If you are planning a trip to Norfolk or Suffolk this year and want to do it old school, that is not wandering around waving your phone about, hoping to connect with Google maps, then these compact yet comprehensive guidebooks will please you.
The concept of ‘slow travel’ is simple: it seeks to free itself from the increasing domination of tourist listicles and encourage travellers to seek out a sense of place wherever they go. It’s not just about ticking off landmarks. Slow Travel wants us to meet people, to immerse ourselves in the natural lay of the land and to free ourselves from imposed timetables.
Both travel guides kick off with a regional map highlighting useful towns to base yourself in. The counties are divided into geographical regions for ease of navigation and each regional section kicks off with a map. Stopping-off points are highlighted and each featured walk comes with its own map. There’s information on public transport, good advice as to how to proceed on foot, suggestions for places to eat, drink and stay and reams of local history. Laurence introduces us to the people who live and work in East Anglia and those artists and writers who have visited and been inspired by the region.
Clustered on the very edge of North Norfolk, the little fishing town of Cromer is famous for the eponymous crabs caught off its beaches, the lighthouse that stands guard over them and a pier that spikes off into the distance. It is in full possession of all the iconography a traditional British seaside town should own. As lovely as Southwold and Holt but without the twee self consciousness, Cromer’s wind blasted cliffs stand guard against time, tide and Londoners in search of second homes although their influx is inevitable as Holt, Burnham and the Brancasters price themselves out of all but the spendiest of pockets.
Like a lot of coastal towns it is more than the sum of its parts and we have had a good look around, talked to locals and come up with a handy guide to ten of the best things about the place. This list is by no means exhaustive (the idea that there is only ten, TEN lovely things is plain daft), but this guide is a start and we’d love to hear of anywhere we’ve left out and you believe should be in here. We are happy to add and amend and places do open up and they certainly (and very sadly) close down. So here it is, Ten Reasons to Visit Cromer.…
(1) All things lifeboat and lifesaving-
The lifeboat service has been described as ‘lifeblood of the town’ and this applies to any place with a strong maritime history and dependency upon the fruits of the sea – Cromer is no exception. The Henry Blogg Museum commemorates Coxwain Henry, saviour of over 170 lives from the North Sea and the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboat man, serving over 53 years. Holder of the George Cross for bravery, the exhibits tell the story of Henry Blogg’s most famous rescues and has as its centrepiece, the HFBailey, his trusty boat. The museums design has won architectural awards and is regarded as very child friendly, admission is free and there is a lively programme of year round events.
Cromers lifeboat station is actually spread over three locations including the museum and carries ‘Explore’ status meaning it offers a higher level of visitor experience. Free access means you can go inside, look around and chat to the crew when they are around. Tours can be pre-booked and there is an RNLI gift shop. Please do make a donation too, no matter how small: every bit counts for a service that scandalously relies on these to keep it going and all beach goers should be prepared to contribute to a service that, god forbid, you will hopefully never require. And should you be on the pier and hear a loud’ bang’, get down to the pier end as fast as you can to where the station is and you may, if you are fortunate, see the lifeboat being launched along its slipway, straight into the spumey grey green waters of the North Sea.
Living near the sea affords locals with a healthy respect for what it gives and takes away and many people recommended nnslsc.org.uk a voluntary organisation set up to train lifeguards and offer water and beach safety awareness courses for children aged 7+. Summer sessions are held on the beach, from out of the club house on the promenade and then move to the indoor pool during the colder months. Membership is very inexpensive and lasts for a year.
(2) The beaches
Being essentially Edwardian – Victorian in its character and town development, Cromer is all about those healthy sea breezes, much recommended by Victorian fresh air fiends who placed a lesser priority on feeling warm and sheltered as they ‘took the sea air.’. However this doesn’t mean that visitors hoping for a sunbathing, bucket and spade holiday will spend their time shivering, wrapped up in blankets, grimacing as the wind blows a shed load of sand into their eyes. I have toasted myself on the beach here and there are plenty of natural windbreaks along the coastline, where families can spread out and enjoy the warmth.
The town front beach is a lovely combination of utiliarian and leisure- a lack of a harbour means visitors enjoy a ringside view of the fishing boats being hauled up by winches over thick ridges of shingle by rust speckled tractors. For a great view, park up on the cliff top and watch the boats come in from afar but don’t forget the binoculars.
Cromer boasts two sandy blue flag beaches which span as far as the eye can see when the tide is out, whilst kids can paddle some distance before the seabed falls away. West beach to the left of the pier is a nubbly mix of sand and stone and usually quieter the further you proceed towards East Runton; this is where you’ll find some good rock pools.
East Beach is the most picturesque, channeling that traditional seaside vibe as it clusters below the town and its higgledy piggledy warren of streets and alleyways. It is also overlooked by Hotel de Paris, now sadly faded and standing over the town in the manner of a Diva a few years past her glory days. Designed by the architect George Skipper, he was sometimes referred to as the ‘Gaudi of Norfolk.’
The undersides of the pier offer some shelter, especially for surfing and swimming, and again, when the tide is out, is the location of some good rock pools for kids to explore. There is a rip tide though and boards on the beach advise as to how best avoid it. Those lovely cliffs do mean a bit of a stiff plod uphill though so they aren’t ideal for the infirm or very young of leg. Disabled parking is provided on the promenade to make walking life a little easier. Cromer is one of the many seaside resorts known for its gaudy beach huts but many of the huts along the promenade are privately owned although the local authority does rent out brick built ones by the day- contact them via their website where you will also find information about dog friendly beaches coast wide. In Cromer, dogs are banned from the beaches between 1st May to 30th September.
Reaching nearby beaches is easy too; from the Esplanade you can walk east towards Overstrand, or west to the wide and comparatively deserted beaches of the Runtons, Don’t forget to tell the children that this is where beachcombers uncovered elephant bone fossils a few years back. East and West Runton remains a popular fossil hunting destination and significant amber finds have been reported too, around the pier and along the coastline to Overstrand and East Runton.
