The Broads – a postcard-perfect landscape of waterways and thatched cottages that somehow found their way into David Bowie’s lyrics for Life on Mars.
This hidden corner of Britain is every bit as beautiful and surprising as that implies.
And best discovered by boat.
So we booked via Hoseasons, the undisputed Broads boating specialists and overtly LGBTI-friendly, and cast off on our adventure.
What are The Broads?
This corner of East England, a couple of hours drive from central London, is one of Britain’s most exceptional habitats.
A series of lakes linked by rivers, it looks entirely natural.
But in fact, the enormous broads are man made. Something even the experts didn’t realize until the 1960s.
Medieval people dug peat from the area to use for fuel, creating giant pits. When sea levels began to rise, the pits flooded. And by the 14th century the lakes – or ‘broads’ – were formed.
Now when you are not meandering along stunning reed-lined waterways, you are passing pretty cottages thatched with the same reeds.
Immaculately manicured lawns stretch down to the waterside. And happy boaters down beers in pub gardens.
Our boat was a palace. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms – that’s more than my flat – plus an enormous living and dining room. There were flat screen TVs in the lounge and each bedroom and even wifi access.
The large galley had a proper oven, four hobs, a microwave and even a wine fridge – so self-catering is a breeze.
If you run out of supplies, Norfolk has village stores like nowhere else in the UK. Roys in Wroxham, in particular, is essentially a department store and supermarket from the 1970s. Are You Being Served? fans will want to make a pilgrimage.
We spent most of our time on the boat’s sun deck. You can top up your tan as you watch the world go by and feel your stress floating away in the wake.
You simply haven’t lived until you’ve sat on deck with a gin and tonic, soaking up the late afternoon sun. You’ll feel like royalty.
First time boaters
The joy of a boating holiday is how relaxing it can be.
Then you remember – you’ve never steered a boat in your life.
Actually there is nothing to induce panic on The Broads. The water is as calm as a millpond, the rivers generally far wider than canals and the other boaters very friendly.
The Broads are as flat as a pancake. So, unlike the canal system, you can cruise 120-miles of waterways without having to tackle a lock.
We picked up our boat from Hoseasons’ yard Barnes Brinkcraft. Once we loaded our baggage and supplies – mostly booze – a friendly young guy jumped on board to give us a lesson.
You can steer from two positions, inside and up top – so it’s just like having a convertible.
Despite the boat being enormous, maneuvering it is a breeze. As well as normal steering, it has thrusters for the bow (front of the boat) and stern (back).
That means you can spin it around in a complete circle in the tiniest space. And it means you can move sideways into tight mooring spaces between other boats – far easier than parallel parking a car.
Within a couple of minutes, I was over my nerves and loving it.
You never really go faster than a jog so you’ve got plenty of time to change direction. We were distracted at one point by a couple of hot, shirtless kayakers, so this helps.
And once you’re ready, there’ll be a mooring by a countryside pub waiting for you.
Beauty of The Broads
Sunrise paints the wide skies of The Broads in their most majestic colors.
Cobwebs clinging to the rivers’ reeds are turned to diamond lattices by the dew. A morning mist hugs the vast flatlands, stretching as far as you can see, adding to the mystery. And the stillness of dawn is unbroken, save for a pond skipper making concentric rings across the water with its hair-thin feet.
In other words, even if you never get up early, make this your dawn of choice.
When we got underway, the hybrid boat engine was so quiet we didn’t disturb the wildlife.
Herons stand like sentinels among the reeds that line the banks. Swans paddle alongside you.
If you are patient, you can see the ‘big five’ of The Broads’ wildlife: kingfisher, swallowtail butterfly, marsh harrier, otter and bittern. This National Park provides a habitat for 25% of the UK’s rarest species.
These are The Broads that inspired Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.
The view at night is just as spectacular. Dropping a mud anchor allows you to spend the night in the middle of a broad, with water all around.
We put on hoodies and lay on the deck at midnight to stare up at the stars. Away from the light pollution of the cities, those big Norfolk skies really come into their own.
Hoseasons has the best range of boats and holiday lets on The Broads. Romantic retreats, group trips and pet-friendly options are all catered for. Visit the Hoseasons site or call 0844 847 1100.
If you don’t have a car, Hoveton and Wroxham train station is walking distance from the Wroxham boatyards.