Perched on the far Eastern coastline, Norfolk is famous for its vast open spaces, over 90 miles of coastline and breath-taking views. Until a year ago, it had been a long time since I had been to the area having last visited on a school trip and before then with the Brownies where I have fading memories of long sunny days visiting windmills and being told off and made to walk at the front of the group with my then best friend for throwing sticky weed at Brown owl.
Fast forward to the present and I have visited three times in the last year and it’s become one of my favourite places simply because not only is it stunningly beautiful, but because it feels so far away from the chaos of ‘normal’ life and is a truly great place to escape to.
Wherever you seem to be in Norfolk, it never feels like it takes any time to get somewhere else. You can visit multiple places easily and quickly and most often with the blissful experience of no traffic (although it can get busier around main destinations in peak season) and there is gem after gem to visit.
We stayed at my boyfriends family cottage, Homelea, in Docking which is the perfect base in the North of Norfolk with easy access to everywhere – it’s just a few minutes drive to the nearest beaches and even Norwich is only 50 minutes away. Depending what you like doing, there really is something for everyone. For us, our days centred around walks, finding places for lunch, coffee and cake and of course anything that inspires my interior obsessed mind.
There’s nothing quite like clearing your head by walking along a picturesque coastline. Brancaster beach, Old Hunstanton, the nature reserve at Blakeney are all stunning but our favourite has to be Wells or ‘Wells-next-the-sea’ as its officially known (and no I haven’t written that incorrectly there is no ‘to the’ in the name much to the surprise of nearly every person that likes to point out that suspected typo).
We got in to quite a routine, when visiting Wells, of parking at the top of the town, walking down the main high street and then along the harbour-side path which leads down to the beach. You can park at the beach but it does get busy and while the walk along the harbour seems quite long, it’s really not that bad a so lovely to do. Once at the beach, we stop to get a tea at the beachside café and then head to find a peaceful spot near the sand dunes at the end of the long row of ‘insta-famous’ beach huts (over 200 beautifully painted traditional huts). After a few hours of chatting and watching the world go by, the walk back is always best rewarded by a well earned beer at either the Golden Fleece on the harbour side or the Globe Inn at the top of the town both of which I’ve been told to tell you do a ‘mighty fine pint’. This is according to Wil, not me, because apparently I’m ‘ill-qualified’ to recommend good beer because A) I drink Lager and B) I always put a ‘top’ on it (splash of lemonade) which allegedly ruins it. You can also have a beer on an actual ship – the Albatros a former Clipper cargo ship converted in to a bar and restaurant. It’s definitely fun to have a drink on an actual ship but I’ll be honest, the slight ‘bobbing movement’ coupled with alcohol and a lot of ropes to stumble over makes for a slightly queasy, trippy time (I speak from experience).
Beer aside, one thing I am qualified to do however, is tell you where does good fish and chips and that is French’s on the Wells harbour front and Erics in Thornham. When we visited Frenchs, it had the most ridiculously long queue but it was worth the wait. Following an interior makeover and collaboration with the famous Erics (we’ll come on to Erics in a minute), it’s everything you could hope for – expertly battered fish, tasty chips, good mushy peas and curry sauce, all for a reasonable price and the sea front location is just perfect!
Then there’s Erics at Drove Orchards, Thornham. Ahhh Erics, the award winning Fish and Chip shop with a twist. A destination for cool, hipster styling, the most ridiculously tasty Arancini as well as delicious Fish and Chips (the curry sauce is amazing) I would definitely recommend a visit. It’s a little more pricey but it’s very cool and the food is genuinely great but seriously do not leave without trying the Arancini.
Drove Orchards incidently, is also home to a lovely Farm shop and also Joyful Living, a fantastic little interiors shop that stocks, well, basically everything I would want in my house. I always pick up something (this time I picked up a gorgeous quilt) and I have been in mourning over the ‘sold’ display cabinet that was there in the summer (one of those didn’t purchase items that will haunt me forever).
