“The area (of the coast) around Blakeney and Holkham is one of the most beautiful parts of the world.”- Sir Andrew Motion.
The actress Gwyneth Paltrow walked across Holkham sand at low tide during the closing scenes of the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
A dramatic entrance leads to this most dramatic of beaches, the jewel in the crown of the Holkham Estate. Turn onto a wide, sandy bolelvard of tall poplars that whisper and lean into the winds called Lady Anne’s Walk and pay a few pounds to the gatekeepers for parking. A half mile walk along the gentle incline leads to a series of boardwalks and wooded tracks running through the Holkham Meals that, if you choose to, takes you all the way to Burnham Overy Staithe or Wells in the opposite direction, to the east.
Behind the shoreline lies a shallow half moon basin, which, at very high tides, rapidly subsumes into a shallow lagoon. Holkham Beach is also part of one of the largest National Nature Reserves in the country. It is managed by Natural England in partnership with the Holkham Estate and is home to many rare species of flora and fauna.
Perfect for children because of the wide expanse of soft sand and gently shelving beach, salt water shallow pools, sand dunes and wooden boardwalks to clatter up and down, they will be entertained for hours and you will be transported back to the Blyton-esque seaside adventures of your own youth. The beach is edged by a ridgeline of piney woods where the pine cones crackle and sizzle on a hot day as the heat encourages them to split open and drop their seeds. Children can run amidst tall trees that let in dappled sun – ideal on a hot day when you need shade but do not fancy a trek back to the carpark. In addition the dunes provide plenty of shelter. Sand islands that become marooned by the incoming tide make lovely picnic spots, children love to stand look out for the tide as it edges closer. Lagoons can be found, pools of brightest blue when the sun is out, warmed by the day and up to five feet deep in places so do keep an eye on the children near them. The ridges of sand hint at the direction of rills of water as it drains in and out of the huge horseshoe bay.
Horse riding is permitted so you will need to keep a watch out for them and it is a dog friendly beach. However PLEASE do not allow your dogs to run up to the horses and scare them. We witnessed one selfish dog owner whose inattention nearly caused their unruly dog to unseat a rider, so spooked was their horse by the barking.
As well as the beach you will find a nature reserve with water holes and bird hides looking out over the salt marshes. We saw Red Kites soaring on the thermals, wheeling and swooping in great lazy loops. Oystercatchers and sandpipers, a little way away from their usual beach front patrols, wandered backwards and forwards, dipping sharp beaks into the water, feeding and chasing each other away from the most lucrative of food spots.
The nature reserve is incredibly diverse with tangles of creeks and saltings. The shifting yellow tongues of sand spits taper off into the salt marsh and woods of Corsican Pine; their stepped branched trunks pierce the skies and edge acres of green pastures and grazing marshes. Sit in the bird hide or alongside Salts Hole at dusk and hear the reserve come alive as birds roost in the Holk oaks that were planted here by the agriculturalist Coke in the 18th century. Holkham gardeners tell of the trees arriving as acorns, safely cocooning in a consignment of china from Italy as bubblewrap or popcorn is used today. Before Coke built the hall, there had been very few trees in this part of the coast but since then, over two and a half million trees have been planted in the 720 acre estate since 1781. Back then a sea view was not a coveted thing and the trees served not only as windbreak for the savage jaw numbing winds blowing straight from Siberia and the Urals but also hid it from view.
There are no nearby food and drink sellers (a very good thing as this can get costly) so you will need to bring a picnic, turning your trip here into something of an old school day to the seaside. Car parking can be found by the nature reserve and is charged by the hour. It can get busy on hot days and bank holidays so get there early. The village itself is worth a wander round and is situated in some beautiful countryside.