(3) The pier and promenade
Cromers north facing coast means the pier is the only one where you can watch the sun rise and set over the sea, something that is free of charge at any time of the year. The pier offers amusements, a restaurant where they serve great hot chocolate (another brilliant winters day thing to do) and the Pavilion Theatre which has a famous end of the pier summer show and also hosts Christmas entertainment. In polite Victorian and Edwardian Society, these piers became the place to promenade and socialise, the working classes arriving en masse via the newly built railway lines, usually in waves as their entire factory took its holiday at once. Entrance to the pier was restricted by cost and a dress code. Nowadays no such conventions exist but the promenade remains the place to saunter, especially as the sun goes down. And if you are nearby on Boxing Day you are perfectly placed to observe one of the more eccentric habits of the British, the famous North Norfolk Beach Runners Boxing Day Dip in aid of charity.
The promenade has gardens, a putting green and small boating lake and has had considerable money spent on it over the last few years. A charming and knowing touch is the paving which includes some quirky features such as quotations by famous people about Cromer including Oscar Wilde who had this to say about the town: “I find Cromer excellent for writing, Golf better still..”
(4) Those crabs, food & drink
Famous for quality and taste- the locals say this is down to the cretaceous chalk ridge that offers crabs shelter deep under the waves alongside a smorgasboard of other sea creatures to feed upon, the nationwide decline in the fishing industry has not stopped the daily launch and return of the crabbing boats from the beach although their numbers are greatly reduced. Local fishermen will sometimes take tourists out on their boats too- hang around the beach and ask them.
Plenty of local cafes sell Cromer crab both in the traditional dressed manner and as a filling in sandwiches and ingredients in main meals. For a more traditional Cromer crab sandwich try the Rocket House cafe next to the Henry Blogg Museum or the Lifeboat cafe, both with sea views or buy from Bob Davies crabshop in the Gangway which locals cite as a must visit for tourists. You can watch the crab boats setting out from and returning to the beach at the foot of the gangway too, popular with children.
Alternatively go crabbing off the pier after buying the crabbing line, bucket and bait (bits of bacon or other smellier alternatives such as squid) sold from the many stores that line the beach front. In the summer, there are competitions to catch the most and the biggest crabs, fiercely fought by locals and tourists. And don’t forget the Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival, held every summer and hugely popular. Look out too for the local Stiffkey Cockles, harvested a few miles along the coast and also known as Stewkey Blues because of their colour which ranges from lavender to dark grey-blue. The colour is a result of their muddy sandy habitat that requires them to be harvested with short-handled, broad rakes and nets and they are traditionally steamed, boiled and eaten with vinegar and pepper although more chefs are coming up with innovative ways of cooking with them.
Local cheesemakers Mrs Temples Cheese, located in the village of Wighton, not too far away from Cromer, are made from the milk of Holstein Friesians and Swiss Cows and sold throughout the county. Look out for Walsingham and Hard Matured Cheese, the mountain style Wells Alpine, the semi soft Warham and Binham Blue, a soft blue veined cheese. Lastly, Copys Cloud has a fluffy white rind and melting centre whilst Wighton is a fresh curd cheese. Just three miles out of Cromer is Grovelands Farm Shop, a cornucopia of food, including butchery, a wine cellar, garden centre, restaurant and coffee shop, all housed in a traditional Norfolk flint barn. Selling local products including Norfolk honey and spelt from a few miles down the road, poultry from woodland and grass reared birds and local drinks, this is the place to stock up at if you are self catering or want to take some gifts home with you. Finally, they sell many of the regions beers, no mean feat when you realise how many there are. Norfolks high ground and sea frets make it a brewers paradise due to the moisture they offer the grain of the malting barley and it is the reason why the county has more brewers than any other. With over sixty brewers, finding a good local pint in Cromer will not be difficult.
The town itself is a charming place divided into little streets and alleyways with interesting shops and quality restaurants making it a pleasant stroll. The Buttercups Tea Room serves excellent cakes and the Sticky Earth Cafe offers paint your own pottery and T shirts alongside meals, snacks and drinks. It is also truly child friendly as opposed to gritted teeth kid friendly. The Rock Shop Bistro is also described by people on twitter as dog and child friendly with ‘great cake’, including gluten free varieties and an amazing bread pudding, free papers and hot chocolate to die for, whilst fish and chips from Mary Janes should be part of any default Cromer visit according to many. The beach front with its elevated views over the shingle is one of the best seaside places to sit with a hot paper wrapped parcel of fish and chips- eating them will keep your hands and lap warm and bolster you against those North Sea breezes.
No1 Cromer is the latest restaurant from renowned chef, Galton Blackiston serving chips made from potatoes from his own farm and a Times newspaper rating as the 6th best place to eat by the sea. According to tweep Lisa Vincent, “there is nothing better after a bracing seafront walk.” Upstairs is their modern British restaurant with endless views of that Cromer sunset and pier. Should you feel like Italian food, try “La Griglia‘ on Brook Street and whilst Kews Pie Shop on Garden Street might look a bit down at heel from the outside, don’t be fooled. It boasts a loyal clientele and has great ratings with mains for £6:50 including some of the most buttery mash we’ve ever eaten.
Pub wise, we’ve heard good things about the Cromer Social Club: “good for a cheap pint” and the Red Lion with a solid Edwardian exterior and stellar location. It offers well priced accommodation, food and drink and overlooks the pier with those views. Eating local is their priority too – Norfolk Sausages, Venison, Cromer Crab, Morston Mussels all feature on the menu.
(5) A glamorous stay
The Grove provides super luxe accommodation alongside a lovely restaurant for dining at lunch and evenings. Their own fruit and vegetable gardens and access to the counties best local food producers means your plate will always contain the best of what is available and a choice of the oak-panelled study or the original Georgian dining room offers formal dining or something more intimate. Should you choose to stay, there are rooms in the original Georgian building or contemporary Orchard Rooms overlooking the landscaped gardens and six self-catering cottages in the adjacent barn conversions. A private path to the beach and heated pool with treehouse and trampoline rounds off the general loveliness mentioned by many people on twitter.
