North Norfolk – Late May 2021

Anna booked four nights in North Norfolk at a delightful 17th Century cottage. We’d been to Suffolk and Norfolk in September last year and a return was planned. We loaded up the car with groceries and bicycles and headed south. The location isn’t too far from York (170 miles) but the road network after Newark and the A1 deteriorates into single carriageways and a lot of roundabouts. (Memo to Boris: forget about HS2 and give East Anglia a road network.)

If that’s slowing your progress then when you add all the artic trucks shipping all the veg that’s grown on the wide open and flat fields in the locality it can be even tougher going. The weather was overcast with heavy downpours, our miserable spring and summer was continuing. However Wells-next-the-Sea was reached and in the indifferent weather our legs were stretched and childhoods were relived with ice cream! We had time to kill before being allowed to check in and so we spent some time wandering around.

Hello old friend…

As a town Wells is some way from the sea but connected by a winding passage through the sandbanks. We strolled up to the beach itself:

Back toward the small fishing port the sights were very twee and attractive. The whole town was served by tidal waters and it was surprising how quickly the tide came in when the turn came.

However, it was time to go and so we drove along single track roads to reach Great Walsingham, about 5 miles south of the coast. The house was a delight:

The countryside is mainly flat although there are lots of little rises and falls. It is an unspoilt part of the country with no industry other than farming. Even the coast doesn’t seem to have anything like a commercial fishing operation. Tourism is the money earner and the relatively unspoilt and undeveloped nature of the area has great appeal. I felt it was the type of place you really could unwind.

Next to Great Walsingham was Little Walsingham, a much bigger village. In the 13th century a bloke claimed he saw the Virgin Mary, as you do, as a consequence it became a shrine and various kings visited and an abbey was built. It was a very holy place for catholics. Needless to say Henry VIII knocked all that down and extorted monies from the monks. In due course it was all rebuilt and today dominates the village with various catholic folk making pilgrimages. Quite a surprise all in all I thought for this to be here.

The next day we visited Sandringham. We were meeting up with friends Tony and Dawn, natives of Cambridge who’d driven north.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the estate but I was very impressed. The whole site was manicured and no expense was spared in its preparation and maintenance. The gardens were landscaped and the variety of species of trees and foliage were delightful. Seeing the famous church that the Royal family frequent every Christmas was a real bonus (as was Dawn impersonating HRH!) The house wasn’t open but I wouldn’t have been interested to snoop within. If you get the chance to see the gardens then I would urge you to shell out your £12. It’s easy to imagine the Royals enjoying a constitutional around the beautiful pathways.

From here we drove up to Hunstanton for fish and chips. It was hardly ‘Sunny Hunny” but it was a short hop from Sandringham. After lunch we said our goodbyes and driving in the rain we wended our way home. The countryside around Great Walsingham is all arable farming. The roads are narrow with high hedges. Driving along involves often dipping into passing bays as a tractor bowls past. The main roads in this area seem mainly to be geared to getting to and from Norwich.

I’d spotted a second hand vinyl shop in Holt, about 8 miles away, and got on my bike the next morning to go and have a look at this and then to the coast. Holt is an attractive little centre and I found my record shop. It was shut but I verified its existence and decided to return later when it was open. (How could I express a mild interest in the establishment without alerting Anna to undue excitement and potential expenditure?) I continued to Blakeney and again found a small harbour with boats:

We did return to Holt and a visit to the Holt Vinyl Vault emporium. The present Mrs Ives did eventually appear at the doorway urging my departure as tempus fugit. By this time and including a visit the next day I bought albums by Frankie Miller (x2), The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Melissa Manchester (x2), Kiki Dee and The Average White Band. I hate to pay more than £10 an album. Ultimately it is second hand and getting it home can reveal crackles and clicks even after an inspection in store. However there were some other much pricier treasure at the shop and it was a real find as a shop.

After a couple of days the weather became less vicious and the rain slightly abated. One evening we decided to drive out for a stroll on the beach. At Cley-next-the-Sea. I came across some old friends. This time painted yellow and between 40 and 50 years old. They were used to take and return the fishing boats from the surf. I started my career at a tractor factory in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire called Aveling Marshall in 1976. This was then part of British Leyland Special Products a group which included manufacturers of armed personnel carriers, dump trucks, refrigeration units, road rollers, fork lift trucks and shovel loaders. This division I worked for made some of those products but also the crawler tractors below.

I’ve included the Ford tractor because that is of a similar vintage and the company I moved to after Aveling Marshall. It’s quite a thing to think that a fresh faced youngster sat at his desk in the Purchasing Department of both companies probably bought components that are fitted to all these old warhorses. I later posted these photos to a dedicated Facebook page. You can see that it was a popular post!

On the last full day we cycled down to the coast. The route was short and kind but naively I followed ‘Sustrans Route 1’, which was a muddy farm track strewn with large stones. Clearly Sustrans can vary from this awful route to custom built tarmac paths. I shall be less trusting next time. On arrival at Wells we cycled just behind the coast line and after refreshments headed back in the sunshine.

Anna, on taking in this vista reminded me that we’d been here with the children over 25 years ago. She could recollect the whole trip including their sunburn!

The next day we had to vacate the property by 10am and we drifted to a cafe in the village for a breakfast before heading north. Again, setting off on these roads on the eve of a bank holiday weekend was not a good idea and it took over 5 hours to get back to York. I think staycations this year will be very busy, plan ahead is my advice.

We loved the area. It is largely unspoilt, a little off the beaten track and ideal for chilling out, long walks and finding surprising and hidden shops or sights.

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