As we appear to have moved on to interior inspo (my favourite topic and another thing I am qualified to talk about thank you Wil) then Norfolk has plenty both in the form of shops but also just the stunning array of traditional flint stone cottages that scatter the countryside. There really is home inspiration everywhere. I have a thing about beautifully painted windows and doors and I don’t think I have seen so many adorning the seemingly endless amount of expertly renovated properties. There are beautiful old walls, pretty outside spaces and a perfect mix of quintessentially ‘English country style’ with a tasteful coastal influence.
One of my favourite interior destinations is also conveniently a fantastic coffee and cake stop – the lovely Stiffkey stores. A pretty little courtyard nestled in a tiny village, Stiffkey is a traditional village shop with a beautiful homeware and interiors barn packed full of gorgeous finds. The shop itself has both a mix of your everyday items but also stationary (like Rifle paper company) books, cards and gifts and the barn is bursting with beautifully curated things for the home. It’s a real treat to sit outside with a coffee and a cake (made on site) in such a peaceful spot.
Burnham Market has a cluster of little home, lifestyle and gift shops including Norfolk Living. Wells-next-the-sea is also home to several gift and art shops and one of my favourites is Bringing the outside in and Nomad and the Powerbird who’s shops together have such an array of eclectic and gorgeous things. Thornham deli is another place to find a gorgeous collection of bits for the home and has a deli and cafe serving up delicious treats too. If you make it over to Norwich, then the lanes has a great selection of independent shops including Elm which stocks some amazing plants as does Bo-tanical where I picked up a sweet little ‘string of pearls’ and Norwich is also the home to Cotswold company’s flag ship store and outlet which is a fave of mine.
If like me, you like nothing better than finding your own vintage treasures then there are a few reclamation yards that I would definitely recommend visiting. It’s not for everyone though and while there is a ‘showroom’ at Norfolk Reclaim that provides some inspiration of how to style vintage pieces as well as showcasing some of their restored pieces, there’s nothing like going around the yard and into the various sheds for a rummage. Old doors, scaffold boards, tiles, bricks, paving, old metal work, signs, benches, chimney pots, radiators, Belfast sinks you name it – absolute heaven! I came away with a vintage science print reclaimed from the nearby Fakenham school and a few old scaffold boards to make my bathroom shelving. I am still regretting not buying a very old, very aged bench that I couldn’t fit in the car and I would have left with a few doors (I don’t need any doors) if Wil hadn’t of stopped me. There is also the Norfolk Antique and Reclamation centre at Panxworth just outside Norwich which was equally well stocked full of vintage gems.
At the risk of writing an incredibly long blog post, I probably need to start winding this one up yet I feel I have so much more to write! There is just so much I could say about this beautiful part of the world. To summarise, it really is an escape. The open countryside has such a sense of ‘space’ and freedom about it. The pace of life is slow, there is village after village of beautiful cottages and literally everywhere you look there is something beautiful to behold. The coastline is stunning from peaceful salt marshes where all you can hear is the call of native birds to bracing walks along vast open beaches. There is a sense of history from the earliest evidence of man outside Africa (850,000 year old footsteps discovered at Happisburgh) to the stunning Norfolk broads – a result of memories of medieval peat excavations being flooded. There are so many places to eat and drink from deli’s, coffee shops and farm shops to pubs and restaurants so its foodie heaven but most of all it’s a place to relax and unwind and just ‘take in life.’ Norfolk is definitely a mostly untouched, unspoilt gem and I thoroughly recommend a visit!
I’ve highlighted a few of our favourite things to do below but I would love to hear more – share yours in the comments below!
- Watch the sunset over Hunstanton beach
- Have a platter or ciabatta at the Tuscan Farmshop in Burnham market (and also a piece of their chocolate and olive oil cake if they have it – it’s amazing)
- Try one of hundreds of gins at the Gin trap in Ringstead
- Enjoy a pint at the White Horse at Brancaster overlooking the marshes
- Grab morning coffee at Stiffkey stores (their lemon cake is divine)
- Pic up fresh produce at the farm shop in Creake Abbey food hall, Country Garden grocers in Wells or Picnic Fayre in Cley next the Sea
- Design your own salad at Pono in Norwich