A week in Venice: what to eat, where to eat it

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*Extracts from this piece were first published in the Bury Free Press. 

Whilst there’s much joy to be had roaming this tiny but densely built-up city in search of the unexpected, it also pays off to prepare a little in advance because the most popular spots book up well in advance. Here’s my recommendations for the best places to eat in Venice at all price points. 

Meal of the holiday and probably the entire year was at Alle Testiere  (huge thanks to Victor Hazan who recommended this delicious place and told us to drop his name to get a last-minute res) where we ate razor clams, pasta with mixed seafood, sea bass with lime, bronte pistachio gelato and great clattering heaps of clams just hours out of the sea. Chef Bruno and Luca the sommelier work the tiny 22-place dining room in a friendly but discreet manner. Dress up for dinner but lunch is more casual although we’re talking Italian casual here.

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Razor clams at Alle Testiere

On our first night in Venice we wandered deep into Dorso Duro looking for cicchetti and ended up finishing the evening propped up at the small wooden bar of Da Fiore whose wide shutters open straight onto the narrow alley. We ate Sarde in Saòr (fried sardine fillets topped with a sweet and salty tangle of rosemary, juniper, wine-soaked sultanas and onion); golf ball-sized fish and crab polpetti; scooped up tangled piles of onion with tiny crusty triangles of fried polenta and finished off with artichokes sliced in half, dressed with oil and scattered with grilled orange peel. Afterwards, we strolled around the crosshatch of alleys filled with shops which specialised in exquisite things: tiny hand-made wooden boats, marbled paper and chandlers selling hand-braided rope. I was smitten by an artists shop whose window display of pigments in old wooden trays and stained and ancient pestle and mortars drew the eye. The first thought that sprung to mind was Victoria Finlay’s wonderful book ‘Colours, a Natural History of the Palette ‘.

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Later on in the week we came across the teeny Acqua e Mais in the San Polo district where seafood is dusted with polenta and fried while you wait. Cornets of calamari, shrimp and salt cod (baccalà mantecato) also come served with soft polenta or a fritti of local vegetables, costing a mere 3-5 euros. Orient Experience in Cannaregio is also inexpensive and offers something rather different to local cuisine in that its staff are drawn from Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern lands and the food reflects this. Choose from Iranian rice with saffron, Afghani basmati rice with lamb, raisins, almonds and carrots or beef meatballs with potatoes, prunes and walnuts. There’s kebabs and Syrian fattoush plus live Arabic music some nights.

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Fried seafood cicchetti from Acqua e Mais

You’ll eat wonderfully at Ristorante Alla Madonna as long as you’re prepared to tolerate the indifferent attitude to non-locals. The wood-grilled eel quickly soothed though; soft, fatty flesh backed by smoked chewy skin, its fat running onto the plate to be sopped up with unsalted bread. The linguine with clams was briny with a good chew to the pasta. We wanted to order more but to be honest we didn’t feel like lingering.

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Grilled eel at Alla Madonna

If you’re not that familiar with Venice and its food, it can be hard to navigate past all the tourist establishments although a good rule of thumb is to avoid places with lurid photos of their dishes on the menu and translations in multiple languages.

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The Rialto

The Rialto area is particularly full of tourist restaurants although its backstreets are also home to Trattoria Alla Madonna which is anything but a tourist place. Another good tip: follow the gondoliers at lunchtime and eat where they eat. We ended up at Osteria Al Ponte ‘La Patatina ( Campo San Polo, 2741) near San Marco and the Rialto. The menu is classic Venetian with good wines sold by the carafe and the prices are decent: fourteen euros for a plate piled high with calves liver and polenta. It’s nothing to look at from its exterior which is a tad grimy and graffiti-damaged but the cosy wooden interior facing a small bridge and canal tells you that you have struck gold. It was filled with rows of men in stripy-shirts when we arrived and these fellows know how to eat.

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Osteria Al Ponte ‘La Patatina

Venture into San Polo and you’ll encounter another Da Fiore (San Polo 2202a, Calle del Scaleter, 30125),  a small and elegant restaurant where you’ll be expected to rock up in something other than shorts and Tevas. The best tables have a canal view and you’ll need to book well in advance. The lemon and liquorice granita was much-needed on a hot stuffy day as was the sea bream in the classic saor style and a thick slice of saffron tuna encrusted with polenta. Those of you heading there in the autumn should order the pumpkin and chestnut mushroom soup.

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The mushrooms sold in Venice are stellar; apricot chanterelles, fat little porcini and the deeply grooved ceps were just arriving during our time there and the greengrocers advice was to char them on a griddle and serve with radicchio. If you crave more liquorice, head over to Redentore on Giudecca where there’s a tiny gelato parlour selling the best liquorice gelato we have ever eaten. Or try  Nico’s near the Zattere stop on the main island, which is deservedly popular. The roasted banana, a simple fiore de latte (always a reliable test of a gelato maker) and the fig, honey and nut were repeat orders for us.

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Alle Testiere: sea bass with lime

There’s more to Venice than the main island though, lovely as it is, so be sure to travel around the lagoon and time your return to Venice with sunset. The islands of Murano and Burano are popular and I’ll return to them in a minute but Torcello, Mazzorbo and the tiny enclaves of Pellestrina and Alborino on the Lido should not be missed. Only by visiting these will you gain a full picture of Venice’s fascinating history and geopolitics.

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Venetian coastguards setting up a speed trap by La Dogana.

Torcello

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Go back some fifteen hundred years and you’ll arrive at a time when the tiny island of Torcello was still the largest and most fiscally important Venetian island of all with over 20,000 residents who made their home there after fleeing the Barbarian hordes on the Italian peninsula. But they couldn’t flee from geographical forces as yet beyond their control. As the mainland rivers poured silt into the lagoon,the shallow waters around Torcello became clogged, choking the maritime traffic essential to its existence and providing a good home for mosquitoes instead of the fish and seafood that it was previously known for. The locals migrated to Venice, scavenging Torcello’s buildings for materials and today, just a few residents are left and much of the island is a nature reserve.

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We travelled to Torcello from Burano and Mazzorbo on the vaporetto (No 9 from Burano) and walked along the fondamente towards the cathedral at the heart of the island. Lining the canals were trattorias and bars whose piazzas were shaded by pomegranate trees heavy with fruit. The Devil’s Bridge arches over the main canal into an olive grove bordered by tamarix whilst a larger, flatter bridge led to the church yard proper. Its name is a likely corruption of a local family name -Diavolo- although a legend dating back to the Austrian occupation of Venice is more poetic.

It was a hot day and the air stood still over the lagoon, keeping the thunderstorm over the mainland firmly in place, so the occasional breezes from motorboats filled with local teenagers were welcome. It always amuses me to hear loud rap music coming from these boats set against this timeless landscape; they’re Venice’s version of British boy racers.

