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Family travel: Thetford Forest, Norfolk

Take a family holiday into Thetford Forest alongside the River Thet and you’re guaranteed to get very close to nature indeed

Family travel: Thetford Forest, Norfolk
Father (Chad) and son (Luca) canoeing

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“How many mums does it take to paddle a canoe?”  One to steer, two to question, three to debate and then all of them to politely laugh, change their minds and then go round in circles. “Steer to the left, no right. No left.” Argh. We’re going nowhere.

This is what happens when three control-freak mums are put in charge. It’s a temperate May day and we’re rigged up in our life jackets. We should be coasting along five miles of the river enjoying the scenic pines and broadleaf trees of Thorpe Forest as we bob along.

“Watch out!” Too late. We’re into the trees as the dads and kids steam ahead in their three-person canoes. We’d debated the canoe seating configuration: two mums and a child, two friends and the dad, two dads and a child — and they’d all sounded like bad movie titles. Given it’s three families of four, the adults are assigned their own children — yet, somehow, that left the three mums. The guides bark instructions: “Use the paddle to steer: left to go right. Keep the paddle down, turn in a circular motion, anti-clockwise for the opposite direction. Work together.”

It takes us twice as long as the rest of the group to reach our stop point. We arrive in time to play a few games the guides have devised, lining up as close as we can to the other canoes. We have to jump from canoe to canoe as part of the game. The kids are great hopping along, the heffalump adults are something else.

After some general ribbing, we’re advised to a rejig the team for the return leg. I take the back seat as navigator and am in charge of steering, shouting out the commands. Any time we start heading for the trees we can steer back on course, paddles up, slow and steady.

By the time we pull in to base, we’re into our rhythm and pull up like pros. We were actually quite good, in the end. Three is the answer. Three mums to paddle a canoe…

How to do it: The two-hour canoe experience costs from £20 pp, one of the Forest Holidays’ activities on offer at the new Thorpe Forest site. Other activities include: walking, archery, cycling, bush skills, night vision and twilight walks. From £970 for a mid-week break from 25 May, for a two-bedroomed Silver Birch Cabin with outdoor hot tub.

Maria Pieri travelled with her two children, aged 5 and 7, and two other families of four.


Published in the Spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family