In light summer rain, eight intrepid explorers take to the water on South Walshams broad. Armed with questions, expectations and brightly-coloured paddles, weve travelled from across East Anglia and even as far afield as Australia in the hope of catching sight of the waterways secretive wildlife.
The person to lead us on our backwater adventure is Mark Wilkinson, aka The Canoe Man, who is leading us through Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden.
“People just seem a lot more interested in getting out into the wilderness,” says Mark, explaining why his canoe trails are proving good business.
Through The Canoe Man, people can choose their desired level of “wilderness”, from guided to self-guided tours, from a couple of hours paddling to weekend watery breaks.
There are “paddle steamer” trips where you guide your canoe downstream from the Upper Bure Valley and then catch a train back. Or “canoe camping” where you get two days worth of canoeing and accommodation at a campsite. Theres even “bushcraft canoe tours”, where you learn outdoor survival skills. The benefit of each being that by canoe you reach those tucked away rivers generally inaccessible to motor boats.
This trip is on the tame end of the wilderness spectrum, a 2.5 hour guided circular tour on the South Walsham broad. Weve been zipped into life vests, matched with paddles according to our height and paired up in open canoes that prove relatively easy to steer.
As we break out of the gardens stream and on to the inner broad, a common tern flies overhead. Then Mark points out a cormorant - usually a seabird, he explains, but theyve discovered its easy to fish on the broads.
“Theres no need to canoe at speed,” explains Mark. “You see a lot more wildlife the slower and quieter you go; its part of canoeings appeal. It gives access to nature you wouldnt see anywhere else.”
Into the outer broad and we spy a pair of crested grebe dancing an elaborate courtship at its centre then, as we round a riverbank, the lead canoe spots a pensive heron just metres from our boats.
Read more about The Canoe Man trips, plus the pick of the regions waterway tour companies, who take travellers through the city, along the coast and out to meet our wildlife.
There are also tips on which boats to buy and how you can get involved in wild swimming on our inland waterways - all in this months EDP Norfolk, on sale now!