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Storms over the mainland as we motor back from Mazzorbo and Torcello

The cathedral is technically not a cathedral anymore on account of there being no resident bishop and is opposite the Museo Archeologico della Provincia di Venezia di Torcello.

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The cathedral is Venice’s oldest monument with a suitably grand name: the Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta) and its foundation dates back to AD 639. Go inside and check out the 11th/12th century Byzantine mosaics (a Madonna and Child in the apse, a Last Judgment on the west wall). The gold-flecked beauty curves over ones head in the soft light. During the daylight hours, make sure you climb the campanile behind the cathedral for sweeping views of Torcello, the lagoon and Venice in the distance. This is the best way to see how the Venetian lagoon works because when visibility is at its best, you will be able to see the shipping lanes picked out by wooden posts as far as the eye can see.

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Where to eat on Torcello? We liked the small bars serving panini, cicchetti, fruit platters and pasta whose owners let us pick our own pomegranates (ripe in early September). Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo is by the eponymous bridge and is particularly lovely with a shady garden but there’s also Locanda Cipriani (yes, THAT Cipriani), beloved of Hemingway who wrote part of his novel, Across the River and Through the Trees here. It’s the place to eat if you like big ticket restaurants but I’m so keen on what appears to be a terribly upmarket version of a chain restaurant. If I’m going to spend big, I’d rather go elsewhere. You’ll need to book ahead for all the Torcello restaurants if you’re planning to visit at the weekend.

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Rosie & Jim appear to have retired to Torcello

Burano

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We were charmed by Burano after a less than pleasurable visit to Murano which we felt had been spoiled by tourism aimed to flog the glass the island has become so famous for. It wasn’t just the multi-coloured cottages and picturesque canals that made Burano so popular with us but also its back streets where sprawling gaggles of children congregate around communal water fountains (it’s tiny so there aren’t many streets) and the harbour where the mooring posts are painted to look like chunky pencils.

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Burano is at least a half hour trip by vaporetto from Venice (take the vaporetto 12 from San Zaccaria near St. Mark’s or go to Fondamente Nove and catch one from there) but this working fishermen’s community is a great place for fish and seafood, both to buy to cook yourselves or eat at one of the many restaurants and bars lining its waterways. Do make the effort and step away from the main tourist drag to get a better idea of how the island ticks over as a working community.

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Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero was our favourite place to eat, with freshly-made pasta and puddings, exquisitely mannered staff and pretty little tables lining the canal.(Booking ahead is recommended and thank you to Justin Sharp from Pea Porridge for the recom). Da Romano on Via Galuppi is a good bet, cooking a risotto which some diners claim to be the best in the world. I ate risotto as dark as night, coloured with seppie nero from the cuttlefish which stained my lips the deepest of blue, and tagliolini with spider crab but Da Romano is more touristy.

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If you want to eat with the locals, I’d go for Sunday lunch at Gatto Nero, kick back and be prepared to spend a little more (pasta is around 24 euros). What was delicious? Risotto Buranello made with the gó fish (which buries itself catfish-style in the lagoon mud) and a sturdy workhorse of a pasta in the form of a fat slippery bigoli slicked with a sardine-tomato sauce. We finished with a platter of local cookies, made soft by dipping them into fragolino wine. They didn’t mind us lingering a little because we booked second sitting. Other good things we ate on the island? A bowl of seafood lasagne, layered with shrimp, scallops and zuccini, flavoured with fennel pollen and saffron and tiny chiffonaded squash blossoms. It didn’t look like much but hidden beneath that seafood sauce were delicious treasures.

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Burano is home to the bussolà of Burano, an egg-enriched biscuit said to have been made by wives for their fishermen husbands to eat at sea. Some bussolà are enriched with rose water, chocolate, orange and other spices and a local legend tells of an aroma so intense the biscuits also doubled up as pomanders, hung in cupboards and placed in lingerie drawers. You’ll see the dough is twisted and formed into all manner of shapes from the classic shallow ‘S’ to more elaborate cream and nut-filled confections. Find them at Panificio Pasticceria Costantini ( San Martino Sinistro) and Panificio Pasticceria Palmisano Carmelina on Via Galuppi and look out for gelati flavoured with bussolà crumbs too. The biscuits pack light for those of you travelling back with hand luggage only.

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Burano is the place to buy hand-tatted lace although be careful; much is machine-made so do your research first. The vaporetto drops you off by Galuppi Square where local ladies sit on stools outside their cubby-hole stores, their fingers a perfect cats cradle of industry.  Leonardo da Vinci was a visitor to the island lacemakers and  bought lace to cover the altar of to the Duomo di Milano. Find out more from the museum of lace, the Museo del Merletto.

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Mazzorbo

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Easily accessible from Burano via a wooden bridge over the lagoon, Mazzorbo was the location of one of our best meals of the entire trip. We ate at Venissa where the chef is deeply committed to’lagoon cuisine’ although there are influences from all over Italy.

Venissa is the creation of winemaker Gianluca Bisol, whose family make some of Italy’s most famous prosecco in Valdobbiadene, an hours drive from Venice. On its tiny island plot lies the hotel; converted from farm buildings and fishermen’s houses, and an old storehouse which is where we ate outside in the sun. Shrimp marinated in watermelon, tortellini filled with Asiago Stravecchio served with a  mint and clam sauce both form part of the ‘mudflat’ tasting menu for 130 euros although there’s an á la carte option too. The fish changes daily according to what has been caught. This is deeply seasonal food with no pretention or fanfare and it is seasonal because it has to be: importing food into the Veneto is prohibitive and what can’t be grown on Mazzorbo comes from the nearby garden isle of San ‘Erasmo and the many produce markets around Venice. The restaurant uses produce grown by older people from the neighbouring island of Burano who work Venissa’s vineyards and fields.

A post-prandial wander reveals just how tiny this place is: there’s no shops, only one bar (Trattoria alla Maddalena) and the precariously-leaning campanile of Santa Caterina. Next time we visit, we’ll stay the night.

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Sculptures dot the island of Mazzorbo and grounds of Venissa

Giudecca

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Giudecca

This long low island faces Dorso Duro and the fondamente of San Marco. To walk the length of Giudecca at dawn and dusk is to gaze upon Venice at its best where the sky meets the water and the city seems to hover between them. Early evening is the golden hour, a time to stroll along the fondamente, drink an aperol and listen to the ringing of church bells. The coastguard moors at Palanca and the men pop in for a coffee and a chat. As the light plays across the Venetian waterfront colours grow richer and sound travels further and amid the chatter of the locals, we fancy we can hear the crowds across the water in Zattere. It’s not all ethereal stuff though. Giudecca is a working neighbourhood, a place where visitors can feel part of things, albeit temporarily. Miuccia Prada and Elton John have apartments on Giudecca but it is not a millionaires playground.

