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Ludham and the Broads

Enjoy the windmill-studded skyline in this lovely stroll to the River Ant.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Quiet country lanes and grassy footpaths

Landscape Reed-fringed broad and gently rolling agricultural land

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL40 The Broads

Start/finish TG 391180

Dog friendliness Not permitted in nature reserve, on leads through farmland

Parking Free car park in Horsefen Road, Ludham

Public toilets None on route

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1 Leave the car park and the busy marina and walk up Horsefen Road, going the same way that you came in to park.

2 Turn left at the end of Horsefen Road, walking along the footpath that runs inside a hedge and parallel to the lane. When you see the King's Arms on your right and 14th-century St Margaret's Church on your left, turn right up the road signposted 'Catfield'. After a few paces turn left up School Road, following signs for How Hill. Houses soon give way to countryside and you reach a junction. Go straight across it.

3 Turn right on the first road after a house called The Laurels, along a lane signposted 'How Hill'. The lane winds and twists, and is fairly narrow, which makes for pleasant walking. You will soon reach How Hill House, a sail-less windmill and How Hill nature reserve. There are marked trails through the reserve, if you feel like a pleasant diversion. When you have finished, continue down How Hill Road with the River Ant and its reedy marshes to your left. Pass Grove Farm Gallery and Studio on your right, and look for a red-brick barn followed by a lane, also on your right.

4 Turn right down Wateringpiece Lane, where a sign warns you that this road is liable to flood. Pass the modern water tower on your left and walk past two large fields. At the end of the second field, look for the public footpath sign on your left. Take the path that runs along the edge of a field until it ends at a lane. This path can sometimes be overgrown, and nettles can occasionally be a problem.

5 Turn right on Catfield Road and walk along the verge on the right, where there is a footpath. This road can be busy in the summer, when visitors flock to Ludham and How Hill. Ignore the lane on your left, heading to Potter Heigham, and continue walking until you reach a crossroads by a chapel.

6 Go straight across, walking a few paces until you reach the next junction with Ludham church ahead of you. Turn left along Yarmouth Road, then turn right into Horsefen Road. This will take you back to the car park.

No visit to Norfolk would be complete without a trip to the Broads. This is a patchwork of interlinked streams, lakes and channels that wind sluggishly over the flat land to the east of Norwich. Three major rivers - the Bure, Waveney and Yare - supply most of the water to the Broads' meres, ponds and marshes before entering the great tidal basin at Breydon Water and flowing into the sea at Great Yarmouth. The region is a National Park and attracts thousands of visitors every year who enjoy its peaceful waterways.

Despite the fact that the Broads comprise one of England's best wilderness areas, most natural historians and archaeologists now accept that their origin actually lies in ancient human activity. They were formed when local people mined the extensive peat deposits here, cutting away the fuel to form neat vertical sides. (If the Broads were a natural phenomenon the edges would slope.) An obvious question for any visitor is how did these ancient folk, with their primitive tools, carve out these huge areas before they filled up? The answer lies in the fact that the sea level was lower in the past and none of the Broads are very deep, mostly less than 15ft (5m), suggesting the peat was cut until it became too boggy.

So, when did all this happen? No one really knows, since maps of the area are lacking until about 400 years ago. Fritton and the linked Ormesby-Rollesby-Filby broads appear on a map of 1574, and Domesday records indicate that there was an enormous demand for peat from Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Documents written in the 13th and 14th centuries tell of devastating floods and mention that turf production around South Walsham declined dramatically. Perhaps it was then that the miners abandoned their workings and left the area to become a paradise for native birds and plants.

But the Broads' story does not end there. New industries sprang up, using sedge and reed for thatching and alder wood for brush making. These small-scale projects prevented nature from taking over completely and kept the waterways open. Their decline since the First World War has meant that open fenland has gradually become dense alder carr (wet woodland dominated by alder). Ancient waterways, that once saw traditional Norfolk wherries (sailing craft) transporting goods, are silting up and the heavy use of fertilisers on arable land causes algal blooms. You will see what the Broads Authority is doing about these problems when you visit the How Hill nature reserve.

What to look for

At How Hill you can visit Toad Hole, a marshman's cottage built in the 18th century, now furnished to look like a fen labourer's home. The best drainage mills are near How Hill. Turf Fen (1880s) is on the opposite bank of the River Ant and Boardman's Mill (similar date with 1926 engine) is to the north. Further north is Clayrack Mill, restored in 1988.

Where to eat and drink

At Ludham the friendly King's Arms has a pleasant beer garden with a playground for children, and serves good food and real ale. Next door is Planet Codwood, a fish and chip shop that shares the beer garden and offers excellent fried fish to order. Near by is Barnaby's Bistro.

While you're there

Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden is located on South Walsham Inner Broad and offers visitors superb gardens and boat trips.. You'll find hire boats and trips at Wroxham and Potter Heigham. The Broadland Conservation Centre at Ranworth provides information and maps and is a good place to start any serious exploration of the area.

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