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Holkham beach dunes

Free wild days out in Norfolk

Norfolk has fantastic visitor attractions and entertainment, but it’s also a great place to discover the great outdoors. We’ve come up with our favourite free Wild Days Out and what to see…

Hickling Broad

Hickling Broad

The largest of all the Broads, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Hickling Broad is a haven for wildlife all year round. Spend the day on the walking trails with bird hides or, in summer, while away a few hours on one of the NWT’s Boat Trails. Get your bearings in the visitor centre.

On the Upper Thurne river system, the broad has a significant number of common crane, as well as breeding bitterns, marsh harrier, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler and, in winter, a large number of marsh harriers.

Look out for Chinese water deer, red deer and difficult-to-see otters, plus two icons of Norfolk wildlife – the swallowtail butterfly and Norfolk hawker dragonfly.

Hickling Broad

Thetford Forest

Horses in Thetford Forest

The largest low-lying pine forest in the country, and only planted after the first world war, Thetford Forest has its own micro-climate with low rainfall and warm days… which makes it a haven for wildlife.

Look out for wild horses, red deer, roe deer, fallow deer and Muntjac as well as badgers, foxes and dormouse. Birdlife includes pheasants, crossbills, woodlarks, nightjars and sparrowhawk.

You can also go on the Pingo Trail, which are small Ice Age lakes and unique to this area, go down a Neolithic flint mine or just get off the beaten track on foot or two wheels.

Pingo Trail

Grime's Graves

Brecks and Thetford Forest

West Runton

Rockpooling at West Runton

The coastline between Sheringham and Cromer, and in particular at West Runton, are unique on the East Anglian coast in that it is made up chalk and flint rather than sand – perfect for rockpools.

At the foot of the towering cliffs, twice a day the tide exposes fantastic wildlife retreats. Closer to the cliffs you might find serrated wrack, edible winkle, common prawn and shored crab, but at a really low tide, further out, you might discover black squat lobsters, velvet swimming crabs, common hermit crabs and long-spined sea scorpions. How exciting does that sound!

Just as exciting is that you’re standing where the world’s largest and best-preserved mammoth skeleton was found, back in 1990. 85% of the skeleton was discovered – the remainder being eaten by hyaenas (there are teeth marks on the bones and fossilised hyaena poo, dissected, was found to have mammoth bone in it… yuk!). If you know what to look for you might even find a mammoth tooth on the foreshore. Or you could look for hyaena poo. Whatever takes your fancy.

Just offshore is the world’s longest chalk reef, where our fabulously tasty Cromer crab and lobsters feed.

Rockpooling in Norfolk

Deep History Coast


Horsey Windpump

This day out takes in the Broads and the beach. Spend half the day trekking over the sand dunes to see the seal colony (please don’t disturb them and leave your dogs behind) and then head to the National Trust’s Horsey Windpump, which stands sentinel over Horsey Mere and the surrounding Broads landscape. You can climb to the top for a great view but there is a charge for that. There’s a tea room here for refreshments.

On waymarked trails, look out for the swallowtail butterfly, bitterns, kingfishers and cranes and, in winter, migrating wildfowl. There are also boat trips on to the Mere to see more wildlife.

Horsey Windpump

Seals in Norfolk

Blakeney Point

Blakeney Point

As well as the largest seal colony in the country, the National Trust-managed Blakeney Point hosts Norfolk’s largest gathering on Sandwich tern in the summer before they head south to spend the winter in west Africa. There are also common and little terns.

Also look out for black-headed gulls, which protect the terns from predators like foxes, ringed plovers, oystercatchers and common redshanks. The pastures contain northern lapwings, sedge and reed warblers and bearded tits.

Take a walk from Cley along Blakeney Point’s four-mile shingle spit the sand dunes near the Lifeboat House.

See if you can spot samphire, otherwise known as ‘sea asparagus’. It’s a local delicacy.

Please give any fenced areas a wide berth to protect nesting birds and don’t forget to bring your binoculars.

Seals in Norfolk

Blakeney Point

Cley Marshes

Pond dipping at Cley Marshes

The first reserve set up by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Cley Marshes has a range of habitats that attracts many birds, including saline lagoons, grazing marsh, reedbed and shingle beach, which attract huge numbers of wintering and migrating wildlife and waders. Plus, look out for bittern, bearded tits and marsh harriers.

Visit the environmentally-friendly visitor centre which has an observation area and interactive interpretation.

Look out for regular fun education activities to learn more.

NWT Cley Marshes


Holkham beach

Okay, you’ll have to pay for the car parking, but after that you’ve got the run of the huge Holkham National Nature Reserve – and what a place it is!

Orientate yourself at the new Lookout education centre and then you’re ready to go wild.

On the grazing marshes you might see lapwing, little tern and spoonbill, in and amongst the nonchalant cattle. Then it’s time to head into the huge pine forest, which has waymarked trails and interpretation posts.

Then you’re on to the beach that’s been voted the best in Britain by readers of the BBC Countryfile magazine. Try to arrive as the tide is going out and you will enjoy not just a huge expanse of sand but warm shallow pools that are perfect for swimming in and splashing around.

The Lookout

Holkham Nature Reserve

Barton Broad


The second largest of the Norfolk Broads, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Barton Broad and the surrounding fens have an impressive array of species, including common terns, herons, kingfishers and otters.

The wheelchair-friendly boardwalk takes you on a journey of discovery, through swampy wildlife-filled alder carr woodland.

Barton Broad boardwalk

Wild swimming

Swan and cygnet

There are a few inland locations in Norfolk where you can indulge in wild swimming… that is, getting into a fresh water river for a frolic.

On the Norfolk/Suffolk border at Outney Common there’s a 3km stretch of the River Waveney that meanders through open common land with water up to 2m deep. The water’s clean and you drift or swim along, saying ‘hi’ to the cows and the canoeists. The cows aren’t in the water, obviously.

John's Water at Blickling Mill is very popular in summer with a deep pool, shallow entry and fast water. Why not try jumping from the bridge?

You can also wild swim at Santon on the Little Ouse near Thetford, a pretty chalk stream running through forest, and at Lamas, near Buxton, a quiet stretch of the River Bure. Park at the Bure Valley Railway in Buxton and take the footpath to Oxnead.

Norfolk's Natural World