We do like messing about on the rivers

Berney Arms Windmill is one of many idyllic sights to take in along Norfolk's waterways. IMAGE: Chri

Berney Arms Windmill is one of many idyllic sights to take in along Norfolk's waterways. IMAGE: Christopher Hill - Credit: Archant

Puttering up the Norfolk Broads on a sunny bank holiday weekend can be like a waterlogged version of Oxford Street.

Boats at Horsey Mere. IMAGE: Christopher Hill

Boats at Horsey Mere. IMAGE: Christopher Hill - Credit: Archant

Day boats and pleasure cruisers packed with Prosecco swilling holidaymakers queue up along the busier stretches like the buses on London’s busiest shopping street.

But then you turn a corner and find yourself peacefully sailing past long stretches of riverbank with only the odd windmill or gaggle of ducks for company.

I’ve holidayed around the Broads since I was a toddler and it’s always been fun to people watch on East Anglia’s 125 mile long network of rivers, lakes and canals.

Thanks to Broads Escapes, you can do so from your terrace while the world chugs past you at the regulation 5 knots.

Turf Fen windmill at sunset on the River Ant, Norfolk Broads

Turf Fen windmill at sunset on the River Ant, Norfolk Broads - Credit: Archant

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They offer Broads-side rental properties, whether it be a windmill near the popular village of Horning, or like us a clapboard-style cottage at Herbert Woods boatyard in Potter Heigham.

Swift was a spacious bungalow with a sun-warmed deck right on the water, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room and well equipped kitchen.

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There’s a supermarket five miles away in Stalham, but if you can’t be bothered to cook, there are cafes and fish and chip shops a short walk over the gangway into town.

The children loved exploring the boatyard on our first evening and it was lovely to wake up and have a morning coffee on the deck as the boats bobbed in the water.

Hunter boats

Hunter boats - Credit: Archant

It’s also handy to strike out for a day on the Broads and as luck would have it Herbert woods is one of Norfolk’s best known yards, popular for day and pleasure boat hire.

When we picked up the keys to our dayboat we found we had been upgraded to a large and swanky pleasure cruiser.

We were soon perched on the top deck studying a map of the Broads before deciding to head towards Wroxham.

Turn left out of the boatyard and you can cruise to Hickling Broad which is often cited as everyone’s favourite - it’s among the largest yet most peaceful because larger boats cannot make it under the bridge and is a stunning haven for wildlife.

But with our larger boat we turned right, past the medieval ruins of St Benet’s Abbey, and an array of geese. At Ludham we disembarked at the small boatyard to buy lollies, only to see an entrepreurial floating ice cream van whiz past us.

We moored up again at Salhouse Broad where the children paddled and jumped noisily off the boat, and we allowed ourselves a glass of fizz on what had turned out to be a hot day.

Turning for home, we stopped off at the nature reserve at Ranworth Broad where you can visit the pretty church and village, enjoy a meal at the pub, or walk across the duckboards to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation centre and do a spot of birdwatching from the upstairs eerie.

As the sun began to dip, we headed onwards for Potter Heigham after a near perfect and memorable day on the water.

The next morning, after reluctantly turning in our keys to Swift, a short drive brought us past Horsey windpump (one of the Broads’ most photographed mills), to the sandy car park at Horsey gap.

A short walk over the dunes and you overlook a beautiful stretch of beach – where every winter, grey seals come ashore to have their pups.

By May, the mothers were still there with their growing offspring, several basking on the sand in the early morning sun as we crept quietly down towards them. It was a rare treat to see them lollop into the water and my 10-year-old spent the next two hours on the rocks watching them swim just metres away with a smile of wonder and delight on his face.

Our weekend away had been a magical mix of gorgeous weather, relaxation and the chance to get up close to wildlife that Londoners can only dream of. I am sure we will be back.

Bridget Galton stayed at Swift Cottage courtesy of Broads Escapes. Prices from £445. broadsescapes.co.uk Tel: 01692 661277.

Bookings for boat hire from herbertwoods.co.uk or call 08001444472.

For further details of visiting the Broads go to visitnorfolk.co.uk.

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