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A bit of Broads History

Great Yarmouth is uniquely located where the sea meets the Broads and where the Suffolk Broads merge into the Norfolk Broads. Now a National Park, it was originally thought that the Broads were a result of glacial activity during the ice age, however it has since been discovered that this famous landscape is in fact a man-made creation, dug out by hand in the 12th century.

It's fascinating how man's need for energy prompts discovery and how this repeats itself over time. In the 12th century, as timber and other fuel supplies were becoming scarce, man turned to peat as a fuel source. Peat digging, known as 'turbary' became a prosperous industry in Norfolk, where it is estimated that more than 900 million cubic feet for peat was extracted and used to provide fuel for Norfolk's inhabitants.

Digging took place throughout the eastern areas of Norfolk and Suffolk until the 14th century. Huge numbers of drainage mills were introduced to encourage cattle grazing and the local economy flourished as marshmen tended the land and maintained the water levels and dykes. However nature finally overcame man, and the huge straight-edged holes that had been dug gradually began to fill with water as sea levels rose. At that time, flooding was a regular occurence and peat extraction became dangerously impossible. And slowly, as the peat extraction channels filled with water, so the Broads were created.

In the first instance, the 200km of navigable Broads and connecting rivers were used as essential channels for communication and commerce throughout the 16th century. At this point, neighbouring Norwich was the second largest city in England after London and its tradable goods of wool, weaving and agricultural produce were exported throughout the world from the port of Great Yarmouth. The waterways were also used to transport coal, bricks, timber and tiles, often via Wherry, a striking boat with a single black sail, or by Keel, slightly smaller square-sailed craft.

During the 19th century the introduction of the railways heralded a boom in tourism as trains brought city dwellers to the Broads for boating holidays on these peculiar waterways. Traditional Norfolk Wherries evolved into Pleasure Wherry boats for holidays on the Broads and eventually became Wherry Yachts used for tourism purposes only.

By the 20th century it was generally assumed that the Broads were naturally occuring, but in the 1950s Dr Joyce Lambert's research revealed that the sides of the Broads were vertical and not gently sloping as would be expected of a naturally formed lake. Together with the historical evidence regarding peat being used for fuel, the conclusion had to be drawn that the Broads were not a natural phenomenon after all.

Today the Broads are a National Park, a fascinating combination of Broads, rivers and dykes famous for outstanding boating, with over 125 miles of navigable waterways, home to a host of plants, animals, insects and birds and where flapping sails can be spotted above hedgerows as you travel around the county.

Unique to Great Yarmouth are the Trinity Broads, a series of five land-locked Broads situated to the north-west of Caister-on-Sea which cover an area of 0.64sq m (1.7km2) around the villages of Filby, Rollesby and Ormesby. A shallow, un-navigable tributary of the River Bure called Muck Fleet is their only link to the main river system, so they remain virtually undisturbed and were designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1998. No motor boats are allowed onto the Trinity Broads, although rowing boats and dinghies are available for hire. Great views of the Trinity Broads and al fresco dining are on offer at The Waterside, The Boathouse and Filby Bridge Restaurant.

The Broads have been a holiday destination since the late 19th century, and today the Broads National Park is the perfect location for messing about on the river, with options to hire day boats at Martham or St. Olaves, go canoeing, hire stand-up paddle boards or rowing boats and get out on the water.

Boating on the Broads

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