Explore England’s most wildlife-rich national park — the Broads

Hiking Collection by komoot

The Broads National Park is home to the largest wetland landscape in Britain. A wildlife haven that boosts gentle streams, serene lakes, lonely marshes, golden coastline, big skies and endless horizons, there is nowhere else quite like it.

Home to some of the UK's rarest birds and insects, the Broads truly is a nature enthusiast’s dream. However, the picturesque landscape is as rich in heritage as it is with rare wildlife; ancient churches, mills and farmsteads, Roman remains, lighthouses and more dot the patchwork landscape.

Whilst you might be forgiven for thinking this wildlife-rich national park was created by nature, it was, in a large part, formed by ancient human activity. Crofters harvesting peat in the Middle Ages dug deep channels into the landscape. After a series of devastating floods in the 12th and 13th centuries, the crofters abandoned their peat mines, which had filled with water, leaving them to become the sanctuaries for wildlife they are today.

This Collection introduces you to the many sides of this wonderful national park. In these routes you visit Horsey Mere, one of the most beautiful broads that offers a habitat of international importance for birds; Hickling Broad, the largest of its kind and a year-round haven for wildlife; and Martham Broad, a serene and beautiful place.

You also explore Horsey Beach, where seals come to breed every winter; Burgh Castle, the best-preserved Roman monument in the region; the wildlife-rich, golden sand dunes of Winterton Beach; Saint Benet's Abbey, which is as iconic in 2019 as it was when built in 1019; and Horsey Windpump, which has recently reopened after many years of closure. Plus lots more.

A great place to stay when visiting the Broads is Acle. Known as the ‘gateway to the Broads’, the small market town has plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs, as well as many accommodation options. Acle has its own train station that operates regular services from Norwich, which in turn has direct connections to major UK cities. There are decent bus services around the national park, too.

For information about the Broads National Park, visit: visitthebroads.co.uk.
For information about public transport around the Broads, visit: essentialtravelguide.com/regional-guides/east-england/norfolk-broads-travel-guide/norfolk-broads-travel-transport.
For train tickets and timetables, visit: thetrainline.com.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

  • Intermediate
    9.35 mi
    2.5 mph
    100 ft
    100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The largest of all the Broads, Hickling is an untouched wild expanse that is home to myriad species of rare bird and Britain's largest butterfly, the swallowtail.

    On this delightful route, expect to see the fantastic displays of nature that Norfolk is renowned for at any time of the year. However, during the summer months the landscape is especially alive with bird, insect and plant life.

    From the village of Ludham, follow sleepy lanes north, then east, until you reach the fresh waters and wildlife-rich rush marshes of Hickling Broad. The trail then follows the edge of Hickling Broad and Heigham Sound for around two miles (three kilometers).

    The section beside these two expanses of water will be a real treat of wildlife enthusiasts. Amid picturesque scenery, expect to spot birds including cranes, goldeneyes, shovelers, teals, bitterns, marsh harriers, pochards, water rails and warblers, as well as rare insects like Emperor dragonflies and swallowtail butterfly.

    When you reach the end of Heigham Sound, take a sharp right on the public footpath and follow farm tracks and lanes west, through the sleepy village of Potter Heigham, back to Ludham.

  • Intermediate
    10.9 mi
    2.5 mph
    125 ft
    125 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This route takes you from one of the most isolated parts of the Broads, along the mud flats of the River Yare, to the bustling seaside town of Great Yarmouth.

    Head west out of the car park and at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church take the public footpath left. Follow the path for a short while until you reach Burgh Castle, the best-preserved Roman monument in the region.

    During the third and fourth centuries AD, Burgh Castle was one of a chain of forts on the southeast coast. During its long history, the fort has also been the site of a Norman castle and an early Christian monastery.

    From Burgh Castle, head right and follow the Angles Way north along the River Yare into what is, quite possibly, the most isolated place in all of the Broads.

    As there are no roads crossing the marshy expanse of Breydon Water, you won’t see many people here, but expect to see plenty of wildlife, especially birds.

