Dazzling north Norfolk is awash with independent businesses. These are a few of our favourite destinations.

‘I am a Norfolk man and Glory in being so,’ proclaimed the great Horatio Nelson. And with good reason, for the north Norfolk coastline – known as poppyland – is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country. Known for its vast skies; the frequently moody but occasionally azure North Sea; the dazzling sunsets; the windmill-studded landscape; the pretty villages characterised by flint cottages and some of the best Norman churches in the land; the glorious salt marshlands; and the best crab and lobster in the country, there are a million reasons to love it. And then there are the marvellous people, of whom Norfolk dialect champion, Dick Bagnall-Oakley, once wrote, ‘Norfolk is not simply a word that describes a county. ‘Norfolk’ describes also a language, a humour and a way of life. Spoken Norfolk has a stout and uniquely resistant quality and only people born in the county are able properly to penetrate it and repeat it with their own tongues. Just as their language, so also the people of Norfolk are tough, resistant and impenetrable.'

The coastline is also home to a proliferation of wonderful independents shops, artisans, cafes and restaurants, all of whom do so much to make the place special and whom we celebrate here. Do check them out online. But, moreover, we urge you to go and, just like John Betjeman, find yourself ‘reeling with delight at the soaring majesty of Norfolk’.

If you have a business you’d like to nominate for inclusion on this guide, tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #GWGbestof.

Food & Drink


Cromer crab is, hands down, the best there is (no arguments). But if you come to Norfolk, you should also find the time and space to munch on its gorgeous samphire when it is in season, as well as Brancaster mussels, Stiffkey cockles and Norfolk black turkey. Happily, places to sample such delicacies abound. These are a few of our favourite Norfolk foodie destinations.

Rocky Bottoms





Housed in a former 1800s brick kiln, Rocky Bottoms was restored in 2008 by the Matthews, a local fishing family. It finally opened its door in 2015, committed to serving up only the freshest seafood each day, all in the dreamiest of surroundings overlooking the sea. You can bring your own wine and, when the weather is clement, there is no finer place on this earth for a glass and a spot of crab salad than its sun-drenched terrace.

No. 1 Cromer




Named sixth best place to eat by the sea in The Times, No 1 Cromer serves up the poshest portion of fish and chips you’ll ever delight in eating, as well as other delicious morsels too. The man behind it is Norfolk’s starriest chef, Galton Blackiston, who is also the owner and chef-patron of the Michelin starred Morston Hall (read on for more on that). Tuck in while taking in views over Cromer Pier for the perfect 1950s seaside moment – but with better food.


Morston Hall




Back to Galton Blackiston, but this time at the restaurant and hotel that made his name. As chef-patron of Morston Hall, which has held a Michelin star for twenty years, his emphasis is on the seasonal and the local. Dinner is served in a single sitting at 6.45pm for 7.30pm and consists of a seven-course tasting menu. Do book reasonably in advance; Morston Hall has a faithful local following as well as being on many tourists’ to-do list.

Cookie’s Crab Shop





Cookie’s Crab Shop, in the pretty hamlet of Salthouse which overlooks the sea, is one of the north Norfolk’s worst kept secrets (alas). Purveying seafood to take away or to eat in – think generous salads and sandwiches – lockdown-permitting, we advise nabbing one of the pews outside if the weather is fine; the views are something to behold. You are encouraged to bring your own beer and wine to wash it all down with. Very little arm-twisting needed here.

Walsingham Farm Shop




If you want to get a taste of poppyland delivered to your door, Walsingham’s beautiful farm shop can deliver. Its Norfolk Produce Hamper (£60) is filled with good things from the region, from Yare Valley Oils to Winbirri Vineyard’s Norfolk Solaris. If you get to go in person, do make time to wander around the very beautiful Little Walsingham too.

Back To The Garden Farm Shop




Back To The Garden, a glorious farm shop in Letheringsett on the outskirts of the market town of Holt, is housed within a beautiful barn. All of its produce is exemplary, as evidenced by the number of awards it is covered in, from the Soil Association’s Best Chicken accolade to its The Times Top 20 Farm Shops ranking. Order its produce online here to get a taste of the best of the best.

Brancaster Brewery






This five-barrel brewery produces small batches of real ale using local ingredients. Created in the beautiful Brancaster Staithe, it’s a town with heritage when it comes to beer production; records reveal that they were at it all the way back in the Roman times. We love a bottle of the Oyster Catcher, created using malted Maris Otter barley from down the road at Branthill Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea. As they suggest, it is best drunk watching the sun set over Brancaster Staithe.

Cley Smokehouse




Cley is one of the prettiest villages in north Norfolk, with its medley of grand Georgian houses, its 18th-century windmill and its marshes, which are now a designated nature reserve. Its smokehouse has been going for some 35 years, and although you can buy chicken and duck, it’s really all about the seafood here. Buy in person or online for some truly flavoursome stuff.

