Out & About

Autumnal stays

You don’t have to travel far to get away from it all says Melanie Cook of VisitNorwich

This summer saw Norfolk full to the brim as staycations became the safest and most popular choice for a break. The county has long been a favourite with holidaymakers far and wide yet because of the situation we’ve all found ourselves in, it suddenly became a real choice for locals too.

For many years I’ve been an advocate of looking at where you live through the eyes of a visitor, and this summer it seems many people have done just that. From talking to friends and neighbours, family and colleagues, people have been actively planning exciting days out and overnight stays locally and not just to the obvious places either.

Many of us too have finally visited somewhere that’s been on the ‘to do’ list for ages. Up at 3am, I got out to watch the sunrise from Cromer beach. Sat on my picnic rug with steaming coffee from a flask and fresh croissants, it was a beautiful, peaceful experience and well worth the effort. And, I’ve promised myself I’ll do it again next year. Sunset from Mousehold Heath will be my next venture.

But now the summer crowds have dispersed, and things are a bit quieter, where can we head to that won’t break the bank but still gives us something different from the normal at home? As they say – a change is as good as a rest.

Pinewoods at Wells-Next-The-Sea in North Norfolk is in a fabulous location just minutes from the beach – rates start at around £240 for 3 nights self-catering. At low tide a brisk autumn walk in the sand taking in the sounds and smells of the coast can be followed with a visit into Wells for a seafood meal at the award-winning Wells Crab House or a take-away to dive into at your accommodation if you prefer.

For a bit of luxury, yet still in the area, look at The Victoria on the Holkham Estate. The Vic (as it’s known locally) has 20 bedrooms – 10 at The Victoria and 10 across the road at Ancient House – and dogs are welcome. There are family rooms as well as doubles and suites and a double ground floor room with wet room for those with accessibility requirements. There’s also a restaurant and bar. Again, the beach is close by and there are plenty of places to walk and drive along the coast. 

For days out head to Holkham Hall, or go a bit further inland to Pensthorpe Natural Park, both have acres of wide-open space bursting with wildlife to explore and enjoy the outdoors. 

Ever been to Houghton Hall? Houghton is one of our less well-known country houses but it’s an absolute gem. And for the first-time visitor, Houghton promises a day out which won’t disappoint. Houghton is a rare blend of classic architecture, history and acres of gardens and grounds that are also home to incredible contemporary permanent outdoor art from names such as Richard Long and James Turrell. 

Annually the Hall presents a special exhibition, this year experience Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall. Kapoor’s works includes the incredible Sky Mirror which is set in front of the house and looks so good you can be forgiven for thinking it was created to be there for always. And because it should have opened in March the exhibition has been extended until 1 November. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Sky Mirror up-close and personal as well as Kapoor’s other works which include large marble sculptures. There are also smaller versions of Sky Mirror in rich, mesmerising colours inside Stone Hall itself. Tickets must be pre-booked online and cost £16 (including parking) with children under 18 free. Houghton is open Wednesday to Sunday.

If the Broads are where you’ve been hankering to discover or re-discover, The Norfolk Mead in Coltishall makes a great base. Rooms start at a very reasonable £135 a night including breakfast, plus there are suites and cottages in the grounds for larger groups/families and some rooms are dog friendly too. Their 2 AA restaurant showcases local produce and is popular – dinner will set you back £28 for 2-courses and £36 for 3-courses. Sunday lunch starts at £23 for 2-courses and £30 for 3-courses and afternoon tea is £17.50. The hotel is welcoming and unassuming – a place where you can be yourself to comfortably relax. 

The Broads is again another area of the county with outstanding beauty bursting with wildlife. Take a circular walk around Coltishall starting at the Kings Head pub by Cotishall Common (5.72 miles – easy and smooth). This walk will take you along the banks of the river Bure and alongside the Bure Valley narrow gauge railway line. 

If you jump into the car, a short drive takes you to Barton Broad (there are two free car parks) to experience the boardwalk which is also wheelchair accessible. Barton Broad was bought by Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 1945 and is the second largest Broad in Norfolk. Watch out for kingfishers, otters and herons as well as rare plants. 

On the way perhaps stop off at How Hill National Nature Reserve which is close by. How Hill remains open for visitors to their garden and secret gardens and entrance and parking is free. With the cancellation of school stays in 2020 they’ve sadly had no income this year so if you can spare a small donation it would be gratefully received. 

In Norwich, The Maids Head Hotel has rooms from £120 including breakfast. Located in the heart of the city in the Cathedral Quarter, close to charming landmarks like Elm Hill and The Britons Arms (for delicious coffee, cake and lunch), it’s easy on your legs to stroll, browse and enjoy this historic area of Norwich. 

Gothic House is a small 2-bedroomed B&B located in Kings Head Yard just off Magdalen Street which currently is only booking one household at a time so you can have it all to yourself. Rooms cost £105 for a twin or a double which includes breakfast. 

Magdalen Street is great for shopping for collectables, vintage and second hand whilst the Cathedral Quarter hits just the right spot if you love quaint old buildings and sights. Include as you wander: The Great Hospital; ancient Bishop Bridge; Cow Tower; Jarrold Bridge and Fye Bridge (there are a lot of bridges) where women were once forced into the ducking stool! Finish with a drink at The Ribs of Beef.

If you’re up to something a bit more taxing, consider a walking tour with Paul Dickson Tours. Shardlake’s Norwich  takes you from The Maids Head up to Kett’s Heights on Mousehold Heath where you will learn all about Robert Kett and his infamous rebel army. Tours are socially distanced and can be booked privately too.

For more information, local interviews, stories, itineraries and ideas for where to stay, eat and visit in Norwich and beyond go to visitnorwich.co.uk

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