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Step back in time and see life in the Broads how it used to be
The Museum of the Broads (Stalham)
Member Name: markos9
The Museum of the Broads (Stalham)
Advantages: Inexpensive. Great displays and interactive exhibits
The Norfolk Broads consists of a series of lakes (broads) connected by rivers covering nearly 200 miles of countryside in Norfolk and Suffolk. Despite its natural appearance, the Norfolk Broads is a man-made landscape. In the Middle Ages, the underlying peat beds were excavated for fuel (this was before coal was discovered). This created pits which, when sea levels rose, flooded to form the shallow broads we see today.
As this unique landscape was being created, people moved into the area and new industries and ways of living were developed. The big rivers provided over 100 miles of navigable waterways connecting the sea to towns like Norwich; a cargo industry grew up with unique boats, called wherries used to transport up to 40 tonnes of material through the area.
The wildlife rich broads meant that wildfowlers and fishermen could earn a living from the waterways, and the acres of Norfolk reed provided the best thatching material in the country (and still does today).
Several hundred years of history is intertwined in the snaking rivers and the calm, shallow waters of the Broads. The special landscape of the Broads led to people working and living in ways unique to the area.
The Museum of the Broads exists to bring this history to life for modern people. The museum is located in Stalham, in the north of the Broads, just off the busy A149, and on the banks of the lovely River Ant (which means it can be visited by tourists using a hired motor cruiser).
Entrance to the museum is cheap (family ticket is £10, adult £4, child £3.50) and very good value for money considering the size of the exhibit. There is an extra charge of £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children, if you wish to take a trip on "Falcon", a steam powered launch. The trip lasts 50 minutes and will transport the visitor back in time to the age of steam.
The museum is housed in several large buildings on the sprawling site: each has a different theme. Children may be most fascinated with the Wherry Room. This houses a scale model of a wherry 'cuddy'; the master's sleeping quarters and living room, which visitors can enter and explore. Despite the boats being large, the living quarters are very cramped. One can only imagine what it must have been like to spend days on end confined to such a tiny living space.
Other models of wherries are housed in this room, giving the visitor a chance to see how these magnificent boats were made up. On the day we visited, a real wherry, Hathor, was moored at the museum. Visitors were not allowed on board, but it was amazing seeing one of these ancient craft, 'in the flesh'.
The discovery room will be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. Here, there's a video describing the history of the Broads, together with many activities for visitors to try out like taking quizzes, painting, or tying knots (not as easy as it looks, I can tell you!). The room is decorated with many tapestries of the Broads which look amazingly intricate. There are also display cases of stuffed animals and birds, including a huge 20lb pike.
For me, the Marshman's Building was the highlight of my visit. Here, the exhibit shows how a typical 'marshman' would live in the Broads. Thatching materials and tools are shown, as well as a boat used to harvest the reeds.
Wildfowling would have provided the marshmen with much of their food, and the various methods and equipment to catch ducks and geese are shown. The huge display of bird's eggs is interesting, showing the variety of species that would have had their nests robbed to feed the marshmen's families (a collection like this, in private hands could lead to a jail sentence nowadays, as owning birds eggs is illegal).
Life as a marshman was a hard way to earn a living. Out in all weathers, in all seasons, in a flimsy boat, today's visitor can only admire the tenacity that allowed people to live in this way, whilst being grateful for our modern conveniences.
The boat building is the largest building and houses a collection of Broads' boats. Comparing these old sailing boats with modern craft, it's evident that sailing a boat now is much easier. The old boats had no electric motors or winches, everything was done by hand. There is also a selection of marine engines used in the powered boats of the area. More boats are on show in the outside area of the museum.
The museum has a large shop, which sells typical tourist fare, as well as some really tempting paintings and other articles of the Broads, so it's well worth a look around. The shop also sells a range of drinks and snacks.
I really enjoyed my time at the Museum of the Broads. The old ways of life of this unique area were brought to life for me and gave me a real insight into what living here must have been like so many years ago. The kids really enjoyed it too, the activities, and clambering around the wherry really made the difference for them and allowed them to really enjoy the museum.
If you're holidaying in the Broads, and travelling near Stalham, the Museum of the Broads will provide a good value, fascinating, enjoyable day out for the whole family.
Summary: Gives the visitor a real feel for how life was like in the 'olden days'.
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