BRITAIN IN THE SLOW LANE - BOATING ON THE NORFOLK BROADS
My partner and skipper, David Dossor, loves munching kippers or a ploughman's lunch while sipping the ales on tap in Britain's historic old pubs.
Our friends, Gerry McKeating and Pat Crossley, are avid and expert birders who have come on this trip specifically for the best bird watching in the country. One quarter of the country's rare wild life and flora exist in the Broads, Britain's largest protected wetland.
I love wandering through ancient ruins: crumbling abbeys and standing stones, shards of castles and historic landmarks, awed at tangible presences of our species' long history.
So, we indulge each of our passions while traveling through scenic fertile flatlands abloom with yellow canola blossoms, barley and vegetable crops with a cow or five dotted in to make the pastoral landscape iconic, and all this aboard a luxurious 45' cruiser. It has to be the most perfect trip imaginable.
The Norfolk Broads have a long history and the list of reasons to visit this low-lying region in southeast Britain is just as long. Our mode of travel was decided: the best way to visit the area was to meet it right where it lives: in the water.
So we're doing that. Here we are at Potter Heigham, the base for Herbert Woods. Established 90 years ago, it's one of the oldest and most respected charter companies in the Broads. We're aboard Amethyst Light, complete with its bow thrusters, full sliding canopy, LCD TVs and room for the four of us to spread out. After spending our first night at the base trying to decide which of the three staterooms to take, becoming familiar with our yacht and burning the sausages, we're now keen to begin our zigzag journeys up and down the Rivers Thurne, Bure and Ant. It will be a leisurely nine-day meandering that will take us to Horsey Mere and home to one of many wind pumps, built to drain the marshlands.
Hickling Broad, the bird watchers paradise, is next. While the three of us are polishing up our binoculars and hoping to spot a Cetti's Warbler or Marsh Harrier, David is calling The Pleasure Boat Pub to reserve for dinner and mooring, already anticipating trying each of its four award winning ales. On Day 2 we power slowly back on River Thune unto River Bure, winding our way from Hickling to Great Yarmouth, en route exploring another photogenic wind pump, Stacey Arms drainage mill, built around 1883. We tie up at the yacht station for two days of wandering on Yarmouth's endless beaches and immersing ourselves in the past, from The Tolhouse, one of the country's oldest gaols, built in the 12th Century, to the maritime and fishing history at Time and Tide Museum. Happily we all love museums and the ‘après museum': rituals of tearooms, waterfront cafes and pubs.
The Broads is the name given to this low lying region in southeast England that in the 12th Century was the most densely populated and intensely farmed area in the country. When wood ran out and another source of fuel was needed, peat digging became widespread. Flash forward two centuries and now the rising ocean levels have filled the immense holes and the profitable industry is scuttled. However, eventually the resulting channels become arteries of commerce and the beginning of what will become a new enterprise is slowly becoming apparent - recreational boating on the over 200 kilometres of semi saline lakes and rivers.
Leaving Great Yarmouth we make our way to the River Ant to Stalham and the granddaddy of all museums, the extensive Museum of the Broads. At this point, I think it's day five and so it goes. We enjoy leisurely visits to market towns like Horning and Wroxham, to buy fresh early produce and to sit down to a British ‘tea'. We ogle and photograph archeological treasures like the ancient church at West Somerton and the ruins of St. Benet's Abbey in South Walsham, where later that day we stroll in the extensive Fairhaven water garden.
And there's only one day of May rain.
On our 8th night out, we drop our anchor into the 4' depths of South Walsham Broad and we cook our last meal on board. Over our perfect sausages we toast our perfect holiday, an immersion into a Britain few ever experience. We may not have covered much ‘water' but we've thoroughly plumbed its depths.
IF YOU GO:
• Where to stay.
Good hotels in London and at Gatwick airports. www.premierinn.com.
• How to go. Transat Air. www.airtransat.com.
• For rail travel to London and the Broads. Get off at Acle and it's a 15-min. taxi ride from there to Potter Heigham. www.acprail.com.
• For info on the Broads. www.norfolkbroads.com.
• Boat charter. www.herbertwoods.co.uk/. • With kids? A steam train (Burre Valley Railway) takes visitors on a return trip up the valley for 14 kilometres, a great family friendly outing. (www.bvrw.co.uk).
PHOTOS: Courtesy Herbert Woods
1. We leave the base at Herbert Woods.
2. We do this too on our last night.
3. Bird watching in the country's largest wetlands is one of the attractions.
4. The base at Herbert Woods.
5. Lots of anchorage choices.Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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