    Keep following the Angles Way until you reach Haven Bridge, at the end of Breydon Water. Here, you cross the bridge and jump from one of the loneliest places in the Broads to one of the busiest—the popular seaside town of Great Yarmouth.

    Famous for its long and pristine beach, the ‘Golden Mile’, Great Yarmouth is a bustling seaside destination with plenty to see. If you do not feel like venturing into the town, though, follow the A47 road for half-a-mile (one kilometer) until you pick-up the route shown here again.

    Otherwise, make your way back to Haven Bridge and follow the road until the roundabout. Cross over the roundabout and follow the road for a short while, then take the bridleway on the right. Follow the bridleway east and continue as it turns into a public footpath. At Crow’s Farm, you reach a quiet country lane which leads all the way back to the beginning.

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  • Difficult
    13.3 mi
    2.5 mph
    100 ft
    100 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This challenging hike showcases the timeless landscape of the Norfolk Broads at its very best.

    Exploring lonely marshes, patchwork fields, serene fens, sleepy villages, and gentle rivers and dykes, expect abundant wildlife and breathtaking beauty every step of the way.

    Do not be deterred by the distance either. Whilst 13 miles (21 kilometers) may seem like a long way, the completely flat landscape of the Broads makes for effortless hiking.

    From the car park, walk east along Upton Dyke until you reach the River Bure, the longest of the rivers on the Broads, which you follow for three-and-a-half miles (five-and-a-half kilometers) along its beautiful banks.

    When you reach Fleet Dyke, follow it south until South Walsham Broad, a serene and wildlife-rich expanse of water that is a great place to stop for a break.

    Right next to the broad is Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, an award-winning organic garden with 130 acres of cultivated, wild and natural plantings to explore, as well as four miles of woodland pathway.

    From here, head east past Upton Broad, through the village of Upton itself and take the public footpath to the right at Upton Green.

    A short while later, you arrive at Saint Mary's Church. A place of worship since the 12th century, the tranquil church is steeped in history and is a very beautiful place to explore.

    Continue along the path until you reach the market town of Acle. At this point, head west along Acle Dyke until you reach the River Bure once again.

    For the final three miles (five kilometers) you follow the glorious banks of the Bure back to the starting point.

  • Intermediate
    11.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    150 ft
    150 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This lovely loop around the villages of West Somerton and Winterton-on-Sea showcases the diverse landscape of the Broads.

    On this mid-length, but super-flat, hike you will stroll along sand dunes that are bursting with nature, explore old lighthouses and mills, bask on beaches, stroll through farmland, saunter beside rivers and immerse yourself into a picturesque broad that is alive with rare wildlife.

    You begin with a hike along the southern edge of Martham Broad. Managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, you can expect to see many species of birds on this nature reserve including bittern, bearded tit, common tern, Cetti’s warbler, and marsh harrier.

    Keep a look-out for Britain’s biggest butterfly, swallowtail, which has a wing-span of up to nine centimeters, as well as otters and Chinese water deer.

    When you reach the River Thurne, follow it south for around half-a-mile, then loop back towards the start point. Once you reach West Somerton, head east out of the village along peaceful country lanes and public footpaths until you arrive at the coastal village of Winterton-on-Sea.

    There is lots to see in the village, including the old lighthouse and the beautiful parish church. However, the biggest asset has to be Winterton Beach.

    Boasting a vast expanse of golden sand and clean water, the peaceful beach is backed by rolling dunes which are teeming with wildlife. The stretch of sand between the dunes and the sea affords a serene atmosphere and is even home to seals during winter.

    When you reach the beach, follow the Norfolk Coast Path for almost two miles (three kilometers), past two nature reserves, to Winterton Ness. From here, take the footpath to the left and follow it back to West Somerton.

  • Easy
    4.36 mi
    2.5 mph
    25 ft
    25 ft
    Easy hike. Great for any fitness level. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This easy-going loop is packed full of interest. With so much wildlife, picturesque scenery and heritage to experience, it feels like this hike should take an entire day—not a leisurely few hours.

