As the pound plummets and rising cost and hassle of air travel loses its appeal with little ones in tow, it’s no wonder more families are opting for ‘Made in Britain’ holidays over pricey long-haul jaunts across the globe. January Carmalt gives us the lowdown on her favourite escape – Norfolk.
A fuss-tree drive from the M25, North Norfolk continues to lure Londoners away from the Big Smoke to delight in its tranquil countryside charm and miles of unspoilt coastline. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to rival most Mediterranean mainstays, my family and I have been regular holidaymakers here for over decade. With an abundance of places to go, things to do, beaches to comb and history to uncover, Norfolk makes a superbly convenient ‘staycation’ worthy of a long-weekend or fortnight of fun.
We find The Norfolk Cottage Company offers a broad selection of charming cottages to suit most budgets. With 20 pet-friendly, elegant bedrooms The Victoria Inn at Holkham offers catered luxury in a convenient spot from which to explore all Norfolk has to offer. Standard Double Bed & Breakfast rooms start from £180. In the heart of Holt, Byfords is another top b&b with 16 refined double, family and self-catering rooms on offer.
DO: Get back to nature
A particular penchant has to be Holkham. What isn’t there to do here? From touring the vast Palladian Holkham Hall and its priceless collection of classical masterpieces, to cycling, canoeing, outdoor theatre and deer spotting, there is enough to see and do to fill multiple visits. The family estate of the Earl of Leicester boasts over 25,000 acres including the famous Holkham Beach, one of England’s finest and site of the closing scene of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Shakespeare in Love. After a tour of the grounds tuck into some of Norfolk’s best pub grub at The Victoria Inn for home-reared beef-burgers, local game and seasonal fare.
East down the A149, part of Holkham Estate is Wells-next-the-Sea. Year-round thousands flock to its famous tidal beach and rainbow-row of clapboard beach huts. The endless stretch of sand from sea wall to the breaking waves offers ample space even during the high season for all beach goers to find their spot in the sun.
Of course, no trip to North Norfolk is complete without indulging in a bit of crabbing. We’re fond of West Runton Beach for rock pooling at low tide, whilst the charming cafes and art galleries around Blakeney ensure its status as a popular year-round crustacean destination. A mile’s walk west along the Norfolk Coastal Path to Morston more natural wonders await. Catch Bean’s Boats tours for daily trips to Blakeney Point, home and breeding ground for Norfolk’s growing Grey and Common seal population, or spot of bird watching with the diverse species native to the region.
DO: Go walk about
With over 60 miles of coastal pathway to explore and a number of National Trust paths further inland, Norfolk is a walker’s delight. We like to trek from West Runton over Beeston Bump to Sheringham, a charming beachside village where one can brave the North Sea or indulge in the mini-golf, cafes and shops in the bustling town centre. It’s here we reward our 10,000 steps with a soft ice cream from one of the many stands dotting the high street!
DO: something for the kids
Bewilderwood’s adventure playground promises tree-top fun and frolics and is always a firm family fave, catering to all ages with boat journeys, mazes, slides and obstacle courses a plenty. Open year round, Wroxham Barns has a funfair for little ones, as well as petting zoo, mini golf, shops and cafes. My boys never bore exploring the rainforest at Amazona Zoo in Cromer, home to over 200 species from South America. (But give the café a miss!)
DO: History and mystery
This corner of the country offers plenty for history buffs. In addition to Holkham Hall, Norfolk is home to a number of stately homes including National Trust Treasures Blickling Hall and Felbrigg Hall, not to mention the Queen’s official residence at Sandringham. With many offering scavenger hunts and garden games for kids during the holidays, your little ones have fun with a history lesson on the side. But don’t tell them!
DO: Shop ‘til you drop
Those itching for retail therapy fear not. A few miles inland is the Georgian market town of Holt, bursting with unique boutiques, antique shops, art galleries and independent cafes. Whilst there, head to Bakers and Larners, Holt’s answer to M&S, for a touch of old-school general store charm with everything from fine wines, clothing and cosmetics to crockery and hardware. Burnham Market, dubbed ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ for its trendy shops and cache with Londoners is a shopper’s delight and always worth a trip. Bring your Visa!
Norfolk is fast becoming a bit of a foodie destination, minus the pretension. With Michelin stars both Morston Hall and Gunton Arms never fail for a special night out, but best to book long in advance. For something less fussy we head to gastro-pub The King’s Head in Letheringsett for nights in by the roaring fire, or dinner al fresco when the weather’s fine. For Norfolk’s finest local catch and glorious seaside dining, head to Rocky Bottoms in West Runton. Get there early for the best tables and unbeatable views of the coast. FYI – BYOB!