There’s a saying in the sailing world, apparently, that a boat decreases by one foot, per person, per day. Yikes! Our boat (and our home for three days) is a 44ft sleekly modern beauty called the Silver Elegance which sounds plenty big enough for three of us, but still...
I’m on the Norfolk Broads, the ‘East Anglican Lake District’, as a proud local tells me. The 77 square miles of the Broads are, er, broadly, divided into north and south. The North (the River Bure) is the better known, but we’re taking the lesser known, wilder South Broad, the River Yare.
At the Brundall boat yard we’re shown the ropes (the most complicated bit by far seems to be the loo) and we collect our grocery delivery. All our births are ensuite, we have a cosy sitting room, and the skipper can sit up top and al fresco to steer. On one hand, it’s pretty straightforward (the engine has a ‘start’ and ‘stop’ button) but on the other, this boat is a giant piece of equipment to control. We’re told to face the tide when we moor, for safety, which briefly gives me a hideous vision of not parking properly and being carried out to the sea on waves the size of those that submerged George Clooney in ‘Perfect Storm’.
And we’re off. But slowly, at about 4 mph. Straightaway, I realise it would be impossible to get lost and unlike canals, there are no pesky locks to navigate. There are tall reeds to either side of us, and the water is calm and quiet (though because of the tides, people don’t swim). This has got to be the quickest way to slow down.
We sail for a few hours, and moor up (facing the tide) outside the Reedham Ferry Inn where we have enormous portions of scampi, and home-made banoffi pie and an early night.
Living in a city for all my adult life, I’m inured to the sound of police sirens, honking cars, car alarms and the never-really-dark nights of street lamps and neighbours windows. Not all the time of course, leafy west London is hardly South Central LA (no offence South Central), but on the boat the night is pitch black, and pin drop quiet. And restful.
I wake to birdsong. A different view. And the smell of a cooked breakfast. A holy trinity. We take turns at the wheel as we glide and meander through the vast plains on either side of us (it’s not just the UK’s biggest wetland, it’s a National Park), the occasional windmill and the most intricate and beautifully thatched riverside cottages, all under the limitless blue sky. After prawn and crayfish salad at the Fishermans Inn, (part of the Burgh Castle Marina and very popular in the summer with happy campers), we explore Burgh Castle, a Roman fort built in AD 340. It’s a magical spot for a picnic and an afternoon exploring or loafing.
The Yare turns into the Waveney and our second night’s mooring at Somerleyton. I have a beef burger bigger than the original animal at the Duke’s Head gastro pub (like many gastro pubs, in fact a very nice restaurant masquerading as a pub).
The RSPB’s Berney Marshes on the Yare has introduced a ‘Rent a Warden’ scheme; a personalised guided tour is a small luxury that that makes a big difference. We took a spin with our own warden around the RSPB’s Strumpshaw reserve before boarding and I’m still fascinated by the Australian black swans. Though born in this country, they are still on Aussie time and lay their eggs in our winter, their summer. You can take the bird out of Australia, but you can’t take Australia out of the bird.
Of course we bird-watch deckside too. We see curlews, their white tails glittering over the water, and red shanks, so noisy they’re known as the sentinel of the marshes. We also spy a pair of Peregrine falcon, which fall dramatically like stones at 150mph tucking their wings in, to catch prey. We admire sky diving Marsh Harriers. They pair up, locking talons, and tumble together. Afterwards, if they like each other, they set about building a nest. Just like we do. It’s a restful and joyful feeling, to be enjoying nature up-close and un-inhibited.
We finish our trip at the Waveney River Centre, a complete family holiday base with a heated pool, glamping pods that look like upturned boat hulls, and, endearingly, framed paintings on the restaurant walls by the owner’s Mum.
I feel rested and energised, and privileged to have been immersed in spectacular, calming, beautiful un-spoilt nature. This is luxury, not in the five star, tiny chocolates on your pillow way, but in the much rarer and elusive peace and tranquillity way.
Oh, and I’m proud (and surprised) to say that our boat didn’t lose one square inch, let alone a foot.
Order your groceries from Stones Throw, a local delivery company, and a hamper packed with locally sourced goodies for breakfast, lunch, and aperitifs will be waiting dockside for you (stonesthrow.co.uk)
Buy a ‘charging card’ for a few quid so you can charge your boat’s electricity at an overnight mooring (deets here).
Drive on the right.
Time your visit to enjoy the Outdoors Festival 3rd-18th May (outdoorsfestival.co.uk). There are a hundred events planned, many in areas not normally open to the public. Choose from canoeing, sailing, rowing, guided boat trips, visits to nature reserves, walking, cycling, fishing and boatwatching. Or lying on the grass and admiring everyone else canoeing, sailing, rowing….
For all things Norfolk: visitnorfolk.co.uk
The Silver Elegance, one of the Hoseason’s fleet (hoseasons.co.uk or 0844 847 1100) on the Broads sleeps six and costs from £705 for a short break.
RSPB Rent-a-Warden scheme, from £55 pp (www.rspb.org.uk)