Seeking quiet Norfolk off the beaten track is not hard when you know where to look. In these times of social distancing and staycations some places are getting a little crowed. Let me offer you the insight of an insider to quiet places in Norfolk. Smaller places that only locals know.
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Norfolk off the beaten track
Norfolk has some justly famous beaches like Holkham and Wells next the Sea that attract crowds. Norwich is one of the finest cities anywhere but those cute narrow lanes can sometimes get crowded. Everybody has heard of the Norfolk Broads but let me take you to the smaller broads and explore by canoe rather than a petrol driven boat.
Explore a Wetland Wonderland
Norfolk has many acres of wetland. Holidays on the Norfolk Broads have been a popular staycation since my grandparents’ day. Getting around on the Broads by cruisers is possible. You can see spectacular Swallowtail butterflies at the RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Over on the other side of the river, is the smaller less well known Wheatfen Nature Reserve in Surlingham. Swallowtails can be seen here too. It is a place I love and I have yet to see anybody else as we wander around.
Eat at a Portuguese Cafe
Just across the field (via a footpath) from Wheatfen is the Teles Pattisserie, a proper Portuguese cafe in the heart of Norfolk. Ordinarily you can just walk up and enjoy delicious cakes or lunch but now you need to plan ahead and order a takeaway.
Discover a Vineyard
A vineyard in Norfolk? Not only is the answer yes, but they also make extremely good wine. The Hemmant family have been farming in Norfolk for generations but have only planted grapes in the current century. You can go on a tour of the Chet and Waveney Valley vineyard in Bergh Apton to discover how the grapes are grown and the wine made.
Stay on a Vineyard
If you are looking for a Norfolk holiday cottage off the beaten track then the Chet and Waveney Vineyard has a holiday cottage overlooking the vines. The cottage is quiet and secluded but it is easy to get to the coast, broads or Norwich.
Take a Chain Ferry
When I was growing up we used to cycle for miles. One of our regular destinations was Reedham ferry, we’d go just for the ride and then back again. When we were older we headed to the pub on the other side of the river. Reedham ferry is operated by chains pulling from on side of the river to the other, it has room for three cars, some pedestrians and some bikes. Crossing with a car will cost you £4.50, a bike £1 and just 50p for a pedestrian. No matter how far I travel around the world the Reedham ferry crossing will always be the best ferry.
Paddle your Own Canoe or SUP
The Norfolk Broads are one of the big draws in Norfolk but puttering along in Broads cruiser is not the only way to get on the water. You can explore the smaller cuts and Broads in a canoe or on a Stand Up Paddle board (SUP). You are unlikely to come across other people once you’ve launched yourself on the water. We like the Canoe Man who has boats and boards for hire at various places across the county including Norwich. One of my favourite places to paddle is Beccles, technically in Suffolk but only just.
Take Tea with Peacocks
Peacocks strut around the grounds at Old Hall Farm at Woodton. In the CW family they are known as tree-cocks as they fly up into weeping willows and squawk down at passers by. Old Hall Farm produces raw milk from a herd of Jersey cows where the mothers are kept with their calves. You can see the beautiful cows, buy the raw milk from the farm shop and eat cake filled with delicious Jersey cream in the tea room. In addition to the peacocks and cows you can also see ducks, geese and goats. http://www.oldhallfarm.co.uk
Find a secret beach
Cart Gap was our beach of choice when I was growing up, mainly because it had been the beach of choice for our grandparents too. You find it at the end of a long narrow track. Here you will find sand dunes and a glorious sandy beach and not a lot else. Nowadays there is the Smallsticks cafe just a the back of the dunes. Cart Gap can be found between Happisburgh (pronounced Haze-bor-a) and Sea Palling.
Discover Stone Age Flint mines
Everywhere you look in Norfolk you will see cute cottages faced with flint. Great lumps of the stuff can been seen in the fields. When flint was the cutting edge of technology, not just a pretty building material, some of the finest flint came from Norfolk. It was mined on the Breckland just outside Thetford. Nowadays you look around and see a series of pits and hummocks hence the name of Grimes Graves. You can run at will up and down the flint pits but the highlight of the trip is a descent down into one of mines. You clamber down a ladder and can then peer along the tunnels. I always emerge profoundly glad that I am not a Stone Age flint miner.
Seek out Sculpture …. part 1
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the University of East Anglia campus is an incredible building that houses an excellent art collection. Outside the Sainsbury Centre itself is a 350 acre sculpture park with work by Henry Moore, Lynne Chadwick and Anthony Gormley among others. Not only is the sculpture outstanding so are the surroundings, the UEA campus is home to buildings by Norman Foster, Denys Lasdun and Rick Mather. If architecture isn’t your thing there is a Broad within the park as well. https://sainsburycentre.ac.uk/whats-on/sculpture-park/
Seek out Sculpture … part 2
Houghton Hall is in the opposite corner of the county to Norwich but also home to exceptional sculpture. Every summer it plays host a special exhibition, this year it is Anish Kapoor, but it is the permanent collection that makes Houghton special. Some pieces hide in garden rooms just waiting to be discovered and whilst others are naturalising and becoming part of the landscape. Add to all this glimpses of the herd of white deer that roam the parkland around Houghton.
- Houghton Hall, PE31 6UE
- Open: Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm until November 1
- Admission: Adults £16
Explore a Roman Castle
If you like your castles large with space to run around then Burgh Castle is for you. Nowadays only the walls remain but what walls. Three sides of a large rectangle are enclosed by the walls, the fourth side fell into the marsh a long time ago. This leaves you with a panoramic view over Breydon Water. Burgh Castle was built by the Romans as part of extensive coastal defences and is one of the finest Roman remains to be seen in the UK.
- Burgh Castle, Butts Lane, NR31 9QB
- Open: Daylight hours
- Admission: Free
- Access: There is a free car park in Butts Lane that is just over half a kilometre walk to the castle, beware the car park is locked at 6pm if you are planning an evening visit.
Norfolk is my home county and we visit often. Usually we choose quiet Norfolk off the beaten track but we also enjoy the visiting the famous North Norfolk beaches. You can read about the fine city of Norwich, discover Seal Watching at Horsey Gap or Crabbing at Wells next the Sea or discover some Norfolk history at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth on Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays by clicking on the blue words. Just down the coast in Suffolk, is Orford Ness a place tantalizingly close but forbidden in my childhood but not open to visit.