Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Boards on the Broads

Broads boards

Getting up early for my B&B breakfast in Wroxham, Norfolk, had its advantages: I found myself, shortly after 9 am, walking alone along a frosty boardwalk through a patch of reedy fens in the Norfolk Broads. The rising sun, while providing virtually no warmth, did light the scene beautifully. No other hardy souls were out, and the visitors’ centre was closed for the winter. But the wild fowl who winter over in this secluded nook of the Broads were splashing about happily. 

Reedy fens.

Visitors' centre (closed)
Now, some of you may be wondering just what exactly the ‘Norfolk Broads’ is all about. I know I was. The Broads are waterways which wend through the eastern bit of Norfolk. When the waterways broaden, as it were, to form lakes, they are given names. My boardwalk was at Ranworth Broad. The Broads cover about 200 square kilometres, have about 300 kilometres of waterways, seven rivers and 63 Broads.

Waterfowl, unbothered by visitors.

Wroxford is the town from which many tour boats and pleasure craft head out - but not in winter. Somewhat weirdly, the Broads are actually man-made, the result of peat-digging by ancient Anglo Saxon people. A century or two ago, they were important transportation routes, and the small vessels which plied up and down the Broads were called “wherries”, and their sailors “wherrymen”. I discovered - tourist pamphlets in B&Bs have their uses - that there is a long walk across Norfolk called 'The Wherryman's Way'; and if you don’t want to walk the whole thing (though I wouldn’t mind doing that one day), there are also short circular walks along the route.

15th century church (closed)

Thus informed, I climbed back in the hire car and drove to the village of Loddon. I paused to fortify myself with a cup of tea in the local tea rooms, and then had then to tear myself away from the delight of eavesdropping on the locals having their teas. Accomplishing this with some effort, I set out with my pamphlet (yes, I filched it) to find one of Loddon’s walks. I passed through an extensive churchyard and behind a very large and impressive church (15th century - closed). The villages in Norfolk seem to be especially endowed with imposing churches, a legacy of the rich, and clearly pious, wool merchants of past years. There I found it - a lovely country path clearly marked with the ‘Wherryman’s Way’ sign. 

Ah! The Way!

A brief stroll took me through the village, along a few lanes and out alongside the broad Broad. If you’ll forgive the pun. All this was very pleasant, but the next bit looked a trifle challenging, at least for someone inappropriately shod for squelching across what turned out to be a marsh. Still, undaunted, I picked my way carefully along the edges of the marsh, and was rewarded with an up-close-and-personal experience with a lot of water birds. Included amongst these were a couple of wild swans. Have you even been close to a swan taking to the air? My past swan experiences involved demure white beauties sailing regally past. Let me tell you, when they flap those huge wings and take to the air, there is a loud beating sound rather like the four horsemen of the apocalypse retreating hurriedly.

Wintery marshes at Loddon.
Recovering from this excitement, I finished my circuit walk and wound up back in the churchyard. I consulted the brochure, deciding between looking for a windmill on the Broads (nope: closed for the winter); driving to the port of Greater Yarmouth to look at historic row houses (nope: closed for the winter); or seeking out the Eastern-most point of England. Yes - surely that would still be open. 

Morning frost on the boardwalk.

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