Complete Saltee Guide to Norfolk with Muddy Stilettos
‘Bootiful’ beaches, broads and boltholes plus a capital city bursting with trendy accolades – Norfolk is one of our favourite staycation options this summer. You ready to rumble?
Can’t wait to book up your Staycation for summer 2020? Well, we have teamed up with Muddy Stilettos, the urban guide to the countryside. Experts in witty, super-useful insider guides to the very best food, walks, boutiques, day trips, hotels, interiors and events to give you the ultimate insider guide to travel in Norfolk.
Traditionally the tourist crowds flock to the North Norfolk Coastal towns and villages, and why not? They’re awash with boutique hotels, glamp sites and self-catering cottages. However, with 90 miles of coastline and 125 miles of waterways there are plenty of cool ‘off the beaten track’ stays to be had and, good news, Muddy knows them all!
Norfolk has flint cottages and thatched farmhouses in abundance and you’ll find some of the best at staycation specialists Norfolk Cottages – over 550 properties from traditional fishermen’s cottages and beach huts to luxury townhouses and converted barns. If you’re looking for something extra special and high spec – … a lodge on the Holkham Estate for example? – go straight to their SALT range.
For sustainable modern design – check out Shangri-la House, below, tucked behind the dunes at Waxham beach. Far away from the North Norfolk crowds, this high spec eco build has bespoke fixtures and features throughout and is the perfect ‘friends’ getaway.
Room for two – Spinks Nest Cottage in the village of Wiveton in North Norfolk is the definition of rustic luxe. It’s fabulously bijou but every space has been utilised to maximise purpose from the perfectly-formed and high-spec kitchen with zinc worktop to the Japanese inspired sunken micro-cement bath-for-two.
Tiny but terrific – the beautifully-appointed Spinks Nest Cottage
For a cool family stay on a budget, The Pig Shed, below, is an eco friendly motel in the Breckland area and a great base to explore the surrounding countryside if you don’t mind jumping in the car.
Drink, eat and sleep in the company of Hollywood royalty at No. Twenty 9 in Burnham Market, or if country chic is more your thing, celeb hang out The Hoste Arms is perched on the same idyllic village green. This 17th Century boutique pub and hotel has a spa, below, an award winning restaurant and its own cinema room.
Girly spa getaway – Congham Hall in West Norfolk and Park Farm Hotel in Heathersett are top of our list. City break culture vultures – head to Norwich and the recently renovated Maids Head Hotel. Reputed to the be the oldest hotel in the country, it counts Queen Catherine of Aragon and Queen Elisabeth 1 as former residents.
Escape and unwind at Muddy Award-winning boutique hotel – The Norfolk Mead in Coltishall. Set in eight acres of gorgeous grassy meadows, a lake and frontage onto the River Bure, it’s pretty ruddy special.
The Norfolk Mead
Inbetweeners wanting the quaint country experience but with a bit more ‘to do’ on your doorstep – head to Byfords in the North Norfolk market town of Holt. Café, deli, pub, restaurant, ice-cream parlour plus 16 high spec Norfolk like this one, including a family apartment.
New kid on the block – The Harper in Langham should have opened in April and promises a contemporary country escape with lots of luxurious laid back style. Spa, bar, restaurant and outdoor yard with fire pit – we have them on speed dial as soon as it opens.
The Control Tower
Step back to the 1940’s and enjoy a relaxing weekend in a WWII Control Tower, on the edge of the former RAF base at North Creake. This Art Deco styled B&B is a cross between your Nana’s house and a museum – full of fabulous wartime art and memorabilia. Continuing with the retro vibe, The Dial House in the pretty market town of Reepham in mid Norfolk is fabulously ’70’s funk luxe. Cocktail bar, secret dining areas and a record player in every room.
West Lexham is a boutique glamping retreat site with seven treehouses hidden away in the heart of the Norfolk countryside. Think hippie eco chic meets Little House on the Prairie, it’s a magical experience.
If you fancy a festival style escape with friends and family, The Fire Pit Camp in Wendling is available for exclusve hire and includes six bell tents, a warehouse bar, Leila the Retro Double-Decker Bus and Priscilla the Vintage Mini Caravan. Plus pièce de résistance, The Wren’s Nest – a two storey dome structure made of hazel branches and one of only two in the world that you can stay in.
Voewood near Holt is a beautiful arts and crafts style party pad. Imagine Kate Moss with her buddies on a country jaunt and you’ll get the gist. Or for a super-sophisticated country retreat, Mount Amelia in Ingoldisthorpe is a Grade II-listed country pile with a sweeping drive, spacious grounds, a games room and a huge country kitchen. Perfect for large family getaways.
Where to start? The Norfolk bump is bulging with bell tents, shepherd huts and lodges. For an off-the-grid experience, Gorsey Meadow is a bijou eco glamp site where the kids can run feral in meadows, woodland and rivers. Amber Bell Tentshas a range of small, family friendly sites across Norfolk including Mannington Hall, Wiveton Hall, Hoveton Hall Estate (next door to BeWILDerwood) and Walcis Farm. Each offers something a little bit special from wild swimming to fruit picking.