Rather different is the Beach House, a property available to rent in Cromer, located on the beach front with spacious first floor open-plan living area and glass exterior plus a multi level, enclosed decked garden. Felbrigg Lodge Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel midway between Cromer, Holt and Sheringham, ideal for short breaks or longer stays. It comes highly recommended. Finally, if you like staying in something traditional, then the Cliftonville Hotel, a family-run listed Edwardian building, with stained-glass windows, wooden bar, minstrels gallery and grand staircase will suit you. All 30 en-suite bedrooms benefit from stunning views of the sea and town and an all day coffee shop and bar as well as Boltons Bistro and a la carte dining will keep you all fed.
(6) Museums and the church tower
The Cromer town museum gives an excellent account of life in a Victorian fishermen’s village in the 1800s and has an exquisitely restored fishermans cottage that children (and adults) tend to be enchanted by. A collection of seaside and fishing history artefacts complement the cottage whilst the Geology gallery has the oldest and most complete elephant fossil from the ice age found in West Runton on the nearby beach and inspires visitors to go fossil hunting along the cliff base. You will also discover the creatures that swam in the surrounding seas some 80 million years ago and a stunning series of sepia photographs of the town by North Norfolk photographer Olive Edis. Experts from the museum can be booked to take you on a guided walk which are suitable for older children.
The parish church at Cromer dominates the town centre with an impressive 160 foot tower which naturally offers fine views and is open in the summer for visitors to climb all 172 steps. The tallest tower in the county, the church was once used as a navigation point by ships out in the North sea who could see the distinctive tower for many miles and replaced an earlier church that was lost in the 1330’s to the sea, along with the village of Shipden. On Sunday mornings, the peel of bells can be heard for miles around and the tower is open between 30th March and 2nd April 10.30-12.30 and on 4th April (Easter Saturday) and from 6th April (Easter Monday) until the end of October half-term (Friday 30th October.
(7) Stately homes
Felbrigg Hall is a mere couple of miles from the town with its lovely gardens, under the auspices of the National Trust and landscaped with with miles of wooded trails and walled gardens. Buggy friendly surfaces make access easier and childrens play boxes dotted around the great house help kids understand its history. The interiors are mind blowing in their opulence and stories behind the acquisitions- the Chinese nodding mandarins in the bedroom; majestic stained glass windows in the great hall; a royal teapot belonging to Queen Mary and the more prosaic, although nonetheless covetable, copper pans in the kitchen.
Another local estate run by the National Trust is Blickling with over a thousand years of history contained within its red brick walls, extensive gardens and park, situated in the Bure meadows a few miles from Cromer. Like Felbrigg, it puts on a year round programme of special events, often linked to festivals and historical moments alongside its every day opening. Bike hire allows the more active to explore the grounds and there are trees to climb and an unusually shaped mausoleum to discover. Those of you interested in oral history can hear the voices of those who have lived and worked here over the years, recorded to bring the past to life as you explore the interior. Home to the RAF Oulton Museum, the exhibits remember the Bomber Command squads who were stationed there. The largest collection of second hand books in the NT is available to browse and buy from so why not do that then retire to the tea shop for a piece of cake and cup of coffee?
(8) Carnivals and festivals
Cromer has a strong community feel and organises an incredibly popular carnival each summer which kicked off in 2014 with a five metre high reconstruction of the animal that lived in the Cromer area 600,000 years ago. Clowning, aerial displays, some traditional competitions; ‘Bonny Baby,’ and Fancy Dress, plus wacky races ensure that all ages can take part. Delicious food with a strong emphasis on those famous crabs, a treasure hunt, fireworks at night and what looks like the whole town participating means that although parking is a bit of a nightmare, it is worth braving the queues to visit at carnival time. The sandcastle competition is really popular and great to watch.
The Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival is a must do according to many of the people we asked, organised by volunteers over two days and raising money for local charities. Kicking off with a variety show in the grand tradition, there follows cooking demonstrations featuring the eponymous creatures, market stalls, live music, special events across the museums in both towns and enough seafood to feed an army. Keep an eye on the website for 2015 dates.
The pier hosts Folk on the Pier each year and is scheduled between 8-10th May in 2015. Described by Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg as “the Best Gig on the North Sea,” Folk on the Pier is a highly regarded showcase for the finest folk and folk-rock acts from all over and the opportunity to listen to music backlit by the multi hued rays of the setting sun is unforgettable. And for book and art lovers, COAST, the Cromer & Sheringham Arts Festival, is one to watch. Including painting and sculpture, pottery, music and photography plus dance, theatre, literature and film, the festivals remit is broad and inclusive. Slated to start on 23rd October, keep an eye on their website for a list of events.
Cromer is one of the few seaside resorts keeping the tradition of end of the pier variety shows alive via the Pavilion theatre. Touring drama, music and musical theatre companies all make a pitstop here for the chance to perform in a location that is anything but run of the mill. Expect a varied programme, from a talk by Michael Portillo, classical ballet from the Vienna Ballet to the Johnny Cash Roadshow. Alongside the Pavilion, the nearby town of Sheringham has its Little Theatre, home to one of the countries last surviving repertory companies. A popular winter pantomime and a year-round programme of events, includes film, art exhibitions, dance, drama, music and comedy is put on alongside weekly classes in stage skills, drama and dance for young people aged from four to 25. Cinema lovers are catered to also with the Merlin Cinema which shows first rank films across four screens and is the oldest cinema in Norfolk.
(10) Travelling around is as pleasurable as arriving
The town and surrounding countryside offers a wealth of interconnected walks and trails and there are good public transport links for people who don’t want to walk the whole route. Annoyingly, getting to Norfolk from the rest of the country is not the easiest thing to do though; there is a much maligned rail link to Norwich (45 minutes or so, every hour) and by road, Norwich is 40 minutes away and the A1 or M11 up to 90 minutes away. High season will see traffic snarl ups, especially along the most obvious routes.
