Discover: Rails, Sails & Trails in the Broads National Park

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Rail, Sails & Trails

The hugely successful national project Generation Green coordinated by YHA, involved National Parks and outdoor organisations, providing more than 100,000 opportunities for young people to connect with nature,  many for the first time. Rails, Sails & Trails initiative in the Broads National Park is one example of the projects helping young people discover the outdoors.

In 2022 Rails, Sails & Trails helped introduce young people to what, for many of them, was a new world – the Broads. The project was managed by education staff, with funding from the Community Rail Network, which includes Greater Anglia’s Wherry Lines and Bittern Line, and with support from many Broads Authority partners. The aim was to provide opportunities for young people and families who wouldn’t usually see the Broads to get out into the landscape by train. As well as never having been to the Broads before, train travel was also a new experience for some.

The project took school and family groups by rail to stations along the Wherry Lines – the railway network connecting Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Groups included participants from New Routes Integration, a local charity supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants through promoting cross-cultural integration and community awareness. A young participant who came to the Broads as part of a group of girls and young women said: “I breathe and see differently in nature. I feel free.” Another group, on their first trip across the Broads by train, enjoyed fun and games at Oulton Broad before going on to Lowestoft.

On their journey through a typical Broads landscape, school students learnt about the history and wildlife of the Broads, and how trains gradually displaced the wherry – the local, traditional trading boat – as the main form of transport across the region. Walks, games, presentations and other activities were key parts of days out.

One important stop on the Wherry Lines for some of the past and current school groups is Brundall, home of Broom Boats, a company associated with boating on the Broads since 1898, when they began building wooden sailing crafts. In 1912 they started hiring sailing boats for early Broads holidaymakers and later the company expanded into building and hiring motorised and fibreglass craft, as they still do today, from the same boatyard at Brundall – though like the boats, it’s changed a bit since then!

Boats are a key part of the history of the Broads – they were essential for getting people and goods around and keeping people in touch. Broom Boats also provide access to their facilities, outdoor tables and indoor picnic benches for when the weather demands. Julie Bolus has a studio at the boatyard and co-runs Norfolk Art Club. She adapted her illustrated booklet that families have on hire boats for Rails, Sails & Trails, and she provides all the resources and tuition for school visits. For Broom Boats, this is part of a wider programme of community engagement. Antony Howell, Managing Director of Broom Boats says, “At Broom Boats we are passionate about connecting to the local community and trying to open up the riverside for everyone to enjoy and improve wellbeing.

“We have plenty more planned for the future, all with the aim of opening the Broads to the wider audience and allowing everyone to see what it has to offer. The Rails, Sails & Trails project has perfect synergy to what we are trying to achieve, and it was amazing to see how the children really enjoyed the experience from the train ride to our adjacent station to discovering our boatyard history and connecting with the environment. We are proud to support the project and look forward to it continuing.”

Rails, Sails & Trails is continuing through 2023 and similar work is continuing through these and other partnerships, as we look forward to welcoming many more new visitors to the Broads National Park.

Rails, trails and sails workshop with Oulton Broad Primary ©Tom Barrett
Rails, trails and sails workshop with Oulton Broad Primary ©Tom Barrett

This blog was written by Broads Authority staff, Antony Howell and Broom Boats. All photos by Tom Barrett, Broads Authority.

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