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Zattare, Venice from the island of Giudecca

Giudecca lies immediately south of Venice and is composed of several small islands linked by bridges. Once filled with large palazzos with extensive and lush gardens, the evidence of its recent industrial past can still be seen in the form of the redeveloped Molino Stucky flour mill, now a Hilton hotel which also houses the Fortuny showroom. Our apartment is on the front right corner of the mill, overlooking the canal and Venice.  Jacopo de’ Barbari’s famous map of Venice, shows its geography, a string of eight small islets separated by canals, made green by those private gardens. Make time to explore its backstreets where a women’s prison lies next to rows of houses and a deconsecrated church (SS Cosma e Damiano) where a cat sanctuary and rows of artists studios in the cloisters make their home.

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Hand made rocking horse at SS Cosima e Damiano
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SS Cosma e Damiano

There’s Giovanni Toffolo, a boatyard on Giudecca, where we strolled one evening and saw wooden-hulled boats being restored in a building filled with the sound of workmen singing along to opera on the radio. The yard has its own lunchtime mensa- a canteen- nearby (The Food & Art Canteen, Fondamenta Berlomoni 554) where the public are welcome: take the vaporetto to Palanca and it’s a short walk to the boatyard along the canal with spendiferous views of Zattere to your left.

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The back streets of Redentore on Giudecca

The Giudecca fondamente is lined with bars, restaurants and bakeries, some of which have a long narrow counter parallel to the till where one can take morning coffee and pasticciera. (Look out for the little boy walking his pet rabbit!)  La Palanca, close to the Ponte Piccolo, is a good lunchtime bet where canalside tables offer great views and the chance to have your feet washed during acqua alta. Tagliolini ai calamaretti (pasta with tiny calamari) and swordfish carpaccio with orange zest were lovely, as was tuna with grapefruit. Ristorante Ai do Mori serves huge rich portions of crab gnocchetti which would be filling enough for two if you ordered a tomato salad and bread to accompany. The gorgonzola pizza is very good (well, it is the king of cheeses) and they do take-out if you want to eat at home or sitting on one of the benches overlooking the lagoon although the trattoria does have waterside seating.

Close to our apartment was L’Arte del Pane (Fondamenta Sant’Eufemia 655) with the best bread, grissini and pasticciera on Giudecca. They also sell panini, focaccia and ciabatta to be cut and stuffed with whatever filling you like. The walnut and gorgonzola was pretty good as was the classic Italian ham and asiago. There’s enormous bags of bussola for sale, (the hard biscuits Venetians like to dip into coffee and liqueurs), zaleti made from polenta and raisins, baci in gondola (sandwiched with dark chocolate) and focaccina Veneziana (a pillowy brioche-like bread studded with almonds and pearlised sugar). My favourite fishmonger is here too, whose men patiently explained to us what to buy despite the pushing eagerness of Giudecca’s housewives around us. For 6 euros we bought flats of butterflied sardine and anchovy (about twelve of each) to take home and melt in the pan to be spread on bread and spooned over pasta. The mantis shrimp were in season and twelve of those for 4 euros fed the pair of us with a tomato salad and olive oil.

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Guidecca and the monastery gardens as seen from the bell tower of San Giorgio

For a great view over the lagoon, the Sky Bar at the Stucky Hilton is a good place to base yourself as night falls. Above you are the lights of planes landing at Marco Polo and to the right is San Marco and beyond that, Castello. Left is Sacca Fisola, the last little island of Giudecca and the large yachts moored at the Port of Venice. The drinks aren’t cheap, I’d recommend just the one in fair exchange for that view, then retiring to one of the lagoon-side osterias and chatting with the locals- Ai Do Mori serves a bloody good aperol. What is great about the Hilton is that it has its own water taxi and you can use it free of charge to hop across to Zattere and San Marco. They run all night too.

San Giorgio Maggiore

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The small island of San Giorgio Maggiore, located in front of Saint Mark basin and a short vaporetto trip from Giudecca, has been named after the church of San Giorgio which crowns this relatively green part of the city. The view above is from its campanile and it is a glorious one, allowing visitors to see how the city is put together. There’s a lift for tired legs and the few euros they charge is well worth it. Have a wander around the monastery (inside there are paintings by Tintoretto) and gardens behind this 16th- century Benedictine church, the monastery offers well-priced lodgings for guests and a chance to lord it over the people staying at the ridiculously- costly Cipriani which is virtually next door, separated by the Canale delle Grazie.

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Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiore seen from San Marco by Moya _ Bren

Lido, Alberoni and Pellestrina

Best known for hosting the annual Venice Film Festival, the Venetian Lido is well worth the trip across the lagoon. During the holiday season, the beaches are dotted with gaily striped beach umbrellas and it can become very crowded indeed. If you are visiting off-season, some of the beaches are closed although there is still access to the wildlife reserve with its gorgeous sand dunes.

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Pellestrina

A historical restaurant popular with actors and directors who dine there during the Venice Film Festival, La Tavernetta is a small, family owned restaurant. The cuisine is a mixture of  Tuscan and Venetian: the famous Chianina beef of the former and the plentiful fish and seafood of the latter, prettily presented and served in an interior which resembles a family dining room.

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Osteria Al Merca

Osteria Al Merca is located under the roof and open sides of what was once a produce market and the fish and seafood is straight off the boat fresh. Choose from baked scorpion fish, schie or mantis prawns served with polenta and tender vegetables from the island of Sant’Erasmo; local puntarelle and the tiny violet artichokes are a joy in season.Dress warmly in cooler weather or evenings when the breeze is fresh off the lagoon; you are eating outside, remember. It’s not the cheapest but worth the money.

The Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta is the Lido’s main shopping street and it is thickly lined with cafés and bars. Gelateria Tita is worth a visit so you can try Torta Tita, a cake of custard and chocolate-hazelnut gelato with a centre of crispy meringue, as well as the many flavours of gelato and sorbeti.

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Trattoria al Ponte di Borgo

Cycling is a great way to get about if you don’t want to take the bus which runs the length of the Lido. Hire a bike from  Lido On Bike then cycle down the island to Alberoni which is also a nature reserve and the site of some of the best beaches. Here you’ll encounter wildlife, some naturists and a wilder landscape of dunes and drift wood, well away from the manicured private and public beaches. Trattoria al Ponte di Borgo, a rustic restaurant in Malamocco is a short walk or bike ride from Alberoni and is more affordable than many other Lido restaurants. Cichetti is served as are the universal Aperol spritzers alongside generous platters of sweet crab in its shell and bowls of pasta alla malamocchina (mussels, tomatoes, oregano and smoked cheese).