An excellent bus service serves the coast east and west: the Coasthopper bus runs along the North Norfolk coastline and is, in itself, a lovely thing to do providing gorgeous scenery out of big picture windows and a warm place to gaze upon it during the colder months. Living up to its name, it is easy to alight at any of the stops and walk to the next one, catching later buses back. Walks from the Cromer clifftops can be extended to the north via the Cliff tops to Sheringham (about six miles, return by train) or to the south along the cliff top past the golf course and through ‘Poppyland’ to Overstrand (about four miles).
The ‘Poppy Line‘ run by North Norfolk Railway operates both steam and diesel trains and sells Rover tickets, providing a whole days travel. The route is a 10.5 mile round trip by steam or vintage diesel through Norfolk areas of outstanding natural beauty. To the south are wooded hills, glacial rises and falls and the Norfolk beauty spots of Kelling Heath and Sheringham Park whilst northwards lies the sea. Beaches and resort facilities are all within easy walking distance from the various stations.
The Bittern Line takes you via rail from Norwich and follows the course of the River Yare before turning left towards Salhouse and nearby Salhouse Broad, changing at Wroxham to join the Bure Valley Line. Travelling on through Worsted (named after the type of cloth woven in the village in the middle ages), you will pass through North Walsham and Gunton then continue onto Felbrigg before arriving at Cromer where the train reverses to access the last short stretch of the former Midland and Great Northern Railway from Cromer to Sheringham. If you Decide to continue onto West Runton via rail, your children might enjoy a visit to the Hillside Animal and Shire Horse Sanctuary. On arrival, at Sheringham you will then have the option of transferring onto the Poppy Line to proceed on to Georgian Holt. The railway lines take bicycles so you can hop on and off as you like.
The Cromer Treasure Trail is a downloadable trail approximately 1¾ miles long and requiring around 2 hours to complete. Starting at Meadow Road, it takes in the beaches and is a great way to introduce yourselves to the area if you are on holiday. The North Norfolk Coastal Partnership provides information about local bicycle hire from companies offering electric bikes to child seats and trikes. The roads make wonderful cycling but don’t kid yourselves that they are flat- glaciation many centuries ago has left some very unusual contours along the North Norfolk coast!
The Sustrans National Cycle Network is designed to take advantage of safer places to cycle such as old railway path and forest tracks, passing through off road areas wherever possible and it covers the county. Some well known bike trails include the Peddars Way which starts near Thetford in the sandy gorse and heather covered heaths of the Brecks to the most northerly point of the counties coastline, following an ancient Roman pathway. With gentle gradients, the 59 miles of the Norfolk Coastal Cycleway from King’s Lynn to Great Yarmouth, passes through Cromer. Trekking through inland country lanes, it is relatively safe for children to ride. The Cromer Loop is a downloadable pdf of a 24 mile route which takes you past some of the counties most amazing and historic churches. It also passes by the lovely stately home estates of Mannington and Wolterton.
The Quiet Lanes Explorer offers you 36 miles of a Quiet Lanes network around the National Cycleway route. Marked by distinctive signs it encourages car users to be more considerate on these back roads and offers cyclists and walkers a route around Cromer and Sheringham that darts between the coastal area and the hedgerow edged lanes. If you are planning to visit Felbrigg Hall, we’ve found this route for you so you can cycle should you so wish. More challenging than others, it takes you past the steep hills of the Cromer Ridge up to Beacon Hill for a rest and contemplation of the views for miles around, the highest point in Norfolk. As you progress inland, you will pass the leafy lanes, flint built villages and farms surrounding Felbrigg Park and the Roman camps that once dotted the region. Twenty per cent of this route (about 12 miles) is classed as off road, taking you along loose surfaced farm tracks where you can leave clouds of dust in your wake as you rattle along soft sand, flint and loose stone pathways. Go up Beacon Hill and you’ll add two extra miles to the journey.
If you enjoy a bracing walk by the sea, Norfolk’s coastline risks spoiling you for any other. There’s traditional resorts where the beaches are home to sunbathers, deserted miles of sand backed by tufted-dunes, and sheltered rock-pools formed from the foot-beds of cliffs. Many of the counties beaches are popular with beachcombers who are attracted to the ancient stories embedded within the rapidly changing coastal landscape. You might recall that a caravan of King John’s treasure was lost to a rising sea in 1216 while he was attempting to cross The Wash between King’s Lynn and Long Sutton. The treasure supposedly includes crown jewels, jewellery and gold coins. Farther down the coast, the cliffs have given up the fossilised remains of elephants, the foot-beds of fifty human footsteps preserved in clay and a multitude of other strange and mysterious creatures. Here’s my list of favourites and please do leave a comment if there’s any you think I might have left out.
Hopton on Sea, a curve of white-sand beach south of Great Yarmouth in South Norfolk, the beach is divided by large groynes, a sea defence system and backed by maram-covered cliffs that provide shelter from the winds. Flights of concrete steps offer a safe ascent. Popular with riders, kite flyers and walkers, the Scroby Sands offshore wind-farm is visible from the beach and local boat trips will take you out to see it up close, a sight that takes the breath away. Also common are the seal colonies, their slippery-sleak heads popping up like buoys to accompany your boat. Hopton is part of the ‘walk4life’ campaign and information display boards between Hopton and Gorleston beaches have details of timed walks.
Bob Hall Sands I will probably be taken out and shot for publicising this truly secret Norfolk beach among the salt marshes near Wells-next-the-Sea. A thorough knowledge of the tide timetables is required because that tide needs to be going out to enable you to motor through the marshes which remain passable 3 hours each side of high tide (under normal wind and pressure conditions). You must also beware the low lying fog which can be very disorientating and once on the marshes, you’ll have to leave your vehicle and walk. A mile or so of sand between the dunes and the sea is thus revealed. The terrain is deserted, and in winter becomes the roost of thousands of pink-footed geese who soar over the broad terraces of sand-flats that are exposed at low tide. Let your eyes rest on the expanse of mud and sand where shallow channels of silver-water rush to return to the North Sea.
