Historic towns and villages of the Broads National Park

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The Broads National Park is famous for its rich history of eel catchers, trading wherries and roof thatchers and so it will come as no surprise that along the waterways are some beautiful historic towns and villages. So if you’re looking to find your fix of thatched roofs, red brick, and the biggest churches imaginable then check out a few of our favourites…

Bungay

Bungay © Julian Claxton
Bungay town centre © Julian Claxton

A historic English village simply wouldn’t be complete without a good old-fashioned ghost story to go with it. The little market town of Bungay is the stuff of Dickens’ novels. Not only are there willowy Georgian townhouses tucked between Victorian shopfronts but it is also overflowing with folklore and ruins. The famous tale of Black Shuck the devil dog heralds from this small parish and his fabled story can be seen in the form of tapestry work which hangs in St Mary’s Church. On the outer rim of the village the crestfallen Bigod’s Castle lies in a tumble of mossy brickwork with the perfect park picnic spot opposite. The market town is blossoming with local businesses from florists to bakers, delis to gift shops.

Best for: Quirky features, from the local properties to ruins to ghost stories, the lifeblood of this village is the memory of the ruffs and petticoats which built it, making it the perfect location for curious discoveries.

Where do I go for lunch? The glossy frontage of Earsham Street Delicatessen beckons with its fine array of sumptuous local offerings. From chocolate quail eggs to the local Baron Bigod Brie, they display a fine array of scrummy nibbles. They offer a picnic service with choices between baguettes and quiches, pies and soups… perfect for any time of the year.

Ludham

hunters yard ludham © jeremy halls
Hunters Yard at Ludham © Jeremy Halls (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ludham is a true Broads beauty spot, home to the Wherry Albion, the Wherry Maud and the traditional sailing boat company Hunter’s Yard, with the Norfolk Heritage Fleet. The village is dominated by a traditional Norfolk church, St Catherine’s, with near cathedral proportions. The local shop, Throwers, is the heart of this small community, providing all the nibbles you could need for a broad-side ramble. The iconic St Benet’s Abbey is only a short walk from the village and well worth the effort for its Georgian-mill-meets-ancient-gatehouse architectural fusion.

Best for: Sailing boats, home to everything from heritage sailing boats to the mighty wherry, the rivers at Ludham are perfect for a chance of spotting some really beautiful vintage vessels.

Where do I go for lunch? The Alfresco Tea Rooms are chocolate-box cottage tea rooms with the holy trinity of thatch, fine china and Norfolk blend tea. After that long walk to St Benet’s Abbey there is nothing quite like a much deserved scone, aching with clotted cream, as you gaze over at a view of St Catherine’s Church – bliss!

Beccles

waveney at beccles © Julian Claxton
The River Waveney at Beccles © Julian Claxton

Beccles is another enticing southern Broads town. If you’re holidaying by boat you can simply float all the way in, moor up and instantly be in the heart of this historic place. The Waveney and Blyth Arts Group is an organisation to keep an eye on. They arrange a variety of artistic events throughout the year taking place in Beccles from sculpture trails to lunchtime talks. Henstead Exotic Garden is the perfect day trip, a place where the Suffolk countryside has been turned into Thai pavilions and beds of giant bamboo. Beccles also has some wonderful waterside walks and historic townhouses aplenty.

Best for: Art vibes. Make sure to check out Beccles Public Hall and Theatre and Beccles Society of Artists for lots of great events to get involved in.

Where do I go for lunch? Urban Jungle, to feast among the plants at this quirky garden centre meets eatery. Urban Jungle is the perfect hang-out for foodie plant lovers. You’re sure come away coveting many a succulent plant (having enjoyed the succulent food) and unable to choose between bespoke coffees or cocktails.

Coltishall

wroxham coltishall walk © michael button
River Bure at Coltishall © Michael Button

Coltishall is a village which would not look out of place in a Jeeves and Wooster novel. A verdant common looks out upon the River Bure and the marshes beyond with local pub, The Rising Sun, situated just at the edge, ready for sailors to moor up and fill up on their delicious food and drink. The houses here haven’t changed much since Flemish gables were the fashion and make for a welcome time warp for true quintessential relaxation.

Best for: Relaxing. Whether you’ve come by boat or foot, the village common is just perfect for a quiet picnic or a good book; a gentle meander around the sleepy village is sure to make you glow with nostalgia.

Where do I go for lunch? If you’re feeling fancy why not give The Norfolk Mead Hotel a chance? It offers posh nosh with plenty of local produce thrown in. If you’re after something a little more traditional then nip over to A Piece of Cake where you can enjoy a good old-fashioned slab of cake and a cup of tea.