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Alberoni

An all-day public transport ticket covers your journey to the tiny, sleepy island of Pellestrina via a ferry which departs from the tip of Alberoni. Pellestrina is only 11km in length and extremely slim-waisted, narrowing to just a few metres wide to barely accommodate its Adriatic sea defences, a wall named the Murazzi. There’s an unspoiled beach and three tiny fishing communities; San Pietro in Volta, Porto Secco and Pellestrina itself, where the boats seem to outnumber the people. Where to eat?  Da Celeste is the place for a culinary blow-out (up to 100 euros a head) but the location (all peach-pink sunsets and deep blue waters) and the fish (boat fresh, the best of the catch) is superb. The tables line the lagoon, the napery is snowy white and the service is smoothly unobtrusive. The scampi with polenta and the gnocchi al pomodoro are especially good and if you really want to go mad, order the whole turbot.

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Da Celeste

Two good guidebooks for two East Anglian counties

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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.

Written by Laurence Mitchell, local expert and highly regarded travel and landscape writer, Slow Travel Norfolk and Slow Travel Suffolk follow his last guidebook,  Slow Norfolk & Suffolk (Bradt/Alastair Sawday’s) which was shortlisted for the 2010 East Anglian Book Awards.

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.

Slow Travel Guides by Laurence Mitchell

Slow Travel Guides sold via Waterstones

East of Elveden- Laurence Mitchell

 

Walking the Deben estuary: Bawdsey Island, Felixstowe Ferry and Ramsholt

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Boats on the Deben at Ramsholt

I am shivering, not so much because of the cool air which is pushing up from the sea, ahead of the sunset but more from my realisation that seventy five years ago other people probably sat right where I am now and listened to what I am listening to. It’s 10pm on the Fourth of July and I’m on a pebbled beach at Bawdsey Island looking out across the waters of the River Deben which separate me from the tiny hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry across the mouth of the estuary. There’s an American tribute band playing ‘In the Mood’ inside the boat club and the voices, laughter and pops of champagne corks are carried across on the breeze. Time has telescoped in the most peculiar and unexpected way and I don’t quite know what to make of this.

The Deben at Ramsholt
The Deben at Ramsholt

Felixstowe Ferry was vulnerable to German Luftwaffe pilots seeking to unload a cargo of undropped bombs before their flight back across the North Sea and the blackouts imposed on this hamlet, huddled at the edge of East Anglia, probably ruled out too much partying. However I like to imagine the locals and temporary residents dancing to music and enjoying the relief from war, responsibility and the heavy burden of hyper vigilance. In the near darkness, I see memory ghosts of laughing girls stumbling along the pebbles, bending down to remove strappy sandals and precious rationed stockings which they ball up and carry. They dance and chatter amidst the smell of American tobacco and caulked boats with fishy cargoes on the ebb of the English landmass as it merges with estuarine waters, the North Sea and a blacked out horizon.

The skies above Bawdsey, looking out towards Felixstowe Ferry
The skies above Bawdsey, looking out towards Felixstowe Ferry

To my right, the skies are brindled with pinks and violets, the undersides of the lambs tails clouds tinged with amber. On the left where the River Deben splays into the sea, we watch as a tidal bore of darkness approaches, barrelling down the estuary and pushing at the still light over the beach which has now developed a silvery caul. In front of me, the light begins to peter out and the shoreline to my right becomes banded by grey- the sea, the shingle and the sky-as the Deben estuarine tide continues its exhaustive task of transporting the heft of stones, polished to a dull shine, dumping them onto an ever growing offshore shingle bank.

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Looking out from the jetty at Ramsholt

The sky seems to bulge inland and towards us. Out to sea, it is all blue: French navy and saxe, indigo, midnight and then, a nothingness settles lit up only by the perimeter lights of a cargo ship bound for the international port.. I feel like I am suspended in space: the lights of the boat club across the river and a chink of light from the porthole of a cruiser are the only things anchoring us as we sit on the pebbles and even they shift beneath us. Watching the night rush in left us a little breathless. Neither of us had seen a night seemingly as tardy and pressured for time and had the breeze aped Alice’s white rabbit and whispered “I’m late, I’m late” we would have accepted this with equanimity.

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Noght pushes towards Bawdsey from the North Sea which lies beyond the mouth of the Deben estuary

Our trip here was spontaneous, we’d forgotten that the Fourth of July is a date of some significance, especially here in East Anglia where American GI’s came in and our women married out. We were driven out of our Bury St Edmunds home by the torpid heat, a whole weeks worth of it, which had evicted the residual coolness from the stolid rows of Victorian brick. Our  house was gasping for breath and the whole town was so still in that strange yellow, layered heat that we could stand it no more. We grabbed our bags and made a dash for the edge of East Anglia.

Felixstowe, Bawdsey and Ransholt are surprisingly easy and quick to drive to from Bury, straight down the A14 and a turn off to drive through the undulating roads around Woodbridge,  Coddenham, and Alderton. The air remained close and still but the patchworked greens, acid jazz yellows and buffs of the fields flash by and a stray breeze lifts the hair from the back of my neck when we stop to buy some eggs. There are lanes marking the edges of pre-enclosure strips, ancient bridlepaths and sand clotted foorpaths hinting at a sea hiding over the next hill. I want to play the game we played as children- who can see the sea first- although in this case, we approach an estuary. The underlying Red Crag rock gives the earth a brick dusty hue, not dissimilar to the red of the Georgian deep south as we climbed the hilled sharp turn off towards Ramsholt. The Ramsholt Arms and a drink was our destination before a late afternoon walk along the shore of the River Deben,  a route hugging the pines and saltmarshes of the coastal walk that passes in front of the pub.

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Approaching the Ramsholt Arms and River Deben

The view from the inn’s carpark which crests the slope down to the waters and beer garden is a shock if you get the timing and the light right. Go there late afternoon on a hazy summer day and the water appears, blindingly metallic, shimmering like the steel of a razor blade through the ink dark woods. The anchored boats appear black against the water and the only relief from this binary watercolour is the neon orange of the buoys and flags woven through the halyards. The Strand borders a sandy, pebbly beach and beyond, a muddy strip beside the lazy waters where children happily mudlarked in the sun. There’s old sharks teeth to be found in the Red Crag, wizened corals and echinoids and shells a plenty from the exposed London clay which lines the shallow basin of the estuary.

The old sea defences
The old sea defences

As the tide turns, it gives up a hundred yards of glistening mudflats, pockmarked by the beak marks of oyster catchers and redshank and patterned with dragons teeth arrangements of old wooden sea defences: the groynes have rotted away to piles of semi carbonised sticks, slimy with seaweed and encrusted with barnacles, their rough triangle shapes a grim nod to the Anglo Saxon past. There’s sea lavender and purslane along the edges along with the saltmarsh and squeaky jelly like samphire – the Deben estuary possesses a beautiful and luminous bleakness from its quirky plants to the blank yawn of the estuary at dusk.

