5 days in North West Norfolk - Tour of England June 2021
Updated: Jul 12
The last part of our 5 week Tour of England was cheating a little, as we were heading to a place we know very well, and love, rather than somewhere new to us. We therefore set ourselves the challenge of finding 1 or 2 new North West Norfolk ‘hidden gems’. The purpose of the visit was to meet up with our friends Paul and Pam, who were camped there on one of our favourite sites. We had started the trip with them in Warwick, so it seemed a fitting conclusion. It was also a good excuse to introduce them to a few of our favourite eating spots in the area, and try a new one. More on those later.
The Garden site is in Barmer, near Docking, and has 30 pitches located in an old walled garden surrounded by trees. Most pitches have electric hook up, there are simple but spotlessly clean loos and showers, and wonderful birdsong! They have just switched to adults only, and for 2 people it was £23 per night. (Photo is from their website)
It is very well situated for exploring the many delights that this area has to offer. We decided to revisit some of our favourites, as well as finding new ones! The weather was not as good as usual, we had more grey skies than blue, but, in contrast with much of England, we only had showers at night, so it didn’t impede our schedule, and although the photos aren’t as sunny we still had a great time!
For us, North Norfolk is a step back in time, and we love the muddy creeks, marshland and huge skies. Traditional village shops, buying fresh mussels from roadside stalls, and a gentle pace of life are a big draw for us at any time of year, and we often come in winter to see the amazing wild bird spectacles at Snettisham, on the Wash. (If you do this, invest in good thermals and many layers. 6am on the shoreline in November can feel like the coldest place on earth… but somehow worth it for the wondrous spectacle of thousands of waders flying in huge groups, and skeins of geese overhead.)
Summer is a more difficult time for birdwatching, but we had been keeping a list of different species throughout our trip and arrived in Norfolk with 105.5! The partial bird is not as macabre as it looks! A Cetti’s warbler was heard, but nor seen, so we scored it as half! A trip to Titchwell RSPB reserve was a must, and especially the walk out to the huge beach… and very big sky! Thanks to Paul's help, we took our list up to 112, as we saw Marsh Harrier and pochard among others … and a very friendly redshank.
Another favourite walk saw us parking in Thornham, and then walking back across the dunes to Hunstanton, via the Norfolk Wildlife Trust café and visitor centre at Holme Dunes. This walk gives you muddy creeks, dunes, sea, birds wildflowers, and some stunning caterpillars, and really lifts the spirit.
For any coastal walks here, the regular coastal hopper bus is an excellent way to return to your starting point. A few years ago, we walked the lovely North Norfolk coast path from Hunstanton to Cromer, and used the bus every day to return to our car.
Lunch was at the super Thornham Deli, one of our favourite places. Everyone loved their meals, and it was great to be out eating with friends again.
Next day we made a return visit to beautiful Hindringham Hall (Historic Houses Association), only open on Wednesday morning and Sunday afternoon! This 15th century house is surrounded by a moat dating from 1200, and has mediaeval fish ponds and a beautiful garden.
This Our next stop was a complete contrast. We first drove past Langham Dome 13 years ago. Since then, it has been restored and opened as a museum, and this would be our first visit inside. What an excellent little museum it is. Very interactive, and packed with well presented information and fascinating film footage projected onto the dome. We really recommend a visit here. But what is it?! During World War 2, a man called Henry Stephens invented a system of projecting film onto the interior walls of a dome to simulate aircraft attacking from anywhere around you. An anti aircraft gun was installed inside, and gunners were trained how to fire ahead of the moving planes, judge distance and speed and much more. You can even have a go yourself. This invention was the inspiration and principle behind 3D cinema, IMAX and many interactive computer games and virtual reality activities. And domes like Langham are used today by the US military, with much more sophisticated imagery, to train operators of Stinger missiles. Outside is a replica spitfire, and picnic tables with board games printed on them! What a find! Thank you.
Just a few minutes drive away is Morston Quay, and time for another great walk along the creeks with a view across to Blakeney point, and the distant seal colony. Lots of Boat trips are possible out to see them. To round off the day, we visited one of our favourite eating places in Norfolk, The Mussel Pod in Brancaster Staithe. A new addition due to covid Lockdown, the pod would usually be out touring festivals and shows but has remained stationary since last year. We will miss it if it gets moving again. The mussels are from their own mussel beds, and cooked fresh in front of you. Take away only, so we took the van down to Brancaster Staithe itself, and had a wonderful picnic tea. The special, Marseille Mussels, was amazing See photo for ingredients! I will be trying that at home!
