Norfolk’s Natural Health Service is so good for your health and well-being it should be available on prescription!
We’ve spent too much time on our quarantine couches in recent years so it’s great to be out and about getting our fresh air fix.
With over 2000 square miles of gently undulating countryside and stunning coast, we’ve got fabulous places to relax and unwind in the great outdoors – you’ll soon find yourself on the trail less travelled. Here’s our top ten free picks.
Backed by a striking pine forest and with a long line of 200 quaint and colourful beach huts, Wells-next-the-Sea is as picturesque as they come. Our advice is to come here at low tide, when you can walk about a mile along The Run, the channel that boats take into the port, to what feels like the edge of existence. Here you’ll be a long way from anyone else, with just the breeze and lapping waves for company… and maybe a passing seal or seagull.
One of the most secluded beaches in Norfolk, this is where the Roman Peddar’s Way joins the Norfolk Coastal Path and where the ancient Seahenge, a wooden contemporary of Stonehenge, was found after a tidal surge receded.
Walk from Old Hunstanton, past the beach huts and golf course, or take a leisurely stroll from Thornham. Either way will give you time to enjoy the surroundings before you get to the immaculate beach and nature reserve run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
The largest lowland pine forest in the country also has the best climate, a result of it being in a bowl, which makes nights cold but days warm from Spring to Autumn. And there’s not a lot of rainfall.
Head for High Lodge and then strike out on one of the many walking, orienteering or cycling trails and lose yourself (figurately speaking of course) in the immense woodland which was only developed following the first world war which depleted the country’s wood stocks.
Look out for birdlife, wild horses and red deer while you contemplate the fact that Dickens described the Breckland of his day as ‘barren’, the result of hundreds of years of intensive rabbit grazing which created moveable sand dunes.
Sheringham and Beeston Bump
This is the highest you’ll get on the coast in the East of England, built at the end of the last Ice Age when a glacier ran out of momentum and deposited everything within it on to the landscape. Most notably here are circular hills known as kames, steep-sided mounds of sand gravel caused by the melting ice sheet, of which Beeston Bump is the highest. On the top, while you admire the views of Sheringham and Cromer, you’ll realise that this was the perfect place for a wartime secret listening Y station. This chain of stations were the front line of the War Office’s Bletchley Park, which had the code name X.
Walking from here, go along the seafront at Sheringham to the boating lake, and then head up again along the clifftop to the hilltop Coast Guard Station where you’ll realise you’re enjoying one of the best golf course views in the country.
An alternative walk is to go to the National Trust’s Sheringham Park and enjoy the landscape park and gardens designed by Humphry Repton, the wild garden and clifftops. Head to the Gazebo or climb the viewing tower for a fantastic view along the coast to Cley-next-the-Sea and Blakeney Point.
Rising from the pasture and meadow of the River Nar, Castle Acre Castle and Priory are a great place to sit and contemplate, or take a picnic to enjoy the views while the anklebiters run around and let off steam.
These are English Heritage free sites, so take your time exploring the Prior’s Lodgings, Bailey Gate and Priory ruins, or take a gentle stroll by the river.
Interesting footnote: Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice to James I, who founded the fortune of the family that would build magnificent Palladian Holkham Hall in north Norfolk, liked to buy lots of estates, to the eventual annoyance of the King who thought his employee had more land than him. ‘Can I buy one more acre?’ Sir Edward begged, and the King relented. Turn out the Acre was Castle, and it was considerably more than ONE acre!
Burnham Overy Staithe
Take the walk beside the River Burn from the little hamlet to the far-off dunes and you’ll soon be admiring the views of the tidal salt creeks and the magnificent Scolt Head Island. At high tide in Summer regattas take place around the island but it’s advisable not to cross over yourselves as it’s a wildlife reserve and home to lots of birdlife that would rather be left to their own devices.
The waters by the staithe (what we call a landing stage for unloading cargo boats) are where Horatio Nelson, from nearby Burnham Thorpe, learned to sail. In Nelson’s time the River Burn was a wide open channel that could take vessels of significant size.
If you’re up for it, why not continue on to Holkham beach and then take the Coastal Hopper bus back to where you started.
We reckon Norfolk has the most dynamic coast in the UK, and you can see it in action at Winterton, where longshore drift is starting to create a new spit just offshore.
The lovely beach is backed with wind-whipped sand dunes topped with marram grass. The marram (Old Norse sea for sea, marr, and straw or reed, halmr) is good because its deep roots fight against sand erosion from high and rough tides, and at Winterton protect the grassland and dune slacks which support a large variety of flowering plants, insects and wildlife.
Take a walk north along the beach and return across the grassland with views of the thatched roundhouse accommodation of Hermanus Holidays.
For a city as bustling and vibrant as Norwich there’s still a chance to escape the crowds down by the River Wensum. Taking a walk along the banks of this chalk river, the most protected in Europe no less, is a walk through the city’s history.
Start at Carrow Road, home of Norwich City Football Club, go past the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge and you’ll come across the Riverside complex of restaurants, shops and cinema. Cross the bridge opposite the majestic Victorian railway station, and on the other side of the river you’ll soon come across the 15th century flint Pull’s Ferry. When Norwich Cathedral was being constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries, this is where stone from Caen would have been deposited via a purpose-built canal.
Bishop Bridge ahead was built in 1340 and is one of the oldest still-used bridges in the country. It was also how Robert Kett and his army got into the city during his eponymous Rebellion in 1549. Nearby in Riverside Park is the 14th century Cow Tower, a massive artillery blockhouse.
Quayside has one of the prettiest rows of former merchant houses you’re likely to see. At Fye Bridge walk head onto Wensum Street and enter the Cathedral precinct through the Thomas Erpingham Gate which will take you back to Pull’s Ferry.
Or rather than walk by the river, how about taking a canoe.
Happisburgh and Sea Palling
Stand on the low-lying cliff at Happisburgh and look east towards Holland and now imagine that until as little as 8000 years ago what was in front of you was the last land link to the Continent. Amazing to think, eh? Well, how about that on this beach in 2013 were found footprints carbon dated to 850,000 years ago. Yes, the first tourists ever to come to the UK holidayed in Norfolk! This is Deep History Coast.
Walk along the beach, with the stripey red and white lighthouse on tour right, and shortly you’ll come across perfect, shallow sandy bays at Sea Palling, a lovely result of the offshore sea defences. This is a great place for a paddle or a swim before returning along the clifftop.
This circular walk around Burgh Castle, starting at the car park, will demonstrate better than anywhere how dynamic Norfolk’s coast is.
A short stroll will take you to one of the best-preserved Roman buildings left in the UK, three towering brick and flint walls that were part of the Romans’ Saxon Shore string of forts to repel Anglo Saxon raiders.
In front of you is the confluence of the Rivers Yare and Waveney, rich agricultural and pasture land. Three miles away to the right you’ll see the Caister-on-Sea water tower. Now imagine that two thousand years ago what was in front of you was a huge estuary, wide and deep enough to be able to take galleons all the way to the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, near modern-day Norwich.
What is now Great Yarmouth, the east coast’s premier resort with its fabulous Golden Mile and 40,000 beds for visitors, didn’t even exist until a sand spit started to form over the mouth of the estuary hundreds of years later!
Continue your walk by the waterside boardwalk, through the reedbeds and return via the picturesque St Peter and St Paul Church.
To get the full Natural Health Service impact, visit at sunset when Halvergate Marshes in front of you are suffused in an orange glow.