Weybourne has banked and pebbled beaches- the start of the cliffed region of the Norfolk coast extending all the way to Happisburgh. Weybourne is a fishing resort situated in the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it makes a fantastic start or end to a day here if you travel via the North Norfolk Railway, spend some time in the village itself (very attractive) and watch the sea fisherman, huddled against brisk onshore winds. Surrounded by farmland, woodland and heathland, the area is excellent for walking too. Nearby Kelling Heath is dark skies territory and a popular gathering point for astronomers and star gazers with several events planned over the year. A nearby campsite provides accommodation, food and company for those not wishing to spend the night on the beach.
Overstrand draws plenty of admirers of the amazing views of beach, sea and horizon from the cliff top path which is eroding rapidly, Offering panoramically lovely walk to Cromers along the top, about one and a half miles away, there is a path down to the beach which is a lovely spot for sunbathing. When the tide is out, the sand is perfectly flat and very compacted down making it good for ball games, running and walking although the tide comes in right up to the promenade so do check the times before departing. There is a cliff top car park with a small cafe, toilet facilities and ice cream van in the warmer months
Hunstanton, two miles of Blue Flag Beach in the locally nicknamed “Hunny”, the Sea Life Centre, a comprehensively equipped swimming pool, donkey rides, rock shops and amusements keeps Hunstanton firmly up there in the best trad resort stakes. However walk a little way and you’ll arrive at Old Hunstanton with its beach pockmarked by rock pools and shelteed by red sandstone cliffs- famously striped as a result of layers of fossil-studded sediment, they are breathtaking at sunset and sunrise. The only west-facing resort on the east coast of England, this melange of classic Victorian resort and modern attractions can be seen in its entirety by riding on the seasonal land train. This carries visitors from Searles Leisure Resort to the Lighthouse and back again for a small charge. The driver has been very amenable to emergency pit stops for children’s loo breaks, the purchase of ice creams or to take photographs. There are large soft dunes, miles of golden sand both providing the kind of background to a traditional seaside holiday. However the sea comes in slowly and provides enticing shallow waters for kids to explore and play in: because of this islands can form and care should be taken that you and youngsters don’t become cut off. (There are no lifeguard patrols here as there are on the main resort beach.)
Scolt Head Island, at just under four miles long, has one of the most inaccessible and beautiful stretches of sand in the district, namechecked by those Norfolk folk in the know as one of the best places to escape to. High dunes and soft sands tufted with Marram grass lie at the end of a walk from the quayside on the east side of the creek, all the way along the raised sea wall and offer shelter from the sea breezes. If you have little ones with you, the ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe, operates either side of high tide and is a great way to see the coastline from another perspective- that of the famous seals that make this their home. The beaches are littered with shells, lovely to hunt for and admire. The island belongs to the National Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust and is a non-intervention reserve where coastal processes are allowed to naturally occur without any interference from man The west of the island is shut off to the public during much of the summer season so that breeding birds are not disturbed.
Brancaster’s strong tides makes this pretty coastline of salt marshes and intertidal flats not the safest for swimming and it has seen its fair share of tragedies over the years. Sadly members of my own family joined the official search for a family of children who sadly drowned here some years ago so please do take care. However, the soft sand is perfect for sandcastles and at low tide it is rippled with coastal lagoons which are safer for children with their warm water and sealife waiting to be discovered. The beach is backed by a golf course (what a view as you tee off!) and at low tide the 1940s shipwreck of the SS Vina emerges from its sandy, watery grave, barnacle-covered bilges and superstructure fully exposed. Avocets, oyster catchers, terns and seals lounge and bob about making this a nature-spotters paradise. For hungry people, ice cream is sold from a booth on the beach and there are decent pubs nearby too.
Holkham is truly an awe inspiring beach, backed by nature reserves and the watery border of the large Holkham Hall estate. Behind the shoreline lies a shallow half-moon basin, which, at very high tides, rapidly subsumes into a shallow lagoon. 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, you will be transported back to the Blyton-esque seaside adventures of your own youth. The beach is edged by a ridge line of piney-woods where pine cones crackle and sizzle on a hot day as the heat encourages them to split open and drop their seeds. Children can run amid 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 car-park. In addition the dunes provide plenty of shelter. The nature reserve is incredibly diverse with tangles of creeks and saltings- shifting, yellow tongues of sand spits taper off into the salt-marsh and woods of Corsican Pine, their stepped and branched trunks piercing the skies and forming a perimeter around the acres of green pastures and grazing marshes. Sit in the bird hide or alongside Salts Hole at dusk and hear the reserve come alive.
Holme next the Sea marks the start of the long distance footpaths along the North Norfolk Coast, running all the way inland to Thetford called the Peddars Way and Norfolk Wildlife Trust manages the Holme Dunes Nature reserve. Located on the counties northwest corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea, Holme Dunes is superbly located to attract migrating birds (over 320 species) as well as other wildlife species including natterjack toads, butterflies and dragonflies, many visible from the three bird hides. The little village perched on the far north west point of the county has a small pub and church but boasts a sandy beach popular with holidaying families seeking that classic bucket and spades holiday. A second Bronze Age wooden circle discovered on a Norfolk beach at Holme has been dated to the same year as its neighbour, known as Seahenge. Archaeologists have been testing wood from the second henge and believe it was also built using trees felled in 2049BC. You will have to pay for a daily membership to the Wildlife Trust but you can then drive a mile down to the Wildlife Centre and wander through the reserve forest to access the beach further down- the golden sands will be pretty much deserted.