The Ramsholt Arms
The Ramsholt Arms

The Ramsholt Arms was once called the Ferry House because of the eponymous ferry which used to run to Kirton Creek and is now no more. The village was also the first landing on the north side of the River Deben after Bawdsey, making it strategically and economically important to the region. It waved off heavy cargoes of local brick from the many yards which lay along the rivers Deben, Stour and Orwell and it shipped coprolite (fossilised dinosaur dung, used for fertiliser). Barge quays once lined the banks which seem stunningly empty and haunted by comparitive inactivity now, apart from the flipped collar jollity of the weekending boat people. The village is more boat than house now.

The harbourmasters boat, moored by the jetty
The harbourmasters boat, moored by the jetty

The parish church of All Saints, one of 38 Suffolk round tower churches presides over a startling view which stretches from the Martlesham Research Tower at one end to the Martello Towers of Felixstowe Ferry out towards the North Sea and the sodium lights of the cargo port emerge in the distance as the sun sets. The round tower was built of flint, brick and the septaria from the river bed, notably from  an area known locally as ‘the Rocks’, a place where anchors would foul regularly. The round tower appears as square from a distance but as you get closer, its oval shape appears, a seemingly magical feat which is also achieved by Beyton’s church, another round and buttressed tower.

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Footpaths take you up to the church which perches high above the estuary

The church may well have had an important function as a look out with its all seeing position over a part of the UK which was deemed to be both vulnerable and strategically important with its multiplicity of river conduits and dank, hidden creeks: a highly permeable coastline. Watery landscapes have always attracted plotters and maleficence although the unfamiliar invader might well meet their match at the hands of the sunken, hidden rills and deep channels which snake through the gorse and reeds that edge the coastal pathway and Strand. There’s a sunken lane which also snakes its way to the church, hidden deep between tall banks which burst forth in poppies, grasses, cow parsley and nettles in the spring: a precious reminder of a time when these lanes were more common: sadly most of them have been allowed to sink back into the landscape or have been turned into roads, proper.

All Saints Church at Ramsholt
All Saints Church at Ramsholt

The church stands eight feet or so above you as you climb and steps cut into the banks of the lane provide access to the beautiful churchyard. The whole place is ethereal, other wordly yet strangely pragmatic, and inside the church, a chart dating back to 1287 seems to indicate its function as a useful seamark, helping to keep watch against Viking invaders during the time of the Saxons. The burial site of a rather important Saxon, replete with golden wordly goods and precious stones, is, after all, only a few miles inland at Sutton Hoo and although the Ramsholt parishioners weren’t buried with such riches, they chose to be buried facing that glorious view which is the greatest jewel of all- the north of the church which looks away from the river has hardly any graves.

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Bawdsey Ferry by Martin Hardie from the V&A Collection

Moving on to Bawdsey, a place which we’d never visited but gazed upon on many an occasion from the opposite shores, the light was fast fading. The Bawdsey Peninsula is home to Bawdsey Manor, a top secret RAF research establishment  purchased by the RAF in 1936 where the Chain Home (CH) RDF (radar) system was developed during the fraught war time years. From Bawdsey, a chain of radar stations ran around the south coast to defend Britain during World War II and the Transmitter Block Museum tells the story of radar, and how Bawdsey helped win the Battle of Britain (For opening call 07821 162 879) . This part of the Suffolk coastline came under special measures during the war and only ‘essential personnel’ were afforded access-even the ferry was closed to the public during WW2 after managing to survive from the 12th century, although it is open now and a very popular and atmospheric way of travelling between Felixstowe and the Bawdsey Peninsula.

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The vulnerability of the region to attack and spies is underscored by the 1943 bombing of the church which saw it totally destroyed.  St. Nicholas’s Church was built in 1954 on the site. When war was declared against Germany in September 1939, fears of a possible commando raid on the group led to the development activities being relocated and, in 1940, the British Army staged a training landing against Bawdsey, having warned the station’s officers that the attack would be taking place. However, an administrative oversight meant that the sentries were not warned and when they spotted rubber dinghies approaching the beach area, they released gas-filled barrels and set them alight with tracer fire from the cliff-top machine-gun posts. As the sun rose over Bawdsey Beach the next morning, the sentries “found the beach covered with dozens of charred bodies” that they at first thought were Germans dressed as Army soldiers. The story was declared secret until 2014, but was leaked in 1992.

The Felixstowe Ferry boat club, facing the beach at Bawdsey where we sat/ Nigel Freeman/ Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Felixstowe Ferry boat club, facing the beach at Bawdsey where we sat/ Nigel Freeman/ Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bawdsey Beach has a seasonal cafe, raised above the beach and beach front road which peters out in front of three 30’s arts and crafts style houses (one of which can be rented for holidays). The pebbled shore extends out to sea, divided by groynes until you reach the North Sea where super tankers and cargo ships are escorted into Felixstowe, one of the largest cargo ports in Europe. Lining the road in front of the sand were VW campers and children warmed themselves by barbecues, scrooched down below the groynes as they ate and watched the sun set. You travel back in time here, in part because for so long Bawdsey was closed off, protected from people and civilian development and in part because there simply is nowhere else to go. This is the end point, a still point and it orders you to stop and retrace mentally as well as literally. Bawdsey is Enid Blyton. It is Arthur Ransome and Glenn Miller and Shine on Harvey Moon. You expect the locals to wear thick khaki cotton, to have their hair set in pin curls and wear tea dresses, hair in a victory roll. When a sleek and modern BMW purrs along the sea front, it jars.

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Looking out to Felixstowe Ferry

Felixstowe Ferry is gruffer, from its black pitch fishermens huts to the tangle of utilitarian fishing nets and buoys which lace the gangways and cement walkways bordering the quay. MR James set Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad on the nearby golf course, there’s the stately warning of the martello towers ( this bastion of defence is one of five built on the coast between Felixstowe and Aldeburgh designed to protect us from the wrath of Napoleon) and the embarkation point of the ferry taking you over to Bawdsey. If the ferryman isn’t within sight, locals will advise you to raise the bat and wave it to alert him. There’s fish to be hauled in and sold from boats, huts and ad hoc shops and several places to eat from the  Boathouse cafe  to the Ferryboat Inn originally built in the 15th century as a home for the harbourmaster, facing the heath. The boatyard itself started up in the late twenties and made its own wartime contributions too- it used to build quite a lot of boats for the Royal Navy, including motor boats that were useful modes of getting about during those war years where Glenn Miller and his band provided respite from the business of trying to survive.

Walking on the Beaches…in Norfolk

hunstanton

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
Hopton on Sea

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
Bob Hall Sands

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
Weybourne

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
Overstrand

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

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Old Hunstanton Beach

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 from Gun Hill
Scolt Head Island from Gun Hill

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 Beach
Brancaster Beach

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
Holkham
 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 taken by Tony Foster
Holme taken by Tony Foster

 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.