    At barely three feet (one meter) above sea level, Horsey is at the mercy of the ocean and has paid the price for this in the past with devastating floods. As you explore landscape around the quaint village, though, you will find the unchanging wildness utterly breathtaking.

    This route starts from Horsey Mere. Regarded as one of the most beautiful broads in the national park, it offers a habitat of international importance for many species of bird and insect.

    Right next to the lake is Horsey Drainage Mill, the most famous feature of the village. Dating from the 19th century, the mill was built to pump water from the surrounding farmland. Having been closed for repairs and restoration since 2015, the iconic mill has now reopened to the public.

    From the mere, follow the county lane north into the village, past All Saints Church and continue to the coast. If you want to extend the route, follow the path around the northern shores of the mere and up to Brograve Drainage Mill, where you take the footpath east and rejoin the route shown here. This will add roughly 45 minutes.

    When you arrive at Horsey Gap, you join the Norfolk Coast Path and follow it to Horsey Beach Seal Viewing. Between November and February, hundreds of grey seals breed here every year. If you are here during this period, this is an unmissable opportunity.

  • Intermediate
    8.30 mi
    2.5 mph
    75 ft
    75 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The Broads is one of England’s best wilderness areas. However, it may surprise you to learn that its origins lie in human activity.

    The area this route explores was carved-out by people during the 13th and 14th centuries to harvest peat. The peat, used as a fuel, made the area very prosperous.

    However, a series of devastating floods occurred when the rivers Wensum, Bure, Waveney and Yare overflowed; filling the huge holes that had been dug to harvest peat. The crofters abandoned their workings and left the area to revert back to nature. It went on to become a haven for birds, insects and plants, which thrive to this very day.

    From the car park, head north along the country lane and take the first bridleway on the right. Follow this bridleway until you hit another lane, which takes you into Ludham.

    A quaint riverside village with thatch cottages and a bustling centre, Ludham is a great place to spend some time. There is a village pub, shop and cafe, and plenty to see, including the church of Saint Catherine, which houses many ancient relics.

    From Ludham, follow country lanes south through a patchwork of picturesque scenery until you reach the impressive ruins of Saint Benet's Abbey.

    In 1019, King Canute granted the manors of Horning, Ludham and Neatishead to a group of monks to establish an Abbey. One thousand years later, Saint Benet’s Abbey is hailed for its beauty, serenity and history and is still a much-loved place to visit.

    From Saint Benet’s Abbey, follow the River Bure west for 220 yards (200 meters) until you reach the River Ant, which you follow north for around four miles (six-and-a-half kilometers) back to the start. This final stretch along the river is utterly divine.

  • Intermediate
    5.31 mi
    2.4 mph
    75 ft
    75 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This leisurely hike affords a true flavor of the Broads: gentle streams, dykes and rivers criss-crossing the perfectly-flat patchwork landscape.

    You begin from the market town of Acle. The town’s unusual name derives from Saxon language and means ‘oaks lea’ or ‘clearing in an oak forest’. In Tudor times, hundreds of oaks were felled in this area for timber to construct Elizabeth I’s warships.

    These days, Acle is an interesting place to explore. The town holds a market every Thursday, which people have flocked to ever since it began in the 13th century.

    From the car park, follow the public footpath north until Saint Mary's Church. A place of worship since the 12th century, the beautiful church is in a serene setting and is steeped in history.

    Continue north along the public footpath for a short while until you reach Upton Green, where you take the footpath on the right and follow until Upton Dyke.

    The wildlife-rich marshes that the dyke flows through have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the abundant wildlife. As such, it is a great place to spot rare birds and insects.

    At the end of Upton Dyke, you find yourself on the River Bure. The longest river in the Broads, it flows for 32 miles (51 kilometers) from Aylsham, through Coltishall and out to sea at Gorleston. You follow the beautiful banks of the Bure for two miles (three kilometers).

    Upon reaching Acle Dyke, follow the footpath beside the small stretch of water and continue into the village.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    63.2 mi
  • Duration
    25:45 h
  • Elevation
    650 ft