In need of a little break? We headed to the sandy shores of Norfolk to find out how to make the most of a weekend getaway in this fine county
Written by Emma Kemsley
Big skies, beautiful scenery and basking seals were all part of our recent trip to the north Norfolk coast. No matter how many times I visit this stretch of coastline I’m always taken aback by its beauty – and I don’t just mean its wind-swept dunes and sandy beaches.
Dotted along the coastline, be it in the heart of the North to the East or West are warm welcoming pubs, fresh seafood stands, fantastic farms shops and of course, cute and cosy cottages – all of which add to the essence of an enjoyable weekend on the Norfolk coast.
Where to stay in Norfolk
As a couple of couples and two dogs in tow, we made the base of our trip at Rosemary Cottage in Sea Palling. Available to hire at Sykes Cottages the dog-friendly, four bed cottage ticks all the right boxes (£399 for a 2- night break). Beautifully restored by its owners, the cottage is the type of home you’d expect to find in a glossy interior magazine. Exposed beams, an open fire, woodland wilderness theme and earthy tones add an instant warmth to the home. I must admit it’s rare to find a dog-friendly holiday rental that is so beautifully styled.
Once settled in, we headed straight for the beach, which is just a few minutes walk away. After a quick pit stop from the two dogs at the ‘Doggy Watering hole’ outside the seafront café and ice cream parlour, we walked for miles along the almost deserted beach to Waxham Sands and back. Firmly exhausted, the late afternoon was spent with tea and cake from our welcome pack and a snooze in front of the fire.
If you’d prefer something out of the ordinary for your weekend away, an iconic landmark on the North Norfolk coast, The Old Lighthouse, Hunstanton, has been given a top to bottom makeover ahead of its relaunch as an exciting new self-catering destination for holidaymakers looking to experience nature-in-the-raw.
Owned by L&J Leisure, the original lighthouse tower, which dates back to 1840, is still accessible by guests who are able to climb the 62-steps to the top to enjoy a 360-degree view of the North Norfolk coast or one of Hunstanton’s legendary sunsets.
Accommodating up to eight guests in four en-suite bedrooms, across two floors, The Old Lighthouse is ideal for families and small groups looking for a landmark property with spectacular coastal views. A fully equipped kitchen with a range cooker makes home cooking easy, while The Lodge, which is a short walk away, offers a chef and butler service for an in-house luxury dining experience.
Places to Eat in Norfolk
Sea Palling is rather remote so it’s a great option for self-catering fans, but foodies will be pleased to know that a short five-minute driveway is fine dining at The Ingham Swan. Headed up by Great British Menu finalist Daniel Smith, the cosy 14th century inn has a fantastic a la carte menu and is committed to supporting local farmers and sourcing local produce with its ‘farm to fork’ initiative.
Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, the next day of our trip was all about enjoying the best of Norfolk. The morning was spent tracking down a seal colony at Horsey, a must-do for any visitor, there’s also plenty of seal action at Blakeney, including boat trips. It was then a walk along the Norfolk Coastal Path, before heading to Cromer in search of fresh seafood.
Another popular nature activity is spotting the pink-footed geese as they descend on Holkham marshes at dusk in winter.
A trip to Norfolk wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local produce. Fortunately, you’ll be spoilt for choice of places to grab a bite, especially if you’re a seafood lover. Locally prepared and seasonal seafood dishes are always on the menu at The Wells Crab House, and if you’re visiting from Easter to October make a stop at The Crab Hut in Brancaster Staithe – while in the area stop by the White Horse for lunch or Eric’s Fish and Chip Shop in Thornham. The Cookies Crab Shop at Salthouse is another popular choice.
We picked up our fresh produce at Davies Fish Shop in Cromer. The time of year meant choice was limited but we were thankful the mussels were in season, as they made a great edition to our home-cooked linguine later that evening.
We also picked up local real ales at the Cromer Farm and Health Shop on Tucker Street for an evening tipple and stopped for lunch at The Gunton Arms; perhaps one of the best pubs I have visited. Surrounded by a private estate with herds of deer in the distance, upmarket, traditional and dog-friendly, it’s perfect for a lazy Norfolk afternoon. We settled in a little corner for a glass of wine and quick bite.
One of the best things about Norfolk besides its glorious beaches, has to be its restaurant scene. There’s rustic pubs such as the The Salthouse Dun Cow and Stiffkey Red Lion, beachside cafes, check out Wells Beach Café and the Beach Café at Old Hunstanton and boutique hotels with restaurants, Titchwell Manor and The Globe Inn at Wells are among our favourite.
There’s also little quirky gems such as the Albatros, a Dutch boat-pub moored at the quay on Wells-next-the-Sea and the colourful Wiveton Hall Café, which reopens on 23 March. Better still, those of you with family dogs will be pleased to know they’re all dog-friendly restaurants.
Things to do in Norfolk
With 60 miles of coastline, if you’re planning a family getaway this spring, the Norfolk Coast really does have something for everyone. Animal lovers should stop by the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary or Amazona Zoo in Cromer. Those with energy to burn will love Hilltop Outdoor Centre, Sheringham, home of the only Air Jump in Norfolk or hop aboard the the North Norfolk Railway for a trip back in time. Read Kett Country Cottage’s top 10 Norfolk attractions here.
It’s no secret that Norfolk has long history evident in its many stately homes. There’s the Queens country retreat at Sandringham, the Palladian mansion of Holkham Hall, Houghton Hall which features globally renowned exhibitions and Blickling Hall near Aylsham, once home to the Boleyn family. But long before royalty set up home here, our ancestors were already leaving footprints. Two years ago 850,000 year-old human footprints were discovered at Happisburgh, the oldest yet found beyond Africa. Though they would of probably encountered mammoths rather than seals, we can completely understand why they chose to visit this big, bold and beautiful stretch of coastline!
What’s on in Norfolk
If you’re visiting Norfolk this summer, plan your trip around one these events:
Raynham Hall adds 2017 dates to their recitals
Stately home Raynham Hall, is set to welcome a number of internationally acclaimed musicians and opera singers for its world class Raynham Recitals. Nestled in the North Norfolk countryside, near Fakenham, Raynham Hall provides both a stunning backdrop and excellent acoustics for the series of performances.
The 2017 season will begin on Saturday, 22 April 22, with a Royal Academy of Music’s performance of the opera ‘Acis & Galatea’ by GF Handel in April. www.ticketsource.co.uk/raynham-recitals
Richard Long at Houghton, Houghton Hall, 30 April-26 October Houghton Hall hosts a major exhibition by Turner Prize-winning land artist Richard Long this summer, his largest since 2001’s Tate show. Long has created a series of site-specific works for the grounds, house and stables.
Norfolk & Norwich Festival, 12-28 May 2017
The East’s flagship arts event with innovative jazz, classical music, theatre, comedy and dance programming in celebration of creativity, innovation, beauty and diversity. www.nnfestival.org.uk