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Horsey Beach

 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 by Scenic Norfolk
Wells next the Sea by Scenic Norfolk
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
Cley

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.

Beach_Huts_on_Seafront,_Cromer,_Norfolk_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1508508

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 to Waxham
Sea Palling to Waxham
 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
Waxham

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
Mundesley Beach

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
Winterton on Sea

 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
Gorleston

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.

Aerial view of Gt Yarmouth
Aerial view of Gt Yarmouth

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
Scratby

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
Caister

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
California Beach
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
Hemsby
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
Burnham and Burnham Overy Staithe
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
Happisburgh

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
Sheringham

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
Trimmingham Beach

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.

West Runton
West Runton

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
Snettisham

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, comprising heathland, 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
Walcott

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.

Blakeney Point shingle beach looking towards Morston channel
Blakeney Point shingle beach looking towards Morston channel

Morston Quay 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
Salthouse

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.

Eccles beach

By Evelyn Simak /Creative Commons
By Evelyn Simak /Creative Commons

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.

Holme Dunes

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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).

Ten reasons to …..visit…. Felixstowe

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The town of Felixstowe curves along the beach

Often neglected in favour of its Suffolk cousins with better PR, Aldeburgh and Southwold, we think Felixstowe is a great place to spend time in, full of interesting family attractions and things to do. Good transport links with its location at the end of the A14, just past Ipswich makes it easy to get to and the safe, clean beaches, both in the town centre and at Old Felixstowe means that there is still fun to be had even if your budget is limited. Bring your bathing suit in the summer or wrap up warm for a colder weather bracing walk along the seafront with its broad buggy friendly promenade and warm your hands up with a tray of hot freshly fried fish and chips. Here’s our round up of the best things to do, some suggested by our followers on Twitter and others chosen by us. Do let us know if we have left your favourites out.

(1) Watching the Ships

By Rodney Harris from Geograph/ Creative Commons
By Rodney Harris from Geograph/ Creative Commons

The Port of Felixstowe Suffolk enjoys a unique position, perched on a peninsula between the rivers Orwell and Deben and is the United Kingdom’s busiest container port, dealing with over 40% of Britain’s containerised trade. The Port’s newer Trinity Terminal has 26 quayside cranes and spans over 2 km. along one of Europe’s longest continuous quays and is able to accommodate the latest generation of large container ships. The Port’s Landguard Terminal came into operation in July 1967 as the first deep-water facility for container ships serving the UK.

But enough of the stats- to a child (and many adults) this means really big ships, lots of clanking noises, wheeling seagulls and an amazing and dramatic floodlit night time light spectacle. The John Bradfield Viewing Area adjoining Landguard Terminal was provided by the Port in 1992 and has become one of the most popular places for local people and visitors alike along the Suffolk Coast. Whether you sit and eat in the View Point Cafe (inside the viewing area) which serves all day breakfasts, fresh fish and chips, cakes, ice creams, and a full selection of teas and coffees or outside, the fantastic close up views of one of the world’s busiest ports are a shipspotter’s heaven. From the John Bradfield Viewing Area you can enjoy mesmerising views across the estuary to the Shotley Peninsula and the towns of Harwich and Dovercourt (both in Essex). If the weather is really clear you can even see the off-shore wind turbines beyond The Naze in Walton. Back inside the viewing area, you will find interactive displays, lots of information, videos and exhibits. Decent bathrooms and babychange facilities are provided too.

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The Ferry Cafe

That’s not all though! Languard Point forms one of Suffolk’s many unique habitats- the vegetated shingle habitat of the Landguard Nature Reserve, with its rare plants, migrating birds and military history. Go bird-watching, take a cycle ride or stroll along the beach and run along the  boardwalk which is also suitable for wheelchair users and buggies.This  offers easier access to the seashore and wildlife, as well as views of the ships at the nearby Port of Felixstowe. Overlooking the Nature Reserve is the Landguard Bird Observatory which rings and records migratory birds as they pass by on their way in and out of Britain. It also identifies and records moths. Many migrating birds are attracted to the area by the lights of the nearby Port of Felixstowe, so bring your binoculars and camera and check out the board outside the observatory for the latest sightings. Don’t forget to record any sightings of your own.

Afterwards, explore the rich military and maritime heritage of Landguard Fort, one of England’s best-preserved coastal defences, with a history spanning almost 450 years. At the neighbouring Felixstowe Museum, the fascinating artefacts and collections which bring alive the military and social history of this seaside town are displayed.

DOWNLOAD the Landguard Peninsula and Felixstowe andTrimley circular walk leaflets. Please note: these documents are in pdf format, and you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view or print.

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Dramatic night views of Felixstowe Port

The Fludyers Hotel provides a cosy bar or an outdoor terrace from which to observe the comings and goings too. They serve Adnams and we can think of no better way to spend an afternoon dreaming of travel on the high seas, far removed from the unromantic forms of modern travel- Ryanair cattle trucks and atmosphere deficient modern cruise liners.

 (2) From big ships to little boats

Want to go back in time to an Enid Byton-esque childhood of fishing boats, clanking moorings and puddles of rusting chains; the smell of fresh fish and cries of sea birds and sandy kneed children huddled around rock pools on deserted beaches? Or do you yearn for Arthur Ransome style meanderings in a small boat, puttering from jetty to jetty, commandered by men and women who make their livelihood from the grey North Sea waters? Felixstowe can provide all this and more and this is why we love it so.

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Winkles at the Ferry

To the north of the town is the tiny fishing village of Felixstowe Ferry with its few houses, fishing huts built out of salt scoured pitch black boards and ramshackle leaning holiday homes on stilts. The Ferry Inn, a church and the Ferry cafe,cluster together on the land which finally runs out at the jetty. Want to eat before you go to Bawdsey? Winkles at the Ferry is a gorgeously atmospheric eating place overlooking the River Deben offering an outdoor raised terrace directly over the waters as well as indoor seating too. Serving freshly cooked food all day, the ingredients are all sourced locally, then go for a stroll along the pebbled river banks. Have a walk along the sea front, lunch at the cafe or pub and marvel at the Martello Towers that line the sea front and guarded us against sea invasions. A tiny ferry boat will then take you to Bawdsey Island, the secret WWII facility and home to the inventor of the radar. Whilst you await the boat, while away the time crabbing off the jetty. All you need is a crabbing line (crabbing kits are sold in many of the local seafront stores), some pieces of bacon (as smelly as possible) and a bucket of salt water to keep the crabs in safely until it is time to return them to the sea. Walberswick is the place many visitors to Suffolk mention when talking about crabbing but Felixstowe is just as good- the crabs like bacon here too!

