For some time I had considered a lovely and relaxing boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads. However, being a complete boating novice, the thought of handling and parking a large cabin cruiser was somewhat daunting to say the least.


Imagine my delight when I discovered that Herbert Woods, specialists in Broads Holiday Adventures, hire out cottages in their marina at Potter Heigham, and, included, is a day boat! This sounded an ideal way for a first timer like me to experience the Broads.

A magical waterland

With over 110 miles of lock-free waterways the Norfolk Broads are referred to as a magical waterland, a National Park which welcomes more than 7 million visitors each year. The Broads are set between the city of Norwich and the seaside coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk. A unique 303 square kilometres of gentle landscape, broads and rivers, this world famous attraction is without doubt mainly associated with boating although there are other leisure experiences that attract visitors such as walking, cycling, canoeing, fishing and nature watching. Pretty towns and villages are dotted throughout the Broads along with mills and historic landmarks nestled amidst the waterways and fens.

A home from home

We had booked our Norfolk Broads holiday adventure to start on a Sunday afternoon and it was a glorious day when we arrived at Potter Heigham. The boatyard and marina is accessed by a security gate with a keyboard code which had been emailed by Herbert Woods a couple of weeks earlier along with useful information about our cottage and the local area. Check-in was fast and efficient and with keys in hand we were soon driving through the marina to our cottage – Marsh View. As you can see from the picture this is some cottage!

Situated within the Broads Haven Marina this was a fully equipped home from home with comfortable furnishings, central heating and Wi-Fi available. Facilities at Marsh View also included a large fully equipped kitchen and dining room with dishwasher and a double oven. The lounge was very comfortable and spacious with a digital flat screen TV, DVD player and CD player. The large patio doors overlooked the lawn and private decking with outside tables and chairs. We were able to park our car in the allocated spaces adjacent to the main entrance of the cottage. Marsh View sleeps up to 9, there’s a master bedroom with en-suite, a double bedroom, two twin rooms and one single room. There’s an additional family bathroom with bath and shower and an additional shower room with basin and w.c. Wheelchair access is available.

Herbert Woods have 10 waterside holiday cottages and 3 waterside apartments, on the edge of the River Thume or within the marina, varying in size from 4 to 9 beds. If you want to eat out Herbert Woods provide a useful booklet detailing local pubs, restaurants with 10% discounts or offers such as free tea or coffee or free desserts. Just across the road from the marina we discovered the family owned Bridgestone’s and enjoyed a lovely cooked breakfast here each morning.

There’s a wide choice for eating out, however, be aware as this is a rural location taxi’s are on the expensive side – if drinking I would suggest that you allocate alternating designated drivers instead. Venturing out from Potter Heigham we found some delightful restaurants- The Boathouse at Ormesby Broad and for fine dining The Ingham Swan. You can download a handy guide to eating out on the Herbert Woods’ websites under the food and drink tab.

Cruising along the Broads

Herbert Woods have over 125 cruisers to choose from to suit every party size sleeping from 2 to 9 persons available for midweek and weekend hire. With our cottage however came the best of both worlds – day boat hire.

A day boat is a great way to experience the sights and sounds of the Norfolk Broads. The day boat included is a small open top cruiser which looked easy to manoeuvre. However our ‘day boat day’ was looking a bit cloudy with the chance of rain so we decided to upgrade at a very reasonable price to one of the Picnic Boats. Starlight 5, our boat, seated up to 10 people on comfy cushioned seats and included onboard was a gas hob, fridge, sink and toilet. Additionally there were mugs, glasses and kettle etc.

Starlight 5 was moored in a line of other cruisers and came equipped with life jackets and a full tank of fuel. Facilities included a small forward sun deck, warm air heating, radio and a split-sliding roof which was perfect! Steering and controls were situated in the cabin and to the port side. Mark from the boat yard was very helpful and patient as he described the various functions and dials, how to steer and reverse the boat, along with a safety briefing.

Here was the first test of the day, moving the boat out of her berth into the River Thume. This was a rather tight spot but luckily for me Mark took the controls and guided her out so at least I had a straight run to start. Having said that, as we got underway on our 2 and a half hour journey to Horning I found the boat remarkably easy to handle. Gentle movements of the steering wheel were called for and a close eye on the speedometer as speed limits are regularly enforced with speed zones of 6, 5, 4 and 3 mph clearly marked on the banks as you cruise along.

After a delightful and relaxing morning cruise along the Broads we arrive at Horning, a picturesque waterside village. Conveniently it’s time for lunch and we spot the New Inn with its large riverfront garden and free mooring for visitors. Here’s the second challenge of the day and I decide to moor Starlight 5 against the side which was relatively easy until the landlord appears asking me to park at right angles. Forward, reverse, forward again and with a little landside assistance we’re tied up safe and sound ready for a classic pub lunch. Fed and watered we take a stroll around Horning calling in at a few of the interesting shops and art galleries.

