A week camping in... North Norfolk
Norfolk is a dream holiday destination, boasting brilliant beaches, beautiful forests and heathland as well as nature reserves, birdwatching, walking and cycling. On top of that is a selection of charming seaside resorts including Sheringham, Hunstanton, Cromer and Wells-next-the-Sea, all of them easily reached from Kelling Heath Holiday Park, a superb base camp for exploring this part of the world.
Many visitors come to the county for the tranquillity of the Norfolk Broads, but the north Norfolk coastline is truly a campers’ paradise. The salt marshes which stretch two-thirds of the way along this strip are criss-crossed by a maze of coastal creeks and alternate with bars of shingle strand and pristine fine sand beaches.
As well as the traditional coastal towns, there are upmarket places to visit as well, including the charming village of Burnham Market, affectionately known as Chelsea-on-Sea. The glorious North Norfolk Railway runs between Holt and Sheringham and has been lovingly recreated and maintained by enthusiastic volunteers over the last 45 years.
Sheringham is an old-fashioned seaside resort filled with restaurants, cafés and pubs, as well as quirky gift shops and a busy Saturday market, all with the added ingredient of salty sea air. Cromer Pier is a prime location for crab catching and for a family day out, Bewilderwood is an enchanting adventure park set in 50 acres of woodland, featuring treehouses, zip wires and jungle bridges, plus boat trips, marsh walks and storytelling.
The town of Thetford has a museum dedicated to the classic BBC comedy series – and now film – Dad’s Army. Many of the outdoor locations for the original series were filmed in the local area. Away from the coast, the fens and the Broads are a naturalist’s dream and there are nature reserves throughout the county.
Day 1: Explore the Norfolk coast
Each beach along the coast from Hunstanton to Sheringham has a different character with one to match the needs of everyone. Hunstanton is a traditional family resort beach, with pony rides, ice cream kiosks and seafood stalls.
Holkham feels much wilder, and, when the tide’s out, it’s a long old walk to the sea – the dunes and pine woods here are lovely, though. Brancaster Beach is wide and wild and you can park nearby (£4 all day) and walk through to the sands. There’s a small shop/café and loos there, too.
Wells is a proper seaside beach with beach huts and a car park and shop/café nearby. The town is quaint, with a picturesque harbour and plenty of independent shops. Sit by the quayside and watch the boats and crabbers, or just go for a wander through its pretty streets.
Day 2: Go crabbing in Norfolk
Just down the coast from Kelling Heath, Cromer Pier is the place to go for crab catching. Buy a bucket and line and your choice of bait (the more pungent the better), and spend a lazy afternoon crabbing!
Local shops, including the pier gift shop, do a roaring trade in selling all the gear you’ll need. It might seem a bit cruel to haul these crustaceans out of the sea and plop them in a bucket for a few hours, but experts say they don’t mind as long as you follow the instructions (keep them in sea water, add a few rocks to the bucket, don’t overcrowd the container) and your kids will learn a lot from carefully handling the little critters and watching them close up.
Cromer’s 119-year-old pier is also home to the last end-of-pier show in Europe. The show is a real throwback to the golden age of variety and was the starting place for the likes of Bradley Walsh and ventriloquist, Steve Hewlett.
They take place daily and are supplemented by some great tribute acts and comedy shows. Alternatively, just relax, people-watch and have a bite to eat in Tides restaurant.
Day 3: Catch a train with a ride on the North Norfolk Railway
A trip on the North Norfolk Railway is a must-do on a visit to this part of the country. Kelling Heath is an excellent site from which to explore all that the area has to offer, and it even has its own stop on the railway line. Take the train to Sheringham and spend a pleasant morning pootling around the shops before enjoying fish and chips on the seafront. Do watch out for the swooping seagulls, though!
At the other end of the line is the Georgian market town of Holt, which offers a variety of upmarket delights such as antiques, books, crafts and gifts. There are galleries aplenty and, of course, various eateries, including Butlers restaurant and the Kings Head pub. And a trip to Holt wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Byfords, a posh café, restaurant and deli. The place is described as a “higgledy piggledy world of pleasure” which seems as a good a description as any.
Day 4: Birdwatching in Norfolk
Norfolk is in the premier league of birdwatching locations. You can choose from Cley, Holkham, Blakeney, Snettisham and Welney, but, arguably, the best is Titchwell Marsh, about 25 miles from Holt. With its sandy beach, reedbeds, freshwater lagoons and saltmarsh, this environment is perfect to attract a wide range of birds. Spend a day here and you’ll see avocets, marsh harriers and bearded tits nesting, and there’s a plethora of other wildlife, too.
Day 5: Exploring the city of Norwich
For a more urban experience, spend a day in the capital of East Anglia, Norwich, about an hour away from Kelling Heath by train or in a car. The city still possesses plenty of historic charm, including the remains of the ancient city walls, a fine cathedral and the imposing Norman castle that overlooks the city. The city centre itself is a mix of old cobbled streets and modern shopping centres and also features the biggest permanent open-air market in England.
Day 6: Wildlife spotting in Norwich
Back in the countryside, with its rich variety of habitats, East Anglia – and Norfolk especially – is one of the best places in the country to see native and migrating wildlife up close. The fens and the Norfolk Broads are a naturalist’s dream and there are nature reserves throughout the county, providing sanctuary to all sorts of wildlife. The beauty of this part of the country is that you don’t even need to go looking for it.
In the Waveney Valley, as we slowly negotiated a twisting road (there’s lots of those in Norfolk), we had to give way to a deer that had wandered onto the Tarmac, then moments later we spotted a large barn owl perched on a fence post.
Day 7: Sandringham Estate and other attractions
As holiday homes go, the Sandringham Estate is fairly impressive, which is no surprise as it’s where the Queen spends her summer hols. The house, gardens and museum are open to the public between March and October. The Thursford Collection at nearby Fakenham is home to the world’s largest collection of steam engines and organs.
Wurlitzer wizard, Robert Wolfe, one of the world’s leading theatre organists, plays tunes twice a day during the summer season and in between times you can ride on fairground carousels and watch silent movies. On your way to Kelling Heath, pop into Muckleburgh Military Collection at Weybourne. The UK’s largest privately owned military museum is home to more than 120 artillery pieces, tanks and other military vehicles, many of which are in working order, and you even get the chance to try out driving a tank!
Where to visit in Norfolk
Muckleburgh Military Collection
Weybourne Camp, The Street, Weybourne, Norfolk NR25 7EH
The Thursford Collection
Thursford, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 0AS
North Norfolk Railway
Sheringham Station, Station Approach, Sheringham,
Norfolk NR26 8RA
Sandringham, Norfolk PE35 6EN
Promenade, Cromer, Norfolk NR27 9HE
Dad’s Army Museum
Cage Lane, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2DS
Bewilderwood Adventure Park
Horning Road, Hoveton, Norfolk NR12 8JW
Where to eat in Norfolk
The Ship Inn
The Street, Weybourne, Holt, Norfolk NR25 7SZ
A great bar, with a roaring log burner, an array of local ales, more than 150 different types of gin from all over the world and a menu using the best of local produce, including seafood landed on the beach at Weybourne.
Our pick to visit in Norfolk – Burnham Market
Burnham Market, known as 'Chelsea-on-Sea' is the perfect place to visit in Norfolk.
Along the wide main street you will find a variety of cafes, restaurants, independent shops, clothing, gifts, antiques, crafts and art.
If your holiday pleasures include shopping, people-watching and dining out, then this may be just the place for you.
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