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Lifestyle  Features Article


Unspoilt Norfolk's got broad appeal

Hannah Stephenson

 

THE tide was in at Burnham Overy Staithe and several enthusiastic youngsters were demonstrating that it was the best time to go crabbing, as they pulled out the small crustaceans clinging on to the raw bacon bait and plopped them into a bucket.

When the buckets had been emptied on to a nearby boat ramp and the mass of wriggling crabs had all sidestepped back into the sea or taken shelter in nearby rocks and crevices, we set out on the picturesque coastal path in this beautiful part of north Norfolk.

The half-hour walk alongside the salt marshes - a haven for the many birds and wildlife - brought us to Holkham Beach, a spectacular, unspoilt, wide sandy beach, which was featured in the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare In Love.

Here, children were kite-flying, picking up some of the many razor-sharp shells scattered on the sand or simply paddling in the small streams left by high tide.

Nearby Brancaster beach may be more suitable for families with younger children as the tide doesn't ebb as far as it does at Holkham.

This part of Norfolk seems a million miles away from the amusement arcades, funfairs and fish and chip outlets of the county's more bustling, commercial seaside resorts such as Great Yarmouth. It's a magnet for families with second homes and the specialist shops, with prices to match, reflect the general affluence of the area's residents.

Burnham Market is one of the picture-postcard, sought-after towns which make up an area often nicknamed Chelsea On Sea, thanks to its upmarket pubs, mouth-watering deli and high class butcher - as well as a milliners and a number of tempting eateries.

There are many historic pubs now offering modern menus to their customers, many of whom are the London set with the compulsory Mercedes estate, Hunter wellies and black Labrador.

North Norfolk embraces around 400 square miles at the far eastern tip of England and its coastline stretches for 43 miles. Much of the region is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It forms part of the largest coastal nature reserve in England and Wales, inhabited by bitterns and terns, oyster catchers, avocets, marsh harriers and many other species which make it a birdwatcher's paradise.

We stayed at a beautiful cottage near Fakenham, around 40 minutes' drive from Norwich and half an hour from King's Lynn, with its beautiful 14th century buildings and fascinating waterfront.

Not only is this area perfect for cyclists, as much of the countryside is flat, but it is also ideal for anyone interested in medieval churches, which are dotted in virtually every village we passed. Pilgrims come from all over Europe to visit the famous Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

We ventured to Sandringham, the Queen's Norfolk retreat where she stays at Christmas. Taking a tour of the house is a good way to get a taste of how the Royals live.

There's a guide in every room to fill you in on the history or just to impart snippets, such as where the Queen watches TV, what the family would typically have for dinner (it's pretty simple - corn-fed chicken with tarragon was a typical main course).

We were also shown where she would give her Christmas speech to the nation, in the years before it became pre-recorded, as well as where she answers her correspondence, the ballroom which the family sometimes uses as a cinema and even where the Royal hi-fi is stored.

The museum within the grounds house many of the old Royal cars, as well as some children's vehicles. There's even a miniature Aston Martin, given to the Prince of Wales as a child, which is a replica of those used in James Bond film Goldfinger, complete with changing number plates and rear water jets.

Norfolk is a county full of farms and therefore fresh local produce is in abundance. Cromer crab is a local delicacy, along with freshly-caught mussels and other fish. You can find them in the many village fish shops, or pop into one of the plethora of farm shops selling everything from newly-picked apples to honey.

The unusually good weather in low season prompted us to visit the popular Norfolk Broads, an hour's drive away, and hire a day boat from Wroxham. With two young children, we had a day messing about on the river for under £50.

The children loved driving the boat. All you have to remember is to drive on the right and keep to the 4mph speed limit, although the boat we hired wouldn't have done any more than that.

While the children took the wheel (supervised, of course), we sat in the back admiring the other crafts, waterfront homes and natural habitat. I imagine, however, that in high season the Broads could be rather like the M25 in rush hour.

Back towards base, another must - especially if you have children - is an hour's boat trip from Blakeney to see the many common and grey seals at Blakeney Point in the North Sea. The area is a breeding ground for these fascinating, lolling creatures who thrive on a diet of fish and sand eels.

They didn't seem remotely bothered by the succession of small motor boats sailing past their colony. If anything, some of the seals took to the water for a closer look at us.

What is wonderful about north Norfolk is its simplicity, lack of commercialism and abundance of activities, both on the ground and water-based.

If you want a livelier, faster pace and more traditional English seaside feel, visit nearby Hunstanton with its seafront amusement arcades, aquarium (which we felt was overpriced and wasn't one of the best I'd visited), funfair and fish and chip shops.

Personally, I prefer to take in the sea air at the quieter beaches of Brancaster and Holkham - even if you do have to walk a bit further to get to them - then pick up a Cromer crab or some freshly-caught mussels on the way home and watch the sun set over the salt marshes in peace and tranquility.

 

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Lifestyle  Features Article
 


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