Oaktree Cottage is ideally situated to explore the coast, towns and countryside, and wildlife of Norfolk. When the seaside towns get really busy in the summer you will be glad to be just a few miles distant! The following are some of my favourite places to visit and things to do…
Towns and Villages
I don’t think I’m being biased in putting Holt (4 miles away) first (I went to school there, and it was the nearest town to where I grew up). Although Holt is recorded as a market town in the Doomsday book (1086), the town as it stands today was re-built after the ‘Great Fire’ of 1708. The fire completely destroyed the medieval town, causing £11,000 worth of damage, with only the church surviving. Donations for rebuilding were received from all around the country, and the cohesive Georgian style that is seen today is down to the rebuilding of the town at that time. Holt is now very popular for its boutique shops (some, such as Bakers & Larners, having been on the same site since the 18th century), cafes, bars and restaurants. It is also worth a visit in December for the Christmas lights, and in July for the arts festival.
Aylsham (9 miles) is another thriving market town with a market and auction every Monday. Swaffham (or ‘Market Shipborough’, as it became in ITV’s ‘Kingdom’) (26 miles) has a market every Saturday. Fakenham (11 miles) (ranked the UK’s 10th best market by The Independent!) has its market on Thursdays as well as a busy auction that’s worth a look.
For a busy seaside town, then both Sheringham (10 miles) and Cromer (13 miles) are a good bet. Sheringham is perhaps the more genteel of the two, and also serves as one end of the North Norfolk (steam) Railway – which runs along the coast to Weybourne, then inland to the outskirts of Holt. Cromer grew dramatically from a small fishing village with the arrival of the railways in the early 19th century, and is consequently home to a number of Victorian hotels and guest houses. A stroll along the pier to the lifeboat house, and a browse the town’s artist-run galleries are recommended!
A drive along the coast road from Wells-Next-The-Sea (12 miles) (the harbour in ‘Kingdom’) through to Weybourne (8 miles) is a great way to visit the more quaint and sleepy coastal villages. Striking inland at any point will take you through yet more brick and flint hamlets. Following this route along the coast you will pass through Morston (for seal trips – see below) Blakeney (popular with sailing enthusiasts), Stiffkey (with its long-established lamp shop!), Cley (pronounced clay), Salthouse, and then on to Weybourne. This stretch of coast is very popular for ornithologists too, with its extensive salt marshes providing a home for resident and migratory birds.
The Coast and Beaches
Norfolk provides for most tastes when it comes to the seaside. If you prefer a busy resort town, then Great Yarmouth is biggest resort on the coast. Closer to home, both Cromer and Sheringham provide sandy beaches at low tide, as does Wells at any state of the tide. Most of the villages along the coast enable access to the beach, with the exception of Morston and Blakeney, which are located behind the natural harbour of Blakeney Point. All are popular, and none too crowded on a sunny summer’s day.
If you only have time for one ‘wildlife encounter’ during your stay, then I would highly recommend a seal trip out to Blakeney Point from Morston (10 miles). The Point is home to one of the largest Common Seal colonies in the UK. Despite their name, these are actually rarer than the Grey Seals which can also be seen at the Point, along with an impressive array of bird life. Trips are subject to tide and weather, so please check before travelling. Beans (www.beansboattrips.co.uk), Temples (www.sealtrips.co.uk) and Bishops (www.norfolksealtrips.co.uk) are the three companies operating out of Blakeney and Morston.
If you are an ornithologist, then you will already know the reputation Norfolk has for its bird life. The main sites are along the coast from Wells to Cromer, the Norfolk Broads, or, if you would prefer a more comfortable environment, Pensthorpe Nature Reserve (home to BBC’s Springwatch) provides heated hides, gardens, cafe and an adventure playground to make sure that eveyone is catered for.
The cottage provides binoculars so you won’t miss out.
Finally, keep an eye out of the cottage bedroom windows, as it’s not uncommon to see deer in the fields opposite!
Museums and Galleries
There is a wide variety to choose from – the following highlight some of the diverse options within 20 miles of the cottage.
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse near Dereham. Best saved for a dry day, as the surrounding gardens and riverside walk are excellent.
Norwich Castle Museum and Gallery has the added bonus that it’s all in a fabulous castle!
The Muckleborough Collection of military vehicles. Great for the guys – drive a tank if you dare.
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts – modern Western art, and applied arts from Africa.
Cromer Museum – includes a Victorian Fisherman’s cottage.
Country Houses and Gardens
Stody Estate (just down the road) is open every Sunday in May, with fabulous rhododendron and azalea gardens, as well as rose and water gardens.
Felbrigg Hall Gardens and Estate, and Blickling Hall Gardens and Park are both National Trust properties, and both worth a day to explore.
Holkham Hall is still run by the Coke family who built it in the 1750’s, and includes the Hall, Bygone Museum, Walled Gardens and even lake cruises. It is not open every day, so please check at www.holkham.co.uk before travelling.
Castle Acre is also worth a look on a dry day, both for the castle ruins, and for the quaint town built through it.
For further information on attractions local to Briston and Oaktree Cottage, take a look at our angling, beaches, bird watching, cycling, diving, family activities, golf, horse riding, photography, and rail & steam attractions pages.