It’s six years since we first visited North Norfolk, but the tally of visits now stands at eight and we reckon that there could be a few more. The decision to base ourselves in an en-suite room at the self catering Deepdale Backpackers hostel at Burnham Deepdale for a few days paid dividends.
We’d decided to go indoors rather than on the adjacent campsite as the weather forecast hadn’t been wonderful and my camping kit was still here, there and everywhere after moving house (we’ve used the campsite on two occasions now, and there’s no problems with it at all – quiet, relaxed and as laid back as the hostel).
So, there we were, 160 miles from home, with some walking kit (The Peddar’s Way is nearby), some food and a couple of maps and no idea of what we were going to do or where we were going to go.
Did we know what was in the area? Not really, even though North Norfolk had been featured on Coast, Countryfile and had served as one of the locations for the Stephen Fry series Kingdom. Fortunately, the reception area at Deepdale Backpackers is also a tourist information centre, so leaflets were picked up and read over that night’s evening meal/lounging around with a bottle of wine.
There are numerous wildlife sites to explore too, but the main attraction is summed up by the name of a that was the name of a shop on the main road out of Wells-Next-The Sea for a number of years – Big Blue Sky…
I’ve got back into photography and Caroline’s an artist when she’s not working as a nurse, so light can be quite important to both of us in many ways.
We’d holidayed in St. Ives and Paphos a couple of years beforehand and had appreciated the way the light changes through the day – something that I’d also noticed when driving through Glencoe a few years ago, whilst having the first coffee of the day on a campsite in The Lake District last year and in Haworth a couple of weekends ago.
Many of those staying at Deepdale Backpackers were heading off to the RSPB sites at Snettisham or Titchwell, whilst others were heading to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Cley Marshes. Others were heading to Pensthorpe, a reserve site that had provided the BBC with an ideal location for Springwatch.
Now we aren’t too fussed on birdwatching, but we had heard about one regular event that was worth getting up for in the early hours of the morning. It was (and still is) the Wader Spectacular at RSPB’s Snettisham reserve.
Getting up early was a shock to the system, but after a couple of mugs of strong coffee, the car was pointed in the right direction, parked up and we headed down to the beach to see what all the fuss was about.
And we weren’t disappointed as it was one of the greatest free shows we’ve ever seen. As the tide comes in, waders such as Knot gather together before suddenly taking off and wheeling and performing aerobatics over everyone’s heads.
Around a hundred or so people were also witnessing this and every one of them was in raptures as the thousands of birds took off and flew in almost silent formation for several minutes before heading inland towards nearby lakes. It’s a cliche I know, but words can’t describe the experience, even though we’ve witnessed it three times.
Snettisham isn’t the only beach we’ve walked on in North Norfolk – those at Hunstanton, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Sheringham, Cromer and Holkham all spring to mind. Hunstanton’s is below the multi-hued cliffs whilst Wells is a fair walk from the harbour and town centre.
Sheringham and Cromer are interesting at any time of the year – unless of course it’s February or March and the temperature without the wind-chill factor is below zero! The beach at Holkham is quite possibly one that you’ve seen without even realising it.
Remember the beach that Gwyneth Paltrow walks on at the end of Shakespeare In Love? Yes, it’s Holkham Beach. It can get busy at times, especially when the sun’s out, but if the car park’s quiet then it’s a gem. As is the nearby Holkham Hall.
The gardens, grounds, museums and house are all open to the public, although it’s best to check exactly when various parts are open to the public. On the occasions when Caroline has taken her touring bike to Norfolk or she’s hired a bike, she’s loved riding through the grounds of Holkham Hall, especially when it’s early in the morning or late afternoon.
As Caroline’s a history buff (I’m more into Horrible Histories…), she went around the hall on a guided tour and spotted that one part looked familiar. On asking the guide why, it was because the hall had been used as a film set. When Keira Knightley’s character is running upstairs with her hair on fire in The Duchess, the staircase is in Holkham Hall, but the room she runs into is in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Steam trains are also a part of the North Norfolk visitor experience. The Poppy Line runs between Sheringham on the coast and the inland town of Holt. It’s a short trip and once you get to Holt, there’s a bus service to take you into the town centre.
Holt may be small, but it’s a busy town, so if you’re planning on driving instead, then it’s worth getting there early as car parks fill up quickly. Although there’s a host of interesting shops in the town, one fine reason to visit is Bakers and Larner’s department store.
It’s shopping as it used to be – refined, unhurried and with a very good food hall. As a past customer of Fenwick’s in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a one time only customer of Fortnum & Masons in London, I always ring-fence some of the holiday budget when in Norfolk in order to stock up on a few things.
At least one picnic lunch is bought, alongside chocolate and a box or three from the selection of Turkish Delight that lines the shelves. Bread, biscuits, coffee, cider and beer have also found their way into the shopping basket with the result being a bigger bill than we would get at our local branches of Sainsbury’s or Lidl!
The train’s starting (or finishing depending on which way you journey) point of Sheringham may be small, but it’s a town with a good YHA hostel (2014 was the first year in which we haven’t stayed at Deepdale Backpackers – both are equally fine hostels though!).
Apart from the steam trains which depart from a site adjacent to a Network Rail station, there’s many small specialist shops, a good RNLI shop (got to give them a plug as they’re out when others aren’t and their bags of fudge/boxes of teabags are rather good ) and a few places to get a decent lunch too. Cromer Pier and lifeboat station
Down the road is Cromer with its fine beach, pier and lifeboat station. There’s also the lifeboat museum and plenty of places to wander around at your leisure. It’s a great place to stretch your legs in at any time of the year, but with that light at its best, autumn is the personally preferred time to visit and because it’s quieter, parking is a lot easier.
Even though we’ve visited the area so much in recent years, there’s still places we haven’t been to yet.
We’ve flashed our National Trust cards at most of their properties in the area and whilst Caroline’s been exploring the houses and gardens of Blickling Hall or elsewhere, I’ve explored the North Face of the tea rooms and read a few chapters from a book or Kindle file or sat down and made notes about the trip or business ideas. The gardens at Blickling Hall, a National Trust property
We’ve also headed out on one of Bean’s Boats from Morston Quay to take a look at the seal colony on Blakeney Point and Caroline’s tasted and bought a few bottles of different ciders from Whin Hill Cider in Wells-Next-The-Sea.
Caroline’s also explored the area by bike too on her own tourer or on a hire bike from Deepdale Backpackers. Cycle routes are well documented and signed, but Caroline also makes her own up and lets me know by phone when there’s a signal where the best place is to meet up for lunch (preferred favourite is the cafe at Holkham Hall – very good sausage baguettes, scones, slabs of cake and either coffee or interesting cold drinks).
Whilst it’s tempting to head back to North Norfolk this February, camping at Deepdale Backpackers may be out, but they do have Tipis, Yurts and Shepherd’s Huts available as whilst we have tents, we don’t have a camper van that can be parked up and used for the duration (Deepdale Backpackers do have one to hire though).
There’s always the hostel and en-suites though and there are occasional offers posted on the Deepdale Backpackers’ website. If you don’t fancy cooking then there’s a mini-market at the adjacent petrol station, a pretty decent cafe that does good breakfasts, lunches and afternoon snacks plus a couple of good pubs – The White Horse and The Jolly Sailors – in walking distance. http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk http://www.yha.org.uk