East Anglian adventures in North Norfolk
By Ann Mealor
Norfolk is an eastern English county in an area historically known as East Anglia.
The cathedral city of Norwich is the county town and the Norfolk Broads comprises the UK’s largest protected wetland.
Within the county, North Norfolk offers visitors historic English market towns in rolling countryside and a coastline of fine beaches scattered with small fishing villages and ports.
With large swathes of North Norfolk officially areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or designated nature reserves, this is also somewhere that rewards walking and bird watching.
North Norfolk also has numerous stately homes and gardens, including the Queen’s country retreat at Sandringham.
Within the space of a five night stay in North Norfolk were able to walk along a beach voted the best in Britain and coastal paths teeming with bird life.
And while on the coast in North Norfolk, we experienced a sunset as stunning as those on the Gulf of Mexico.
Joining the youngsters – with their equally excited parents and grandparents – we crabbed on the picturesque quay sides at Wells-next-the-Sea and Blakeney.
The crabs were more than willing to be lifted from the water clinging to a juicy bit of bacon.
They then spent a spell in a bucket of sea water before being returned to their natural home.
There is no shortage of great cuisine in this area.
Most of our meals were in traditional pubs with restaurants serving wholesome and mouthwatering dishes. Each of the villages we travelled through had at least one English country pub, so we were spoilt for choice.
We also visited the small seaside resort of Hunstanton and the country town of Sheringham.
In between is an area of natural beauty that is as outstanding, as its official designation applies.
Then there is Holt, a small country town, and a magnet for tourists, it was almost completely rebuilt during Georgian times following a fire that devastated the town in 1708.
Today it provides a collection of small coffee shops and restaurants together with antique emporiums.
Although the weather may not always be up to scratch, the walking here can be wonderfully bracing when the wind is blowing.
But to avoid the elements there are a number of fine English stately homes to visit, many of which are managed by the National Trust.
The efforts of the National Trust in preserving and protecting the UK’s heritage for us to enjoy is to be roundly applauded – and actively supported.
A visit to a National trust property never disappoints.
The UK has seaside resorts, large and small, along its coastline and North Norfolk has Cromer.
Cromer is not the liveliest resort you will find and nor, thankfully, is it the most commercial.
And that is its charm.
Cromer is a resort that enjoyed a heyday in the 1800s, and has a Victorian pier that was built around this time.
It comes complete with a traditional end of the pier variety show during the holiday seasons.
There is also the chance to watch the fishing boats being hauled onto the shingle beach after a days work. And the opportunity to enjoy Cromer crab.
And while in the Cromer area, you really should spend a couple of hours at Amazona zoo
As zoos go, this is a relatively small one, but it is lushly landscaped, and there are exotic animals in abundance.
It is home to over 200 tropical animals including jaguars, monkeys, snakes, tapirs, Amazon parrots and flamingos.
The zoo works with conservationists and other zoos to protect ‘all wild species and their wild homes’ and has not taken any animals from the wild.
Two places to stay
Barnham Broom Hotel
Barnham Broom Hotel, set in 300 acres of Norfolk countryside, 10 miles from Norwich, is a modern four star hotel offering a comfortable base for touring the North of the county.
The adjoining Barnham Broom golf club is one of the county’s best, with two 18 hole championship golf courses.
For dining, the hotel’s Brasserie serves a range of dishes, including steaks, smoked Norfolk chicken, lamb cutlets and monkfish wrapped in pancetta, accompanied by an extensive wine list.
An excellent breakfast in the Brasserie sets one up for the day.
The Spa at Barnham Broom
The tranquil and relaxing spa at Barnham Broom is the ideal place to enjoy a range of ESPA body treatments and facials.
The White Horse, Brancaster Staithe
On first arriving at the White Horse Inn, what really hits you is the fantastic view across the mysterious and magnificent marshland.
The White Horse Inn, enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, is ideally situated on the glorious North Norfolk coast at Brancaster Staithe.
The Inn is an ideal base for walkers, cyclists, bird watchers and dog owners with miles of tidal marshes and sandy beaches to explore.
Although the bar and reception area are in traditional pub style, the bedrooms and restaurant have a more contemporary feel.
The conservatory restaurant has a deck terrace and takes full advantage of the marshland views.
After a day out walking, we really enjoyed our evening meal sampling some of the delicious local produce on offer in the 2 AA rosette restaurant.
