Visiting Norfolk and looking for a fun day out with the kids? How about visiting the How Hill Estate in Norfolk and seeing the three windmills that are there? This is a good spring and summer activity and best not to visit in winter, like we did!
Sitting on the banks of the River Ant
The three windmills are located at the How Hill trust estate which consists of two historical houses, gardens and three windmills (Turf Fen, Boardman’s Mill and Clayrack Mill). Visiting in winter doesn’t do this estate any favours as it really comes into flowering beauty in the spring however we were still able to enjoy its offerings during the starkest of months.
To say the weather was dreich was an understatement as the dank mist clung to the branches, sitting low in the sky. Dreich is a fabulous Scottish word that perfectly describes the weather the day we visited. Poor visibility, low lying fog, drizzle and dank coldness met us as we got out of the car and embraced the chill.
The How Hill Estate
The How Hill Estate comprises of a study centre with a thatched, Edwardian house, acres of reed, marsh, woodland and a small broad, together with a marshman’s cottage, a secret garden and three restored drainage mills.
The Edwardian house is not open to the public but the rest of the estate is – even in winter, although we were the only visitors. The secret garden is located around the back of the house and the marshman’s cottage (toad hole cottage) which is available to view from the outside and two of the mills are about 100-150m apart, towards the river. The paths are wide and mostly concreted with grit. They’re suitable for buggies and possibly wheelchairs.
The boat trips on the Electric Eel are only available during the summer months. The reserve is of national and international importance for nature conservation, supporting a wide range of wetland plant communities and associated birds, insects and animal species. Dragonflies, marsh harriers, wild flowers and swallowtail butterflies can be seen here and if you take the boat, you’ll benefit from a professional guide to show and tell you the wildlife and the importance of it upon our environment.
Is There Parking?
Parking is adjacent to the house and in a field, which has a special area for parking. It is free. There isn’t much room in the winter for many cars, so budge up and don’t hog the off-road spaces.
Start With The Nature Trail
There were virtually no signs to guide us, so relying on common sense we followed a large path up the back of the house and stumbled along a sign for the secret garden. I am presuming that we followed the nature trail through the woods to get there but I am really not sure?
Follow The Secret Gardens
The secret gardens were looking a little bare – of course in December they wouldn’t look anything but. The last remaining leaves barely hanging on to the trees were changing in colour and shedding on to the pathways.
The pathways at How Hill are wide and have chicken wire attached to them to prevent ice and sliding. They’re suitable for pushchairs and people with mobility problems. There are a lot of pathways but no signs. Maybe these were taken down? There are many ponds and waterways and some nice areas for sitting down. I would guess in the summer these areas are a haven for insects and would be lovely to visit.
Check Out The Woodland Walk
In my general curiosity of ‘ooh I wonder what’s round here’, we stumbled across the woodland walk and found several habitat hamlets and bug hotels.
Toad Hole Cottage
It’s hard to believe that this house was once inhabitated by workers’ families. It is very small and dark. You’re able to peak through the windows and have at look at what life would have been like for them. A small herb garden next door accompanies the house.
Built in 1897, Boardman’s mill is an open-framed timber trestle, drainage mill with a miniature cap, sails and fantail. It is the only trestle mill which still has a turbine pump.
As a result of their mainly timber construction very few have survived the ravages of weather and time. Boardman’s mill is one of only three Trestle mills left on the Broads.
Once you’ve left the designated pathway next to the River Ant, the path leading to windmill is up a grassy and muddy slope. All terrain buggies might find this challenging and I would not advise wheelchair users to attempt this in winter conditions. It was very boggy!
Clayrack Mill is different from the other mills on site because it is hollow. Up until recently it worked as a drainage pump. It would have a scoop wheel but is currently without its sails and is awaiting restoration. It was moved in 1981 from its previous site on Ranworth Marshes and was in a terrible state of repair.
Turf Fen Mill
This brick mill was built in 1875 to drain Horning Marshes into the River Ant. It is 31 foot high and has four double shuttered sails or seven bays and six bladed fantail. I have no real idea what this means but it sounds impressive!
The mill is inaccessible and there is no land access.
Top Tip: Visit In Spring & Summer
It would be much better to visit here in Spring or Summer, just not winter. Visibility was not great, there was little to do, little to see and it was really cold.