Norfolk – my favourite place in the world; I love going abroad for guaranteed sun, warm sea, to enjoy fancy flights and lounges and for amazing hotel service and experience… BUT Norfolk is my favourite place for time off and time away from just about everything. As a teenager I was lucky to spend a lot of my summer breaks up on the north coast in Burnham Overy Staithe and that was where the love story with this part of the UK started.
I shouldn’t really be writing about it, as the best thing about the North Norfolk coast (between Thornham and Holkham, and then from Stiffkey along to Cley) is the fact that it remains largely undiscovered and unspoilt. This is probably thanks to the road and train connections and the amount of nature reserves that have prevented this area being built on and filled with theme parks, rather than because people don’t know of it. I remember ‘fondly’ the traffic jams of Brandon which seems to be a common pain for others I know that like going up there. This is a part of the world where the rich and famous head to hide out, be themselves and get on with life without anyone caring who they are and what they do. No doubt this drives the amazing choice of restaurants and shops to be found in this sleepy part of the country.
We sail and the area is lovely for this. I loved summers with our dinghies and sailing on the tides – sometimes races would start at 6am – sometimes after 6pm – all dependent on the tide times. Both Brancaster and Burnham Overy have wonderful and fun regatta weeks in August and there is also another regatta week that visits lots of different sailing clubs along the coast. Sailing is a leveller – I sailed with a gentleman in a ‘twinkle twelve’ (locally built clinker boat) when I was 16 and I am pretty sure he was probably someone well known in the city; recently my husband and I took our dinghy up for a weekend and on a particularly windy day he went out with a chap with local knowledge – turned out to be a Director of one of our major investment banks! Be careful if you do sail here and aren’t part of club racing – the tides are massive and the creeks are dangerous as a result. Get a temporary membership at one of the clubs and listen to any advice.
Because I’ve always been with family in Norfolk I haven’t stayed in many places – but in recent trips with my husband we enjoyed a few days at The George at Cley (written about in a previous blog post) and self-catering with Norfolk Hideaways. There is a plethora of small boutique hotels or pubs with rooms – the best from what I can see are: The Ship in Brancaster, The Hoste in Burnham Market and The White Horse in Brancaster, but we’re yet to stay in any of them. The luxury in Norfolk is that it isn’t and never will be overrun with other people and whilst there might be less choice of hotel accommodation, the self-catering is good and the choice of restaurants and shops is top end.
13 ideas of things to do
Park in Burnham Overy Staithe (not near the water), walk out along the sea wall to the sea (there is a clear footpath that kind of disappears as you hit the dunes), turn right and walk until you see pine trees – that is Holkham Beach and is just stunning (famous as the scene at the end of Shakespeare in Love). Walk up the avenue of trees and you are at Holkham Hall – great little gift shop, fancy tea rooms and a pub (with rooms, I think) which is good for lunch. We then got the bus back the other way.
If you drive past a village hall advertising a photo display by Pebbles Photography – stop and buy. This chap’s photography is amazing – we have one of his largest ones hung at home and it is a lovely memory of the coastline.
Spend a morning or afternoon in Burnham Market – there is an incredible choice of clothes and furniture/gift shops with gorgeous things to buy. The hat shop is staggering, I think they have hats in every colour and will be able to find matching accessories too – this is a must visit for any mother of the bride. Have lunch at The Hoste and stock up in the deli just a little further along the road for the rest of your trip.
Part of the beauty about this area of the coast is the sea. The distance the sea goes out at low tide is staggering… it can be miles of walking to get to the sea even once you’ve got to the beach. You can also walk out to Scolt Head Island at low tide and I seem to remember there is a ferry to get back – check first; the tide comes in quickly, so don’t get caught out. The salt marshes are stunning, the big open blue skies even better and the smell of nature and the sheer volume of bird life is just staggering. If you park somewhere, always think about how close it is to the water… and where the water might come up to at high tide. The locals like nothing better than laughing at a tourist that didn’t realise the car park will be a metre deep in water at high tide!
If the beach/sea is too far away, then children spend hours playing in the creek; in places when the tide is low, it is possible to wade across to the salt marsh and fresh beaches. Also walking distance from an ice-cream van and you can see if your car is about to get swamped by the sea!
Head to the beach by Brancaster golf club for sunset – beautiful. The sea will either be miles away, or will be right up and mean you have to paddle along the road to get there! This beach is where it is most noticeable what an expanse of sand there is – it goes on for miles. The beach is so flat, yet at high tide I can confirm that there must be at least a metre’s depth across it, as we sailed on it at high tide – and the depth and wind direction made for great waves!
Look out for Morris dancing; we had a lovely lunch in the The Lifeboat at Thornham during a ‘walking tour’ that the Morris Men were doing of the village pubs. Thornham quay is very sweet as is the nearby nature reserve. There is also a choice of places to dine including a tipi and The Orange Tree is a very good restaurant.
Burnham Thorpe – where Nelson hails from. The church has an interesting display about him and don’t miss the pub in the village – it has no bar!!
The beach at Cley is entirely different as it is stones, so a totally different type of coast. I think it was here that we found a mobile coffee shop – a great find. In Cley there is also another fantastic deli so you really are sorted for picnics. You won’t find any big supermarkets that’s for sure. Burnham Market and Brancaster both have metro sized stores, but nothing more. Plan ahead if you are self-catering.
Blakeney is good for a bit of a potter – check out the tide marks on the wall of the hotel from floods in the past. Plenty of choices of places to eat and shop here. Much busier than the other villages along the coast but not in the way that Wells is busy.
You can go out to see the seals from Morston Quay which is nearby – have never done this; however the view is probably a little different there now as you can spot seals and offshore windmills.
Little Walsingham is a little way inland. It is a place of pilgrimage for many Christians and is an amazing place to visit – so many interesting churches and such a lot of history in one small village.
A day out to either Sandringham or Holkham Hall is a good plan if the weather closes in. Also look out for food fayres and shows at these too.
Whilst this is a flat part of the country, we’ve never taken our bikes. Most of the paths are in and around nature reserves and so cycling wouldn’t be ideal. However with road bikes I think you could cover miles in a day given the absence of contours. In the village shops and book shops you will find some hand drawn black and white maps by Wilfred George – really do recommend using these for getting to know the area. We whiled away a few hours in The Ship at Brancaster with a pint, avoiding the rain and enjoying all the little bits of information he’s added to his maps – really interesting!
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