by David Porter,
Some pointers for visitors to the Norwich-Norfolk coast triangle and how to make the most of the many original attractions on offer in a limited time.
To a native East Anglian, the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk make up East Anglia. Essex, Cambridgeshire and the Fens don’t come into it. A visit to Norwich and fanning out to the coast is do-able and makes for a rewarding break. In the east of this triangle, the dawn can be watched rising over the North Sea; in the west, sunset can be observed as the sun sinks into The Wash. There are beaches, museums from historical to transport, the usual mixes of wildlife, wild areas and urban interest, and it is home to one of the Royal Family’s residences. It’s where the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads meet the North Sea. There are huge ranges of industry to see, inland and offshore sailing/yachting, a theme park and a traditional fun-fair with one of the world’s few surviving wooden framed roller-coasters. East and north East Anglia may be relatively remote in Britain, with the furthest easterly point, Lowestoft, some 85 miles from the motorway network, but Norwich International Airport (NIA), just north of the city, is a small but perfectly formed hub for flights within the UK (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Manchester) and from the entire global network through Amsterdam Schiphol. NIA has carparks a two minute walk from the terminal, short check-in queues and minimum waits for baggage.
North Norfolk Heritage Coast
From Norwich Airport, (maybe in a hired car) a good start is out to the north west, across Norfolk to Kings Lynn on the good (for East Anglia) A47. Kings Lynn is an important trading town combining history (it was seat of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Walpole) and culture, industry and the sea, in a timeless yet modern way, giving a flavour of real Norfolk life. The Tourist Information Centre em> is a good place to start, housed in the old Custom House. From Kings Lynn, head out six miles to Sandringham, the country retreat of The Queen and her family, which has been a royal residence since 1862. The mixed landscape of the Estate includes tidal mudflats, woodland, arable, livestock and fruit farms. The house, museum, gardens and country park are open to the public all the year round. After that, it’s round the coast of north Norfolk on the characterful A149, weaving through villages with sea glimpses, holiday settings and a unique rugged beauty. At Hunstanton, go on the pier or stand on the seafront looking across The Wash, the largest estuary in Great Britain, before heading along the coast through places like Brancaster Staithe before pausing a mile inland at Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, hero of Britain’s seafaring victories. Wells-Next-the-Sea, Blakeney and Cley are part of the designated North Norfolk Heritage Coast, and whether or not visitors have any passion about the intricacies of sea defence, the reality of the sea’s power and the vulnerability of the shore, come home forcefully.
Ancient and Modern
At Weybourne or Sheringham pick up the restored old North Norfolk Railway line to/fro Holt; it’s a nostalgic joy, worth an hour for a steam or diesel ride into the past. To Victorian ‘summer timers’ retreat, Cromer, the heart of ‘Poppyland’ which the Chamber of Trade praises: ‘with its pier and two museums, wide open beaches, spectacular cliffs, its famous end of the pier show, glorious walks, Folk Festival and Carnival, Lifeboat Day … the medieval church, crab fishing and crab on almost every local menu’. On then directly to Great Yarmouth, East Anglia’s equivalent of Blackpool, with traditional seaside amusements, a funfair, a permanent circus and a windfarm just offshore on Scroby Sands. The ‘Golden Mile’ is the seafront stretching from a racecourse right down what was once a sand spit, past modern amusements to industrial activity in a massive new outer harbour. In his book Coast: Our Island Story (2010), Nick Crane thought Yarmouth and Cromer ‘architectural gems’, and Yarmouth’s importance as a coastal resort ‘has been overlooked’, as well as being where sea-bathing and sea cures were pioneered. The Time and Tide Museum on Blackfriars Road is an award-winning experience-museum housed in a converted Victorian herring curing works, telling true tales of Yarmouth’s history, maritime/fishing heritage and some of the characters who made it. ‘Rows’ were narrow alleys housing fishermen and large families in Victorian proximity, sharing prosperity and tragedy. A ‘row’ has been saved and visitors can walk its cobbled line.
Roll Up, Roll Up
The Hippodrome Circus is Britain’s only surviving total circus building. Dating from 1903, it boasts one of the world’s only four sunken floors for flooding to create stunning water spectacles in every performance. There are both summer and Christmas circus seasons, with concerts and other entertainments in the ring throughout the year. It has seen thrills and spills, laughter and tragedy, political rallies, rock gigs and orchestras in its long life. The Pleasure Beach occupies nine acres on the seafront, and is in the UK top-ten most visited free amusement parks, with attractions ranging from children’s rides to white-knuckle thrills. The star is The Roller Coaster. Built in situ in 1933 (having been in France since 1928), it has a single pull-up and drives under gravity up to 3 trains simultaneously with no track brakes at all! Hotels and bed and breakfasts are many across the price range, including The Imperial, for example, on the sea front. Alternatively, head 10 miles south down the A12 to Lowestoft with, again, a choice of all price accommodation, including The Wherry in Oulton Broad to overlook the Broads, or The Victoria or Hatfield, both on the seafront. Lowestoft is a good place to start further exploration of the Norfolk-Suffolk area.
Sources: Visit Norfolk.
Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life.