With its quaint fishing villages, huge skies, empty beaches and great pubs, North Norfolk is the perfect place to chill
Stripped down to his waist, the man let out a war-like cry, breaking away from his group of friends and leapt from Blakeney quay into the channel of water below. Looking like one of the seals this area is famed for, he bobbed up, dark hair plastered to his head and announced, “That’s washed the city out of me.”
With its villages of flint fishermen’s cottages, huge skies, poppy edged cornfields and sand-dune backed, empty beaches, you don’t have to come from the city or leap into the sea to feel the sense of freedom and chill-out this area brings.
The coastal village of Blakeney is a good base for a short stay, as it’s small and friendly but with enough food, drink and walking opportunities so you don’t have to use your car.
We’d checked in to The Kings Arms at Blakeney, (Westgate Street, Blakeney, NR25 7NQ) a traditional pub, near to the quay.
The pub offers twin and double-bedded rooms as well as ‘the pub flat’. Some visitors comment that the bedrooms need a makeover and given the eighties style brown wallpaper, this is true, BUT the beds are comfortable, there are views over the marshes and it costs half the price of other pub accommodation in a similar location.
After a mooch around Blakeney’s art gallery, delicatessen, gift shops and chandlers, we were ready for dinner at The White Horse, (4 High Street, Blakeney, NR25 7AL; Tel. 01263 740574; www.blakeneywhitehorse.co.uk).
As we made the short walk from one pub to the other we were lucky enough to catch the sun setting, casting the sea and sky a spectacular rose colour, the marshes grey shadows in the background.
The White Horse has a restaurant but we'd booked a table in the bar area, as at busy times, the restaurant does tend to get booked by large, family parties.
I ordered shoulder of lamb served with delicious ratatouille and rosemary croquettes. My partner went for bavette steak, served pink and juicy, and with chunky home made chips and rocket salad. Puddings sounded enticing, but we’d had a lunchtime dish of mussels at the Kings Arms and couldn’t quite manage more. Meal for two main courses, a beer, gin and tonic and two glasses of Merlot was £46.00 - good value for food that was of a very high quality.
Next morning after a full English at The Kings Arms, we decided to walk to Cley Next the Sea. Passing by Blakeney quay, we paused to watch the efforts of families out crabbing, smiling as children (and adults) let out cries of excitement or disappointment on gaining or losing a prized crab.
We walked on along the shingle ridge that juts out towards the horizon, taking the footpath right, past blue-green marshes, rippled lilac with sea lavender, past reed beds harvested for thatch, and towards the huge, landmark sails of the windmill Cley is famous for.
A 40 minute walk brought us to Cley and through the village to The George (High Street, Cley, NR25 7RN). The pub is all tall ceilings and big windows, keeping true to its St George and the dragon theme with a beautiful stained glass window showing the saint and another depiction of the scene etched in a massive mirror behind the bar. We ordered our halves of Norfolk Wherry and took them out into the pretty garden across the road from the pub.
Décor and food wise, The George has changed dramatically for the better since I first visited over 20 years ago, but the pub is still true to its roots and has its ‘bird bible’ where sightings and hand-drawn illustrations of birds are recorded, still in pride of place, on a brass lectern.
Whilst in Cley it would be a shame not to have a wander, admiring the pink, yellow and red hollyhocks stretching away from the walls of blue-grey Norfolk flint and impossible not to be lured into the delicatessen, Picnic Fayre (The Old Forge, Cley-next-to-the-Sea, NR25 7AP;Tel. 01263 740587; www.picnic-fayre.co.uk) with its attractive display of fruit outside and homemade cakes in the windows. Next to the shop a hatch in the wall sells creamy ice-cream, flavoured gooseberry and plum.
The Cley Smokehouse ( High Street, Cley, NR25 7RF; Tel. 01263 740282; www.cleysmokehouse.com) which you’ll pass on the High Street before getting to The George, is a tiny, flint fronted shop where you can buy everything smoked from traditional goodies such as gravadlax, smoked prawns, crevettes, duck and chicken to the more adventurous foodie options such as bloaters, smoked eels and red herrings.
After all the walking, we took the Coast Hopper bus, (for exact times and routes see www.coasthopper.co.uk) back to Blakeney. The bus is a brilliant way of getting around the coast, stopping at all the villages between Cromer and Wells Next the Sea, opening up a multitude of walking (and drinking!) opportunities.
Back in Blakeney, we toyed with the idea of taking a trip out to see the seals but we’d missed the tide times. If you’ve not done it before, this is a lovely trip travelling out to Blakeney spit to view the seals in their natural habitat. You can stay on the boat or get off and look around the visitors’ centre converted from a former lifeboat house. Times and prices at Beans’ Seal Trips (www.beansboattrips.co.uk) or Bishops’ Boats (www.norfolksealtrips.co.uk).
Mid-afternoon, the sun still shining and having had no lunch, we decided that afternoon tea at the funky Wiveton Café (Wiveton Hall, NR25 7TE; Tel. 01263 740525; www.wivetonhall.co.uk), would be a good option. Confusingly, Wiveton Hall, which has café, farm shop and pick your own is not at Wiveton but on the road between Blakeney and Cley. Walking from Blakeney, you can stay off the road and go via National Trust grounds past Blakeney’s Manor Hotel, which takes about 15 minutes (dogs not allowed on this walk).
You enter the café, painted fuchsia pink, through a shell-lined entrance way. Outside tables are painted bright sea blues and greens, and overlook the marsh and distant sea. Light lunches, tea and cakes are served and, on a Friday evening, tapas. The café also showcases the work of local artists.
We chose a great wedge of coffee and walnut cake each washed down with a pot of real tea (£7.00) and watched the families busy in the fields picking raspberries, whilst chickens and a Gloucester old spot pig or two wandered about: a modern take on rural England.
Regretfully, our 24 hours were up, but the relaxing walks, scenery, good food and sleep made us feel we’d been away for a week. On our way home we stopped along the coast to buy a Cromer crab and bunch of samphire (a marsh plant, considered to be a local delicacy) to take a taste of Norfolk home with us.
Pubs that offer accommodation in Blakeney and Cley next the Sea:
The Kings Arms, Westgate Street, Blakeney, NR25 7NQ.
B&B £70.00 per room
The White Horse, 4 High Street, Blakeney, NR25 7AL.
Weekend rate B&B rate £70 (small double) to £140
Two night minimum stay weekends
The George, High Street, Cley Next the Sea, NR25 7RN.
Weekend rate B&B £80 - £130.
Two night minimum stay weekends
The Three Swallows, Newgate Green. Cley Next the Sea, NR25 7TT.