When it comes to local produce the Broads has some unusual items, from traditional wooden yachts to beautiful contemporary jewellery inspired by its wildlife.
Here we have a brief glimpse of just some of the activities in the Broads and what they produce: boatbuilding, reed and sedge growing, farming, art and craft, and food and drink. There are many different examples of all these and more throughout the Broads, so this is just a small selection to get you started. Organisations mentioned and others as well will be keen to help you enjoy all things made in the Broads.
Boats of all kinds have been made in the Broads for hundreds if not thousands of years. In 2013 the remains of a medieval boat were found hidden in the mud below the bed of the River Chet. The boat is being produced in replica by the International Boatbuilding Training College at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft as part of the Water, Mills and Marshes Heritage Lottery Fund project. The college is one of the organisations developing traditional skills – like many other traditional products and crops boats in particular have helped shape the economy and way of life in the Broads and continue to do so.
The Norfolk Wherry Trust, Wherry Yacht Charter and Hunters’ Yard also play a key part in keeping the boating heritage of the Broads alive and sailing. Time and Tide Museum at Great Yarmouth and the Museum of the Broads at Stalham will tell you all about the boating and maritime history of the area. You can even have a wooden canoe, ‘made for the Broads’, by a small company in North Norfolk, and sail-making is another part of the boating history of the Broads which is still flourishing today. Of course there are boatyards building in more contemporary materials too, providing boats for use on the Broads and all over the world. The Broads has also been at the forefront of developments in hull design and electric boats, and use of solar power with Ra, which offers boat trips at Whitlingham.
Together they make thatch. Reed is harvested in the winter and is much in demand by local thatchers. The Broads Authority works closely with independent, local cutters who harvest the crop grown at How Hill. If you’re visiting you might see reed and sedge stacked up on the staithe waiting to be collected, having been brought there from the marshes on the other side of the River Ant by boat. Sedge is harvested in the summer, and being a flexible plant, it’s used to bend over to make the ridge of a thatched roof. Harvesting the fens for reed and sedge is important for maintaining the fen habitats, so conservation and commerce go hand in hand, and using locally produced materials as opposed to imported ones is more sustainable too. Thatch is in demand for buildings in contemporary styles as well as for more traditional buildings and re-thatching. And many Broads churches are thatched.
At the Environmental Study Centre for the Broads at How Hill, a favourite activity with school groups is learning how to make a piece of thatched roof – which includes throwing a bucket of cold water over the thatch with one of the class standing under the roof to test how watertight it is. They usually keep quite dry!
Cattle grazing on the Broads marshes are part of the traditional landscape and part of the traditional farming of the Broads. Centuries ago parts of the Broads were first drained by wind powered drainage mills to make the land dry enough for keeping cattle. Most of the grazing marshes of today had been drained by the 18th century and they were still grazed predominantly by cattle. Drainage has evolved since then, through steam and diesel, with electric pumps used today, but Broads beef is still an excellent product, much in demand.
The Broads Authority works closely with farmers, for example through the Broadland Catchment Partnership, an association of many organisations and people working to improve the water environment within and around the Broads. Appropriate farming practices are a key part of this. The Broads grazing marshes represent an outstanding wildlife resource, in particular for wetland birds, aquatic plants and invertebrates within the extensive dyke systems. Many local markets and butchers will be happy to supply you with Broads beef.
In the early 19th century, the Norwich School of Artists was formed. These artists were greatly influenced by landscape painters such as Turner and Constable. See their works at the museums in Norwich and Great Yarmouth and see the Broads landscapes which inspired them. The work of early photographers also did much to promote the Broads and encourage its first holiday-makers. Look out too for the 20th-century landscape paintings of Edward Seago.
Now, the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival incorporates Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios, when artists and craftspeople welcome the public into their studios free of charge. Many crafts and materials are represented, including wood, glass, silver and gold, ceramics, textiles and many others. There are also art trails, with several in the Broads, to help you plan your itinerary around groups of studios and find other local attractions to visit. Artists will be happy to talk to you about their work if you wish, and sometimes there are special events and activities. For art and craft in the Waveney valley, look out for the annual Suffolk Open Studios. And why not have a go yourself? There are many events to help you, and each year an outdoor painting festival takes place – A Brush with the Broads.
The Broads Quality Charter presents some of the best places for eating out in the Broads. There are also several local breweries to look out for, including Woodforde’s at the village of Woodbastwick, which brewed a 25th anniversary ale for the Broads Authority – Flagondry. Some of the more recently introduced Broads products include wine, rapeseed oil and charcuterie made with pork and beef from East Anglian pigs and cattle. At the Norwich end of the Broads is a company synonymous with this part of Norfolk, Colman’s, of mustard fame, while at the Great Yarmouth end of the Broads you’ll find events associated with fishing for the silver darlings as herring were known locally.
Farmers’ markets and food events are an important part of local life. Here are some contacts below to get you started. And here’s another reason to visit the Broads National Park information centres – they all stock delicious locally made ice cream, while the Barn Café at Whitlingham and the How Hill Trust’s tea room offer home-made scones and cakes.
www.farma.org.uk – farmers’ markets
www.trulylocalcic.co.uk – a ‘not for profit’ social enterprise which only sources produce from within a 35-mile radius of the Stalham shop
For more details of places to visit go to www.enjoythebroads.com