Now time to head back to Potter Heigham and I’m really into the handling of the boat, so much so that I can take in the environment, wildlife and even wave to occasional fellow cruisers as we pass by. One disconcerting moment as we near ‘home’, a couple of sailing boats with rather large yard arms coming towards me and they seem oblivious to my presence. I keep close to the bank and we pass safely by.

Now my final test of the day as we arrive back at the boatyard – reverse parking back into our space! Left hand down hard on the wheel as I engage reverse, forward a few turns and back into reverse. I feel Mark watching from the quay as he’s spotted our return. Hard left again on the wheel, straighten up and I’ve done it! Mark ties up the boat – an end to a lovely day on the Broads.


This was a wonderful and memorable way to spend a short holiday on the Norfolk Broads. Herbert Woods were efficient and professional from start to finish and our accommodation superb. The Norfolk Broads offer all year round attractions both on and off the water. The historic city of Norwich is right on the doorstep and rolling farmland, fens, marshes and woods surround picturesque local towns and villages. Would I do it again? Most definitely, no longer a novice, I think I’ve got the hang of boating!

The only National Park with a city in it!

The big skies and sparkling landscape of marshland fields, feathery reeds and tangled woodlands are a perfect canvas for adventure and relaxation – time to reflect, space to explore, a magical opportunity to enjoy a fabulous break. This is the Venice of the East – in fact, the Norfolk Broads has more miles of waterway than the Italian city! It also has more waterways than Amsterdam! The Broads National Park offers visitors an experience unlike any other, both on its rivers and lakes, and alongside them, on peaceful paths and cycle ways. Without a doubt, the best way to discover the Broads is by boat. So much of the Broads can’t be reached by road that days – and nights – afloat become a real adventure, with hidden places, perfect fishing spots and close encounters with wildlife at every turn.

The famous Broads motor cruisers have been holiday favourites since the 1930s, and today’s boats have all the comforts of home on board, so even if you prefer to visit during the quieter, cooler months, you’ll have a cosy base for your explorations. With fresh air, sparkling water and wide horizons by day, and wonderfully dark, starry nights, a boating holiday on the Broads is an unforgettable experience. There are plenty of places along the meandering waterways for you to moor up and hop out to explore pretty villages and market towns, or to stop at a welcoming pub.

Did you know The Broads are man made!

An amazing discovery in the 1950s

The Norfolk Broads may look natural, but they are a man-made phenomenon, the result of inundated peat diggings. Amazingly, it wasn’t until the 1950s that this was realised, when Dr Joyce Lambert’s research revealed that the sides of the deep lakes were vertical and not gently sloping as would be expected of a naturally formed lake. This, coupled with the historical evidence of peat demand for fuel, proved irrefutable. It was a scientific break-through for Dr Lambert, who was born at Brundall, near Norwich, in 1916 and educated at NorwichHigh School for Girls.

The result of medieval peat diggings

Another clue is that the area’s names are not Anglo-Saxon or Norse. They are named after people or landmarks, meaning they originated later. Imagine a time where there are no mod cons, no electricity and certainly no mechanical diggers – just man power and a need to survive in what would have been difficult and unforgiving times. In the 12th century the population of east Norfolk was growing rapidly and the area was documented to be the most densely populated in Britain.

Materials for living were scarce; timber and fuel supplies were drained as much of the woodland areas were cleared and a new source of fuel needed to be found. It was at this time that peat digging, also known as ‘turbary’, was tapped into and this provided a suitable fuel alternative. The extraction of peat would have been a difficult and unpleasant task, requiring great physical effort. Yet it was a prosperous industry and provided fuel for both individual families and manors, with a greater proportion being sold. It is estimated that more than 900 million cubic feet of peat would have been extracted. Digging took place throughout all the east Norfolk settlements until the 14th century, when finally nature overcame man’s force. The massive holes that had been created gradually began to fill with water as the sea levels rose. Flooding was taking place on a regular basis and peat extraction was simply no longer possible. As these ‘holes’ began to fill the now popular tourist destination of The Norfolk Broads was starting to form.

Over 200 km of navigable Broads and rivers were created by peat digging and these provided essential channels for communication and commerce throughout the 16th century. Norwich was the second largest city in England after London and its tradable goods of wool, weaving and agricultural produce were exported throughout the world from the port of Great Yarmouth. The waterways were also used to transport coal, bricks, timber and tiles. The boats that plied these routes were Norfolk Wherries, with their single black sail, and smaller, square-sailed keel boats.

Today the Norfolk Broads can still evoke a sense of disbelief in new visitors. For those wishing to discover more about the fascinating history of the Norfolk Broads visit the Museum of the Broads in Stalham where you can see how the mystery was solved and the tools used in the traditional trades including thatching.

(Article source: Various)

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