A guide to visiting the southern Broads

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Ssssh… there is a road less travelled and a river system less sailed in the Broads National Park. One of the Broads’ best-kept secrets is its beautiful southern rivers. The more advertised and better known northern Broads have plenty to offer, but for those seeking pretty villages, ancient churches and market towns with actual markets, there is an often over-looked gem just waiting to be discovered… 

Here are just a handful of the ‘must visit’ locations in the southern Broads – with some activities for now and some for planning ahead for next year. And for seasonal events throughout the Broads check out our what’s on pages.

Oulton Broad

Oulton Broad adjoins Lowestoft – from the spring you can even take a water taxi between the two – and the broad itself is the third largest in the Broads National Park. The Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Carlton and Oulton Marshes Nature Reserve (open all year) is close by for wildlife discovery and in Broad House in Nicholas Everitt Park, close to the broad, you’ll find Lowestoft Museum, probably best known for its important collection of 18th-century Lowestoft Porcelain. For activities out on the broad from the spring, try Oulton Broad Water Sports Centre. If you’re interested in boatbuilding you’ve come to the right place with the International Boatbuilding Training College close at hand. Even if you don’t see yourself as a boatbuilder, find out about the replica medieval Chet boat and its role in the Water, Mills & Marshes project.

Oulton Broad  © Kevin Millican (Flickr)
Oulton Broad © Kevin Millican (Flickr)

Lowestoft

Lowestoft in the morning is the first place in Great Britain to see the sun rise. And as those rays drench the seaside in that gold tinted colour (that only holidays seem to have), it’s worth knowing how many wonderful things there are to do in this unique ‘Broads meets beach’ location. Lowestoft was a popular Victorian holidaying spot and has some great period features to enjoy. Whether you fancy taking in the Victorian Kensington Gardens on the seafront, gallivanting about the zoo or would rather listen to the royal philharmonic orchestra which often frequents the Marina Theatre, you will never be short of something to see or do in Lowestoft. There’s also a theme park and a blue flag beach for winter walks.

Pakefield Beach © Kevin Millican (Flickr)
Pakefield Beach, Lowestoft © Kevin Millican (Flickr)

Somerleyton

If peace and tranquillity is what you’re after then Somerleyton has it in abundance. This chocolate box location is only a short journey away from Lowestoft and Beccles but is far more secluded. Don’t be fooled into thinking this quintessential village only has looks on its side, despite its day-dreamy exterior there is plenty to do if you know where to look… Doubtlessly the most show-stopping location is the magnificent Somerleyton Hall and Gardens. A manor house has stood there since 1240, and the splendid Victorian residence which you see today comes with fabulous gardens that will entertain all the family with their yew-hedge maze, 70 foot-long pergola and ornate greenhouses designed by the famous Joseph Paxton. Somerleyton is also the perfect picnic spot, whether you’re on the green or by the river.

Somerleyton Hall © Mark Seton (Flickr)
Stunning Somerleyton Hall © Mark Seton (Flickr)

Loddon and Chedgrave

These two adjoin each other at the head of the Chet, the smallest of the rivers in the Broads. Close to where the Chet joins the River Yare you’ll find Hardley Mill, on the Wherryman’s Way long-distance walk between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. There’s an easy access path on the Chedgrave side of the Wherryman’s Way. Loddon has frequent markets to delve into and both villages have historic churches to explore, and you can walk down to Loddon Marshes from Holy Trinity Church at Loddon. This walking tour will help you explore the historic buildings and hidden corners of Loddon.

Hardley Mill © Milo Bostock (Flickr)
Hardley Mill © Milo Bostock (Flickr)

Beccles

Beccles is the traditional English market town. It comes complete with red-bricked town houses, classic market squares and quirky shops hidden down historic lanes... only with a twist. Because Beccles is flanked by the River Waveney, meaning it has all the appeal of a beautiful market town, with its many shops, services and cultural activities, plus easy access to a beautiful waterway. There are riverside walks and if messing about in a boat is more your thing, there is a range of hire options from kayaks to day-boats. Visit in the summer to enjoy Beccles Lido – an outdoor heated swimming pool, also perfect for sunbathing as well as relaxing with a drink at the Splash Bar Café. And for the really adventurous there’s the Ellough Park Raceway and UK Parachuting, also in nearby Ellough. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or enjoy taking life at a slower pace, Beccles is one best locations in the southern Broads.

The River Waveney at Beccles © Nick Rowland (Flickr)
The River Waveney at Beccles © Nick Rowland (Flickr)

Bungay

The Angelo-Saxons were among some of the first to call Bungay home and – they made a good choice. It’s a historic town with a little pocket of literary talent, with authors such Louis de Bernières and the late Elizabeth Jane Howard among its residents. The reason is surely that Bungay is an inspirational place, filled with hidden historical details and a thriving cultural scene. So if you’d like to spend some time falling in love with a town that so many others have before you, then a good place to start would be the Fisher Theatre. The local playhouse is complete with theatre performances, cinema and even art exhibitions, making it a great place to visit for all culture vultures. Equally worth a visit are the multiple footpaths that lead you around this breathtaking spot in the southern Broads. The Bigod Way is a meander of five and a half miles, which takes in Bigod’s castle, the riverbank and the impressive All Saints Church at Earsham.

Bungay © Kevin Millican
Idyllic Bungay © Kevin Millican (Flickr)

So for one of the Broads’ best-kept secrets sail away to the southern end of the Broads. Be the first person in the whole of Britain to see the sunrise when you’re in Lowestoft, follow in the footsteps of literary greats in Bungay and lose yourself in the yew mazes of Somerleyton. Enjoy discovering the south!