Mike Garside discovers the best pubs on the Norfolk Broads; it was a tough job, but someone had to do it…
When I first started to think about writing an article on the best pubs to eat in on the northern Broads and rivers, I thought I would approach it geographically, or nautically, as most seasonal boat hire travellers would find them. On reflection I suspect most readers are more likely to approach most of them by car, either in passing or as a planned trip out for a meal.
Getting a feel for the Broads by car is at best tricky, glimpses of the river are often fleeting, even frustrating, and these pubs can offer great access points to the water’s edge and views of all the boat traffic and even some of the wildlife, normally reserved for those lucky enough to actually get on the water.
We normally have two or three dogs on board, or in the boot, so our selection tends towards dog-friendly establishments by default. If you baulk at eating in the company of four legged companions, these may not be for you, but many offer a dining area, separate from the bar.
The Bridge Inn, Acle
Cask marque accredited with quest beers and both Woodfords and Adnams on draft, the Bridge Inn is located by the Acle bridge and is easily accessible by river and road with good moorings and car parking. The website is worth pulling up for menus, offers, reviews (very good) and a great history page with old photos and the pubs history. Children and dogs are welcome. There’s a riverside beer garden in season and Sunday roast in low season.
The Lion Inn, Thurne
The Lion Inn is a little off the beaten track by car, being on the road to nowhere, apart from Thurne, but it’s worth the effort. It does benefit from seasonal boat traffic, being situated at the head of Thurne Dyke and its iconic windmill, which offers a large number of overnight moorings (small charge payable at the pub). It’s very popular with families and is dog friendly, in fact it’s one of the best places to eat and dog walk, with riverside footpaths allowing river view/side walking all the way to Potter Heigham.
The Swan Inn, Horning
Tudor wood-framed in part, and perhaps one of the most recognised and photographed pubs on the Bure, the Swan is now part of a large chain, but none the worse for it. Limited moorings in Horning are a constant problem for river visitors, but the adjacent public car par (pay and display) offers access to the village, pub and river for drivers. The Swan offers an extensive menu, with an outside dining area on the river bank in season, giving perhaps one of the best vantage points of the bustling river for lunch or dinner in mid-summer. The Swan is dog friendly and offers accommodation.
The Kings Head, Coltishall
The Kings Head is a 17th century country inn situated on the banks of the River Bure on the Wroxham approach to Coltishall. The 24-hour moorings are popular during the summer. Car parking is also busy in peak season and shared with the Rising Sun, on adjacent sites. The Kings Head offers fine cuisine, specialising in locally sourced produce. One for diners wanting gastro over pub grub. Bed and Breakfast is also offered. The outside seating area is limited, and more on the road than the river.
The Nelson Head, Horsey
This was recommended to us by Alison from Oliver’s Sailing Holidays who hire classic sailing yachts. She describes it as a “little pub with a big character and definitely one of our very favourite pubs in Norfolk!” I’ve tried to eat here twice now and failed due to its popularity. I still want to go back, partly from the reviews and mostly because it’s like stepping into the 19th century.
Punt guns over the bar, shackles and ropes. Dogs under every table. There are very limited covers due to its compact size, so arrive early (which we didn’t). Outside seating in the summer helps, and yes I know it’s not strictly on the Broads, but it’s close enough to Horsey Mere to count. Visit seals on the beach at Horsey for a wildlife experience to rival any large game safari. If you can’t get a table, a short drive away at the top of Hickling Broad is its sister pub, The Pleasure Boat Inn. Make a reservation at www.thenelsonhead.com
The Pleasure Boat Inn, Hickling
This was first recommended to us by Nick Highton of Martham Ferry Boatyard, a local dog friendly day boat hire company. “The Pleasure Boat is exceptionally located, overlooking Hickling Broad and Dyke, and a great lunch stop for our hire boat visitors, being about an hour from the boatyard and taking visitors across the wonderful Hickling Broad,” he explained.
The Pleasure Boat Inn dates back to 1745, simply furnished, serving value for money tasty pub food. The tables outside have a fabulous view of Hickling Dyke and Broad. The pub is dog and child friendly. There is a massive free car park. Motoring homes – remember to take a right turn up to see Horsey Mere and the Windmill at Horsey Dyke.
The Wroxham Hotel, Wroxham
I know it’s strictly not a pub but I do think this is worth a mention, not just because most people’s experience of the Broads rarely extends much beyond a trip to Wroxham, but also because it’s just so good. Recently refurbished, it has one of the best terrace bar areas on the river and has a great restaurant, bar menu and moorings. The terrace provides views of Wroxham bridge and all the fun that a low narrow, partly blind stone arch can create for the novice captains of the now massive hire boats trying to pass under. The food is great with a friendly bar with dogs and kids welcome. There’s the bonus of afternoon tea with cakes.