For years and years I’ve daydreamed about a canal boat holiday. Cruising along the water, waving to dog walkers, mooring up at the local pub for a Ploughman’s lunch and sunbathing on the deck. Pretty painted boats full of flowers, heart pints of local beer and huge slabs of homemade cake. Mr S and I shared these dreams with our friends, and luckily for us they are far more sensible.
You see, that daydream is likely to be constantly interrupted by the good old British weather, endless locks that take hours to open and close, long stretches of water without a pub and tiny living conditions. However there is a way to enjoy a holiday on the water without all that – by boating on The Norfolk Broads.
The Norfolk Broads (situated across Norfolk, obvs), are a little wider and easier to navigate with absolutely no locks in sight. There are boating marinas at every corner to hire anything from a day boat to a massive house in a boat and for water novices, it provides the ideal place to start. Plus, it is really really beautiful.
So six of hired the Princess of Light and headed off for 7 nights on the water. And in the words of Alan Partridge “Wat-er-way’ to have a good time”.
Getting started on The Broads is relatively uncomplicated. We didn’t really think about what part of Norfolk we wanted to visit, so just picked the first reputable boat hire company we came across to book our home for the week. Our boat, The Princess of Light from Herbert Woods, cost just over £200pp for the week which included tuition, fuel, bedding, basic kitchen equipment and life jackets. You’ll need extra cash for food and drink and attractions, and also there may be some mooring costs depending on where you park your boat each night.
A couple of weeks before our trip, having finally looked at a map, we planned out our route through the quaint villages of North Norfolk. We were apprehensive as we had no idea how we would moor up (we looked at mooring signs on the map and crossed our fingers) or indeed how to drive the thing but there was no backing out now.
After collecting our life jackets, moving into the boat and getting an all too quick driving and mooring lesson on the boat we were left to our own devices. Away we go!
Potter Heigham & Hickling
Herbert Woods were based in a marina in Potter Heigham, so that is where we started and ended our boating adventure. As we were unable to pick up the boat until after 4pm we decided to stay in the marina for the evening and set off early in the morning for our next stop.
There is very very little in Potter Heigham. A cafe, an all-purpose shop and a fish and chip shop are right by the marina, but we had to take a walk out to find the nearest pub for dinner, The Falgate Inn.
On the final night of our holiday, we also moored up in Potter Heigham and this time took a car ride out to Hickling to an amazing little pub called The Greyhound. Despite having pub dinners every single day, this one was the absolute best so if you ever find yourself in Hickling, give The Greyhound a visit.
Ludham Bridge & St Benets Abbey
The next morning we set off for our first drive in the boat where we tried our best to remember our driving lesson from the night before. Overtaking on the left, sail before steam (or indeed engine, which meant the sail boats always had right of way) and most of all, how to moor up.
We wanted to stop on the way to our first proper mooring at Ludham Bridge, but failed dismally to moor up at St Benet’s Abbey (to the point where many other boaters were laughing at us). This was off-putting, but actually was the only place we found others on the water unwilling to help us out.
So we pressed ahead to Ludham Bridge and after a few goes, finally worked out how to moor properly (by most of us jumping out in our life jackets and physically pulling it in with ropes).
After tying up our boat with our best boy scout knots we finally got to explore with some cake in a cafe, a good country walk to a local pub, a freshen up and an evening in The Dog Inn. There was little to see or do at Ludham Bridge, but it was a short journey to start with and a good place to find out feet – we had brought lots of games and wine on to the boat so we were not short of entertainment.
On our way back during our last day, we did manage to stop at St Benets Abbey – a monastery founded in Anglo Saxon times which although mainly demolished is still very atmospheric.
We headed off our main path (we were largely following the River Bure) and headed North up the River Ant to visit Stalham. This was because we knew there was a large Tesco’s within walking distance of the mooring, and because there were a handful of pubs in town showing the football, which was a very important fact for our male companions (*rolls eyes*).
We found ourselves in an almost deserted marina at the very end of the river which reminded me of something from the Fifties – you could imagine it to be full of buzz in its heyday. We moored up at Richardson’s where we found decent toilets, actual showers (THE DREAM) and lots of space for us to spread out and relax in the sun.
After stocking up in Tesco, some of us visited the Museum of The Broads, which aims to show what life has been like on the water. It was fun to visit (although took us no time at all) and we hurried back to the boat to plan a Wedding Anniversary party for our friends which consisted of mermaid and pirate fancy dress. I’ll spare you the pictures, but sprawled out on the grass stuffed full of party food and wine I felt freer than I had in ages on a holiday!
What goes up must come down, so we made our way back to Ludham Bridge to continue our journey onwards to Horning, known as one of the prettiest villages on The Broads. They were not wrong. This time, instead of mooring up at a marina or one of the free staithes available along the waterway, we moored up at a pub called The Ferry Inn. We paid £10 – this is the average price for paid moorings, usually available at pubs or hotels. Depending on where you hire your boat from it may be part of a network of marinas which will host other boats for free overnight, so to keep costs down this is a good option.
As well as wandering through the picturesque village, curiously peeking into broadside properties with fancy front doors and tidy gardens we found yet another pub (The Swan, very lovely) to while away an afternoon with Pimms and boat watching. The Horning Ferry (pictured above) winds it way up and down the River Bure as an old Paddle Steamer and is an excellent way to spend an afternoon if you find yourself in Horning without your own boat.
We didn’t always eat out at pubs (I know, shock horror) and often used the amazing boat kitchen to make meals – either a fry up or a sausage/bacon sandwich for breakfast and easy to rustle up lunches. On this day we had so much leftover party food we had another boat picnic with a chilled beer and a wonderful view.
Wroxham was to be our last destination before heading back to Potter Heigham for our final night, and there is so much to do there that we planned to stay two night – this was a real luxury. Whilst boating holidays are extremely relaxing, getting up early to check the boat and drive off to our next destination to ensure we’d get a decent place to moor had become tiring. We found another friendly marina (Barnes Brinkcraft) after about an hour and a half of driving and set about filling up with water and getting the boat ready for a two night stay.
We said Wroxham had lots to do and places to eat – here are some of the highlights:
- Wroxham Barns is a huge complex with lots of family friendly activities including crazy golf. There were fun fair rides, a circus, a junior farm and crafts and we spent a full afternoon here.
- Wroxham Miniature Worlds is an indoor model village along side a lego world and lots of examples of toys through the ages.
- Bure Valley Railway is an excellent steam train that will take you through the countryside and back again.
- The River Kitchen Cafe & Restaurant serves an amazing afternoon tea, which we booked in advance by email the day before. It is right by the river, and there is a lovely riverside walk you can do afterwards.
Wroxham is awash with pubs, and also has a really large supermarket where we stocked up on boat supplies.
After packing up our boat early in the morning and handing back the keys and life jackets, we jumped into the cars with our holiday spirit still in full force and headed to the coast to soak up the last of the sun. (Also, Andrew had bought rounders and was desperate to play it). We found ourselves at a fairly deserted Caister-On-Sea, a picturesque beach with a sandy bay and wind turbines off into the distance.
After eating our bodyweight in ice cream and battling the good old British wind we decided to call time on our week long adventure in boating – friendships still intact, lesson learned and desperate for a proper shower at home!
A Norfolk Broads holiday is a wonderful way to spend a week but requires patience and planning. Look out for a future post where I’ll put together how we planned and survived on a cramped boat for a week!