Water, wildlife and wild times at Broads Outdoors Festival

A new festival celebrating the wonders of the Norfolk Broads is aiming to show off the wealth of activities which can be enjoyed on and around the famous waterways. RACHEL BULLER reports.

Mention the Norfolk Broads, and most people's first thought will be boating. However, while the boat industry is, of course, still a popular and vital part of the local economy, the Broads is about so much more.

It is a landscape rich in amazing natural wonders, where rare birds dart among the reeds and otters can be seen cutting through the river. It is a place where walkers and cyclists can get surprisingly close to nature, children can learn about creepy crawlies and where vast open landscapes are peppered with ancient buildings.

Next weekend sees the launch of the first Broads Outdoor Festival, organised by the Broads Authority, which aims to introduce local visitors and tourists alike to the extraordinarily diverse activities, events and opportunities that the magical water landscape offers.

As well as encouraging people to get outdoors, to explore and try something they might not have tried before, it is also hoped that it will become an established annual event which extends the usual tourism season.

Over nine days — from May 7 to 15, there will be more than 60 events happening throughout the Broads, covering as much of its geographical area as possible and ranging from walks, cycling and canoeing to wildlife-spotting and painting.

The Broads Authority hopes there will be something that appeals to everyone from families and couples to nature-lovers and those who enjoy the great outdoors.

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'Originally we were looking to extend the tourist season outside the usual summertime, and big events are really good for doing that,' said Bruce Hanson, head of tourism development, and one of the organisers. 'But you have to be realistic and think will people really want to come in February and March when the weather is not always very nice.

'So we chose the middle of May because there is a traditional lull after the Easter holidays and often you get the best weather and the days are nice and long.

'It is so well known for boating and although obviously that is hugely important, we want to show that there are loads of land based activities and events on offer as well.'

Although many of the events will be predominantly land-based, there will also be the opportunity to get people out on to the water to try their hand at different water sports.

The programme also includes: guided walks, where you can learn about everything from herbal medicines, wild flowers and bushcraft to identifying bird calls and the secret life of marshes; photography and painting courses; ghost stories; boat trips; and countless opportunities to explore stunning routes through the broads you might never have known about.

There will also be a link with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival which is happening at the same time, with the Outdoor Festival incorporating some of its events into its programme, including the Jazz Boat trips at Horning, and Liz Ballard Tracing Water – an art installation on the River Wensum close to Norwich Playhouse.

The festival will kick off with a big launch event at Whitlingham Country Park on May 7, from 12pm-4pm, with a host of activities and fun events.

Visitors will be able to try out the climbing wall and archery for free and join in an orienteering and treasure hunt around the park. They will also be able to try canoeing and paddle sports and take part in three different guided walks around the surrounding area. There will also be a mystery guest launching the event.

A key part of the festival is revealing some of the secrets of the Broads, those little known hidden treasures, boasting unspoilt natural beauty and busy wildlife habitats, such as Bure Marshes, where walkers will be able to access areas not normally open to the public during one of the events.

Another such place is Heigham Holmes, a National Trust reserve only open one day a year via a swing bridge at Martham Ferry.

'Heigham Holmes was featured on a BBC programme Secret Britain and we had about 900 people turn up on this one day to visit it,' said Bruce Hanson.

'As always we must make sure we keep the balance between telling people to come and see the fantastic things in the Broads while making sure we protect the landscape and habitat.'

Another element of the programme is opening people's eyes to the more unusual elements of the Broads and tying them in with local trains and cycle paths.

'People know about the Bure Valley Railway, but do they know about the nature around it and the links with the Broads and the nearby walks and cycle paths?'

The idea of 'Huff and Puff' is that people can combine a trip on the narrow gauge railway between Aylsham and Wroxham with a walk or cycle ride along the nine mile trail, so you might 'huff' there on bike and 'puff' back in the comfort of the train, he said.

During the nine days, there will also be a daily techno treasure hunt at Ranworth Broad, using the increasingly popular geo-caching.

This is one of the activities being used on the Broads to try to excite young people about getting outside, exploring and having fun.

Using a handheld GPS, you have to find a series of geo-caches which are hidden around an area containing clues to help you find the next one.

Geo-caching has become a global game of hiding and seeking treasure, with more than 1.2 million active geo-caches hidden around the world – one of which is at Ranworth broad.

There, they have set up a treasure trail which they hope will encourage families to not only enjoy the challenge of finding the clues, but to also enjoy the actual countryside around them.

Countryside ranger Elaina Whittaker-Slark said previous events in which she had run geo-cache trails at Ranworth had been hugely popular with youngsters. 'There is just so much to do on the Broads that isn't water based and this event is a really important part of what the outdoor festival is all about.

'We have found that the geo-caching is a great way to engage and inspire children to get them out walking and not only that, they learn so much about the wildlife and countryside along the way. It is a great way to have a bit of an adventure and get out in the outdoors.'

? For more details and a full list of events visit: www.outdoorsfestival.co.uk


Broads Outdoors Festival Launch

Whitlingham Country Park, May 7, 12pm–4pm

Lots of fun activities, including taster sessions for climbing and archery, guided walks, orienteering, to mark the launch of the first Broads Outdoors Festival.

Techno Treasure Hunt

Ranworth, May 7-15

A self-guided treasure hunt using your GPS unit (global positioning unit). Start in the village of Ranworth.

Huff & Puff

Bure Valley Railway, Aylsham Station, May 7-8/11-15, �8, children �5, under-5s free, bike �3.50

Take the Huff and Puff trail alongside the narrow gauge Bure Valley Steam Railway. You can take the train from either Aylsham or Wroxham Station.

Wherry Heritage Day

Ludham to Ranworth , May 10, 9am-5pm

Spend a day sailing on the Broads aboard the wherry Albion. Places �30 per person.

Paddle, Walk, Discover

Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve, May 10, 5.30pm-8.30pm

Canoeing and guided walk of Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve. Places �15 adult, �7.50 child. All equipment and safety talk included.

Go Wild At Hickling

Hickling Broad, May 15, 10am-4pm

Fun-filled day for all the family at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Hickling Broad. Reserve entry fee for adults and children �1. Additional charge for boat trips.