There is something very nostalgic about the Norfolk Broads.
Mere mention of the name brings back memories of childhood sailing trips, sunny days spent camping, capsizing and cooking sausages al fresco.
It was that feeling of fuzzy nostalgia that sparked the notion that I, despite having no boating experience to my name since a Barton Turf trip age 9, should book a week-long Broads trip on a 44ft luxury cruiser.
Never mind who would moor the thing: I was already browsing photos of windmills silhouetted against sensational sunsets and mentally populating my Instagram feed with photos of me in a captains hat.
I had visions of slow-paced days cruising waterways in the sunshine, hopping off for pints in riverside pubs.
Obviously (who factors logistics into daydreams?) I hadnt considered that one of us land-lubbing losers would have to reverse park (moor to stern, I was told, ahem, sternly) the boat in order to reach said waterside pub.
Turns out the land-lubbing loser on parking duty was me.
Fortunately, despite a serious case of nerves when I turned up to a rather in-depth coaching session with Herbert Woods trainer Pete, mooring (eventually) went surprisingly smoothly.
Negotiating a 44ft boat into the space I would ordinarily use to park my paddle board seemed impossible – but after the training and a few slightly embarrassing early attempts where I was waved in by an enthusiastic welcome party of a dozen fellow boaters (turns out dont look at me! holds no water on the Broads), I had it nailed.
It wasnt only the nostalgic call of the Broads that lured us to East Anglia for our summer holidays.
Just before we went, my 8-year-old son and I read that spending time in nature and woodland environments improves cognitive function by a significant percentage, while being in an urban setting decreases it.
Nature bathing has also been proven to reduce blood pressure, stress, anxiety and improve mental wellbeing.
Indeed, in her book Forest Therapy, Sarah Ivens writes that a recent study of 18,500 people conducted by the University of Derby and The Wildlife Trust showed that there was a scientifically significant increase in peoples health and happiness relating to a connection to nature and active nature behaviours, such as feeding birds.
The research showed that children exposed to the natural world showed increases in self-esteem, courage and creativity and gave them a chance to exercise, play, and discover in a way that made them feel gratitude and joy.
To be out on the Broads is to be immersed in nature and, sitting on the top deck, cruising at the maximum speed allowed – 4mph – with nothing to focus on but our surroundings and staying on course, we felt completely relaxed.
This expanse of waterways, linking vast broads and charming villages, is a magnet for sailors and wildlife alike.
Meandering down glittering waterways with tree-lined banks giving way to acres of green, we saw windmills and ancient abbey ruins, vast broads dotted with sailing boats and quaint towns entered under tiny stone bridges.
Herons populate the reed banks, perched on half-submerged branches or swooping low across the water looking for their next meal.
Swans with cignets in tow swim alongside the boat for miles like old friends. Ducks and geese fly by in formation, coming into land in their dozens.
Technology is not so much non-existent (our boat had satellite TV and DVD machine and there is intermittent internet and phone service on the Broads) as unnecessary.
We quickly got use to the pace of life – a leisurely breakfast on the sundeck, a glass of wine with some music at sunset, watching for birds, calling hello to every passing boat – and our need to be connected to the world beyond the Broads faded away.
In fact, for those few days we were on the Broads, our wake up call was not the shrill beep of the iPhone – it was the dawn quacking of ducks.
And, even if you cursed the ducks for the lie-in they robbed you of, emerging when the glass-like water is still tinged pink from the sunrise to have coffee on the sundeck was worth the lost minutes in bed.
At night, when we moored our boats near enough to a pub to hop off, we walked under a pitch-black sky filled with stars: light pollution on the Broads does not exist.
By day, we moored alongside fellow boaters and sat on the sun-soaked deck, chatting across boats and sharing biscuits and beers.
At Ranworth Broad we inflated our paddle board and spent a sunny morning meandering down narrow waterways our boat couldnt reach, while in the afternoon we ate sensational ginger ice cream from the souvenir shop and climbed the 89-step tower of Ranworths St Helens church for a spectacular view of 5 broads.
It wasnt all bucolic bliss of course: one morning it rained steadily, the sky a miserable grey and the upper deck a washout.
Thats when the cards and chocolate biscuits came out and we battened down the hatches til it passed.
We used the time to cruise to Horning, where we were lucky enough to nab a choice corner mooring outside the New Inn pub.
