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East of England The Norfolk Broads and a cruise from Horning

The Norfolk Broads is a man made area of flat boggy marsh with rives and small lakes. There are 63 Broads or small lakes linked together by seven rivers that make up the 125 miles of lock free navigable waterways.


In the C12th the population of east Norfolk was growing rapidly and the area was the most densely populated in Britain. Timber and fuel supplies were exhausted as much of the woodland areas were cleared and a new source of fuel was needed. Peat supplied this and the area was dug extensively leaving massive holes where peat had been removed.

Peat extraction was a prosperous industry and provided fuel for both individual families and manors, with a greater proportion being sold. Digging took place throughout all the east Norfolk settlements until the C14th Century, when rising sea levels resulted in flooding of the workings. Peat extraction was no longer possible and the area was left to flood, resulting in the typical Broads landscape of today, with its reedbeds, grazing marshes and wet woodland.


Overland movement around the area was difficult so channels were dug linking rivers and broads. By the C16th there were 125miles of navigable waterways providing essential channels for communication and commerce.


The main means of transport was the Norfolk Wherry, a large-sailed, shallow-draught vessels unique to the Norfolk Broads which were able to transport up to 25 ton new of cargo. The design evolved to make best use of the local conditions with shallow draught to allow access far upstream and a finely counterbalanced mast to allow passage under bridges with minimal effort.

The arrival of the railways in the mid 1800s opened up the area and it rapidly became popular as a yachting centre with local boatyards hiring vessels to visitors. They are still as popular today.

For conservation reasons there is a strict speed limit enforced on all vessels of 6mph reduced to 3mph through settlements. This is intended to protect the riverbanks and wildlife living in them. Speed limits are enforced by the Broads Rangers who regularly patrol the area.


The deepest waters are up to eight feet deep but many are a lot shallower. Dredging is a regular activity. Not only does it maintain and adequate depth for boaters, it also helps improve water quality by removing sediment and algal growth. Most of this is done using large boats and cranes
but we spotted this smaller vessel moored up near Horning.


The Norfolk Broads are also renowned for their wildlife. Different species of duck as well as grebes and herons are regularly seen.



There is now a healthy Marsh Harrier population, increasing from a single breeding pair in the 1970s. They can regularly be seen soaring in the sky with their five feet wingspan

Bittern numbers are also increasing and their loud booms can be heard in spring.

Otters were reintroduced in the 1990s after becoming extinct twenty years earlier.

This is the only place where the rare swallowtail butterfly can be found.

As well as large areas of reed beds which are cut in the autumn to proved thatch for local houses, there are over 1000 different plants. From the water, the most commonly spotted are purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony and white waterlilies.

It is now a National Park.


As well as privately owned or hire boats, several local companies also run cruises on the Broads.

more information

A Cruise on the Norfolk Broads on Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort is a paddle steamer built in 1977 as a floating pub, until it was realised it would be more profitable to use it to run cruises.


Based at Horning, the 90minute cruise follows the River Bure downstream to Ranworth Broad, turning round at Ranworth village. There is a commentary on the outward leg.


It began dull with a shower of rain but the sun soon came out. To make things simpler I’ve combined the pictures of the outward and return trip, beginning at Horning and ending at Ranworth.

The Southern Comfort mooring is by the Swan Inn, which features in two of Arthur Ransom's children's books - 'Coot Club' and 'The Big Six’.



This is a popular centre with many boats moored up or on the river.


The village stretch out along the river for about a mile with many large and expensive houses, many with their own boat shed and mooring.





On the opposite bank are moorings for houseboats. When these change hands, the cost of the mooring is often many times the actual cost of the boat.



A foot ferry still runs across the river from the Ferry Inn. It would take half a day to walk.


Just beyond is the private landing stage used by the congregation of St Benedict’s Church set back from the river. Next to it is the Old Rectory.
(I wasn’t quick enough to take a photograph, although the church tower can be seen abover the marshes later on the cruise.)


A bit further , water was removed from the river to provide water for Great Yarmouth. The water outlet can be seen above the bank. The now disused brick pumping station can be seen among the trees.



Once the houses are left behind, the river passes through marshland on either side with reed beds and smaller area of open water.




The cruise swings to the right into Ranworth Dam.


This goes past the entrance to Ranworth Broad which is now a nature reserve with a wildlife centre.


Ranworth village is on Malthouse Broad which is shallow and the turn round point for cruises. The C14th flint church is known as the Cathedral of the Broads.



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