North Norfolk Coast
Officially starting our grand tour, we headed North to the Norfolk coast. Our destination was to Cley-next-the-Sea (pronounced ‘cly’ and missing the ‘to’ – as in next to the sea. Don’t ask!) We were staying at a windmill that had been converted into a cozy B&B. The Windmill itself dates from the early 18th century and is a striking landmark along the coast. With fine views over the salt marshes on this ever-changing coastline, the mill, originally used to grind wheat for flour, nestles by the old quay, alongside the flint-walled cottages of the village. Of interesting note, prior to its conversion to a B&B, the windmill was once owned by Charles and Jane Blount (parents the singer and songwriter James Blunt).
These days Cley is not quite next to the Sea and stands about a mile from open water, but back in the middle ages it was an important trading port. Today, the mill sits right along the path of this nature reserve walk and it does have a beach, which is mainly shingle and is accessed by walking across the marshes- so good waterproof/mud proof shoes are a must! The town itself is rather small but boasts a lovely deli and a smokehouse where many smoked fish, shellfish and cured meats can be found.
Staying at Cley Windmill is a great experience. The ground floor has a circular sitting room where inviting sofas surround a roaring open fire. You can request tea or coffee from the kitchen and stay here all day if you wanted to. Upstairs each room is unique and has stunning views over the marshes to the sea. Our circular room, formerly the Stone Room, had a dramatically high ceiling with magnificent oak beams, on which the original grinding stones once turned. For the adventurous guest, the Wheel Room on the floor above us, is accessed via a wooden ladder outside the Stone Room- straight up, with your suitcase in tow! And it has a four-poster bed up there! (Must have been built in the room!)
We had booked a candlelight dinner in the beamed dining room, part of the original warehouse built in 1713. It’s a warm and friendly atmosphere in which to dine and we were only one of two tables there that night so we had the room to ourselves for the majority of the meal. The slow braised lamb shank with creamy mashed potatoes and red wine reduction was delicious but so large I could not finish it but of course, I left room for dessert, a simple brownie with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis. By the end of the meal, we were exhausted from travelling and stuffed to the gills. I don’t think we noticed any wind that night and had no need for the earplugs that were provided in the room for just that very reason.
On the drive up, we had stopped for lunch at the White Horse Inn in the tiny village of Brancaster Staithe. The inn has panoramic views across the tidal marshes and sandy beaches; it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty ideal for walkers, sailors and birdwatchers. The White Horse’s food and locally brewed Oyster Catcher beer are excellent. Here, we had a mega portion of mussels each, literally a bucket full, and they were probably the very best mussels I have ever eaten. They were done simply with a white wine, cream and garlic sauce with hunks of bread on the side. Perhaps unnecessarily, but so tasty, we shared an appetizer of lamb & mint sausages with a cherry tomato ragu, Garlic infused goat’s cheese with roasted hazelnuts and beetroot and mixed pickled Elveden Estate vegetables. Everything was so good, we actually stopped back on the way home for some fish and chips and another round of appetizers and beer!
Just a few miles along the coast is the expansive Holkham Hall and the estate of the Earls of Leicester with its 3000-acre deer park, large ponds and many walking trails. While the estate is wonderful to visit, Holkham is best known for its stunning panoramic beach and the rich and varied wildlife found on the salt marshes. It’s a bird watchers paradise and it’s also where Gwyneth Paltrow walked across the sand at low tide during the closing scenes of the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Although it was freezing the day we went, and we literally spent just a few minutes walking to the sea and snapping a few photos (ok, many photos!) it was well worth the frostbite! It truly is the most beautiful beach!
On the way home, we also passed through Hunstanton, or ‘Hunston’ as it is known locally where you can stop and see unique striped cliffs and magnificent sunsets, made special by its position as the only west-facing town on the East coast.
Because it was too cold outside to walk far, we didn’t make it down to the cliffs this time, but we will certainly will in the future. And we still have taking a boat trip to see the seals in their natural environment at Blakeney Point at the top of a return list.
Some of the fun of this trip was the pronunciations of the various villages as seen in their ornamental village sign which announces the name to passersby. They are typically placed on the principal road entrance or a village green and often depict a particularly characteristic feature of the village or a scene from its history, heritage, or culture. Some can be quite amusing.
It’s Stewkey, but spelled Stiffkey.
