I’ve stayed in a windmill, but I’ve yet to try a boat as a family holiday experience, however, I know at least one pirate resident who would be well up for it! Over to an expert, today’s guest post by Laura Potts is all about boating holidays…
Boating is in the blood in our family. I grew up sailing and later teaching and crewing; my husband graduated from racing his father’s handmade dinghies on the River Orwell in Suffolk to serving aboard aircraft carriers around the world.
So when the kids came along, it only seemed natural to get them into life jackets and on-board at the earliest opportunity.
It was, to say the least, not a success.
All at sea
No one was injured, but we soon discovered there’s no quicker way to drive stress levels sky-high is than to invite a toddler to scramble amongst various ropes, pulleys and other sharp, heavy, dangerous bits in a small craft on open water. Shockingly, small kids find a gentle sail neither exciting nor the least bit interesting, though ours seemed to enjoy the prospect of seeing their parents in tears.
The dinghy went to the highest bidder the next spring, and the Jolly Roger was retired.
But we weren’t ready to give up on the water, and didn’t want our kids to grow up with an irrational fear instilled by a few abortive attempts in a cramped, tippy dinghy. And, living in Norfolk, it would be an insult to the Broads if summers came and went without making the most of our surroundings.
When a friend offered up his sailboat – a traditional Broads design, wooden with plenty of room above and below deck – we were apprehensive but thought it was worth a shot. Moored next to the delightful Horsey windpump, it was the perfect setting for picnicking on the spacious deck and easing the kids back into the idea of being on water (while still safely next to land.)
Turns out size truly is everything; with that extra bit of space and stability, the kids instantly turned from whiny landlubbers to fearless pirates. Anchors away – we were back on water!
Embracing broad beauty
The beauty of the Broads – apart from the remarkable aesthetics – is the extraordinary variety of features to suit people of all ages, interests and abilities. A short hop over the sand dunes at Horsey Gap and you’re more likely to share the beach with a colony of seals than to see anyone else on two feet.
Likewise, if you hire a boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads you can go fishing; spy otters along the riverbank; listen out for bitterns as you glide through the reedbeds at the RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen; or moor up at any number of charming waterside pubs or nature areas, such as How Hill with its boardwalks, gardens, windmill, tea room and Toadhole Cottage visitors centre.
And boating really doesn’t have to be the preserve of teenage regatta fiends or pensioners with time and money to burn. Give kids a bit of room to scamper aboard a Broads cruiser and they’ll get both the benefit of being outdoors and the novelty of having home comforts in a new setting (they might even find the prospect of tidying up more palatable given the excuse to explore the intriguing nooks and crannies below deck.)
Families can go as basic or as luxurious as they choose, and even those who’ve spent little or no time on water will soon find their sea legs at the helm.
A children’s playground
For older children, the Broads offers the chance to learn kayaking, canoeing, rowing or other water activities that instil confidence, self-reliance, independence and are a great way of making physical fitness fun.
Taking the family on a boating holiday doesn’t have to mean diving into the deep end. But once you sort out the kind of watercraft and the activities that best suit you, the only thing left is to perfect your pirate accent.
Now, what have I done with that Jolly Roger?
A one-time journalist for metropolitan daily newspapers in the USA, Laura Potts moved to Norfolk in 2005 where she is a writer and editor. In summer, she can be found somewhere on the Norfolk Broads teaching her young children pirate etiquette aboard their Optimist dinghy.