Horsey is home to thousands of wintering seals on a beach accessed via a gap in the very necessary sea defences in this flat part of the region. The famous National Trust owned Horsey Windpump is worth a visit as is Horsey Mere, a wildlife watery reserve open Spring to Autumn. A voluntary beach closure is in place until the end of January – by which time it is expected that most seals will have left – to help keep them safe. In warmer months there is a kiosk at Staithe car park selling a range of drinks and snacks. Behind the beach you will find a trail along fields and dykes to Horsey Mere, one of the few expanses of water in the Broads owned by the National Trust. Carry on along the path and you will arrive at Horsey Windpump where you can admire views over the countryside and beach after climbing to the top. There is a cafe too.
Wells-next-the-Sea has a coastline which gradually merges into the beach at Holkham, making a glorious walk. Driving along the road to the car park the glorious views are kept secret until you are nearly at the beach car park. From the far side of it, choose one of the footpaths over the tree-covered ridge and you will emerge onto one of the most secluded and self-contained beaches on the Norfolk coast. Yet more pine-woods shelter the pretty beach huts and a very popular beach cafe where sandy feet are welcomed. The food here is amazing and the views are of those woods and the beach. A lovely dog shower means four legged friends are welcomed too. Some strong currents at sea mean summer lifeguards need to be on their best game but the creek is perfect for swimming at low tide and is a crabbers smorgasbord at other times. Check the tides before leaving as high tide sees the waters lapping the base of the beach huts.
Cley, a long stretch of stones and shingle, diverse bird life (another twitchers paradise this) and a beautiful walk from the village with its landmark windmill. The sea is deeper here so it is for competent swimming as opposed to miles of paddling in the shallows. Not the place for resort type facilities, this is where to come if you don’t want the kids to be pestering for ice creams, donkey rides and amusements because there aren’t any. The beaches are backed by miles of wild and uninhabitated marshlands, home to many species of birds and it isn’t just the beach that is a haven for paradise. Divers have discovered the remains of a prehistoric Oak forest just 300 metres off the Cley coast. Eight metres under the sea, the forest could have been hidden since the ice age and stretching as far as the continent. It now provides a safe environment for a multitude of creatures and a great diving experience.
Cromer, like its neighbour Sheringham, is a blue-flag beach. The famous pier with the even more famous End of the Pier show is the towns landmark and deservedly so. A great place to drink hot chocolate and admire the skies of Norfolk or drop a crab line or two, the pier is the icing on the cake of a well-managed, sandy beach. Lifeguards and water sports zones ensure that bathing is as safe as it can be. No dogs on the beach from May to September though. West beach (left of the pier) is a mix of sand and stone and tends to be less busy, especially towards East Runton. Swimming is best at low tide because of the expanse of hard compacted sand which is exposed- much kinder than the stones upbeach! You’ll see the rock pools all the better too. Avoid swimming east of the pier under and around the first breaker because of a strong riptide. Huddled below the historic town is East Beach, stretching below the 62 metre high cliffs and with those views of the historic old buildings ranged far above.
Cromer has no harbour, so the fishing boats are pulled onto the shingle by the cobblestoned Gangway which is close to a fabulous shop selling the eponymous crab that is justifiably famous because of that extra-sweet flesh, attributed to their slow growth on the chalk reef just off the coast. Nearby is Cromer Pier with the historic Pavilion Theatre and cafe selling good hot chocolate at its end. There’s great walking here too- start off at the Esplanade and walk east towards Overstrand, or west to the large beaches of the Runtons (where elephant bone fossils have been found by beachcombers). Or climb the 200ft high Beeston Bump, beyond which is nestled Cromer’s sister coastal town of Sheringham and The Mo, another seafront museum.
Sea Palling is situated on a part of the Norfolk coastline that is permanently under threat of erosion and submersion. This is a blue-flag stretch of yellow sand, flecked by shingle, larger stones and spined by dunes; the defensive stones hunker along the beach, providing irresistible climbing for kids. A sea-defence scheme, built in the mid-1990s by the Environment Agency, incorporating some man made reefs, helps to mitigate some of the flooding. Zoned for watersports, the reefs also help keep a lagoon-like glassiness to the water in the summer, making it gentler for swimmers and there is deckchair hire, lost child and first aid services on the beach. The town has a pub, the Reefs Bar, situated at the foot of the ramp leading to the beach, cafes, amusement arcade, a Post Office and general store, farm-shop and a stall which sells fish caught locally.
Waxham, just to the south of Sea Palling is home to nearly as many seals as human visitors and they often bask on the sand; a likely site should you decide to walk between the two resorts. The resort (if you can call it that) is hidden away amongst trees and sand dunes, has no regular car park (just park along the side of the road) and no amenities close to the beach, making it a bit of an insiders secret. Part of an AONB, the views stretch for miles. A restored barn-cum-cafe keeps people fed and watered and enjoys a sheltered location behind the grass tufted dunes. The village is tiny and houses the Old Hall inn with a separate kids dining area should you wish to use it. Lobster and crab are seasonally available, there is a beer garden and several bedrooms to stay in should you decide to make a weekend of it.
Mundesley Beach with its decent sized waves attracts surfers and other water sports fanatics but that’s not all. A beautiful sandy stretch of coast backed by beach-huts with lifeguard cover and shallow waters at low tide make it popular with families too. Only twenty miles from Norwich gives it added flexibility for a quick trip and this long stretch of sandy beach continues to Bacton and Walcott along the coastal road between Cromer and Caister. Although Victorian Mundesley lost its railway, it still retains the charm of those times, avoiding the excesses of other resorts. On Walcott beach cliff top you’ll also find high quality ice cream van for miles; Mark’s Lamarti van is always there serving homemade ice creams with a great selection of toppings.
Winterton on Sea was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is another pretty, sandy beach backed by dunes and nature-reserve grasslands that are also home to the Natterjack Toad and a colony of around 30 to 40 seals. Only eight miles from Great Yarmouth, the beaches are kept safe by an active coastguard lookout tower which has been moved onto the dunes as a result of erosion and is part of the Sea Safety Group that has five stations across East Anglia, all manned entirely be volunteers 365 days a year. Populated by a wide variety of birds including terns, the beach seldom seems busy and back onto an AONB which helps temper any attempts to busy things up. There’s a small cafe nearby though with a sea-view terrace.
