“ Hoveton Great Broad lies within The Broads in Norfolk, England, between Wroxham Broad and Salhouse Broad. The broad is connected to the River Bure, but not open to boat traffic. A nature trail was laid out in 1968 - the first in the region. It is accessible only by boat. Mooring is allowed on the north bank of the Bure, opposite Salhouse Broad. Natural England has established a Nature trail. From the boardwalk, one can see the broad with its adjoining fens and alder carr. „
Located next to the busy River Bure in the Norfolk Broads there's a nature reserve that seems almost prehistoric; a land that time has forgotten. Huge royal ferns tower over visitors' heads. Willow trees, rooting in mud and water, form an impenetrable barrier, preventing the light from reaching the ground and creating a gloomy, eerie landscape. Dangerously deep marshland waits to trap the unwary tourist who steps off the path.
Despite its ancient aspect, Hoveton Great Broad is a man made environment. Created several hundred years ago by human peat diggers, the shallow lake that formed has now been flooded, creating a lake, around which woodland and fenland has grown, creating the closest thing to a tropical swamp that can be found in Britain.
Located about a mile downstream of the town of Wroxham, Hoveton Great Broad is completely cut off from road, rail, and footpath. The only approach is by boat, accessed from the River Bure. There are moorings for several boats at the start of the nature trail which is opposite the moorings at Salhouse Spit.
The trail is open April to September from 10:00 until 17:00. A warden is usually present at the moorings to answer any visitors' questions. There is no charge for entry into the reserve, but visitors are asked to leave their dogs on board their boat.
Part of the Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve, Hoveton Great Broad is managed by English Nature who have built a wonderful trail through this unusual landscape.
The trail is dry underfoot and clearly marked. This is reassuring since there are several warnings not to step off the path due to the deep water and mud that is present only inches from the path in certain areas.
The trail winds through several different habitats and has information boards located in all the key areas. These give a fascinating insight into the history of the area, the development from dry land to broad, and the plant succession that has seen colonisation by reed, then willow, then finally alder woodland.
Even on a sunny day, parts of the woodland are dark and mysterious. Woodpeckers can be heard along with many commoner species, calling or singing away within the cover of leaves. Rustlings in the undergrowth could be common shrews or even the rare water shrew (but don't get too close, this mammal has a venomous bite!).
Visiting between May and June gives the chance to see Britain's largest and most spectacular butterfly, the swallowtail. This huge butterfly is only found in the Norfolk Broads and breeds in the nature reserve. Plenty of other butterflies can be found here, as can many species of dragonfly.
Following the trail takes you from the woodland across a small stream. You're now standing on an island...of peat! This peat remnant was not dug out with the rest of the excavations, so is about 10,000 years old.
From the island, the woods are left behind and the sky becomes open once more. Here, Hoveton Great Broad itself can be seen. The water quality of the broad is being managed and improved and is fabulous for wildlife. There is a hide here and quiet parties may be lucky enough to see a kingfisher hunting in the shallows. More likely is a brief view of a electric blue flash as this gorgeous little bird speeds past.
Also present on the broad is the beautiful marsh harrier. Norfolk is the stronghold of this spectacular raptor, which was once almost extirpated from Britain, but which is now making a great comeback due to lack of persecution.
There are several rafts in the middle of the broad and in summer these will be occupied by breeding common terns. These lovely white birds, known as the 'swallows of the sea' breed in relative safety here and relish the chance to harvest the abundant fish life of the broad.
The nature trail is only around 1Km long, but it feels much longer. Winding through willow and alder woodland, reedy marshland, and open water, the variety of habitats is impressive for such a small area. Being completely cut off from 'civilisation' gives the reserve a sense of wildness and remoteness that the apparently haphazard growth of ferns and trees emphasises.
It only takes around an hour to walk the whole trail, but it's likely that the quiet visitor will have much to see during this time. This is, to my knowledge, a unique environment and is completely unspoilt. Hoveton Great Broad is a wonderful place to stop off on your tour of the Norfolk Broads, as long as you have access to a boat, of course.