A spin round a Great Broad

I’ve singularly failed to put together my final Highlights of the Isle of Wight blog post and for that I apologise. I’m sure it’ll pop up at some point (gotta wait for the muse, man….).

I can tell you about the great stay we had at Whitlingham Broad Campsite this weekend instead. With our usual forward planning and attention to detail we booked up last Wednesday. The staff kindly agreed we could arrive at 8.30pm, an hour after the normal check in time but traffic out of London so bad it was a nerve shredding schlep (with a record breaking speed toilet stop) to get there with only minutes to spare. Fergus on the reception desk was lovely and welcoming however and whizzed us through the check in, the facilities and the fire policy.

The campsite is easy enough to find and astonishingly close to Norwich city centre for such a peaceful site. It’s within the Whitlingham Broad Country Park and is just over the road from the Broad itself, woodland, a ruined manor house, an outdoor adventure centre and play area.

The Saturday dawned bright and breezy and we headed to the Flint Barn visitors centre (pictured) to enquire about a wildlife boat trip on the Broad. Unfortunately the boat, which is solar powered, was awaiting a part and not running. It’s a 50 min trip which might be a bit long for short campers but the lady in the Tourist Information Centre was super friendly and helpful so we left full of ideas for things to do.

Bernice on a bright and breezy morning on Whitlingham Broad (Flint Barn over the road)

We decided to walk the path all the way round Whitlingham Great Broad (there’s a Little Broad as well). It’s 2.3 miles, a bit borderline for SC and her short legs so we devised a scavenger hunt of things to find and see to keep her occupied and minimise complaining of the “are we nearly there?” variety. It is a pretty walk but the view of the water is mainly obscured by trees so, in some ways, you could be anywhere.

Stroll around the Great Broad with scavenger hunt

Constitutional complete and many treasures later (although I’m still slightly sceptical of SC’s claim that she saw a frog on a lily pad…) we arrived back in the blazing sun. The cafe at the visitors centre looked very tempting but we headed back to Bernice for lunch.

The site has been recently refurbished and it shows. It’s beautifully kept with a great little shop and good waste recycling. The toilets are super swish, you feel like you’re in a spa with wooden doors, square sinks and posh hand wash (for the record I am NOT complaining!). Watch out for the light sensors in the toilet at night though, they turn off after about twelve and a half seconds if you’re in the shower and leave you bumbling around in the dark. The site also has a range of glamping accommodation if you don’t have a Bongo in your life…..

We had a range of ambitious plans for the afternoon including walking into Trowse, going to the pub, exploring the woods and the low ropes play area. In the end we plumped for doing…..nothing. It was very hot, SC picked up some pals staying in the Toyota Regis opposite, we played junior Monopoly and naps were taken. But there is loads to do without needing to drive if the weather’s not so good or you’re more actively inclined.

I’m a big fan of doing not much however and camping is ideal for that. There’s a limit to the chores you can do in a Mazda Bongo and the internet reception is normally bugger all. We whiled away the afternoon then ordered pizza from the visiting chefs (get in quick, they only make 30!). The evening featured a short walk to the ruined manor house in the woods, chat with the neighbours and more….not much.

The building was inhabited in the 18th century by an eccentric named William Money, best known for his experimental but ultimately unsuccessful hot air balloon travel 🎈 

Norfolk never lets us down!

Being unfaithful to Quentin

I had hoped to see more of the local attractions during our time at the Waveney River Centre but what with catching up with family, friends, Easter egg hunts, swimming and general camping “watching the world go by” we didn’t do brilliantly in that department.

We did head over to the beach at Lowestoft which is a fabulous long stretch of golden sand. Add in the crazy golf, a decent playground and a new bucket and spade to the mix and short campers will be happy for hours.

After our brief visit in late autumn (see Trying to be Miserable post) the Waveney River Centre did not disappoint for a longer stay. Top marks for….

– the beautiful peaceful river views

– the fabulous indoor swimming pool with a jacuzzi and full length picture window out onto the Broads

– the excellent Waveney Inn on site, we enjoyed some local ale and their sweet potato chips are amazing.

– the staff are very friendly and super helpful

We had a couple of minor niggles:

– we may have just been unlucky but the campsite was noisy at night. There’s supposed to be a no- noise policy after 9pm which was very much not in evidence and certainly not enforced. Music was played until after 10.30pm and the family next to us shrieked, shouted and argued long into the night. Having had Bernice since 2014 I’d forgotten how clearly you can hear absolutely everything in a tent… Ear plugs are a must!