Gorleston Beach is another triumph of the Victorians: 3km of resort with every amenity a person could want. Gorleston’s two beaches – north and south – sit in a bay between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, overlooked by promenades that ascend the cliffs. North Beach has that Victorian feel with immaculately-kept gardens leading down from the hilltop and the beach is backed by a rock armour-protected concrete sea wall with timber groynes. Built in 1927, there’s a paddling-pool and a large boating-lake, reflective of a time when yachting was a popular hobby for children. South Beach is is an unspoilt and wide beach, part sand, part shingle, quieter and part of the ‘trim trial’, with its system of timed walks. The beach has a manned RNLI lifeguard lookout tower due to its strong current and pretty large, rolling waves.
Great Yarmouth’s pleasure beach and Golden Mile offers that classic British mixture of sand, sea, beach-front promenades and its amusements, a mixture of high-octane rides, penny arcades and family fairgrounds spread over more than nine acres. The Greater Yarmouth coastline stretches along 15 miles of beautiful sandy beaches backed by dunes and pierced by the two piers. At the northern end the Britannia Pier is built above the beach and has donkey rides departing on the sands below it. The Wellington Pier is located further down Marine Parade towards the southern end of the strip and trips to see the seals at Scroby Sands leave from the shoreline between the two piers. The Central Beach is a another sandy beach between Britannia and Wellington Piers adjacent to Marine Parade; all have life guard cover.
Scratby Beach near Great Yarmouth is a wide curving, ochre-coloured, quiet sand and shingle beach found at the base of low sand cliffs, protected by a row of huge boulders there to protect the sand dunes from erosion. Popular with dog walkers, sunbathers and families, the northwards walk along the cliff tops offer panoramic views over the sea and of the cliffs covered with indigenous plants, and the many windsurfers who are especially prevalent in the winter months. The beach can be reached via a slope and steps and there is parking and public toilets on the cliff top.
Caister is another popular holiday destination for families with its own independent lifeboat-station which marks the start of the resort’s South Beach zone. Wide dunes lead down to a glorious, golden-sandy beach with views of the Scroby Windfarm. Drinks and ice-creams are sold from a beach-cafe and a large free car-park is behind the lifeboat station. Another Winter surfing destination, the offshore southwesterly winds make it particularly popular. The North Beach is near to Great Yarmouth and has a long concrete esplanade and sand-dunes leading to another sandy, golden beach. There’s a small free car-park alongside the beach along with public & disabled toilets and wheelchair access is easy on the esplanade although further access onto the beach is limited.
California Beach merges with Scratby Beach and offers wide, sand and shingle beaches at the bottom of low and sandy cliffs. The beach is accessed via steep steps down the side of the cliff or can be walked to from Caister, along the beaches. Refreshments are available at the beach entrance point along with public & disbled toilets but public parking is very limited. Disabled access is by steep slope and stairs and may not therefore be suitable for all levels of disability.
Hemsby Beach near Great Yarmouth fronts a lively resort with shops, amusements, attractions and cafes alongside caravan and holiday parks. Wide, golden sands backed by dunes make it versatile and safe with RNLI lifeguards patrolling between the red and yellow flags in summer, 10am and 6pm. Hemsby Beach is also home to the Inshore-Rescue and takes part in events such as the Herring Festival and the new Viking festival in June. All amenities are within easy reach along with deckchair hire, public & disabled toilets and paid parking via a large car park lies next to the beach.
Burnham and Burnham Overy Staithe lies along a series of inlets, creeks and fimbrels of gullies, interspersed with small, pebble-beaches and larger expanses of sand that overlook Scolt Heads Island. Pure-white sands are speckled with dune-hills and marram grass and from the west end locals swim and canoe across a narrow and deep channel to the island; a fabulous uninhabited nature-reserve, and England’s only desert island. Return via those mud-creeks and swimming-holes on the Cockle Path.
Happisburgh Beach was the location of the first known occupation of Britain, a Paleolithic marvel which has yielded all manner of fossilised clues to the creatures that roamed this ancient place, including us, man. Standing sentinel is its famous lighthouse, all candy red and white stripes (which can be climbed, affording amazing views). Locals recommend going a little way beyond Happisburgh to Cart Gap where there is a car park and easy access to the beach. It’s similar to Sea Palling with wide sands that are perfect for picnics and sandcastles plus pools of blue seawater at low tide for children to splash in. And those spectacular views have to be seen to be believed! Stay aware of the cliffs which are subject to sudden falls and slips: layers of brown clay can slip away to reveal the claggier blue which is hell to remove from clothes, hair and shoes. Just down the beach from Cart Gap lie the last remains of Eccles, one of Norfolk’s lost villages, whose ghostly remains could once be seen on the beach at low tide and where tales are told of the church bell ringing under the waves. The Dunwich of Norfolk, so to speak.
Sheringham Beach is an old fishing village that developed into a resort when the railway arrived in late Victorian times. It has a lovely safe beach for small children which holds the European Blue Flag award for cleanliness and all the amenities of a resort town with a colourful annual carnival and festivals celebrating local seafood. Wonderful views of the coastline and surrounding countryside can be seen from a trip on the North Norfolk Railway between the town and Holt. The surrounding woods of Upper Sheringham (including Sheringham Park), have views over the sea, and miles of bracken-covered undulating uplands, smothered with gorse and purple heather.
Trimmingham Beach is just east of Cromer and is reached via a cross country stroll through fields and woods followed by a bit of a scramble down a slope that might be best done after a period of dry weather. Drive towards Trimingham, heading towards Cromer and keep an eye out for a large hill with a military base that has a dome resembling a giant golf ball. Before you reach this and half way up this hill there will be a small right turning called Vale Lane. Follow this down and then take a sharp left at the interception to a Tarmac Road. This will eventually take you down to the beach with a large amount of parking space at the bottom. The beach is truly deserted and local speak of a shipwreck here years ago and of lost treasure. Trimmingham has the youngest chalk substrate on the United Kingdom mainland and a few shells can be collected from the small cliff face. The chalk has actually been tilted and folded by glaciation, and is a geologically important site.