Wiveton Café





If you are lucky enough to spend your summer hols idling days away on this stretch of coastline, do make sure you drop in at the Wiveton Café, which is found betwixt Cley and Blakeney. There is the hall to visit – a Dutch-gabled Jacobean delight – but you absolutely must make time to stop at the café. The food is lovely and the views even better. Grab one of its colourful outdoor seats and sit and contemplate under the sun. As seen on the BBC2 Show, Normal For Norfolk, which comes as highly recommended viewing.

Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies




From its HQ overlooking the sea above Cley and Blakeney, Bray’s Cottage creates some of the best pork pies known to man – all made, naturally, by hand. They use only seasonal ingredients, locally sourced; indeed, the apples come straight from the Sandringham Estate, no less. And if they’re good enough for The Queen… Order your celebration pies here – and, even better, postage is free.


Ferndale Cheeses





Ferndale Farm makes ‘proper, old-fashioned farmhouse cheese’, including the ever-lovely Norfolk Dapple. It does so using unpasteurised cows’ milk from a pedigree herd at Binham Abbey. Do also try its newest addition in the form of Norfolk Tawney, a semi-hard beer-washed cheese, which, even in its infancy, won a Bronze Award at the Artisan Cheese Awards 2016.



Places To Stay



Morston Hall




If, after your seven courses of Galton Blackiston’s cooking, you fancy flopping without the faff of having to drive home or pre-order taxis, why not book a room at Morston Hall? There are thirteen in total, all named after local places of interest. You won’t regret it. Plus, think of the Galton Blackiston breakfast in the morning…

The Gunton Arms




The Gunton Arms describes itself as ‘a traditional pub with twelve bedrooms in an extensive historic park’. And whilst that may sound inviting, it scarcely does justice to the treat visitors are actually in store for. The one thousand acre deer park makes the perfect setting for what is, for many, the platonic idea of a pub with rooms. The sleeping quarters are all designed by the great Robert Kime and, in keeping with his celebrated aesthetic, are the perfect expression of relaxed country house style. Meanwhile, downstairs, chef Stuart Tattersall, formerly of Mark Hix, cooks up a daily changing menu of seasonal food in the cosy yet stylish Elk Room. To keep things fresh and surprising, expect to see – amidst the mounted stag heads and parchment-lit softness – neon artworks by Tracey Emin, among other contemporary artists. If you come to Norfolk, you must not leave it without visiting this wonderful place, whether you stay or just come for lunch.

The Blakeney Hotel




Blakeney is one of the most picturesque spots on the north Norfolk coastline – which, given the competition, is really saying something. This hotel is right on the quayside and has extraordinary views across the estuary and salt marshes, which make up a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Choose from its sixty well-appointed rooms – and do, if you can, reserve one with a balcony for the perfect sundowner spot. There is a pool, too, just in case the prospect of the North Sea is feeling a bit nippy.

The Victoria Inn




There are many people who venture to Norfolk over the summer hols for Holkham Beach alone. And who could blame them? One of the most extraordinary beaches in the country, its tufty sand dunes make wonderful places for picnics – and for leaping off – and, even in the height of summer, it never feels crowded (at least once you’re beyond the car park). For anyone wishing to station themselves within spitting distance, The Victoria Inn is the place to book. Positioned just at the gates of the Palladian Holkham Hall (childhood home of Anne Glenconner), there is, simply, nowhere better for a good old-fashioned bucket and spade holiday, all while staying in style. There is a beach café, a courtyard café and the lovely village to explore, too. You’d be forgiven for arriving and not once getting in your car again until the moment comes to leave.


The Hoste Arms




Burnham Market, which The Hoste Arms sits right in the middle of, is often known as ‘Chelsea on Sea’, thanks to its preponderance of city types who favour it as their chosen spot for a dose of fresh seaside air. The Hoste Arms caters to them well. Its immaculate Georgian façade is very inviting, while the pub garden – where beautiful fresh seafood and drinks are served up – is the sort of place you could while away happy hours on a hot summer’s day. In winter, its wood-panelled interior and log-burners make it cosy inside, too. Not a place to go to escape the crowds; but if you fancy a sociable summer holiday, this is a great option.


The Wiveton Bell Pub and Rooms


The beautifully situated Wiveton Bell has a wonderful decking area overlooking one of the county’s very fine Norman churches, which makes it a sublime spot for dinner or drinks on a balmy evening. Upstairs, there are six lovely bedrooms, all decorated in the manner of a fresh country cottage (we like the Library Room best of all). After you’ve settled in, wander downstairs for a wonderful lunch or dinner; the Michelin Bib Gourmand-garlanded restaurant makes the most of the local bounty, while also offering excellent examples of pub classics. Brilliant quality and totally unstuffy. We love it.


Seasong





If you prefer to come and go from your own holiday rental as opposed to staying in a hotel, there is nowhere lovelier in north Norfolk than Seasong in Salthouse. A sublime expression of coastal living, we love the absolute simplicity of the white-washed interiors, the wood-clad walls and the clapboard exterior. There is a log burner too, for sitting by with a glass of wine or local ale of an evening. The sea is just a short walk away, while the aforementioned Cookie’s Crab Shack and the excellent Dun Cow pub are on the doorstep. Sleeps two adults (but, do note, it is not suitable for children). An ideal romantic escape.


