Take to the water in a canoe or on a stand-up paddleboard to explore the best that this wetland national park has to offer
As the continuity announcer on Monty Python would say “And now for something completely different.” Because the Norfolk Broads National Park is unlike any other national park in the UK. There are no mountains or rugged fells, no brooding moorland or towering cliffs. The tallest point in the entire park is only 38m above sea level – not quite the height of a multi-storey car park! But for a sense of space and peace, and even wilderness, this waterland is a unique environment. Covering more than 300 square km, and with more than 200km of navigable waterways, the Norfolk Broads is a national park to explore at water level, by canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Or get even closer to the natural world by going for an open water swim. Even on land, there are more than 300km of footpaths and bridleways for walks, runs and bike rides, with headwinds rather than gravity providing the challenge. The big skies, waterscape views, rushes and reeds lend a satisfying loneliness to much of the park, and if you’re seeking headspace, somewhere calm to quell the constant chatter of the nine-to-five, then look no further.
Paddling in the Broads is all about exploration and adventure, rather than white water or racing. At one end of the spectrum, are the narrowest creeks, still accessible to the shallow profile of a canoe or kayak; while at the other end the three major broads of Hickling, Barton and Oulton deliver a seemingly endless expanse of water. Canoe hire costs from about £22 for three hours (waveneyrivercentre.co.uk), and you don’t need to be experienced to take to the Broads. When the wind picks up, however, it can get choppy, and never underestimate the effort it takes to paddle into a headwind. There are several canoe trails to download from enjoythebroads.com and if you have more time on your hands, head from village to village on a two or three-day trail. The Moorhen B&B in Horning can arrange your trip, including luggage transfers between your overnight stops.
Stand-up Paddleboard here
One of the fastest growing watersports, stand-up paddleboarding can be both a challenging and fun way to travel across the Broads. For beginners, a two-hour lesson with Martham Boats costs £30, and when you’ve mastered the skills you could always try a race… The Norfolk Classic offers two distances, 6.5km and 15km, along point-to-point routes with no portages and minimal water flow. For details of SUP hire, classes and the Classic see marthamboats.com
Open water swim here
With water, water everywhere, open water swimming ought to be booming in the Broads, but we struggled to find any organised events. Right on the Norwich edge of the national park, Tri-Anglia offers open water swimming sessions for club members in Whitlingham Country Park’s Great Broad every Saturday morning and Wednesday evening from May through to August (tri-anglia.co.uk), and there’s good open water swimming opportunities just beyond the eastern park boundary at Fritton Lake. If you want to take the plunge into the Broads themselves, you’re free to do so, but at your own risk, so remember to wear a bright swim hat and wetsuit, go with a support companion, and always make sure you can get out as easily as you jumped in.
Fens, creeks, channels and windmills – there’s plenty to see from dry land in the Broads, and more than 300km of footpaths criss-cross the landscape. There are no contours to trouble your progress, although it can be boggy underfoot in places. For walkers, the 35-mile Wherryman’s Way makes for a very long day hike, or an ideal weekend trek, as it follows the River Yare between Norwich and Great Yarmouth through the southern Broads (wherrymansway.net).
The same paths and tracks that make walking so peaceful serve as a great foundation for cross-country runs. Dunerunner organises a couple of 10Ks in the heart of the Broads.
Road cycle here
Creating a cycle route takes some serious thought in the Broads, where waterways not roadways provide the transport infrastructure. Needless to say, there are no hills to trouble even the most reluctant climber, but the national park can be exposed to stiff winds. The Tour de Broads navigates around the finest cycling roads in the area, with options of 40-, 75- and 100-mile routes.