Putting the sexy into camping, Bumble Bell Tents, below, is the glamping equivalent of a pop up hotel. You find the location and your fully dressed tent magically appears with luxurious touches including high spec bedding, faux fur and a little macrame magic. They offer a range of bell tent hire options from Basic Bee to Queen Bee and my personal favourite – a festival Bee Hive for friends and family.
Wild Luxury has a mix of Serengeti & Zambezi Lodges and bell tents at three private North Norfolk camps – Thornham Bay, The Hideaway and The Wild Camp. Tons of things to do for the kids on site, including a tree swing, volleyball and a zip line. Ladies; For the ultimate glamp experience there’s a ‘Pamper Pod’ at Thornham Bay with hairdryers/straighteners, make-up stations and spa treatments available upon request.
EAT / DRINK
Where to start? Food and drink of course! With so many amazing local producers in Norfolk the food scene is one of the best in the country. With many pubs and restaurants opening in the next few weeks keep an eye on our picks below.
Norwich based or definitely worthy of a destination drive – head Farmyard(currently offering fine dining takeaway), Roger Hickman’s, The Last Wine Bar, or Benedicts. All boast award winning chefs offering creative dishes with home grown produce. For fine dine options in the Broads, our muddy favourite is The Ingham Swan (again takeaway currently on the go!) and over in North Norfolk Morston Hall is the place to be for your Michelin Star fodder (bookings now being taken). The Bank House in Kings Lynn is perfect for a spot of dockside dining in and there’s a special mention to Socius in Burnham Market, definitely making its mark on the Norfolk eating circuit.
Country pubs with thatched roofs, low beam ceilings and big inglenook fire places is what Norfolk does best. Coastal chic – The Orange Tree in Thornham, The Kings Head in Letheringsett, The Lodge in Old Hunstanton and The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe all make the Muddy mark. Plus they all have rooms if you want to make a night of it.
In the city, Blue Joanna is beloved of the cool crowd – great tapas menu and regular live music. Or more centrally The Sir Garnet overlooks Norwich’s iconic market and is a higgledy piggledy collection of nooks and crannies – post Covid it’s planning to reopen as a shop and pub, and will be open for food in the coming weeks.
Country classics – our Muddy Award winning pub The Bell in Brisley is definitely worth a detour for its tasty menu and beautiful quirky rooms.
Cafes, deli’s & farmshops
Norfolk is largely rural and therefore full of farmers growing lots of lovely local produce. With over 30 farm shops across the county, you’ll spy at least one as you drive around the countryside. Our favourites are Walsingham Farm Shop (they also have stall on Norwich Market), Thornham Deli and Back to the Garden near Letheringsett. Thornham and Back to the Garden both have lovely cafes serving up hearty brunches and mouthwatering cakes. Café sur la plage? – Head to our Muddy Award-winning Old Town Beach Cafe in Old Hunstanton for a nostalgic trip down seaside memory lane or the Dunes Cafe on Winterton Beach – great for dogs.
With 90 miles of coastline, you’ll find fresh fish is a staple on the coastal food scene. Cromer Crab is a fishy favourite and we recommend eating one on Cromer Pier with a side of chips. Norfolk is also renowned for its Brancaster mussells and if you’re a fish connoisseur don’t miss a trip to a local Smokehouse – Cley Smokehouse and Staithe Smokehouse are our favourites. The latter is conveniently located in the grounds of The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe – the best pint with a view in Norfolk. If you prefer your fish in batter, our favourite chippies are Eric’s in Thornham, Grosvenor Fish Bar in Norwich and Plattens in Wells-next-the-Sea.
With 35 years experience, East Coast Gelato in Hunstanton never disappoints and has the biggest range of flavours we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen a lot). For cakes, our go-to’s are Annabel’s Hen House in Wymondham, Cupcake & Co in Norwich and for a pretty vintage experience Heydon Village Tea Shop. The Fig Bar is Norwich’s first dessert bar – check out their mouth watering Instagram grid and it will definitely make your foodie hit list.
KIDS / FAMILY
If you’ve had enough of the sand there’s plenty of fun to be had further inland. BeWILDerwood (due to reopen 18 July) is a magical adventure theme park cleverly hidden in the heart of the Norfolk Broads. Board the brightly coloured story telling boat and enter the mythical world of the Twiggles and Boggles for hours of fun on zip lines, slides, mazes and tree houses.
Whatever time of the year you visit, Holkham Estate is alive with theatrical events, tours, food fairs and outdoor activities. Last year it opened a Holkham High Ropes course, a big winner with the Muddy famalam. It’s not quite as high or challenging as some other well known rope courses in the area, making it perfect for all ability levels.
Littlies will love ROARR Dinosaur Adventure. Get up close to some pretty convincing dinosaurs on the woodland activity trail before visiting the small animal farm and taking a ride on the deer safari. There are also both indoor and outdoor play areas including a fun splash zone (tip – bring swimmers) and a high ropes/zipwire which will keep the tweenies happy.