-There seemed very little respect for personal space. Numerous people tramped through our pitch as a short cut to the toilet block without so much as an “excuse me” – even moving our stuff out of the way to do it. So rude!

Tiny irritations aside we had three nights in Quentin having a splendid time until we saw the weather forecast looking like this…. Although we had stayed dry it’s always a pain taking a wet tent home and having it draped over everywhere until you get round to wrestling it back in its bag.

The kind and helpful staff at the Waveney River Centre suggested that we could have a “pod” for the Sunday night and we jumped at the chance to abandon Quentin and try a spot of glamping.

I had never been inside a pod before. There’s not much to see but there’s a double bed on the top deck and two single beds below. No cooking facilities but it is heated and there’s a telly if you fancy it. We retired to the Waveney Inn for dinner then played a few games.

It was a fun last night before we headed home and felt lovely and snug (and we felt lovely and smug) against the battering rain overnight. Lucky we had all our camping stuff with us so we could rustle up the obligatory bacon sandwiches and giant mugs of tea in the morning which was lovely, bright and breezy. I can understand the attraction of glamping but you’d still have to have a fair amount of camping stuff yourself and it’s not super cheap (£75 / night for a pod). Having said that you don’t have to worry about springing a leak, you don’t have to get an large uncooperative bit of canvas in a small bag in a stiff breeze and there’s less chance of wanting to stomp about and throw things…. 😋

Unfortunately it’s gong to take five weeks to get the parts to fix Bernice so she’s hanging out at Auto Fix in Dagenham for a bit longer. No talk of writing her off though, so that’s a relief.

Fingers crossed we get her back in time for our Isle of Wight trip planned for half term! 🚐💨

Trying to be miserable…

Train tickets were booked and Airbnb cranked up to head off to a family christening in Crewe this weekend. Unfortunately my mum had a bad fall and broke her leg so we reset our compass and seized the chance for a bonus hospital-visiting trip to Norfolk in Bernice.

We booked into the Waveney River Centre at Burgh St Peter for the rock bottom bargainous price of £17 for one night. This site is right by the river and has so many facilities it would be boring to list them all. The camping pitched are right by the river overlooking the marina, there’s a great playground for short campers and the absolute crowning glory of the site is the fabulous indoor heated swimming pool.

Hospital visiting was done on Saturday and after a long trip (its further than we thought) the weather was pretty wet and gloomy. I woke up on Sunday morning in the AFT to the rain battering down and thought it would be more of the same. There’s something really lovely about being snuggled up in the roof, especially in my amazing Vango double harmony sleeping bag, listening to the terrible weather and knowing that we’re safe and dry in Bernice. Just a shame that at some point you’re going to have to get up and brave the outdoors.

Luck was on our side however as the rain stopped in time for breakfast and a brisk walk round the marina with SC picking our favourite boat and debating whether a swan would be a good pet. Obviously we had bought our swimming stuff and headed straight for the pool when our breakfast had gone down. The pool is top notch although it was pretty busy on a chilly October morning, it must be packed in the summer. There’s a jacuzzi and a big picture window stretching the whole length of the front with views onto the river. Is there such a thing as spa camping? Can I suggest it as a concept?

The weather had become really lovely, a fresh nippy autumn day. It had been a tough week for various reasons so I was trying hard to be miserable but it was pretty difficult with this view:

My Dad popped over on the way to the hospital and we went for lunch at the Waveney Inn which is on site. Friendly staff and massive portions are the order of the day. I had the fish with sweet potato chips which was fab (served on a chopping board if that kind of thing bothers you…). The only downside is the room of fruit machines which takes away from the atmosphere a bit for me. Food wise, there’s also a take away pizza place for the campsite which we didn’t get to try.

If we could have stayed longer there’s tonnes to do nearby. There’s a pedestrian foot ferry linking the site to Carlton Marshes Nature Reserve (where I did work experience as a teenager), loads of walks, fishing and loads of boat related activities. Yet again, I think this will need a repeat visit, maybe for a week, soon there won’t be time to go to work….

