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Blickling Hall

Discover our top 10 secrets of Norfolk

Of course we’re very proud of the fantastic visitor offering we have in Norfolk and will happily tell you about it until the cows come home. But then there are some other tucked-away spots that you may not have known about and get less attention. Here are some of our favourites…

Deep History Coast

Happisburgh on the Deep History Coast

You’ve heard about the Jurassic Coast, but what about Deep History Coast? That’s the name given to a stretch of Norfolk coast from West Runton to Happisburgh where some amazing prehistoric discoveries have been made.

The youngest of them is a 500,000 year old flint axe, the Swiss Army knife of its day. Then there’s a 650,000 year old mammoth skeleton – the oldest and best-preserved in the world. And then, the piece de resistance – 850,000 year old human footprints, the earliest evidence of man found outside the Great Rift Valley in Africa.

As coastal erosion continues and Winter storms expose cliff faces, who knows what more prehistoric secrets will be found…

Deep History Coast

Priest Hole, Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh Hall - Justin Minns

The Bedingfield family have lived at Oxburgh since 1482 and have come through a few sticky moments, not least during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the Civil War. Under the Virgin Queen Catholics were persecuted mercilessly and priests often imprisoned, tortured and even killed. But the Bedingfields were resolute in their faith and sheltered Jesuit priests from anti-Catholic search parties in a secret priest hole that you can still get in today… although it’s a tight squeeze!

Sticking with Catholic persecution, Oxburgh holds another secret. You can see the Marian Hangings, embroideries made between 1569 and 1585 by an imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Talbot, whose husband was Mary’s jailer. The motifs expressed Mary’s innermost thoughts, at a time when written correspondence was being monitored by her captors.

Oxburgh also has secret doors that let servants move around the house without coming into contact with the family and their guests.

Oxburgh Hall

Mausoleum, Blickling Hall

Blickling Mausoleum

Who knew that Norfolk has its own rival to the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo? If you explore the walking paths of Blickling you might stumble upon the pyramidical shape of the Mausoleum of the 2nd Earl of Buckingham.

This is also the ancestral home of the Boleyn family and Blickling church hosts an excellent Escape Game concerning getting Anne Boleyn to the altar to marry Henry VIII. Although, bearing in mind how that turned out...

Blickling Hall

Undercrofts, Norwich

Alasdair Willett as the Games Master

As well as having subterranean chalk mines, the city also has many undercrofts or vaults. The Undercroft arts venue is under the Memorial Gardens between City Hall and the market place and was once used as storage by the traders. The Assembly House has plans to refurbish its vault and at the Merchant’s Vault underneath the Museum of Norwich at Bridewell Alley you can take part in a historical escape game organised by History Mystery.

Escape game

Graffiti, Norwich Cathedral

Graffiti, Norwich Cathedral

Imagine it today – carving graffiti in the walls of Norwich Cathedral and nobody minding! Heaven forfend. But it seems the medieval folk of Norwich thought nothing of making inscriptions on the Caen stone of the magnificent Norman building, all the way back to the masons who started construction in 1096. They carved petal-shaped designs to ward off bad spirits.

Volunteers from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey discovered pious exhortations, musical pieces, medieval ships, animals, and even supernatural curses and slanders. Apparently the good people of Norwich in the Middle Ages thought nothing of carving the stones.

In the nave discover the outline of a ship being pursued by an enormous open-mouthed whale! And if you can find text carved upside down it was probably done as a curse – in ancient times, inverting things was to wish bad upon them. The church would have frowned upon that!

Norwich Cathedral top 12

Despenser Retable, Norwich Cathedral

Dispenser Retable

Sticking with the cathedral you can find the Despenser Retable – now on display but for 204 years hidden in plain sight! In 1643 with the Puritans about to ransack the Cathedral, quick-thinking wardens turned the painting upside down and used it as a table. Celebrating the defeat of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt by Bishop Henry Despenser, this altarpiece is Norfolk’s greatest surviving painted treasure, but was only rediscovered in 1847 – perhaps by someone playing hide and seek!

Norfolk's best art

Norwich Cathedral top 12

Secret beaches

Sea Palling

You know that on Norfolk’s 90 miles of coastline we have some outstanding beaches, not least Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth, Wells-next-the-Sea, Holkham and Brancaster.

But tucked away down quiet lanes or by trekking a little through the dunes, you can find some fine stretches of sand that you might have just to yourselves. One of them’s even called California!

Secret beaches

Chalk reef - our Great Barrier Reef

Norfolk chalk reef by Rob Spray

Unless you’re a diver it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience the world’s longest chalk reef that is just off the shore at from Cley-next-the-Sea to beyond Cromer. Yes, we have our own version of the Great Barrier Reef!

The reef is made up of gullies and arches, providing a natural environment for a huge variety of sealife, including species that have never before been recorded on the East Anglian coast: the blush-red strawberry anemone, Atlantic ancula sea slug, leopard spotted goby and ‘smiling’ tompot blenny fish.

There is one way to experience something of the reef though - have a Cromer crab. We think they’re the tastiest and most succulent in the British Isles because they feed off the reef.

Chalk reef

King John's Crown Jewels, The Wash

Wildlife on the Wash

Okay, it’s unlikely that you’ll find Bad King John’s lost Crown Jewels that were lost in The Wash after his baggage train got mired in mud and an incoming tide took them for ever, but it’s a good excuse to explore this amazing part of Norfolk.

The Wash and surrounding Fens is a unique landscape teeming with wildlife, particularly waders and migrating birds and common seals. About 20kms wide and 30kms long, this shallow bay that opens to the North Sea is the largest estuary system in the UK, with muddy tidal creeks, saltmarshes, shingle banks, mudflats and more.

In King’s Lynn town centre you’ll discover a life-size bronze statue to the king looking out to the River Great Ouse – probably wondering where his jewels are.

Visit West Norfolk

Birdwatching in Norfolk

Hidden Holkham

Holkham beach in Annihilation

Less a secret, but more of a disguise. Who knew that in the 2018 film Annihilation, based on an Alex Garland best-seller and starring Natalie Portman, was filmed at Holkham beach? And many other times the beach at Holkham, voted the best in Britain, has been disguised as somewhere else... such as Virginia in Shakespeare in Love.

Hollywood in Holkham

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