Boating in the Norfolk Broads

“How about a holiday in the Norfolk Broads?” Lina asked as we were having tea at our Westbury Court flat. She got the idea after watching a program about the Broads on TV. We could rent a cottage facing the waterfront or rent a self-drive boat, she went on excitedly.

Samad, with his great sense of adventure, jumped at the idea of hiring a self-drive boat. That would be the best way to explore the countryside and the broads, rivers and lakes, he said.

Ramona and Raphil would be thrilled to go boating, said Rahman, Lina’s husband, of their young children.

I had arrived in London a few months earlier to join my husband. Being a landlubber, the idea of living in a boat, even for a few days, didn’t immediately appeal to me. But how could I disappoint the others? Besides, I remembered the association of the Broads with Charles Dickens. Didn’t he write, “David Copperfield” there?

Shortly thereafter, we embarked on our holiday. A short train ride took us to the historic town of Norwich on the Wensum River, the administrative centre of Norfolk. We didn’t tarry to visit its many museums, castles, churches and outdoor markets or walk along its cobbled streets, but headed straight to the boat-hire place where we rented a well-appointed blue boat which could sleep all six of us.

We were shown how to use the controls. We learned the driving rules that would keep us safe. We were advised to always adhere to the speed limit enforced on all vessels to help reduce the waves from eroding the river banks. Amazingly, we didn’t need a driving license to skipper our boat!

Our boat turned out to be a comfortable, fully-furnished mini-apartment. It came complete with kitchen, table and sofa, bed-linen and blankets, crockery, cutlery, and pots and pans. The washrooms were aft. The sofa became a small double bed at night for Lina and Rahman. Samad and I slept in the back cabin while the children occupied two beds in the front of the boat.

We unpacked our things and stored them away in the cupboards provided. A place for everything and everything in its place, Samad was in the habit of reminding us. We were finally ready to set off to explore what has been described as Britain’s Magical Waterland.

We donned our life-jackets and went up to the deck and Samad, our first skipper, confidently started the engine, took hold of the steering wheel, and got us moving smoothly along the Wensum River.

The first thing that struck us was how beautiful and peaceful the whole landscape was. We had truly escaped the stress of our fast-paced London life and could relax while meandering along the unspoiled rivers, lakes and grazing marshes. We delighted in watching the birds and other wildlife, in the views of church towers and windmills, and pretty cottages and lodges along the river. Didn’t someone refer to the Broads as, “the breathing space for the cure of souls”?

What a unique sight is a boat in full sail gliding gracefully along the river. We saw cruisers and other boats similar to ours, with contented-looking people who smiled and waved at us. There were sunbathers who lay inert on their boats, and double-decker passenger trip-boats filled with happy tourists.

We had to stop and buy groceries. And do our laundry. Mooring the boat was initially tricky. You were required to jump ashore and pull the boat in, using the thick ropes provided, to anchor it. After a few tries both Samad and Rahman were able to do it like practiced seamen. Many a night, after we returned to London, Samad would jump out of bed at night, run to the corner of our bed, and start “pulling the boat in”, much to my amusement.

And so we passed our days, happily traversing the network of rivers and lakes, cooking and eating, making quiet conversation or playing with the children. We took them for walks in the countryside where we admired the many colourful wild flowers and plants, bright marsh orchids, glamorous butterflies and dragon flies. Evenings would find us on deck watching the sun go down.

We eventually made it to Great Yarmourh, a big coastal town on the river Yare, 20 miles from Norwich. Charles Dickens used Yarmouth as his key location when writing, “David Copperfield”.There I imagined could hear the two fishermen in his book, Ham and Daniel Peggoty, speaking in their Norfolk accent.

The Norfolk Broads have attracted all kinds – bird-watchers, writers, artists, anglers, ramblers, walkers and cyclists. We consider ourselves fortunate indeed to have been among those who’ve been able to enjoyed its stunning landscapes and many natural wonders.

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