Watersports – here’s how to enjoy Norfolk’s most distinctive feature
Surrounded on 3 sides by the sea, 90 miles of coastline and 125 miles of waterways, from city channels to secret river valleys...Norfolk's defined by water. Here's how to get out and enjoy it.
It’s a region where local author Raffaella Barker says, ‘more than 50% of the neighbours are fish’. There’s even talk of Norfolk babies being born web-footed. Outsiders think this is a joke. Whereas locals know all Nor-folk are part mermaid. Here’s how to get out and join in.
Get out on the sea! The SUP Shack was created by Lewis and Sam, local carpenters who grew up on the North Norfolk Coast. You’re in safe hands because not only has Lewis paddled from the UK to France, he’s one of the RNLI Sheringham lifeboat crew. Board hire starts from £15 an hour and if you want to go all out, book the Mammoth board, for up to 8 people, great for a good family/party mess around. More info here.
North Norfolk Paddleboards are where to go if you want to explore the creeks and salt marshes of this stunning coastline, with guided tours from Burnham Overy Staithe, Wells-next-the-Sea and Brancaster Staithe. A dawn or sunset paddle is surely the most magical way to be at one with nature and discover the one of the world’s most unique, ever-shifting landscapes.
Norfolk Paddleboards teach you everything you need to find your peace on the waters of the city. Good for body and soul – and social too. We love an Après Sup at The Red Lion Bishopsgate – on the calm Wensum. And at The Rivergarden after exploring the narrow channels of the Yare at Thorpe St Andrew. All kinds of hire options, events and lessons so check out the details here.
UP THE CREEK
Once Britain was part of continental Europe, attached by marshy ground where nomadic people hunted and foraged. The Coastal Exploration Company are band of wilderness sailors who take visitors to the ancient crossing places of the north Norfolk coast in vintage whelk, crab and mussel boats. If you want your soul soothed and renewed by the otherworldly beauty of England’s fraying edges, these are your people. Journeys start at £385 and there are bespoke possibilities too. Some kind of wonderful. Learn more here.
Norfolk is famous for its Common and Grey Seal colonies – a truly magnificent sight Yet for all their baby-faced appeal, seals are wild animals, protective of their young and tragically vulnerable when people get too close. Selfies are most definitely not OK. So we suggest supporting the generations of Norfolk families who make a living from taking visitors on boat trips to see the seals at peace in their natural environment.
Or jump aboard the famed amphibious Wash Monsters with Captain Willie whose family have sailed our from Hunstanton for 90 years. Kids will love the fun seal safaris (£16 per person) or coastal tour (£8 per person), learning about local history and enthralling maritime legends.
BOATING ON THE BROADS
With 125 miles of waterways, unique scenery, diverse wildlife and some of the UK’s most glorious weather, a boating holiday in the Broads National Park is a fab way to escape life’s stresses. From day boats to cruisers, picnic boats and kayaks, Herbert Woods on the Broads at Potter Heigham have whole fleet. Just add sunshine and a Hello Sailor! G&T. Weekly rates begin at £449 with plenty of day boat options too. More info here.
Or try Broom Boats, part of the Brundall boating community for over a century. With a boat building heritage, the future focus is on clean energy and protecting the waterways for the benefit of wildlife and people. Day boat hire begins at £63.
Swallows and Amazons writer Arthur Ransome said most people in Norfolk have got at least one foot in the water. Sailing’s one of the most environmentally friendly ways to enjoy Norfolk’s enchanting waterland and Norfolk’s sailors are a relaxed bunch. The shifting creeks of Norfolk’s coast means it’s not the place for glam marinas and all that razzle dazzle. It’s an altogether more laid-back affair.
On the Broads where you’ll find traditional wooden yachts and modern sailing boats for hire plus lovely pubs for evening moorings. Or take to the high seas if Jack Sparrow’s more your kinda vibe.
Sailing tuition is available everywhere for juniors or adult novices and the calm Broads are a great place to learn. Here are a few to try:
Norfolk Broads Yacht Club on the banks of the beautiful Wroxham Broad loves all aspects of competitive racing as well as encouraging a more leisurely sail on Wednesday evenings followed by fish and chips from the Clubhouse. Yummo! Also offers great training for sailors over the age of 7.
Rollesby Broad Sailing Club is nicely tucked away from the rental boat crowds on Rollesby Broad, which isn’t accessible by boat from the rest of the broads network, making it a safe and quiet sailing environment, lovely for learning. With lots of dinghy classes for hire you don’t need your own boat to get out on the calm water. A year’s family membership is £90.
The Waveney and Oulton Broad Yacht Club is the only Broadland Club to offer racing 52 weeks a year. Family membership is £150 a year.
Or sail the high seas at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Sailing Club. It’s small, informal club with some of the best sea sailing in Norfolk. And evening sails on Sundays & Thursdays throughout the summer.
Wells Sailing Club is a welcoming club founded in the saloon bar of a pub in 1929. Young members are actively encouraged to get out on the sea for racing, pleasure sailing in dinghies or yachts, canoeing and loads of other water-based activities.
If your family’s all about high speed fun and thrills, you need Adventure Watersports Norfolk at Hunstanton. Try your hand at paddleboarding, windsurfing or kayaking or experience the thrill of zooming through the waves on a Sea-Doo Fish Pro jet ski.
PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE
A world away from the big pleasure boats that jostle for space in the hotspots, there are vast areas of the Broads completely inaccessible to motor boats. Shallow water, wildlife havens and secret backwaters. You can always find a peaceful retreat by Canoe.
If you and your children love bushcraft, camping, foraging and otter spotting, you need The Canoe Man. There are currently 7 launch venues and so many fantastic ideas for unique days out you’ll be spoilt for choice. Find out more here.
Compliments aside, we’re no experts on fishing for stuff. But if you fancy seeing things from a new angle, have a chat with Harris Sportsmail in North Walsham. They have all kinds of kit for coarse and fly fishing and a whole lot of info about river locations. Nice tackle too.
Between June and March, fish for bream, pike and carp in beautiful surroundings on the serene lake at Blickling Estate. Fab for all ages and abilities. Day tickets are £7 and season tickets available as well. Info here.
Sea fishing for mackerel, bass and tope (small sharks) can be found in Brancaster Bay, with Norfolk Fishing Trips. Beginners very welcome on their little red boat the Chloe-L. From £35 for a 3 hour trip. And family-run BJR Marine runs 3-hour Mackerel sea fishing trips on the Whitby Crest, leaving from Wells harbour. At £35 per head it’s an ideal intro for sea fishing novices and families with children who want to give it a go. Rods etc provided if you need.
Off the Hook can also be chartered from Wells (also starting at £35 per head), heading out into the Wash where, if the tide’s right, you’ll head home as the sun sets into the sea. Spectacular.
ALL THAT JAZZ
The Mississippi? Meh. We have the Bure. And tonnes of Southern Comfort. Make mine a double. As in a double-deck paddle boat purpose built for the Broads. There are public trips and jazz nights, but we reckon private hire for 100 sounds like the party we all need right now.
Runs regular trips from the beautiful village of Horning, along the River Bure through the village and out to Ranworth Broad and back, passing lovely old thatched houses, windmills and Norfolk reed beds. Granny will love it anyway. Especially when served with lemonade.
NAUTI BUT NICE
After a day on the water I recommend a sassy splash of Hello Sailor! Gin and tonic. Excellent with a circle of pink grapefruit and a sprig of aromatic rosemary while sharing yarns with laughing fellow rovers. Found in the jolliest Norfolk pubs. Or grab yourself a bottle to knock back at home here. A gin to rock the boat.