Expand your horizons and head up to East Anglia’s national park, the Norfolk Broads. Words: JURIS GRANEY
Take a look at a map of England and you’ll notice there’s a big bump on the east coast. It’s East Anglia, home to Britain’s largest protected wetland, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads; England’s largest tidal estuary, The Wash; and miles of vast, uncluttered beaches. Basically, if you want some fun on the water then this is the place to be.
Add the countryside that inspired the landscape painter John Constable, the studious city of Cambridge and cute villages with tiny streets, and you’ve got a perfect slice on England. The best part, however, is that it’s all within a couple of hours of London.
An hour’s train ride from London, Cambridge is famous for its university – the most respected in the country, alongside rival Oxford. There’s plenty to see in the city associated with its elite alumni – The Eagle pub where James Watson and Francis Crick announced their theory of DNA and King’s College where Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie were educated, for starters. If all this makes you feel like an underachiever, then console yourself in the city’s chic bars, stylish boutiques and bustling markets.
In keeping with the watery nature of East Anglia, the River Cam is where all the action is. You can hire a punt, or take a punt tour with Scudamores and learn more about the history of the city and Cambridge University from one of the helpful guides.
Be careful while you’re visiting – the city is so flat everyone has bikes and you have a very good chance of being run over.
A mere 34km from Cambridge, the quaint village of Ely is renowned both for its cathedral and tea. Yep, that’s right, this year’s teahouse of Britain, Peacocks Tearoom, is located down along the river and well worth a visit. With more than 50 varieties of tea, there is something special for everyone. The fact that one of the owners, George Peacock, looks awfully like English actor Bill Nighy is a nice coincidence.
Moving closer to the North Sea, you quickly notice the plethora of B&Bs scattered throughout the countryside. They’re a dime a dozen so if you need a place to crash, simply open your eyes and you can find a bed for the night.
Think of the longest widest beach you have ever seen and then times it by 10 – welcome to Holkham Beach. If you feel like taking a dip at low tide you’d better take a packed lunch as the distance between the start of the beach and water feels like a marathon. Once you get down there, however, it’s worth it because you can have your own large slab of sand all to yourself.
There’s a nudist section on the western side of the beach. You have been warned.
No, we’re not talking about the local women – the Norfolk Broads are actually large expanses of water. The low-lying regions of marshes are connected by small canals and creeks that are perfect for sailing. There’s no better way to spend a lazy day than by kicking back in your own sailing boat with a bottle of wine and a few nibbles while navigating the vast tributaries around the region.
If you’re not nautically savvy you can always hire punts and other easy-to-manage vessels for the day or for longer. The perfect place to start your journey is Hunter’s Yard at Wroxham. Keep an eye out for the Chinese water deer.
To complete the journey around the area, why not check out the attractive seaside village of Southwold? Here, depending on the time of year, you can spot seals on the beach, rabbits on the headlands and maybe even some deer. While in Southwold, have a crack at the Coastal Voyager, a high speed jet boat that takes you out off the coast to spy seal colonies and learn a bit of shipwreck history.
• Juris Graney travelled to the East Anglia with the Waterways of the East of England (www.visiteastofengland.com)