Shopping



Richard Scott Antiques




It is hard to overstate how much we adore Richard Scott. For inside the prettiest shop in the beautiful Georgian town of Holt, Scott’s world offers up a treasure trove of 18th- and 19th-century ceramics and glass, as well as pictures, furniture and occasionally textiles. The thread that runs throughout is his unerring eye for beauty and charm in craftsmanship. We love the fact that, in a world where good quality antiques have become eye-wateringly expensive commodities, Scott always prices his treasures fairly. There is the sense, always, that he does what he does for the pure love and appreciation of it. His collections of teacups are possibly our favourite things in the shop – apart from the man himself, the most amiable of bohemians, who always has a marvellous tale to tell. No wonder Alan Bennet writes so approvingly of Richard Scott Antiques. Long may it and he live on.


Paffron & Scott




If you do make the trip to visit Richard Scott, as we strongly advise you do, you may also be interested to know that Richard’s son Luke, along with his partner – the sublimely named Saffron Paffron – run their own eponymous shop in Melton Constable. In a lovely blue clapboard building, they sell ‘antiques, art and other interesting stuff,’ and, just as they promise, they are masters are unearthing the most wonderful treasures. We especially adore the collection of nautical artworks by Colin Millington. At the time of writing they were all sold out; but we shall be keeping a close eye for the appearance of new ones over the coming months.


Norfolk Carrier Company




Tina Guillory, a gardener and environmentalist, founded Carrier Company in 1995. Selling work wear, along with stylish accoutrements for the beach, the fireside and the garden, she set out to launch a business that would provide for all the various needs of hardy coastal life. As she explains, ‘Tradition and care for the environment inform our products but function and form drive the design ahead of any sentimentality about the past. Our workwear is made to be used; whether it be for gardening, gathering firewood, fishing, or foraging on the shoreline; These designs work with the natural environment, made to be worn and weathered, to acquire a patina – to be repaired when necessary and last for years to come.’



Old Town




We have written before of our love for Old Town. Situated in Holt, it is, put simply, a clothes shop of dreams. Wander in and chat to the charming Marie Willey who, with her partner Will Brown, make clothes in simple cuts from the best cottons, linens and woollens to order, and leave feeling strangely elated. What makes it so wonderful is both the uncompromising unfussiness of style, along with the duo’s absolute commitment to the aesthetic. This is not a parcelled up, market-friendly version of what they think will sell; Old Town is a true expression of their day to day lives on this stretch of beautiful coast.


Places To Visit/ Activities



Felbrigg Hall




What is a staycation without a trip to a National Trust property or two? Felbrigg Hall, a spectacular Jacobean house, is wonderful for all ages and interests. Inside, expect to find treasures such as Queen Mary’s tea pot, the lavish Chinese Bedroom and one of the finest collections of polished copper pans we’ve seen anywhere. Outside, there are 211 hectares of woodland to explore (do see if you can find the intriguing icehouse), a resplendent formal garden with dovecote, and even a pair of friendly donkeys to pet.

East Ruston Gardens




When Alan Gray and Graham Roberson bought the old vicarage in East Ruston, there was really no garden at all. Over the years, they have transformed it utterly; it now encompasses a ‘Dutch’ garden, an ‘exotic’ garden, a ‘King’s Walk’, a ‘Mediterranean’ garden and a ‘fruit cage’ – and much more besides. Come here to buy wonderful plants, but mostly just to glory in the transcendent beauty.

Seal Trips With Beans Boats




Whether you’re travelling with small children or, simply, you love watching wildlife in its natural habitat, do book one of Beans’ Boats memorable trips to see Norfolk’s famous seals. Board the ferry at Morston or Blakeney to spy happy colonies residing in a nature reserve run by the National Trust. Expect to clap eyes on both Common and Grey seals; the former’s pups arrive in the summer months while the latter’s make an appearance between November and January. Far from elusive creatures, there are some 3,000 of them to spot so there is little risk of disappointment. Inquisitive and beautiful animals, this a trip you’ll remember always.

Blickling Estate




The breathtaking vision of Blicking Hall, a resplendent Jacobean mansion, is one that few people will ever forget. Whether you choose to explore the grand interiors and the formal gardens; to meander around the lake; or to gambol in the meadows, we can’t recommend any of it highly enough; it’s a place of rare beauty. It will capture imaginations young and old to know that this was the birthplace of Anne Boleyn (albeit that the current house has been rebuilt since then, when a medieval manor would have stood in its place). If you happen to visit on 19 May, the anniversary of her execution, keep your eyes peeled for her annual spectral appearance; it is said that she appears on this day each year as night falls, in a coach drawn by a headless horseman, with her own head on her lap. As soon as they arrive at the house itself, it vanishes.

By Nancy Alsop
March 2021

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