Frogs, sausages and a long walk in the woods

The one thing lacking at Sandringham Country Park is signs. It’s like a magical mystery tour. We arrived on Saturday following a both short and long walk from the campsite. Short in distance (it’s only just over a mile through beautiful woodland) but lengthy in time accompanied, as we were, by a five year old moving at the speed of a glacier and intent on finding frogs.

The children’s play area is not marked on the map but was relatively easy to locate. It has a great range of equipment and the holy grail of play – a zip wire. A significant portion of the day had passed before we bribed SC into leaving and finding the sculpture trail. This is marked on the sparsely populated map but not well signposted. We stumbled upon it while crossing the Scenic Drive route which was, at far as we could see, at that point a Scenic Traffic Jam.

The sculptures are nice enough albeit a bit random (“Look Mummy! An old man with owls!! And a gorilla!!). I was in the process of complaining that they might have provided a guide leaflet when we were overtaken by a family, with a guide leaflet…. Top tip – ask in the visitors centre for a leaflet.

We stopped for lunch at the restaurant in the visitors centre but after 15 min enjoying a static queue we abandoned that idea and headed to the adjacent farmers market open 10-3pm. After a mad spree of buying local sausages, local chilli sauce, local bread and local beer for our tea there were burgers and cupcakes all round for an enjoyably unhealthy lunch.

And thus began the long walk home, still looking for frogs and now weighed down with all our local food…

At the campsite we were overexcited to spot another Bongo and quickly invaded Kate, Lee and Jordy’s personal space for bongo-related chat. Their Bongo is unconverted, it is currently unnamed but does tow a funky green trailer tent called Penny to house the whole family. We had a great time swapping camping stories, successful and otherwise.

Lee, Kate and Jordy with their Bongo. Penny the trailer tent not pictured…
Bank holiday Monday (my birthday!) saw gorgeous weather and a trip back to our favourite Snettisham beach.

Norfolk, you are fabulous xx

Struggling to find a spot on packed Snettisham beach

Bernice sets sail in Norfolk

More often than not it seems my birthday falls on the bank holiday weekend (I’m sure that’s not technically correct but don’t work it out for me!). So you’d think that I’d be prepared for one thing and that thing is rain, I’ve had more wet birthdays than I can remember.

Omens were not good as our wheels hit the drive at Sandringham Camping and Caravan club to an accompanying rumble of thunder. Our camping neighbours confidently claimed it would “blow over” just before it went dark as night and this:

Despite many happy years of tent camping I offered a silent prayer of thanks for the wonder of having Bernice as we shut the door on it and put the kettle on.

Weather aside the campsite is a lovely spot in the grounds of Sandringham Country Park. It’s busy, pricier and manicured in the typical “Camping and Caravan Club” way but hey, I like a clean, heated shower block as much as the next person. It’s attractive and wooded with some nice little quirks like occasional wood sculptures and a pretty garden with an insect hotel. There’s a shop for the essentials and the staff are friendly and helpful.

For short campers there’s two playgrounds and a natty noughts and crosses set with stones painted as ladybirds and bumblebees. We requested to be near the playground and virtually had our front wheels touching it which made for a noisy but effectively child-free two days.

Don’t worry, the site is big enough to also be far away from the playground if that is your wish…

The only disappointment on the site is the lack of commitment to recycling. All rubbish gets put in together, the staff at reception said it gets sorted at the plant “allegedly”.

When the storm abated we navigated the lake which had formed outside Bernice and opted for the fish and chip supper option, a local van visits the site regularly. Although the chips are excellent, this is not an option for the hungry. We ordered our chips at 6.10pm and finally picked them up at 7.45pm.

The long wait did mean there was plenty of time for queue chat, how others’ tents had fared in the rain,  are caravans better than camper vans (obviously not…) and what IS a trailer tent?? We also picked up some great tips for activities for the following day.

Not long to go…

Work is over for the week and tomorrow we’re off to my new favourite destination, North Norfolk. One is staying at Sandringham you know…

North Norfolk stole my heart in July with its amazing empty beaches and big skies.

Heacham beach in July this year. One of the few places in East Anglia you can watch the sun set over the sea.

Not sure what we’ll be up to yet but looking forward to getting Bernice on the road again. Monday might be a bit special, maybe it’s the *whisper* big 3-9…. we’ll see what the camper post brings. Maybe there’ll be a bit of a lie-in in the roof as well.

Beachcombing success at Snettisham in July