Depending on the season, mussels, crab, lobster, oysters, shrimp, sea bass, mackerel and sea trout are all available.
Local seasonal produce includes asparagus, grown across the road or samphire from the salt marsh.
The Jolly Sailors
Just down the road is The White Horse’s sister pub/restaurant – the Jolly Sailors, which serves a range of homemade pizzas and other wholesome pub fare – ideal for families and of course, enjoyed by the locals.
While in North Norfolk
The beaches of North Norfolk
North Norfolk’s coastline, between Hunstanton and Sheringham, is spectacular – and much of it designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As such it is protected by organisations including the National Trust, RSPB and the local councils with the Norfolk Coast Partnership.
Holkham beach, which is managed by Natural England and the nearby Holkham Estate, is recognised as one of the UK’s most unspoilt and beautiful stretches of sand.
It is also part of one of the largest national nature reserves in the country and is home to many rare species of flora and fauna.
The sandy beach, with its pine trees, sand dunes and colourful beach huts, is (along with crabbing on the dockside) this bustling little towns main allure.
Those walking for under two miles along the sands will end up at Holkham beach.
This is the place to spot oyster catchers and ringed plovers, who nest on the beach, along with common and little terns.
Cley Marshes is Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and best known nature reserve.
It was purchased in 1926 to be held ‘in perpetuity as a bird breeding sanctuary’, and has provided a blue print for nature conservation across the UK.
The water levels in the pools and reedbeds are regulated to ensure they are ideal for the resident birds, and reed is harvested every year to keep them in good condition.
The shingle beach and saline lagoons, along with the grazing marsh and reedbed, support large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit.
The Norfolk Coastal Path
Taking the Norfolk Coastal Path from Wells-next-the-sea for a stretch can be equally as enjoyable.
The whole of the path goes for 45 miles from Hunstanton to Cromer and is part of the National Trails – long distance footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales, administered by Natural England
Watching seals – and them watching you
For those wanting to get out to sea, Beans Boats provide boat trips to Blakeney Point to watch the colony of Common and Grey seals
These number around 500 with the Common seals having their young between June and August and the Greys between November and January.
Seals are generally quite inquisitive and will often swim around the boats for a better look at their visitors!
The North Norfolk Railway
The North Norfolk Railway, which operates steam and diesel trains, provides another way to enjoy the North Norfolk scenery.
The heritage railway, known locally as the ‘Poppy Line’, runs for five miles from Sheringham along the coast through Weybourne to Holt.
The stop at Kelling Halt gives access to Kelling Heath, a protected parcel of heathland covered with gorse, heather and bracken and rambling paths.
Pensthorpe Natural Park
Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham, is a 660 acre area of wetland, gardens, meadows and a conservation centre.
Pensthorpe began its development, in 1988, from a series of disused gravel workings and has become an internationally renowned nature reserve with thousands of species of fauna and flora.
It also provides a habitat for some of the UK’s rarest and most endangered wildlife and, in doing so, attracts families, walkers, gardeners and bird spotters in equal measure.
Along with the ducks and geese that live or migrate to Pensthorpe, visitors can also spot avocets, lapwings, little ringed plovers and kingfishers.
There is also a flourishing red squirrel project, which Pensthorpe runs with the East Anglian red squirrel breeding programme.
Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house next to the pretty village of Holkham.
Built between 1734 and 1764 by Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, this elegant Palladian style mansion has been home to the Coke family since that time.
The Halls state rooms offer superb collections of ancient statuary, original furniture and tapestries and works of art by Rubens, Van Dyck, Gaspar Poussin, Claude and Gainsborough.
The majestic Holkham Park, surrounding the Hall, is home to herds of fallow and red deer.
Sandringham is the country retreat of Her Majesty The Queen, having been the private home of four generations of British monarchs since 1862.
The house, set in 24 hectares of gardens, is at the heart of a 8,000-hectare Sandringham Estate, including a 240 hectares Country Park.
A trip on the Norfolk Broads
A visit to North Norfolk would not be the same without a trip on the Norfolk Broads.
The Electric Eel Boat Trip at How Hill Nature Reserve provides a good introduction to the Broads with a waterborne trail by electric boat, along dykes fringed with marshland plants.
An experienced guide points out the wildlife on route including dragonflies, marsh harriers, wildflowers and swallowtail butterflies.
The trip lasts 50 minutes, including a short walk to a bird hide.