Due to its very rural nature and reputation for being a bit old-school, Norfolk is the East Anglian gem that often gets overlooked. In 2015, my family moved from Sussex (check our Dan’s piece on Brighton) to North Norfolk after years of childhood summers spent holidaying here. Coming from a commuter town close to London, there is a huge difference in the lifestyle, but after getting to know the area well (I have visited 10 of the 12 national parks) I can honestly say that this area of the country is one of the best. Here’s a quick run-down of some of my favourite bits from my lovely adopted home.
Before I get into too much, I should warn you about a few things. The rail service between Norwich and seaside Sheringham does have surprising coverage, but for everyday travel you’ll need a car or at least a bike; luckily the terrain here is flat as heck so you won’t get too worn out. There’s also a church or other historic site every 500 yards, so if you do get tired you can just do what I do and stop off for a rest under the pretence of looking at some history. These two pictures are part of my actual cycle home from work.
North Norfolk is perfect for the outdoorsy type, hill-walkers aside. Norfolk’s low-lying land and vulnerability to flooding have also created some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, the Norfolk Broads (they even feature in a Bowie lyric). Comprised of 7 rivers and 63 lakes, the Broads were once sites for peat workings and are now stunning areas for wildlife conservation. Up and down the county there are places to hire dayboats or canoes for a small fee and can be great fun in groups or on your own. People have also been known to throw boat parties and cruise along at 5mph singing Loveshack.
The little town of Wroxham sits right on the Broads and is easily accessible from Norwich by Network Rail. One of my go-to places when I come home is Wroxham Barns. A collection of, well, barns that have been converted into local craft and produce shops as well as a small petting farm and children’s play areas, they’re a gem. To name but a few, the ceramics, fudge and Scrummy Pig produce shops provide some of the best bits of creation Norfolk has to offer. I didn’t realise salted caramel spread was a thing I needed in my life until I went here.
If you love the water but lakes and reeds aren’t really your style, the beaches in North Norfolk are incomparable. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Norfolk Coast is home to miles of untouched sandy beaches and rolling dunes. Wells-next-the-Sea is a beautiful little harbour town neighbouring the Holkham National Nature Reserve and estate. As well as Holkham Beach (a favourite of the royal family), turn a 180 and behind you is a huge pine wood with a forest floor made from sand. Rope swings are strung up everywhere and the trees are perfect for climbing and for feeling like a big kid. Down the coast, Horsey beach is famous for its animal residents.
Seals hang about the beaches in Norfolk all year round but in the winter they come onto land to have their babies and the beaches become dense with little seal pups flapping around. Although there are restrictions on getting too close, the Norfolk terrain of sand dunes allows handy vantage points to watch from above. After some seal spotting, Go to Cart Gap and grab a bite at Smallsticks Café; or stop off at the Nelsons Head in Horsey for a pint before taking a picnic down to the beach to watch the sun set over the biggest skies you’ll ever see.
Finally, there is some city life to this otherwise sleepy county: Norwich. Along with being beautiful, it’s got your big shopping centres too. My personal haunts are Pottergate and Elm Hill. Pottergate has a definite student/young person vibe to it with trendy bars, pop-up antiques and cafes like The Birdcage. Elm Hill is a traditional, cobbled street with small, independent businesses such as Dormouse Bookshop. It also featured in the film Stardust, which is a classic. Other places of note are Norwich Castle and Cathedral, St Andrew’s Brewhouse (home to the best Reuben sandwich you’ll ever eat) and Tombland Bookstore. If you’re lucky, you might also run into brilliant busker Felix Simpson, cousin of Charlie from Busted. For reals.
The seaside towns of Sheringham and Cromer are historic as well as lively. With lovely little shops like Bookworms (always with the books, Elise) and fab food from No.1 Cromer by Galton Blackiston of Great British Menu fame. Both are on the rail line and perfect for a day out.
So that’s North Norfolk in a nutshell. There is infinitely more to do in this criminally underrated part of the country but I am still learning and discovering those things for myself. I highly recommend coming here for a cheap, alternative holiday. It’s often dry and sunny, and even for us young people there is loads to do (just ask our very own editor Rhys). I am lucky to call this beautiful county my home.
Words and Images by Elise Jackson