East and West Runton Beaches, the latter is most well-known for the Elephant, or woolly mammal, which was discovered in 1990, dating back to the Ice-Age and one of the oldest fossilised elephants to be found in the UK. The remains were found in the cliff-face which is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and now, for this reason, an important Norfolk beach. As you’d imagine, the beach is a big favourite among fossil hunters and low tide reveals lovely hard sand, excellent for walking. You can easily walk from West to East Runton (about a mile), but only at low tide and keep an eye on it, otherwise you’ll get stranded as when it comes in, the corner is cut off. You can also walk to Sheringham, but again, beware of the tide. The rolling nine-mile-long glacial Cromer Ridge that runs beside the coast is responsible for the less than flat contours of the countryside and its apex, at Beacon’s Hill, is just a 15-minute walk south from West Runton, and rises to 338 feet above sea level.
Snettisham Beach backs onto the Coastal Park with reedbeds, scrub and marshland behind the shingle beach, and is also adjacent to the RSPB Snettisham Reserve. It sits on the Wash and is composed of shingle and, although the tide does go out quite a long way, it leaves mudflats, as opposed to hard sand, making it something of a feeding ground for coastal birds and site of amazing sunsets. Snettisham Coastal Park was established in 1984 and is owned by the Ken Hill Estate, comprisingheathland, marshland, reedbeds and scrub. It extends to Heacham and is a popular wildlife walk. A wooden bridge takes you from its carpark onto the walk proper, over a pretty bridge. October 2014, saw a new public right of way added to Snettisham Beach and you can walk along the sea-bank from the beach car-park heading left towards the RSPB Reserve.
Walcott sits right on the edge of the coastline, with a main road running parallel to the beach and is the only Norfolk village where this is the case. A tiny village on the far point of the east coast, it is pretty quiet and has been repeatedly attacked by the forces of the North Sea -badly damaged in 1953, 2007 and 2013. In 1953 The North Sea flood resulted in the vast majority of the village being lost to the sea and in bad weather the road is not passable. There is a particularly good local fish and chip shop too. Not the most spectacular of beaches but worth a drive past and a look.
MorstonQuay and Blakeney Point- Morston is around 1 mile west of Blakeney – a lovely walk along the coastal path and its quay is situated just within the shelter of Blakeney Point, a wonderful backdrop to the quay area with its salt-marshes in the foreground. Seal spotting boat trips depart from here year round alongside a small scale seafood and fishing industry and there are all kinds of water-based activities based here too. Blakeney Point is a nature-reserve, an impressive 4 mile long stretch of coastline home to a fantastic spectrum of wildlife which lives on its sand and shingle spit, salt-marshes, dunes and surrounding sea. Common and grey-seals live and breed here too. Visitors can walk out along the shingle-spit towards Blakeney Point from Cley Beach- about a three and a half mile walk but very exposed to coastal winds and the cold air. Tidal flooding can also affect the area. Parts of Blakeney Point are closed for portions of the year to visitors on foot to protect wildlife and this is the time to access it via boat from Morston Quay. Toilet facilities at the Life Boat House on Blakeney Point are generally closed October to April.
Salthouse -The small village of Salthouse is set beside a high ridge above the salt marshes that border the North Norfolk Coast. In times gone by there would have been salt pans and large piles of salt crystals ready for transport, although no more. The beach is a large pebble bank with little shelter from the penetrating north winds and severe weather. The village contains the attractive church of St. Nicholas, a post-office/shop and a lovely pub overlooking the marshes. Worth a visit for Cookies Crab Shop which has been selling quality shellfish for over 3 generations and serves seafood based meals and snacks in its gardens overlooking the marshes or for eating on the beach.
Rimmed by deflective sea-defences and graced by dunes and glorious sand, the greatest and most mysterious aspect of Eccles beach lies underneath it- a lost village which has been overwhelmed by the deposition and erosive action of the might of those North Sea waves. All that is left of Eccles is the Bush Estate – a collection of pre-war bungalows and caravans tucked behind the sand-dunes and on January 25th 1895 St. Mary’s church finally tipped into the sea. Those of us who visited the beach in the 80s will remember the tower stump of the church which appeared at low tide but the subsequent building of an off-shore rock reef by the Environment Agency resulted in an elevation of sand levels, thus obscuring it. However, pieces of flint masonry from the tower can still be found along this section of coast and in Norfolk Life, Lilias Rider Haggard (1892-1968) recalls visiting Eccles when she was a child and witnessing the gruesome sight of skeletons exposed in the sea-washed graveyard. The line of lost villages and the land they sat upon starts from Hopton and continues past Winterton on Sea but for now, what we have left is a lovely and wild stretch of coastline which, when the summer holidaymakers fly back to their winter grounds, becomes ours again to stroll, birdwatch and enjoy picnics on, well wrapped up against the winds which are responsible for those lovely dunes.
A Norfolk Wildlife Trust site with dunes, freshwater pools and marshes which are home to more than 320 bird species including Avocets and Oystercatchers. Located on Norfolk’s northwest corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea, Holme Dunes is superbly located. The visitors centre is open daily from April- October’s end and at weekends for the other times of the year. The coastal footpath runs through the site, bordered by silvered clumps of Sea Buckthorn ablaze with orange berries as the summer draws to a close. Interest young children by telling tales of the military remains from WWII that can be seen around the reserve, including the remains of a target-railway used to train artillery. The half-hidden relics of our past date back even further too and include Roman pottery and, in 1998, a well-preserved Bronze Age timber circle, which became known as ‘Seahenge’. The circle was uncovered by strong tides, having been hidden for some 4,000 years (no longer at Holme, the structure was removed for preservation purposes by archaeologists).