Potter Heigham (locally pronounced "Potter Ha-am") is a small village with a population of less than a thousand people. But although it is fairly small, it is one of the main boating centres of the Norfolk Broads, located on the banks of the River Thurne, and well known because of the medieval stone bridge that provides access to Horsey Mere, Hickling Broad, and the Upper Thurne. It has been a famous holiday destination since the 19th century and used to have a direct train line to the Midlands. Its name in part comes from the Roman and 12th century pottery that used to be the main industry of the region. And the Heigham part of the name comes from the old English term for 'a homestead with a hedge'. It was originally called Heigham Potter but by the 18th century, this had changed to Potter Heigham. The area became a main site for peat digging, and by the 15th century the larger deeper areas had completely filled with water due to the digging; this created lakes such as Hickling Broad.
Along the riverside banks, there are many waterside houses and cottages that do not have any vehicular access and can only be reached by foot or by boat. These are some of the only buildings on the Norfolk Broads that are built directly on the riverbank. The town has a village church, two pubs, various restaurants and tea shops, a large fishing shop, and the famous Lathams stores. The river is the focus of this village and as the area is well known for pleasure boat hire, this village has become one of the main centres for river based holidays in the Norfolk Broads. As a result, it is one of the main starting points for live aboard boat holidays and day boat trips on the Broads.
The old bridge, made from medieval stone, dates back to 1385 and it is a low semi-circle shaped road bridge with a clearance of approximately 1.98 metres (6 foot 6 inches) at average high water, with a rise and fall of around 0.14 metres (5-6 inches). It is this low draught clearance and its low arched structure that makes it one of the most difficult bridges on the Norfolk Broads to navigate. Given this difficulty, a bridge pilot must be used for all boats to safely navigate craft through the bridge (bridge pilot available 8:30am - 6:00pm daily during the season run from Phoenix Boatyard Fleet). There is also a new road bridge over which the A149 passes as you travel out of Potter Heigham towards Hickling or Martham, but this new bridge has a draught of 2.30 metres (7 foot 6 inches) at average high water so does not require a bridge pilot to pass under as you continue to the Upper Thurne.
There can also be strong tidal flow through the bridge and often many boats are gathered at the bridge trying to moor, awaiting an available time slot with the bridge pilot. When passing through the bridge, it is difficult to see anything on the other side of the bridge through the low domed shape arch of the bridge. The pilot is therefore necessary to help guide boats through the low bridge and to ensure there is no oncoming traffic on the other side at the same time as you pass through. All hire boats in the Norfolk area will come with instructions on whether or not they can pass through this bridge at all based on the boats draught. But this is only normally an indication of passage during normal tidal conditions, and boats may not be able to pass through for a period (of a few days) after heavy rainfall or during other adverse weather conditions. So it is advisable for all visitors to contact the bridge pilots office or the information office to find out the tide levels and the height restrictions on the day of travel. Also if you are going back the same way to return hire craft, you could be prevented from passing through due to excessive rainfall on your return journey (so plan ahead and keep a check on weather conditions that may prevent passage through the bridge).
Pubs and Restaurants
Close to Potter Heigham Bridge right on Bridge Road, is a pub called the Broadshaven Tavern, which can be a useful stopping point after the sometimes arduous journey of navigating through the bridge, so during summer it is normally quite busy. There is another pub, the Falgate Inn, located neat Potter Heigham Village Stores just outside of the village towards Ludham, but this pub is a short walk along Bridge Road away from the river. The village also has a Fish and Chip shop, Coffee Shop cafe, bakery and during peak season a popular Hot Dog stall is present in front of Lathams fishing shop.
Lathams Stores and Fishing Shop
Just as Wroxham is famous for Roys department store, Potter Heigham is famous for Lathams of Potter Heigham, a famous Norfolk discount store selling many items from food, supplies for holiday makers, ornaments, toys, household items, clothes, and including a plant nursery selling all manner of plants and gardening equipment. No trip to Potter Heigham is complete without a visit to this famous store that has served locals and visitors for over 30 years from this position. Lathams also run the large fishing shop located opposite the main store on Bridge Street just a stones throw from the waters edge (making the fishing shop one of the most popular for bait and fishing gear on the Broads).
St. Nicholas Church
The village church located to the north away from the river, St. Nicholas, dates to the 12th century and features a round tower with a 14th century extension including an octagonal top. There is a hammer beam roof which is Gothic open timber and wall paintings going back to the 14th century. It is one of the prettiest churches in the area as the roof is thatched with local Norfolk reed and kept well maintained.