For some wet weather fun, Norfolk has an impressive 10 museums that make up the Norfolk Museum Service. No word yet on reopening but check the website for updates. When the doors open, our favourites include Norwich Castle for the Castle keep and dungeons and Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse for the authentic Victorian experience and work horses.
Talking of horses – Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Aylsham is a lovely FREE day out for equestrian fans. Winner of Muddy’s Best Family Attraction 2019 – there are always lots of interactive activities including guided tours, pony grooming and a fun filled programme of events during the school holidays.
Er, did we mention the 90 miles of coastline and 125 miles of navigable waterways that make up the Norfolk Broads?
There are so many beaches to choose from ……. so let’s do this by requirements. If you’re looking for a beach with amenities, our family favourites would be Old Hunstanton, Wells-next-the-Sea, East Runton and Sea Palling.
For that traditional seaside town vibe head to Cromer, Sheringham and Mundesley. Off the beaten track, our Muddy favourites are Brancaster and Waxham. Holkham beach is undoubedly the tourist’s favourite due to its vast stretches of sand and enormous Norfolk skies. However Muddy tip – head to Burnham Overy Staithe and either jump on the North Norfolk Coastal path or squelch through the estuary to reach the secluded end of Holkham Beach.
Finally, watching the sunset over Happisburgh lighthouse is the most romantic way to end the day.
Norfolk is possibly most famous for the Norfolk Broads – or the Venice of the East as we like to call it! The best way to discover the Broads is by boat, so either jump on a tour boat, we love a booze cruise on the Southern Comfort Paddlesteamer, or for the more adventurous, you can hire all sizes of boats from canoes to cruisers.
Cycling & Walking
Nine wayword routes make up 1200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes and our faves include …
The Norfolk Coastal Path runs 83 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea and is a great way to explore the beaches and countryside. Margin Glamping offer a fantastic glamp and walk service if you want to tackle a good chunk of the route. However, day walks/cycles with pub stops en route is an equally Muddy approach.
The Peddars Way is another great walk/cycle route totalling 74km from Suffolk through Thetford Forest in Mid Norfolk and joining the Norfolk Coastal Path at Holme-next-the-Sea, below.
If you fancy channelling your inner warrior goddess, the Boudicca Way runs for approximately 36 miles between Norwich and Diss, passing through the rural, gently undulating countryside of south Norfolk and the Waveney Valley.
Beautiful Houses & Gardens
Norfolk’s not short of a country pile or two and thanks to The National Trust and English Heritage most are open to the public. Birth place of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Estate is a gorgeous Jacobean hall with acres of grounds to explore. Every August they host Classic Ibiza and hundreds of middle aged hipsters reminisce their halcyon days over a picnic.
Sheringham Country Park has the most beautiful gardens and is famed for its Rhododendrons. Felbrigg Hall is fantastically opulent but it’s the 520 acres of dog and buggy-friendly land that makes it a Muddy favourite.
Oxburgh Hall in the Brecklands is a small(ish) hall surrounded by a moat and good for kids with a short attention span. The woods are great for den building and The Bedingfeld Arms next door is the perfect parental reward.
Houghton Hall in West Norfolk has become a bit of an artists favourite – Last year it was all about Damien Hurst and this year it’s Anish Kapoor. Plus if you’re inspired by their furniture, they have their very own carpentry company making replicas!
If you’re in Norwich, don’t miss the chance to visit The Plantation Garden, next door to the Norwich Catholic Cathedral on Earlham Road. This Victorian sunken garden is a bit of a hidden secret and a magical place to have a cream tea during the summer.
NORMAL FOR NORFOLK
Credit: Waitrose Magazine
Fruit picking at Wiveton Hall is an essential where if you’re lucky you might bump into the infamous eyebrows of Desmond MacCarthy aka ‘Normal for Norfolk’ himself!
Gillie crabbing on the Quay and the slippery pole event at Blakeney Regatta is great fun. No health and safety here – just a slippery pole over the harbour’s edge and people of all ages attempting to walk/run along it before falling into the water below.
Swim with the seals in the waters between Sea Palling and Winterton. November to March is pupping season at neighouring Horsey and if you walk along the dunes you’ll see hundreds of seals and their pups on the beach below.
Keep the kids busy (lost) for hours in the 12 acre maize maze at Wizard Maze & Play just outside Cromer. Just give them a packed lunch and they’ll be fine!
The annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May brings a world class programme of international art and home grown talent to venues and open spaces across the region. From classical and contemporary to weird and wonderful it’s a great month to visit Norfolk – book in for next year!
Finishing this guide with an explosion of of glitter and sparkle. The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is worthy of a mention as it’s been going for 43 years, drawing over 5 million visitors to this tiny village in North Norfolk. Yes, this musical extravaganza might have an unprecedented silver haired fan base but if you love a good old-fashioned variety show with a saucy side of glamour, it’s a Muddy must. Don’t forget to pack your feather boa!
Wherever you’re planning your staycation this year, ensure you have Saltee by your side to protect your skin and it’s great for the whole family. Here’s to memorable Saltee adventures, a little closer to home.