Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Norfolk Broads - in Winter

Fans of the Odanglesex Chronicles: I expect the next post here will be from Odanglesex. In the meantime, I'm describing another favourite place.

For the non-Brits, some explanation is probably needed - even that the term is not sexist.

The Norfolk Broads are a large area of marsh, fen, river, lake and rough grazing in the south and east of Norfolk in eastern England. They start just outside the city of Norwich (or Narj in local pronunciation) and extend almost to the coast. The "Broads" are a series of lakes - for example, Hickling Broad. It used to be widely believed that these were bits of sea that had been cut off and that the area up to Roman times featured sea channels and islands. By the middle ages we had preserved maps good enough to show no such complex of channels and islands. However, archaeological investigation showed the Broads were steep-sided and it became clear that they were the result of human activity - large-scale cutting of peat leading to depressions which flooded. The marshes, though, are ancient.

In summer the Broads and the river Yare are crowded with pleasure-boats and many other aspects of tourism and day-tripping. This doesn't prevent the area having outstanding fauna and flora characteristic of reedbeds and other marshy habitats, though these do rather concentrate in the nature reserves. In winter, the area is largely left to the locals, except for birdwatchers visiting a few well-known reserves.

I visited the day before the snow came. Even so, much of the damp fields was frosted and the normal green vistas were green and white. I came up by train and got off at a large village (or small town) called Cantley, walking along the banks of the River Yare almost to the start of the broad estuary known as Breydon Water before returning as far as the large village of Reedham to get the train again. On the way I found an excellent, friendly, traditional riverside pub, the Reedham Ferry. The land round about is almost entirely flat and the evidence of human activity, other than animals grazing and aged windmills, is very sparse - so in midwinter, it was a scene of vast, bleak, beautiful expanses. Thousands of wintering geese flew over or sounded harsh alarms from the fields. A Woodcock exploded from reeds about three feet from me. For the birders, I saw thousands of Pinkfeet, some Bean Geese, about 25 Bewick's Swans (from a railway bridge with almost the last use of the optics), various shore waders as I approached Breydon Water, several Marsh Harriers, plenty of Bearded Tits and of course that superb Woodcock.

Beyond that, I had a sense of freedom, of space and of humanity in harmony with nature. It's much warmer in summer and the profusion of wildlife is marvellous, but the magic is lost.


  1. Replies
    1. Not from me personally, James, and I think there's something to be said for trying to convey a picture of a place without photos or other visual aids. However, sometime maybe I'll take one or two from the internet.

      The area is at the longer end of a reasonable out-and-back day journey for me, so I don't have photos from previous visits.