Potter Heigham Tower Mill
There is a great round trip walk through the village starting near the bridge, walking towards the post office, and then down a country lane towards a mill. Built in 1849, this six storey red brick tower windmill was built by Suffolk millwrights, Martins Company on the site of a previously constructed postmill that dated as far back as the 1790's. The Potter Heigham towermill is still standing, which can be seen as you walk around the village. After the towermill, the walk follows the woodlands and marshes with some fantastic scenery passing near Hickling Broad, eventually ending up circling around back to the old bridge at Potter Heigham.
Herbert Woods Marina Boat Hire
Amongst the many boatyards in Potter Heigham, one of the most famous is Herbert Woods whose name can be seen all over the village and is located opposite Lathams. Herbert Woods is well known for building Broads Haven marina and boatyards in Potter Heigham and for operating some of the first Broads cruisers at the beginning of the 20th century. Broads Haven is the largest yacht marina on the Norfolk Broads and it is based in a large 2-acre basin that was dug out and created in the 1930's. This area and marina became home to Herbert Woods fleet of cruiser boats that were available for hire, including the famous fleet of Light Broads motor cruisers that all include the word 'Light' in the boat names. The boatyard is well known for designing and building boats, and Herbert Woods Light Cruiser boat design is said to be the very beginning of the Broads Cruiser style boats that are used on these waterways still today. With a fleet of over 150 hire boats ranging from luxury Elite Cruisers, through standard Cruisers down to fishing boats or day boats Herbert Woods is sure to have the live aboard boat holiday experience you require.
Waterside Marina Boat Sales
Broads Haven Tower is now home to the offices of Waterside Marina who sell a variety of used boats. As well as being boat brokers for all sizes and types of boats Waterside Marina arrange private moorings within the Broads Haven marina.
Phoenix Fleet Hire and Bridge Pilot
Phoenix Fleet boatyard offers day boats including electric launches, as well as canoes for hire from near the old bridge. They are most well known for being the boatyard that runs the bridge pilot under Potter Heigham medieval bridge, but are also accomplished boat builders, repairers and run a small hire fleet.
The boatyards can meet your demands for any type of craft you need including kayaks or canoes, day-boats, fishing rowing boats, to luxury 12 nerth cruisers and other motor-boats for longer trips all launched from one of the main sailing areas on the Broads. All hiring companies provide full instruction on how to use the vessels before you head out alone as well as full safety guidelines and equipment. There is free public mooring on the Thurne River near the bridge for boaters to stop and explore the shops and the village.
After passing through the bridges heading north on Candle Dyke off the Thurne, visitors come to Hickling Broads, which is a great spot for bird watchers as birds such as common cranes, marsh harriers, bitterns and barn owls can be seen here. It is also a breeding habitat for the swallowtail butterfly and the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly. If you require refreshments the Pleasure Boat Inn is located in Hickling Broad and has moorings available right by the pub, they also boast a small convenience store within the pub for your essential boat supplies (or just a paper in the morning).
If rather than entering Hickling Broad you take a right fork after Candle Dyke onto Meadow Dyke further along, visitors will come to Horsey Mere. Here the Broads come very close to the North Sea, with only a small strip of land seperating the two. There is the National Trust owned Horsey drainage pump located here, a four storey brick wind pump that has been fully restored by the Trust. From moorings in Horsey Mere Broad the closest pub the Nelson Head is a short walk from the water of around 1/2-3/4 of a mile, but there is a small cafe and toilet facilities available in Horsey Mere. This area can provide some of the best views and is one of the most scenic waterways on the Broads, but Meadow Dyke can be narrow in places with moorings tight in Horsey. If visiting this area by car you could drive south along the coast to visit Scratby, Hemsby or Caister near Great Yarmouth. Caister castle which hosts the Caister Motor Museum is a popular attraction and holds the largest collection of privately owned vehicles on display in the UK.
By continuing along the Thurne rather than heading up Candle Dyke towards Hickling, you reach Martham and Martham Broad passing through Martham floating swing bridge. The village is very picturesque and the broad holds very clean clear water supporting plenty of wildlife within the 140 acres of Martham National Trust nature reserve. The nearest pub is located in West Somerton travelling through the end of Martham Broad with moorings and fresh water for boats available in West Somerton, just a few minutes walk from the Lion at Somerton pub.
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