Broads. Words & pictures by Nick Small.
In my mind, the Norfolk Broads always conjured up images of floating fibreglass caravans, broads cruisers piloted by clueless urban helmsmen or pissed up east end party types fuelled by crates of pilsner. This is despite, or maybe because of, the year I once spent living and working in Norwich.
I was wrong. Sure, these are spectacles that you may well happen upon should you find yourself meandering the 200km of waterways that make up the Broads….especially on the main drags. Get away from those though, for instance on the waters between Martham and Hickling, and find yourself in an enchanting landscape of big skies, softly undulating reeds, booming bitterns and swallowtail butterflies.
My snobbery was punctured at the first glimpse of my first ever marsh harrier, which made me giddy…as it should after nigh on half a century of bird watching, barren in the marsh harrier department. I wasn’t to know that it would be the first of approximately thirty sightings that would render me blasé about these magnificent raptors come the end of the day.
Mind, at the end of this particular day, spent filming in quiet Broads backwaters, mugging off the great crested grebe and common tern for pretty pictures without a care for their image rights, I have more to occupy my mind. With a boat kindly loaned to us by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, we make our way to their 60 foot tower in the midst of an oak plantation. From there we can photograph the sunset.
As the big orb falls through the vast sky to the horizontal, it lights up the miles of reeds: billions upon billions of individual plants, basking as one homogenous textile in the amber glow. With trees silhouetted against the skyline and the pale sky playing upon the meandering waters, it is like being in a distant, exotic land… the Serengeti. Even the white lodge hints at some far off colonial outpost.
But it’s not Africa. It’s Hickling Broad of the Norfolk Broads, more British than Buck House or Buckfast. Just C12th peat excavations flooded by the rising seas and reclaimed by Mama Nature. Get yourself there.