Our recent trip to Montenegro had been an experience much enjoyed and full of fascination. Great fun, great food, great weather and great company had combined to make for a memorable trip, and one that will linger long in the memory.
But our return to these shores left us with something of a dilemma: to maintain the high standards to which we have become accustomed, where next for a helping of outdoor fun?
Montenegro translates as Black Mountains, and indeed there are many. So what could compare with the majesty and grandeur of soaring peaks and plunging gorges we had recently encountered? Where else could elicit that frisson of excitement engendered by somewhere so strangely exotic and deliciously foreign; so tantalisingly close by, but with a hint of eastern promise?
Oh, yes, that’s right: Norfolk.
To be honest, we’ve had our eye on a trip to the north Norfolk coast for some time, but never quite got round to it. Which is slightly odd, given that a two-hour drive puts us squarely in the thick of things. OK, so it’s not the most mountainous of destinations, and plunging gorges are conspicuous by their absence, but Norfolk’s charms are many and varied, they just lie in a different plane.
As this is about as close to a seaside holiday as we get, there was a list of things we wanted to achieve. To whit:
Walk on the beach
Eat fish & chips
Go to an amusement arcade
Paddle in the sea
Have an ice cream
Buy some flip-flops
|Beach near Holkham
Holkham provided us with our first stop of the day, where the not-particularly-friendly car parking charges encouraged us to just a two-hour visit. Still, it gave us plenty of time for an amble along a short stretch of the Norfolk Coast Path and back along the beach. Although not cold, the brisk breeze and slate-coloured cloud lent the scene an authentic “British” seaside feel. A few hardy souls braved the sand, but the tide was out and when that happens you need more than a couple of hours if you intend to reach the water.
|Progress under grey skies
On a spur-of-the-moment decision we headed inland. Walsingham is famous for it’s religious shrines, and has become a major pilgrimage centre drawing pilgrims from across the world. There are two shrines: one Roman Catholic and one Anglican, both to the Virgin Mary. Besides that there are three parish churches, a Methodist Chapel, a Franciscan Friary, three Orthodox places of worship, and a couple of other chapels dotted about for good measure. And, if ruins are more your thing, there is an Augustinian Priory too. There may even be one or two more opportunities for prayer that I have missed: a definitive list is hard to find. Let’s put it this way: if you are a troubled soul in need of succour but as yet undecided about the precise pathway to salvation, Walsingham would be as good a place to start as any.
|Grounds of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham 1
|Grounds of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham 2
|Icons at the Orthodox chapel of St Seraphim
Back on the coast we had a look round Blakeney, where the lure of tea and cake proved irresistible. Then it was on to Sheringham for a walk along the front as far as the lifeboat station. From this slightly elevated position we could see a small group of physically fit but rationally suspect (why else would they be doing it?) swimmers ploughing back and forth against the backdrop of the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm.
Up in town the streets were thronging with holidaymakers. We turned perfectly good money into a half-hundredweight of two pence pieces and gradually fed them back to the arcade owners. Afterwards, we checked in at the Youth Hostel then went out for Fish & Chips followed by a pint to round off the day.
Next morning dawned a little brighter. We headed off along the coast road, following signs for the beach at Weybourne. The beach here is very different to that at Holkham: instead of sand and dunes we found pebbles and cliffs, and no expanse of sand to separate us from the briny. The tide was in as well, so we didn’t have to go far to reach the water – which was surprisingly warm, given the early hour.
|Beach, boat and blue skies
|Shadows and surf
|Breakers on the beach
Our next stop was Cley Marshes, where we spent a couple of hours walking round the nature reserve. The shingle beach, saline lagoons, reedbeds and salt marshes here form a unique ecosystem that supports large numbers of waders, migrating wildfowl and other bird species. Bittern, Bearded Tit and Avocet are just some of the species to be found here. We didn’t see any of these, but in the course of our perambulations we did spot a Little Egret and a Marsh Harrier.
|Cley Marshes 1
|Cley Marshes 2
Wells-next-the-Sea was advertising a “Harbour Day”, so we stopped by the see what was going on. Mostly, it was “fun”, and as it was a nice Sunday in the school holidays there were thousands of people milling about going pink in the sun. Of course enforced “fun” is usually anything but, so we had a quick amble round but only really stayed long enough for an ice cream.
By now the afternoon was wearing on. All weekend we had been seeing signs advertising Samphire, an edible plant that grows on the salt marshes. The trouble was: what to do with it if we bought some? Eventually we settled on doing something simple with it – boiled, served with baked salmon fillets, new potatoes and Hollandaise sauce – and a small shop near Brancaster furnishes us with the necessary ingredients.
|Samphire, salmon & hollandaise suace
Despite the lack of lofty heights, we’d found plenty to keep us entertained. The weekend had also served well as a recce for a potential Norfolk Coast Path break – just under 50 miles of stunning and varied coastal walking between Hunstanton and Cromer that could be squeezed nicely into a long weekend – or a weekend exploring the attractive villages of north Norfolk on foot.
All in all, we’d had an excellent time, with almost everything on the list achieved. The only flop? The flip-flops! We’ll have to save them for next time.