We had been warned back at the Herbert Woods boat yard that moorings in summer season are hard to come by.
This is not an exaggeration. All the moorings right outside the two pubs at Horning were already booked up for the night – you can book spots from 4pm in advance and pay £20 with £10 redeemable against dinner.
Moorings within walking distance to pubs tend to fill up by 4pm, and the advice was to moor up by 2.30pm to secure a place for your evening meal.
If you are organised enough to plan your route and book mooring in advance, do it.
With rain keeping most boats put for that rainy morning, we cruised to Horning, then Wroxham, then back to Horning before we found a spot at 3.30pm, by which time the chocolate biscuits had very much run out.
The New Inn was taking bookings for overnight moorings for the few days ahead, however – so savvy sailors would get in quick.
Or, as we did, make sure you are stocked up with enough food that you can eat on board and use any moorings you can nab as a bonus or just for drinks.
There are plenty more activities to do off the water if it does rain: the nature reserve, Bure Valley Railway, the Museum of the Broads, Thrigby Hall animal park, National Trust properties Felbrigg Hall and Blickling Hall, for instance.
And whatever the weather, the Broads has its own appeal – mist and moody skies can be just as interesting as cerulean blue, after all.
The best moments for us were those when we really felt part of the Broads community.
Every boat, without exception, waves and calls a greeting.
Familiar faces pass on a daily basis – a favourite was the eel fisherman, a cheery, shirtless man in overalls scooping eels into a net off the back of his small motorboat.
A charming family on the adjacent mooring gave us their water hose and spare electricity, along with a gin.
A smaller boat we invited to moor alongside us threw cookies and beer into our boat to thank us for helping them out.
There is a real convivial atmosphere on the Broads – its about relaxing and going slowly, passing the time of day with the rest of the boat community.
I had to shed my city girl instincts to rush. With a maximum speed allowed of 6mph – and thats only in the non-built up areas – this was the opposite of an adrenaline fix.
There are strict penalties for speeding and, if youre driving, even a few moments spent looking at a text message can send you off course.
Your only option is to slow down, put the phone away and be present: the very premise of the meditation I swear I am too busy and my mind too hectic to do back in London.
For me, the week was an accidental digital detox – as well as a week of enforced serenity and nature bathing that beats most therapy sessions.
Our fellow boaters immediately welcomed us into the fold – despite the fact we were blatant newbies who didnt know our port from our starboard, played Chas & Dave a touch too loud on our sundeck and had only a vague idea how to execute a proper knot.
Each one we met talked about coming back year after year – for the peace, the nature and the community.
And, after a week of our own on the Broads, I can genuinely see why.
HOW TO BOOK YOUR OWN NORFOLK BROADS ADVENTURE
Call 0800 144 4472 or visit herbertwoods.co.uk
Herbert Woods offers Norfolk Broads Holidays and short breaks.
As well as cruising they offer day boats, sailing, rowing and canoes.
Royale Light starts from £913 for a short break and £1302 for a week.
SARAH IVENS, AUTHOR OF FOREST THERAPY, ON NATURE BATHING
In my book Forest Therapy (Piatkus) I break down the endless benefits scientists and researchers have discovered from interacting with the great outdoors.
A recent study of 18,500 people conducted by the University of Derby and The Wildlife Trust showed that there was a scientifically significant increase in peoples health and happiness when a connection to nature and active nature behaviours, such as feeding birds, was sustained over a period of months.
The research showed that children exposed to the natural world showed increases in self-esteem, courage and creativity and given them a chance to exercise, play, and discover in a way that made them feel gratitude and joy.
In some cases, nature can significantly improve the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), providing a calming influence and helping with concentration.
There are physical advantages for children to be in nature, too, that have long-lasting effects into adulthood, a study in the International Journal of Obesity by an Australian team of nutritionists and academics, proved.
Years down the road, the child will still be more active and less likely to be overweight. If you think about this, it makes perfect sense; teach a child when theyre young to love moving around the outdoors and they will love it – and move – forever.
Aware of these overwhelming – and free! benefits of Forest Therapy, the NHS has released new guidelines regarding children and activity, suggesting kids aged between five and 18 should get at least one hour of activity outside every day, giving a stern warning to parents that the sedentary, indoor lifestyle children are currently living can lead to serious problems later in life, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Nature really is the best medicine!