the surrounding area. Filby is reachable by taxi from Acle (13 minutes) and by bus from Great Yarmouth (17 minutes by bus plus 13 minutes walking)