Camping Inspiration: A big family holiday in Norfolk
Norfolk is home of big skies, big beaches and big crabs. Camping magazine editor Iain Duff and his family spend a week in this campers' paradise.
Words & pictures: iain Duff
As will be obvious to anyone who has tried to get there, Norfolk is one of the very few English counties that doesn’t have any motorways. This is great for the countryside, but it does make getting there quite difficult, especially in the height of the summer.
In many ways, though, it adds to the charm of the place, emphasising the slower and more relaxed pace of life. And no matter how long it takes to reach your destination it really is worth the wait.
Think of Norfolk and straight away big skies, sandy beaches and nature reserves come to mind. As local turkey farmer Bernard Matthews would have said on those 1980s TV commercials, “it’s bootiful, really bootiful”.
Where we stayed
For our week in Norfolk our family was based on the glorious north coast, staying at Kelling Heath campsite, near the charming seaside town of Sheringham.
Although the site is a couple of miles inland, you’re a short drive from the coast where you can take advantage of the fantastic beaches.
The amenities on-site are of a very high standard and there are plenty of them, all within easy walking distance of the various camping areas. The hub of the campsite is the village square and this is where you will find the main facilities, including the very well-stocked shop, café, pub and leisure centre.
Keeping up the natural feel, all the buildings are wooden clad and fit perfectly into the surroundings.
The leisure centre offers various membership options allowing campers to take advantage of a 19-metre indoor swimming pool and a heated outdoor pool in summer plus a spa, sauna and steam room as well as a gym.
(Picture by Iain Duff)
There is a real family-friendly atmosphere to this campsite. There’s loads of space for kids to run around and the two adventure play parks are excellent, keeping my two young adventurers occupied for hours. But if you’re looking for more structured activities there is a programme of Acorn Events for kids that gives youngsters the chance to meet new friends while learning about the environment and the wildlife that lives there.
With all that going on you might find you might find it a struggle to drag yourself away from the campsite, but make sure you do because you will find plenty to do in the surrounding area.
North Norfolk's lovely towns
The glorious North Norfolk Railway, lovingly recreated and maintained by enthusiastic volunteers over the last 45 years, is just one of the many attractions of a trip to this part of the country. And not only is Kelling Heath an excellent site from which to explore all that the area has to offer, it even has its own stop on the railway line.
We caught the train to Sheringham, a traditional seaside resort filled with nice restaurants, cafes and pubs as well as quirky gift shops and a busy Saturday market, all with the added ingredient of salty sea air. Do watch out for the swooping seagulls as you enjoy your fish and chips on the seafront 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 Butler's restaurant and the Kings Head pub.
And a trip to Holt wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Byford’s, a posh café, restaurant and deli. They describe the place as a “higgledy piggledy world of pleasure” which seems as a good a description as any.
You would easily be able to take a day exploring each of these towns on its own, but if you’re short of time, spend a morning in one then catch the train to the other, where you can spend the afternoon.
(Picture by Iain Duff)
Crab catching in Cromer
For even more seaside fun, Cromer is about five miles along the coast from Sheringham. As well as being home to the last traditional end of pier show in Europe, Cromer Pier is a hotspot for crab catching. Buy a bucket and line and your choice of bait 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.
Discovering the Norfolk wildlife
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, 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.
(Picture courtesy of VisitEngland)
Bright lights of Norwich
For a more urban experience, we spent 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.
Eating on site
The campsite’s own takeaway does a good range of takeaway pizzas but on the final night of our stay, we decided to eat in at the Forge, Kelling Heath’s local pub.
The food was good and we had the added bonus of enjoying some live music while the kids spent the evening in the indoor play area.
It was the perfect way to round off an action-packed week.
Five family attractions to visit in Norfolk
NORTH NORFOLK RAILWAY
With three beautifully restored century-old stations, the Poppy Line from Sheringham to Holt is one of the UK's most scenic heritage railways.
(Picture by Iain Duff)
MERRIVALE MODEL VILLAGE
A world in miniature, featuring working trains and interactive sound effects that add life to the models. The attraction also features crazy golf and a penny arcade.
Get up close and personal withcrocodiles and sharks without getting your feet wet. Sealife Centre features more than 50 displays and 1,500 aquatic creatures including tropical sharks, reef fish, octopus, rays and sea horses.
An enchanting adventure park set in 50 acres of woodland, featuring treehouses, zip wires and jungle bridges, plus boat trips, marsh walks and storytelling. Not to mention Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles…
(Picture courtesy of Bewilderwood)
A Jurassic-themed attraction with a host of child friendly things to do, including a dinosaur trail, the Arachnophobia giant spiders web, a secret animal garden, play areas and a fossil workshop
Helping you choose the best place to camp in the UK
Camping in the UK gives you freedom, adventure and the chance to get closer to nature, whether it is a night on the Cornwall coast or a week's holiday in the Highlands of Scotland.
Home is where the heart is, and that's especially true when it comes to camping in the UK. Sometimes we forget just how much there is explore in the UK.
And with the disruption to travel by coronavirus and Brexit, the one thing that seems certain is that more people will be holidaying at home.
Expert information for picking where to camp
Family holidays are so important and we want to help you choose the right destination for your next camping trip. To give you inspiration, we’ve hand-picked some of our favourite UK camping destinations.
Some, like the Lake District, Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands, are obvious. Others are maybe less well-known, but they are all magnificent and should definitely be on your camping bucket list.
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