North Norfolk: A postage stamp view; culture, beauty & diversity
January 1, 1970
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
What is on offer
On my visits to North Norfolk, England, I have had the pleasure of sampling some of the best experiences this unique region has to offer. Norfolk boasts 93 miles (150kms) of coastline and 2,400 miles (3862kms) of footpaths to explore. Along with activities ranging from visiting art studios and beach huts, bird watching and photography it has a rich food culture that is as diverse as the region. There are large estates such as the royal families Sandringham and Blickling Hall, home to Ann Boleyn, quaint inland and seaside villages, animal sanctuaries and caravan parks.
North Norfolk is a birdwatcher’s paradise where the mudflats and cliffs, forested hills and large open fields of grain, broad beans and village garden allotments create a place of great beauty for the birds to reside, breed and ‘belong’. The wild untamed coastline offers vast beach experiences for the family, birdwatchers and walking fraternity with or without the dogs. The area boasts a great number of characterful windmills where, in the past, they milled grain into a number of flour varieties used for baking and bread making. Artisan bread shops are still a feature of North Norfolk and, having sampled many a tasty loaf, I can testify the quality is superb.
Pamphlets and local guide booklets also providing dog-friendly information can be found in almost every cafe, restaurant and pub, craft, kitchen shop and art studio, enticing you to explore, enjoy and come back for more.
The Norfolk Broads
The tangled waterways of the Norfolk Broads are magnificent for providing a relaxed way of drifting along in a small dingy or kayak, renting a pleasure boat or a self-owned cruiser. Out and about on a fine day, we see cows chomping on the sweet grass by the riverside and peaceful swans silently gliding against the tide leaving quiet ripples of water in their wake as reeds gently sway on a summer breeze.
Boats and trains
You can glide on into Norwich on your pleasure boat from the broads having walked or cycled the paths alongside the railway tracks – watch out for the heritage steam trains still running on the Bure Valley Railway from Aylsham to Wroxham. Ride the train on the ‘Bittern line’ from Norwich to Cromer or Sheringham on the coast for a day out or drive the narrow lanes crisscrossing the region, joining quaint villages and towns; but don’t bypass the opportunity to stop off and enjoy what Norfolk has on offer – something for everyone.
The region’s capital is Norwich, population 30,000, situated 100 miles (161kms) north-east of London. We enjoy visiting the cathedrals to admire the stained glass windows, massive pipe organs, ancient crypts and high wooden ceilings. The market, with its candy-coloured striped tin roofs and narrow lanes, provides a place where you can buy goods and produce, exotic food and spices to take home and cook, clothing and crystals, leather wear and other goodies. Rich in political history the area, once ruled by the Iceni, has been invaded by the Romans, Vikings and Normans, each leaving a legacy of its culture that has shaped the regions agriculture, trade, art and literature. The Anglo-Saxons began to develop the area that became the city of Norwich around 450AD.
Elm Hill and St Giles
Elm Hill’s cobbled streets and crooked houses dating from the Tudor period has developed into intimate eateries and little shops. St Giles, named for its medieval church, is surrounded by a number of quaint speciality shops, art studios and our favourite ‘Louis’s Deli’, where we enjoy award-winning slow cooked organic food, great coffee and take home baked artisan bread.
A small village 10 miles (20kms) northwest of Norwich, with a population of less than 1000, is popular with those who wish to live near the city but still enjoy a rural lifestyle. Like most English villages Lyng has a characterful medieval church, and a pub, ‘the Fox’. Lyng is surrounded by open fields of grain crops and broad beans crisscrossed with walking tracks, woodland’s full of spring bluebells and streams running into mill ponds. We walk the lanes, past the piggery, horse riding stables and cows grazing by the pond and chat with the locals out walking their dogs, most of whom know one another in this truly beautiful rural village of character and charm.
A pretty village on the River Bure in the Norfolk Broads has a population of around 1500 and a rich history based on the building of ‘wheeries’ sailing and oar boats whose design dates back to the Viking times. Coltishall was also the centre of malting for making whiskey for 250 years; however, the historical, much-photographed mill on the Coltishall-Horsted river burned down in 1963. Lazy summer days can be spent on the grassy field or at the riverside pubs watching the slow-moving boast quietly glide by. Coltishall also has a pretty church and a graveyard where the old headstones sit crooked and falling.
Formally based in London, the ‘Capital Culture Gallery’ is owned by local artists Rachel Dalzell and James Sparshatt. They showcase their art which represents culture, landscape and diversity, and includes a small number of artists’ work from around the world. The gallery provides a relaxed space and their wish is to make art accessible to everyone. On our visit to the studio, I am wowed by the completely different genres of this couple’s work. Rachel’s paintings are inspired by how light plays on our surroundings with the change of day and seasons; whilst James’ photographs dramatically capture the vibrant and emotional intensity of life. Their individual successes in the competitive world of art are noted on their flyers and reflect the effort with which they have embraced their passion and transferred this to the canvas for all to enjoy.
Only 23 miles (37kms) north of Norwich is the pretty little Georgian town badly damaged by the ‘great fire’ of 1708 and rebuilt mostly from flint giving it a warmth and charm. Take lunch at one of the oldest surviving buildings, Byfords, along with a visit to Bakers & Larnars to peruse the wine and deli foods on offer. Along with numerous speciality shops, there are cute ‘yard’ lanes behind Victorian homes which provide a fun adventure of discovery in the boutiques, nic nac and antique shops.
Cromer and Overstrand
These two towns sit close to each other on the North Norfolk coast and have been popular holiday destinations since the early 19th century, providing a wide range of hotel, camping and boutique accommodation choices. The main industry here is the ‘Cromer Crab’ and the area boasts a 495 foot (151m) long pier with a functional pavilion theatre. The Amazona Zoo, built on 10 acres of a former brick kiln at the edge of town is a breeding sanctuary for endangered South American birds and animals. On our visit here we see snakes, puma, jaguar, monkeys and birds from South America. The 230 foot (70m) high cliffs along the coast between the two towns are rich in fossils which date back 700,000 years.
It’s a steep walk down the cliffs to the beach at Overstrand where we walk in the chilly summer breeze, photograph the beach huts, marvel at the warm stones and wooden wave breakers built out into the water all along the beach. We watch the tide quickly come in covering the light yellow sand. We sit outside to eat lunch at the very popular ‘Cliff Top Cafe’. Local beer battered fish and chips feels very English and tastes divine as you look over the old crab pots on a trailer and out to sea. A small shop nearby advertises fresh crabs and lobsters for sale and new catching pots are stacked in the shed alongside.
Reepham’s old railway station
Reepham’s transformed railway station is now a nice cafe and gift house with a map of the walking trail, ‘Marriott’s Way’ and photos of the local railway ‘days of old’ decoratively pasted on the walls. The cafe’s conservatory sits alongside the walking trail which is described as peaceful and secluded. Ramblers, as the walking fraternity are called, dog walkers, cyclists and joggers pass by or stop for a cuppa and a nibble. Across the carpark in a storage shed is Kerri’s farmhouse pine furniture, gifts and preserves, whilst ‘cushion cottage’ completes the trio of the family-owned business.
This little bit of North Norfolk lifestyle is but a mere glimpse into the richness of this region and each time I visit my daughters take me to new places to explore and enjoy. I never tire of visiting here, rummaging through the lanes, the villages and eateries, enjoying the local fare and people while relaxing with family and friends.