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The foot and cycle ferry

The ferry operates between Easter and October, running on demand and according to the weather. Call 01394 282173 or 07709 411511 for more information.  Bawdsey Island Quay  has a good stretch of sandy beach for children to play on, and a lovely Boathouse Cafe to enjoy freshly caught local fish in and you can visit the place where the ground breaking work in radar technology took place. RAF Bawdsey, operational in 1937, was the first of a chain of radar stations to be built around the coast of Britain. During the Battle of Britain with 2,600 Luftwaffe planes to the RAF’s 640, it was the use of radar for detecting aircraft en route to the UK so they could be intercepted that saved the day.

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Felixstowe Ferry with Bawdsey Island across the water

It is also possible to pay a visit to Essex via the Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry– the only foot ferry linking Harwich, Felixstowe and Shotley. This jolly little yellow boat runs from the Ha’penny Pier in Harwich to the John Bradfield Viewing Area at Felixstowe . It also offers trips along the River Stour which forms part of the geographical border between Essex and Suffolk and the river Orwell (from which the author Eric Blair took his pen name – George Orwell) offering stunning scenes of pastures, river banks, estuaries and woodlands- the likes of which have inspired artists and authors for centuries. Booking is not essential, but is advisable during busy periods. Call 07919 911440.

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The Harwich – Felixstowe Foot Ferry

 (3) Rainy day fun at Felixstowe Leisure Centre

We are in Britain and we need to be realistic that even at the height of Summer, there are going to be days when the sun doesn’t shine, leaving us with a restless armload of kids requiring entertainment. And not of the Minecraft kind either. When we asked folks on Twitter for their suggestions about what’s best in Felixstowe, the leisure centre (and specifically the pool) was mentioned over and over. From bowling, soft play and all manner of classes and special events to the fantastic swimming, this is THE place for indoor and healthy fun that admission fees aside, won’t cause more money to haemorrhage from your wallet. Right on the seafront, it is easy to find and conveniently located for those post swim hunger pangs that tend to require immediate attention unless you’ve bought a packed lunch or can swiftly get them home before they notice the doughnuts, candy floss, burgers and chips sold across the promenade at the pier.

(4) The Pier at Felixstowe

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The pier

Completed in 1905, this was once one of the longest piers in the country with its own train running to the end but the vast majority of it was demolished after the second world war There are plans to re-develop it in 2015 yet part of its charm is that quintessential Englishness; slightly ramshackle, gaudy, all fur coat and no knickers. We have youthful memories of chasing boys, coyly hiding as we watched our chosen ones look our way then swagger off with their mates. Listening to ABBA, Baccara and Donna Summer fade in and out as the rides swirled round, staggering off them and trying to remain cool and upright- none of this has changed apart from the music which is now Robin Thicke, JayZ and Rihanna. But there are still billowing and giggling crowds of teenagers roaming back and forth, enjoying the slightly dangerous, reckless air of the fairground and often being far from home too.

The fast rides on the pier are gone now but the fast food and candy kiosks at the entrance are still lit up with illuminations that drawn you in and spit you out into a vivid world of primary coloured pinging brash arcade games, children’s rides and yet more food kiosks. Kids dart everywhere followed by parents trying to keep an eye on them, clutching bulging bags of neon bright candy floss. The relative calm of the fishing platforms and boardwalks at the end of the pier give fabulous views of the container ships and ferries en route to and from the port, calming the most raucous of kids. In Winter, the sunsets are beautiful offering us the best views of those famous, endless Suffolk skies.

(5) Hire out a beach hut

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Beach huts- photo by Joe Bridge

We were fortunate enough to have friends who had permanent use of one of these huts but it is possible to hire one by the day. A number of privately owned beach huts plus two Council owned huts are available for hire throughout the season (from Easter until the end of September) at various different locations. A list of these huts and booking forms are available from the Felixstowe Tourist Information Centre on 01394 276770 or by emailing ftic@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk 

During the winter months one of the Council owned beach huts is available for daily hire whilst in its winter location on the promenade at a charge of £20.00 per day. This can be booked by calling 01394 276770 or emailingftic@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

(6) The garden resort of East Anglia and walking the promenade

Walk south along the pram friendly wide, tarmac of the promenade, interspersed with benches for breastfeeding or other pit stops and notice how the maritime climate encourages the growth of palm trees and healthy, floriferous borders. These are beautifully maintained by the local councils horticultural teams alongside volunteers. The promenade is wide and flat enough for children to scoot along and get a little ahead of their parents whilst remaining within sight. The area between Manor End and Cobbold’s Point is Felixstowe’s main seafront and can be walked along a two mile long promenade. This will take you past a number of the towns most famous landmarks including Manning’s Amusements, originally opened in 1933 by Sir Billy Butlin, and run by the Manning family since 1946.north beach by chris leather

The Seafront Gardens sit on cliffs between the town centre and beach, rising up and following the curve of the road which takes you to the shops. These beautiful landscaped and sumptuously planted gardens were created a hundred years ago in the best Edwardian tradition and stretch for more than a mile alongside the promenade. Take time to wander through them and uncover the many historical features, structures and colourful and unusual planting that make this such a beautiful place to visit.

(7) Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve

Slightly out of town but well worth a visit, these wetland marshes have been created almost entirely from arable land situated within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are wonderful views of the Orwell estuary from here and a vast array of bird species and other creatures to look out for. The car park is nearly a mile away from the first bird hide though so younger children probably won’t manage to walk all the way and a sling or baby carrier might be advisable. There are picnic facilities and disabled access is provided too.

(8) The Palace Cinema

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Newly restored and refurbished, this classic old school and independent cinema offers two air conditioned screens with luxurious seating with food served to you as you watch the film.Taking children here to get a taste of how cinema could be is top of our list.

(9) Pick your own fruit

Situated just off the A14 at Trimley St Martin (near the Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve), Goslings Farm Shop offers another classic British Summer and Autumn experience- picking your own fruit. Open daily, hungry children can eat in the on site Strawberry Cafe and then wander around the plant centre and nursery afterwards. In our experience, children absolutely love pick your own fruit, enjoy learning about how it is grown and on a sunny day, it is hard to beat for sheer fun.

(10) Eat out and shop

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Chilli & Chives Cafe

Recommended by a Mumsnetter, The Alex has an unrivalled location, sited right across from the seafront promenade. From the ground floor cafe bar serving breakfasts and drinks to the first floor brasserie (with lift access), serving seafood, grill and classic brasserie style food plus a set menu, people seeking good food in sophisticated yet relaxing surroundings will be made most welcome. Want somewhere that’ll occupy the kids while you relax with cake and a drink? Crafty Coffee is a bright, fresh arts and crafts cafe by the sea, offering space to unwind whilst the children get busy. Kids and adults can take part in ceramics painting, decoupage and knitting workshops whilst eating cakes too, all baked on the premises. Chilli & Chives is a little tearoom which also has branches in Lavenham and Hintlesham serving cakes, teas and light meals and overlooks the seafront gardens. Mooching west along Undercliff Road in search of more ice cream we came across The Little Ice Cream Company which serves fresh artisanal ice cream made from milk produced by the cows of Adams Farm. Soups, sandwiches and other light snacks are served too although to be honest, a steep walk up the cliff road should be rewarded by ice cream and nothing else in our opinion. Want a trad fish and chips eating experience? The Fish Dish restaurant is a huge place over two floors serving boat fresh fish, masses of mushy peas and platters full of properly thick seaside chips. Black leather banquettes, tiles, Spanish style white painted arches, waitress service and stripped wood staircases and floors make this place hard to define.

