The Norfolk Broads consist of over 200 miles of navigable rivers, lakes and man-made waterways. Its formation was long thought to be the result of glacial activity during the ice age. However, it has since been discovered that the landscape was actually formed by medieval excavations for peat and turf.
Farming and fishing dominated the Norfolk Broads during the 16th century with the waterways playing an integral role in the transportation of goods. Drainage windmills were introduced to encourage cattle grazing and the local economy flourished, as marshmen tended the land and maintained the water levels and dykes. During the 19th century the introduction of the railways heralded a boom in tourism as trains brought city dwellers to The Broads who were keen on escaping the harshness of city life. Traditionally used for trade, Wherrys became the most popular mode of travel on the waterways and they were soon built for pleasure rather than trade. But the Second World War brought about an agricultural revival as all the available was used for the war effort. This renaissance in Norfolk’s farming economy would last through to the 50’s and 60’s as Government funding was made available for new tools and equipment.
It became clear during the 1970s that measures needed to be taken in order to protect Norfolk’s heritage – the ravages of the weather and the onslaught of tourists was beginning to take its toll. As a result over 5000 buildings became listed and large swathes of land protected. The Norfolk Broads is now the largest protected wetland in the United Kingdom. Rare insect species such as the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly thrive, while birds such as the Kingfisher and Greylag attract birdwatchers from far and wide. The natural splendour of the region is made more accessible by paths such as the Hoveton Great Broad Trail. Nature reserves like the Wildlife Centre at Ranworth Broad vividly exhibit the rich variety of wildlife that inhabits the area.
The waterways that criss-cross East Anglia still remain very popular amongst pleasure-seekers and water-sports enthusiasts. Altogether there are 30 Broads, threaded together by the River Bure and its tributaries. Other rivers such as the Wensey and Waveny offer some attractive, picturesque routes through the countryside and feed into Breydon Water – for long stretches, these waterways are actually set below the level of the surrounding countryside.
Towns such as Wroxham and Beccles seem to epitomise the character of the region. The old town of Beccles for example is a notable attraction and is dominated by a 97ft bell tower that dates back to the 14th century. The busy resort town of Great Yarmouth is a particularly popular destination with tourists, its piers and fairgrounds contrasting sharply with the wooded tranquility of nearby Horning.
The combination of natural beauty and human ingenuity make the Norfolk Broads one of the most intriguing, enchanting regions in the United Kingdom. Despite its popularity with tourists, people dedicated to the preservation of this wonderful region ensure that the influx of visitors does not have a detrimental effect on the natural surroundings and as a result Norfolk, like some of the best holiday regions, has something to offer everyone.