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Travel & Holidays in later life


Boating on Hickling BroadA cabin-cruiser holiday on the Norfolk Broads: once the project was voiced, Reg Butler bowed to united family pressure to finalize the booking. 

But when I phoned the Broadland holiday company, their entire fleet was booked solid for our preferred week. However, there was chance of a cancellation. Inside an hour the phone rang with a Tuesday to Tuesday booking. 

This style of instant booking service through one of the major reservation agencies (Hoseasons and Blakes are the market leaders) gives you choice of boats by the thousand from selected yards on the Norfolk Broads, River Thames, the canals and other waterways.

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There is no closed season. Boats are available year-round, either for full week bookings or for 3 and 4-night short breaks. 

Ask your travel agent for brochures. Or contact the main rival companies direct:

Blakes Holiday Boating, Spring Mill, Earby, Barnoldswick, Lancs, BB94 0AA. Tel: 0845 604 3985 . 

Hoseasons Holidays Ltd., Sunway House, Raglan Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR32 2LW. Tel: 0844 847 1356.. 

Go to for ideas on where to go and what to see on and around the Norfolk Broads.

Broads Authority, 18 Colegate, Norwich NR3 1BQ. Tel: 01603 610734.  

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We liked being able to choose a midweek starting date. Most hire boats are based on Saturday to Saturday bookings. But if you can time your holiday period to dodge the more hectic Saturday changeover it's certainly worth going midweek for a more relaxed start. 

Our four-berth cabin cruiser was 28 feet long, 9 feet wide, with headroom of 6 feet. As beginners, we were given half an hour of instruction. First, the facilities: how the gas refrigerator worked, the hot-water system, the water-pump, the central heating and air conditioning unit. 

Then followed a lesson on simple maintenance: where to fill the water-tank; checking oil and radiator; clearing the weed filter; pumping out the bilges. 

Finally, a short course on handling the craft, starting the diesel engine, casting off and steering. Within a few minutes we were completely equipped for a solo cruise along Broadland's 200 navigable miles of rivers, streams, meres and lakes. 

A typical thatched cottage in the Broads village of Ludham There's little to go wrong, even for the total novice. The first few times, before complete manoeuvrability is mastered, mooring is clumsy. But there's no need to get red-faced about it! Most skippers of cabin cruisers are amateurs. Boat fendoffs are left dangling, so that minor scrapes or bumps can be cushioned gently. 

The first night we moored against a grassy river bank which was delightful until some early-morning speed merchants set up a wash which rocked the boat and finally dragged our anchors from the loose soil. 

Another night we moored at Great Yarmouth where the 5-ft fall of tide left us anxiously wondering at 3 a.m. whether we'd be left dangling in mid-air from our mooring-ropes. 

After that we chose peaceful side-turnings called "staithes" where the tidal movements were small and backwash infinitesimal from passing craft. Many of the best moorings are maintained free by waterside pubs that make a worthwhile income from their captive (but willing) clientele. 

It's good, just for a week, to restore your mental balance by throttling back to seven knots. 

Shopping for suppliers at Ludham Staithe Every village and every riverside pub is an inducement to halt a while and stroll ashore. Catering for yourself, you go shopping for victuals: bread, still warm from the bakehouse, a leisured discussion at the butcher's; ten minutes at a self-service store that offers "Provisions for Yachtsmen".

Finally - thirsty work, shopping - you call at the pub. An hour later, deep in conversation with barman, local characters and other holidaymakers, you realise that half a morning has drifted away. But you don't care. Time is no longer important. Enjoyment doesn't depend on mileage. You just order another round of drinks. 

The Norfolk Broads area today is greatly dependent on catering for visitors. "For Sale," said a waterside notice, "Free range eggs, ices, drinks, maggots." Anglers try for pike, bream, roach, perch, rudd, tench, chubb and trout. 

Most of the Broads are protected as a wildlife sanctuary. We found great pleasure in the variety of birdlife, with ample opportunity to stop for detailed watching through binoculars. 

Heron stood immobile at the waterside, patiently waiting for fish; nesting swans sat on their river-bank platforms; beautifully-coloured Great Crested Grebes paddled along with young riding pick-a-back; coots and moorhens scurried amid the reeds; families of Canada Geese cruised past with a small flotilla of fluffy goslings; and there were occasional 'rarities' like sheldrake, or a cormorant perched on a mud-flat post. 

In relatively small area, there is remarkable variety of scenery: the wide waters of reed-fringed Broads created by peat-cutters of centuries ago; narrow rivers that often flow at higher level than the Dutch-style polder land beyond the built-up banks; other stretches of river between tangled banks of trees and scrub. It all makes up the most varied fresh water environment to be found in Britain. 

What else to do besides cruise? 

Regular weekly events are held throughout the main season, June to September, including speedboat racing on Oulton Broad, and sailing regattas. And there are numerous tourist-interest focal points such as Norwich and its castle, cathedral and shopping. Just park your boat in the town centre.

Once you've paid your hire charges, the only additional costs are fTime to fish for supperor fuel, food and drink. Mooring fees are nil or nominal. 

Most cruisers are fitted with diesel engines for fuel economy. In our own week we used 12 gallons of fuel for 31 hours of cruising. If anything needs attention, you get free help at any boatyard that belongs to the Association. 

Consider these other South East suggestions

LONDON - the capital free show

LONDON - rooms at reasonable cost

OXFORD - Just Pottering around 

WINDSOR - Enjoy a Royal Wekend

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Norfolk Walks (Pathfinder Guide)  by John Brooks  - A popular illustrated guidebook with 28 graded walks  with clear directions using Ordnance Survey mapping.

The Broads (Inland Waterways Maps) - A detailed map showing all the attractions within easy range of the waterways.

Complete Guide to the Norfolk Broads - gives excellent coverage of all aspects of a enjoying the Broads.

Cruising Guide to Inns and Taverns: Norfolk Broads - Ideal for those thirsting for information about the main attractions in the Broads.

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