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Fish Dish Restaurant

Seasides mean seaside rock and The Sweet Hut sells plenty of this in case you hit the town and missed the myriad sweet and candy huts lining the area near the amusements. Also located in the heart of the town centre is the Felixstowe Triangle Canopy, a public space with a varied events programme throughout the year from acoustic music to living statues, table top sales and more. On Sundays you’ll find the very popular market held in the grounds of Mannings Amusements. From classic bric a brac and pound an item to lovely plants, food stalls and more, there’s a lot to look at and see. We’re huge fans of the classic design of the amusement building with its twin towers, fountain, arcade and kiosks all in a sea salt faded pink. Had this building been located in Miami, it’d have a national preservation order placed upon it by now.

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A Felixstowe local keeps an eye out to sea

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Reasons to Visit the Caister Region of Norfolk

In association with Haven Caister

The big skies of Norfolk  make it the perfect place to take a holiday with your family, with mile after mile of unspoilt beautiful coastline, famous wetland reserves and the Norfolk Broads National Park. Romantic castles, windmills and forests abound, plus some of England’s most historic towns and cities, all surrounded by wildly beautiful countryside. With theme parks and zoos, museums and a myriad of festivals and fairs, plus fabulous regional food, Norfolk is the perfect place to bring your family. This feature focuses upon some of the lovely places to visit and things to do within twenty miles of Caister on Norfolk’s East Coast.

1. Best thing about the coast

The coastline around Caister has more than 15 miles of gently sloping, clean and patrolled beaches. Locals have been catering to holidaymakers since the 1700s, so they know what they are doing! From the bright lights of the Pleasure Beach to the amber-strewn cliffs near Hopton and wild dunes of Winterton-On-Sea, the coastline around Caister and Great Yarmouth offers something for everybody – and is bursting with wildlife too.

2. Best beach

Within 20 miles of Caister is the Blue Flag awarded beach at Mundesley, with wild sweeps of golden sand. It’s patrolled by its own inshore lifeboat and coast watch, so it’s very family-friendly. Ice creams and drinks can be bought from several seafront cafes and shops, and there’s ample parking. Great Yarmouth Beach offers boat trips to Scroby Sands to watch the seals basking on their own sandbank ‘beach’. The beach at Sea Palling, with its manmade coastal reef, is another perfect family beach and just a short drive from Caister.

Winterton on Sea

3. Best child-friendly café

Fish and chips taste best with a sea view, and The Old Manor Cafe at Caister-on-Sea is perfect for this, providing generously portioned, child-friendly food and surroundings. The friendly staff who are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions will keep you returning, and the efficient service means your excited children won’t be kept from the beach for too long. The Norfolk Broads are also dotted with small independent tea shops that welcome families with fresh food and baking.

4. Best pub

The Archers Eating Emporium at Reedham has a bucolic riverside setting with its own slipway, ferry and moorings, making it the ideal choice for families coming by boat! At this family run establishment -a winner of a Les Routiers Award for hospitality – you can eat, drink and watch the river and the world go by. Baby and child facilities are provided and pets are welcome.

The Gunton Arms
The Gunton Arms

5. Best child-free night out

The Gunton Arms, north west of Great Yarmouth, overlooks the Gunton Park deer estate and is a traditional pub with a modern vibe. The chef uses local, seasonal produce, like Cromer crab, Gunton Park venison and Norfolk fruit and vegetables, which you can enjoy surrounded by a collection of modern art rivalling any top gallery. After your meal, stroll around the beautiful grounds and enjoy the peace of the Norfolk countryside.

6. Best outside space

Fritton Lake Outdoor Activity Park. Kids can ride bikes and go-karts, enjoy the adventure playground with its giant inflatable pillow, play golf with mum and dad on the pitch and putt course or try out life on the river with a choice of three types of boat. Rainy days are covered too with an indoor soft play and activity centre plus a relaxing coffee shop for adults. There’s also nature and history trails, pony rides and fishing.

Hippodrome7. Best hidden gem

The Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth is described as East Anglia’s own Albert Hall, and has been staging family-friendly shows and circuses for decades in the historic building. With a variety of seasonal ‘spectaculars’ on show throughout the year, take in a show then tour its circus museum which allows you to interact with props, memorabilia and recreations of a famous Houdini stunt!

8. Best free visitor attraction

Visit the gorgeous rescue horses, ponies, donkeys and mules in their pretty seaside setting at the Caldecott Visitor Centre; an animal sanctuary near Great Yarmouth. With over 70 acres of paddocks that are home to some special animals including Prince the handsome Heavy Horse, you and your children will be both charmed and entertained. Caldecott offers tractor rides (weather permitting) and tours plus a childs play area for burning off some energy. If you get hungry, a café offers light meals and snacks. The Horse Wise Education Centre contains interactive displays telling visitors about their important work and there is a gift shop attached. Entry to the sanctuary is free but donations are appreciated.

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Bewilderwood

9. Best days out 

BeWILDerwood offers a magical day of adventure, excitement and activity in a forest setting. The woodland theme park is filled with mythical creatures, treehouses, zipwires and jungle bridges, where parents are encouraged to lose themselves and play alongside their children. The food is part of the experience, prepared from locally sourced ingredients, and all manner of dietary requirements can be catered to. If you prefer, you can bring your own food, plus buggies/wheelchairs can access most of the site. Toddlers even have their own Toddlewood – a mini version of the older rides and activities!

Explore the remains of a third century fort at Burgh Castle on the other side of Breydon Water. The fort predates the settlement of Great Yarmouth, and is a great place to enjoy the spectacular sunsets and views. For older or more active children, spend the day at Berney Arms visiting the windmills on the river Yare, then walk back to Yarmouth along the Wherryman’s Way. There’s no need for a car if you take the Wherry Line Train out to Berney Arms station. Have a look around the gorgeous scenery and eat lunch at the pub.

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Norwich Lanes

10. Best places to shop

A short drive or bus journey will take you to the historic and eclectic city of Norwich. Make sure you visit the medieval lanes area of the city – a series of alleyways and open courtyard spaces centred around the Clock Tower which is home to some of the more intriguing shops and attractions. Being mainly pedestrianised, the Lanes are family-friendly with beautiful architecture, street entertainers and food, plus many resting places for tired little legs. Museums and Norwich Castle can be found nearby.