North coast road trip
The coastline of Norfolk varies enormously, with long stretches of golden beach interspersed with mud flats and salt marsh, shingle and pebbles. In some places low tide means the sea almost disappears into the distance, leaving children to pick amongst seashells and observe lugworms casting their coils.
There are wonderful dunes and marram grass to traverse, cliffs to marvel at, and between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton treacle-like mud where The Wash empties into the North Sea – a favourite of birds and birdwatchers alike.
Let’s take a trip along the A149 coastal road that takes in the gently undulating landscape, pretty coastal villages, flint cottages and lots of welcoming pubs and restaurants… or to get closer still, follow the Norfolk Coast Path.
Affectionately known as Sunny Hunny, Hunstanton is the only coastal town in East Anglia that faces west. The blue flag beach is a gentle slope of sand backed by red-and-white-striped cliffs. There’s all the fun of a traditional family bucket-and-spade holiday to be had here, with amusements, candyfloss, doughnuts, donkey rides – and a bandstand.
At sunset all activity stops to watch the sun sink slowly behind Lincolnshire. Try fooling someone that it’s actually Holland… there’s always one!
If you want something livelier, Sunny Hunny also has a thriving kitesurfing and buggying community.
Once a smuggler's haven in the 18th and 19th centuries the village of Thornham is now a tranquil coastal resort, beyond which there’s more twitching activity at the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve where from the hides you might see avocets, marsh harriers and bearded tits.
The saltmarshes begin again at Burnham Deepdale and Burnham Overy Staithe, protected from the sea by Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve, in the care of Natural England. A mixture of dune, shingle, marsh and mudflats, the environment is perfect for birdlife, from migrating wildfowl and breeding terns to waders such as the wigeon, teal, shelduck and curlew.
It's also a pretty good place for the kids to get muddy!
Remember the end of Shakespeare in Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola shipwrecked on a mesmerically vast beach that’s meant to be the New World? It was filmed at Holkham Bay. At low tide you’ll wonder where the sea has gone. Stare off to the horizon at low tide and you’ll just be able see the rolling white surf.
Imagine strolling through or playing hide and seek in the dense pine woodlands, breathing in the aromatic smell of the forest before stepping onto a wide open expanse of beach. This is Holkham Bay, one of the most dramatic beaches in the UK and very popular with visitors in the summer season when you feel you could almost be in the Caribbean!
It is also a wonderful place to visit on cold, crisp days and during the winter a trip to Holkham will certainly blow away the cobwebs as the North Sea wind blows onto the beach making it a bleak but beautiful place to be.
Access to the beach is via Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham village, or along the coast road west at Wells-next-the-Sea. There is ample paid-for parking at both.
Holkham also has a naturist beach, so make sure you're on the right one!
The delights of Holkham...
Holkham beach high tide
Holkham beach marram grass
Deer in Holkham estate
Holkham pine forest trails
Holkham horse riding
The town of Wells-next-the-Sea has a timeless quality, like stepping into another world where you will soon feel completely relaxed and at ease. There is space for everyone on the sweeping beach, which is joined to Holkham Bay, lined by colourful beach huts, a truly picture postcard setting.
Enjoy a wander along the sand, through the dunes or pine forest, find a spot for a quiet picnic or maybe practice your kite flying. It’s worth visiting at high tide too, as there’s plenty of beach left, particularly by the candy-coloured array of huts.
Just a short distance from the beach you will find the attractive harbour and main town, with its distinctive individual shops and fine restaurants - and the opportunity to go crabbing at the quay!
The town is also home to the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, the longest 10¼" narrow gauge steam railway in the world. A great experience for the whole family the train winds through the picturesque countryside to the quaint village of Walsingham, which has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries.
From Stiffkey and at Morston through to Blakeney and Cley-next-the-Sea is a wonderfully natural and dynamic area of pristine tidal saltmarsh, vegetated shingle, dunes and grazing marsh. No wonder it’s designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
At Morston and Blakeney harbours you can take exhilarating boat trips to see the seal colony at Blakeney Point, a 3-mile long sand and shingle spit which is an important breeding ground for terns while also being home to Common and Grey seals.
After Salthouse and Weybourne, sandy beaches begin again, leading to Sheringham, another links gold course, and Sheringham Park, a National Trust property with coastal views through the mass of rhododendrons. At Sheringham you can take the North Norfolk Railway, known as ‘The Poppy Line’, which stretches 5 miles to the pretty Georgian town of Holt with stops at Weybourne Heath and Kelling Halt.
The Cromer ridge of undulating cliffs is at its highest at Beeston Bump (203 feet) at Beeston Regis. A geological feature called a kame, the Bump looks like a giant molehill – and is ideal for kite-flying. On the beach below can be found stunning flint formations, called paramoudras – known here as pot stones.
Black Shuck, a ferocious ghostly black dog from hell, the size of a small horse, with malevolent, flaming red eyes, is said to appear from the depths of Beeston Bump. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been on a golfing holiday at the Links Hotel in nearby West Runton, heard about the legend and used it as influence for the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Finally on this northern stretch of the coast, we come to Cromer, dramatically poised on a high bluff. A charming seaside resort which came to popularity with the arrival of the railway, the town has a Victorian pier with a theatre at its end. At this point the coast begins to curve southwards, towards Great Yarmouth.