Best Broads churches

Anglican clergyman Richard Woodham tells us his 10 favourite Broadland churches.

St. Helen, Ranworth: Known as 'The Cathedral of the Broads', St. Helen's is famous for its beautifully preserved 15th century screen. Visitors can climb the narrow winding stairway, through the bell chamber and out onto the top of the tower. It's a long climb - and not for the claustrophobic - but from the top you can see for miles across broads and rivers to the coast. The ghostly monk Pacificus is celebrated in the windvane.

All Saints, Horsey: The church probably dates from the 12th century. It is very simple, has a thatched roof and a round tower. A short walk from the National Trust car park at Horsey Mill, tucked away off the main road, it's a place apart, somewhere to sit and be.

St. Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf: This is another church with a spectacular 15th century screen. If you are into angels this is the place to come!

St. Catherine, Ludham: St. Catherine's is a 14th century building set in the middle of a bustling Broadland village. Above the painted screen is a rare surviving rood (a crucifixion scene) from the time of Queen Mary. On the opposite side is an equally rare coat of arms of her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I. Look at the figures at the top of the columns - they are great fun! If you like them you'll love the woodwoze (wild man) and his woodwoze wife on the base of the font!

St. Benedict, Horning: The church is some way from the village, built on a rise above the river, with the grand old vicarage beside it. It has its own landing stage (or staithe as they're called on the Broads). If you liked the carvings in Ludham you'll love the carvings on the pew ends here. In times past the church was under the care of St. Bennet's Abbey (now a ruin on the other side of the River Ant). By a strange fate of history the Bishop of Norwich remains Abbot of St. Bennet's and leads a service on the site on the afternoon of the first Sunday in August.

St. Peter, Belaugh: 'Far from the madding crowd', St. Peter's is another church with its own landing stage. It occupies a high place overlooking the river and may have been a pre-Christian holy site. 'The steeple house stands high, perked like one of the idolatrous high places of Israel,' wrote one disapproving puritan Mayor of Norwich. Parts of the church date from 11th century. In early summer the churchyard is full of wild flowers.

St. Theobald, Hautbois: This 11th century, round towered church was once busy with pilgrims on their way to Bromeholm Priory and Walsingham. Before there were bridges a ford crossed the river nearby, guarded by a castle. Only the castle mound remains and can be glimpsed through the trees just south of the church. In the early spring there's a succession of wildflowers flowers, snowdrops followed by daffodils. At any time there's a sense of peace.

St. Edmund, Thurne: Dedicated to the martyred Saxon King of East Anglia this simple 13th century thatched church looks west across the marshes, towards ruins of St. Bennet's Abbey. The pagan Viking leader, Sweyne Forkbeard, had been responsible for Edmund's death. His son, King Canute, converted to Christianity and founded the abbey on a existing monastic site. All this was long ago but a short walk up hill from the village to the church brings the present day visitor to a timeless place – an ancient church with an open door.

St. John the Baptist, Coltishall: Across the road from the Red Lion, parts of this thatched church date from 11th century. From the road you can see the east end of the earliest building etched out in a vertical line of re-used Roman bricks. High, under the eves, are two of the original, Saxon, round windows from a time before glass was common. These holes were called wind-eyes from which we get our word windows.

St. Michael, Irstead: Across the green from Irstead Staithe, it's more straight forward to arrive by boat. This small thatched church is part of the Dragon Trail which includes Horning, Ludham and St. Bennet's Abbey. You may consider the tale of the Ludham Worm to be a Victorian invention but there are at least two pieces of artwork here of something snakelike!

Get directions to and further details any of these churches from the Diocese of Norwich or Churches on the Broads.


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