Thursday we did a wild and blustery walk from gorgeous Holkam beach to Wells-next-the-sea beach, and back. We have visited Holkham Hall (HHA) and it’s super walled garden many times, so skipped it this year, and instead headed to Houghton Hall (HHA), to see the lovely walled gardens, the white deer herd, and the incredible Model soldiers exhibition. Collected by the 6th Marquess of Cholmondely from his childhood, they now form the largest collection of model soldiers in the world, and are all displayed in whole, or partial battle scenes, parades and mini scenarios. The detail is remarkable.
Back to the campsite to prepare for our Big Night Out. We had booked a meal at the Black Lion Hotel in Walsingham, new to all of us. It was to celebrate being able to eat out again, the end of a fabulous trip, and good friends! The meal certainly lived up to the brief. Beautifully cooked and served, using local ingredients, we all enjoyed every dish. Best Quotes of the evening, all from Pam.
“ No, I won’t have a pudding Thank you”
“Well, we could share one.”
“Oh alright, I’ll have the chocolate and raspberry dessert.”
“It’s just as well we didn’t share Anne, because I wouldn’t have let you have any of it!!”
Luckily, I had my own, and I wouldn’t have shared it either. A super, special meal, with lovely service and a real treat. Thank you. Walsingham is a gorgeous village, with lots of historic buildings and religious tradition, which leads to the large pilgrimages here every August. Unusually, there are both Catholic and Protestant shrines to Mary here, and my godmother used to attend the pilgrimages regularly. She always said the groups were very friendly. so much so, that, as she was Anglican, she joined in their procession, but then switched over to the Catholic one, because they laid on better food at the end!
Walsingham also has a superb Farm shop. We purchased a venison pie, black pudding scotch egg, picnic sausage roll and 2 local sirloin steaks. Not all to be eaten on the same day I hasten to add. Every one was delicious.
Our last day in Norfolk was spent walking another favourite route, from Blakeney nearly to Cley and back…with some blue sky at last!
Then a picnic lunch watching the tide come in, changing the view second by second, followed by another new place. Natural Surroundings Wildflower Centre is near Holt, with a lovely café and plant nursery specialising in wild flowers and wilding. For £5 you can enter their lovely wild gardens and wander through woodland, by the stream, and in wildflower meadows. Plants and trees are well labelled, and there is lots of information about sustainable planting and wildlife. There is even a cage of poisonous plants! Certainly the bees were loving it here. They even have a harvest mouse rescue programme, and release babies back into the wild when they are able to fend for themselves. What a super place to visit.
Our last night of the holiday was spent having supper and a final game of cards with Paul and Pam before we set off for home the next morning. On the way, we had booked to visit Wimpole Hall and Home Farm near Cambridge as we had never been before. An excellent decision. Like many places, the hall is not fully open, but we had a very interesting tour and will return when the other rooms are on show. The yellow drawing room was designed by John Soames, and still has the curved sofas made to fit exactly to the shape of the walls. Below stairs, I particularly loved the original flock wallpaper, and this purpose made shoe carrying case. everyone should have one! The chapel was beautiful, and the guide told us that the staff and servants used to worship in the main part of the chapel, while the family were on the balcony upstairs.
The guide told us that the young Queen Victoria came to stay for a party. After a late night, the hosts were a little late rising, and discovered that the Queen had got up early and decided to go to church. She had gone in the main door and worshipped with the staff! Shock Horror! The hosts were mortified, but apparently the Queen was very sympathetic to their need for a lie in, and said she enjoyed meeting everyone! I suspect in those days of very strict etiquette it would have been quite a shock to have the Queen stroll in! The gardens were stunning, and the farm, which is owned by the National Trust, was very interesting. They specialise in rare breed conservation, and trialling innovative, eco-friendly farming methods, often based on traditional ways. Of course the presence of some gorgeous 3 week old piglets, and a very friendly pig who wanted to be in every photo, greatly enhanced the enjoyment.
And that was that. The last visit of the holiday, and now to head for home, stopping on the way to visit see our lovely family, including our 15 month old grandson – lovely. Oh, and England beat Ukraine to get through to the semi-finals of the European cup, so quite a way to end an amazing trip.
I will do another blog with a summary of the trip, costs etc, so keep an eye out. If you click subscribe you will automatically get notified when a new blog is published. No charge! And now to start planning our next adventure!