We also saw many other unique things along the way….
For Dr. Who Fans
A Quick Trip to Norwich (norr-itch)
Taking a train from Ely, we returned to Norfolk to visit Norwich for a day, the county’s largest city. In the 11th century, Norwich was actually the largest city in England after London and it was of great importance due to its location.
The city has a very interesting history filled with Romans, Vikings, French Huguenots and the Belgian Walloon. Of note is in 1144 when the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy (William of Norwich) was found dead with stab wounds. This was the first incidence of blood libel against Jews in England. The story was turned into a cult, William acquiring the status of martyr and subsequently being canonised. The cult of St William attracted large numbers of pilgrims, bringing wealth to the local church. On 6 February 1190, all the Jews of Norwich were massacred except for a few who found refuge in the castle.
Interestingly, the city also has the dubious distinction of being the only city ever to be excommunicated by the Pope, following a riot between citizens and monks in 1274. The Etheldreda gate entrance to the cathedral was constructed as penance by the city’s citizens.
The Norwich Cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today. The spire measures 315 ft, making it the second tallest in England behind Salisbury Cathedral . It also boasts the largest monastic Cloister in England. The two-story Cloister was originally designed to house a community of approximately 100 monks. Like the Cathedral interior, it features a selection of beautifully carved medieval roof bosses in the ceiling arches-each depicting life at the time. It really is a magnificent building!
During World War II, the city suffered extensive bomb damage, affecting large parts of the old city center and the Victorian terrace housing around the city center. The heaviest raids occurred on the nights of 27-30 April 1942; as part of the Baedeker raids, called this because of the Baedeker’s series of tourist guides of the British Isles that were used to select propaganda-rich targets of cultural and historic significance rather than strategic importance. Some damage remains visible in the city today.
Norwich has long been associated with the manufacture of mustard. The world famous Colman’s brand, with its yellow packaging, was founded here in 1814 and continues to operate from its factory in the city. The Colman’s Mustard Shop & Museum sells a variety of powder and prepared mustards and gifts and is a good place to learn about mustard production.
We strolled along Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with many buildings dating back to the 16th century. A famous Norwich landmark, Elm Hill features the Briton’s Arms coffee house, the Stranger’s Club where the Flemish and Walloon community of Protestant weavers came in 1567 and the Dormouse Bookshop. This small but scenic street is often used as a film location.
The Stranger’s Club
Still in the historic city center, nearby Tombland has nothing to do with graves or tombs. The name means ‘empty space’ and is where the original town grew from when Danish settlers arrived before the 11th century. Tombland has remained a distinctive part of the city, close to the city’s magnificent cathedral and, in Saxon times was a major marketplace.
An eye-catching feature of the area is a distinctive 16th century crooked house leaning at a precarious angle opposite the cathedral.
We stopped into the Norwich Tap House, a cozy little craft beer pub that features 20 beers on draft and over 50 bottles for a flight tasting and a pint. It’s really a great little bar, a perfect spot to meet up with friends and the bartender is very friendly and knowledgeable. My friend tried three different ales of various bitterness, while, I, after tasting a few shots of pours, settled on a pint of the Freedom Pilsner. It’s made with a blend of liberty and spicy Saaz hops and soft sweet malts, producing a full bodied beer with mellow bitterness and a citrus hoppy aroma with a smooth aftertaste. It went down easy!
Then we enjoyed a fabulous lunch at St Benedict’s Restaurant a chic French bistro featuring a Prix Fixe menu that is truly a bargain for the quality of the dishes. Nigel, the head chef sources local ingredients to create some truly memorable dishes.
After lunch, coffee was had at the Wine Cellar, a real hidden gem, located through a courtyard and down the stairs of a brick building. If you were not looking for this spot, you’d probably pass it right by. But then, you’d miss out on a great little spot to relax, have a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee and just unwind after spending several hours wandering the city. It has a great menu for lunch or dinner that we didn’t get to try this time, but all the other patrons seemed to really be enjoying their meals.
On the way back to the train we stopped for one last beer at All Bar One, and it was heaving with young executives just released from their offices for the day. There was nary a place to stand near the bar, but we grabbed some seats by the window and enjoyed one last pint before the journey home.
It was a quick day, but Norwich is a fascinating place and has many things to see so I am sure to revisit the city on my next trip.
Next up, we are off to Ludlow near the Welsh border.