If you checked Trip Advisor before setting off for Whitlingham Country Park you would probably change your mind about going – and in my opinion that would be a shame.
From what I can tell most of the complaints about the park, which is just outside Norwich, are to do with parking, which should have hopefully been sorted out now.
Pre- Freya I used to occasionally jog (walk/run) around the Great Broad, which is circular 2-ish (felt more like 26) mile route – with the stunning scenery almost enough to distract me from the fact I was exercising. I also enjoyed taking my big camera out for a little treat, especially in spring. These days Freya and I prefer to come and watch the ducks and swans, have a little picnic and, on rainy days, splash in muddy puddles.
The 35-hectare park, which is jointly managed by the Whitlingham Charitable Trust and the Broads Authority, has an interesting history. It features the “ruin of a monk’s manor house, ancient chalk workings and evidence of Palaeolithic and Neolithic flint-knapping”.
In 1988 permission was given to extract gravel from the site with the creation of the Little Broad in 1990 and the Great Broad in 1995. It was several more years before it opened to the public.
It was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2009 and has an important role to play in conservation and biodiversity (some parts are restricted so that wildlife remains undisturbed).
An 18th Century flint barn (see photo below) was repaired and opened as a visitor centre/cafe in 2006 should you fancy a pit-stop and there is also an Outdoor Education Centre, owned and managed by Norfolk County Council, which offers courses and activities for those aged eight and over.
In the summer and on weekends, even in winter, it gets busy – although there is plenty of space. While many people just like to enjoy a bit of fresh air there are apparently moth and bat evenings, pond dipping, quarry safaris and canoe trails available.
On a rainy Friday in August, Freya and I probably saw five people and three dogs tops in the happy hour we spent there – and best of all it was free (unless you count the £1 parking).
It was incredibly peaceful with just the noise of the water and wildlife (plus the occasional train rumbling in the distance) and I actually felt like it helped us (ok, me) recharge after a busy few days.
Despite the drizzle she was happy to wander (she was in wet weather gear as you can see – unlike me) and stop and look at things, particularly if it meant getting wet and/or muddy, before stopping on a bench for a little snack.
While I am all for spending the odd rainy day sat (ideally in my PJs under a duvet) in front of the TV, we have so many of them that we’d probably go stir crazy. Plus, as long as it’s not pouring down, I don’t think a bit of water will do us much harm (although I do need to invest in a raincoat).
So if you’re in Norfolk and looking for a natural space within easy reach of Norwich – no matter what the weather – please check out Whitlingham Country Park.