North Norfolk is an area of the UK I know very little about, having only visited once, to Kings Lynn, for just the day to visit a friend. It was winter then, so I mostly remember diving into a multitude of coffee shops to get out of the bracingly frosty Arctic wind rolling off the North Sea.
My view was all to change, though, when my extended family booked a country cottage week-long retreat in the so-called ‘Norfolk Rivera’ for some wholesome British summer-time beach wandering.
Many of the villages in this part of the UK are stunning. Quaint, small, pebble and brick cottages with red tiled roofs, with beautifully manicured front gardens filled with blooming roses and fragrant honeysuckle.
Between the villages of Burnham Market – with its 17th and 18th-century homes and historic church, and Holkham with its grand Hall is where we spent most of our time. Both are well worth visiting for their old England charm and to peruse the offerings of the local fishmongers, butchers and craft/ design shops located in these up-market pretty coastal towns.
Luckily, there are many good pubs around if it does decide to rain (this is the UK after all!) Almost all the pubs and high street shops are dog-friendly, which is just as well, as it seems almost everybody holidaying here has brought their pet pooch along for the break. I can recommend the Jolly Sailor at Brancaster for a good selection of real ales and guest beers.
Even more so than picturesque villages, North Norfolk is famous for its beaches. We were blessed with some glorious August weather with temperatures reaching 27 degrees, so the only place to go was to Holkham Beach – regarded as one of the best beaches in the whole of the UK.
One of the reasons behind this is because Holkham remains almost completely untouched – no toilets, no cafes and no man selling deck chairs! Just acres of pine forest leading into sand dunes and then stretches of fine yellow sand with tidal lagoons before finally, you reach the shoreline. Holkham feels wild and natural and is so large that even on a blisteringly hot Sunday, the tourist crowds get swallowed up by its vastness and you can still feel alone. Or at least, not sat on, or even sat near other sunbathers, unlike most other beaches in the UK! Given the lack of amenities, make sure to pack a picnic, sun-shade and possible a wind break or kite if you fancy, as it can get gusty and enjoy feeling a sense of remoteness on this stunning UK beach.
Brancaster is a beautiful sandy long stretch of British beach perfection. Here, you can sit nearer the shoreline as the beach and on the day we went, it had enough surf to get the boogie boards out. Again, this beach does get some wind but there are plenty of tussocky sand-dunes to tuck yourself behind to escape the full force of any strong breeze. It too is a dog haven, so be prepared to share the beach with some canine friends. It does have a bit more in the way of facilities – a small ice-cream stand and some public loos and at low-tide, you can reportedly see the remains of an old shipwreck!
It was lovely to sunbathe on a British beach in August and still feel quite isolated. Norfolk beaches seem like places where visitors are actively aware of the beauty of their surroundings and the possible risks (I didn’t see any lifeguards at either beach). They are quiet and reflective places, but friendly too – people say hello and make an effort to return stray beach balls or kites that have blown off-course. For kids, both beaches are perfect – far enough from any roads that parents can relax a bit, with plenty of interesting spots for make-believe pirate themed games or some cricket with automatically-made beach friends (“Hi I’m Tom, can I play cricket with you?”).
On a warm summer’s day, you can easily forget where you are with the feeling of sun on face and sand between toes. Though dip your feet into the swash and you’ll soon remember exactly which country you are in and which sea this is!
The beaches are quite remote and only accessible by car. So I would recommend hiring a vehicle rather than taking the train up from London if you are keen to do a long weekend in this stunning area.
There are loads of websites for booking country cottages in Norfolk – UK tourism is big business here. There is also an active AirB&B market, so finding a place shouldn’t be too difficult but leave plenty of time, as it is a popular destination particularly in the summer months.