Swaffham, Norfolk, is known for the presence of two large Enercon E-66 wind turbines, and the associated Green Britain Centre, formerly known as the Ecotech Centre. The Green Britain Centre's displays focus on green energy (including solar and wind power), transportation options without oil, and organic gardening. Sun power is an essential part of the renewable energy mix – and they are home to one of Britain's largest solar trackers. It's called a tracker because it follows the sun across the sky – making the most of its rays all day long – and it harnesses this sun power to make clean green energy. The photovoltaic (PV) panels are similar to the ones you see on people's roofs. And just like them, the tracker feeds power into the main building with any excess going straight onto the local grid. The sun is probably the most awesome source of power in the known universe. Certainly it’s the most visible. On a bright day, the sun supplies about 1,000 watts of energy per square metre of the Earth’s surface. An incredible amount of energy, which nature harnesses – without it we simply wouldn’t have life on our planet.
Greenbird is a glimpse into the future. A vehicle with no engine, no fuel and no pollution – and the world record holding, fastest wind powered vehicle on the planet. It demonstrates the potential of wind energy to drive cars of the future when there's no oil left to burn. On March 26 2009, on the dry Lake Ivanpah, The Ecotricity Greenbird – driven by British engineer Richard Jenkins – smashed the world land speed record for wind powered vehicles. The Greenbird clocked 126.1 mph (202.9 km/h), eclipsing the American record of 116 mph set by Bob Schumacher in the Iron Duck 10 years earlier at the same location. Greenbird uses a combination of technology usually found on aircraft and Formula 1 cars to achieve staggering speeds – with no engine. The name is a nod to Donald Campbell's all-conquering Bluebird.
Take a walk round the gardens and you'll learn how and why they grow vegetables in polytunnels, what companion planting is and why they use green manure to encourage insects and other wildlife into the garden. Feel free to interrupt the gardeners, they're always happy to share gardening advice – they'll even show you how to make compost and lay hedges. Unusual varieties of apples, pears and plums earned them a listing in The Telegraph’s 10 Orchards To Visit in 2007. Today you'll find over 50 varieties of apple, pear, plum, quince and medlar trees growing here. Many are old Norfolk varieties, dating back over 200 years. In keeping with tradition, they’ve planted blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes between the trees, a time-honoured practice carried out across Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The willow seating area is a great place to take five minutes out. Kids and big kids love walking through the hand woven willow tunnel, chilling out in the willow classroom or watching them build the willow fencing. Willow's really versatile. You can shape it into structures while it's growing, or harvest it and use it to make fences, baskets and other things – it’s also a popular ingredient in biomass fuel.
They have regular windmill tours, but be warned, it is 300 steps up a spiral staircase with two rest platforms on the way. The centre is 5 minutes walk from Swaffham, itself an enchanting place to visit. You'll enter the centre through fully automated doors. There’s a lift to all floors, the toilets are fully accessible and the theatre is fitted with a hearing loop. The garden paths are accessible too. It's free to park. There are Blue Cardholder spaces near the entrance, and if you own an electric vehicle you can charge it in the car park during opening hours. It's a 300 step climb to the top of our Windmill, making it inaccessible to wheelchair users – but they run an alternative, Feet on the Ground Windmill tour. Assistance dogs are welcome. If your dog needs a drink, or you need anything else during your visit, please speak to a member of staff. Windmill tours begin at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.
The Swaffham Museum contains an exhibition on local history and local geology as well as an Egyptology room charting the life of Howard Carter. Swaffham is one of the many locations for The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream folk tale. The tale tells of a pedlar from Swaffham who dreamed for several consecutive nights that if he waited on London Bridge he would eventually hear good news. He travelled to London, and waited for several days on the bridge. Eventually a shopkeeper asked him why he was waiting, and the man told of his dream. The shopkeeper laughed, and replied that he often dreamed that if he went to a certain orchard in Swaffham and started digging, he would find buried treasure. The pedlar returned to Swaffham, and found the treasure.
Location : The Green Britain Centre, Turbine Way, Swaffham, Norfolk, PE37 7HT
Transport: Norwich or Kings Lynn (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : X1, click here for timetable.
Opening Times : Monday to Friday 10:00 to 16:00; July and August open Daily
Tickets : Free
Windmill Tour : Adults £6.00; Concessions £5.00; Children (7+) £4.00; Carers Free
Tel: 01760 726100