Travel back in time in Old Hunstanton to an era when a seaside holiday meant nothing more than paddling in the breakers, playing in the dunes and laughing at the knotted handkerchief on Grandad's head
Visiting the Norfolk resort of Old Hunstanton is like taking a trip in a time machine. Just 50 miles from the A1 at Peterborough, Old Hunstanton is a generation behind its bustling near neighbour Hunstanton with its sprawling mass of arcades, bucket and spade shops and bars.
Imagine a wide golden beach, backing onto sand dunes sporting marram grass and the odd not-too-shy rabbit. And the smell of a barbeque wafting from one of the many brightly painted beach huts, set higgledy-piggeldy among the undulations.
If your impression of Britain’s East Coast is one of huddling behind a windbreak to avoid the stinging sand as it swirls around your legs, Old Hunstanton will be a revelation to you. No wind burn here! On a clear day, peer out to sea, and the coast looking back at you across the Wash is Lincolnshire – this relatively sheltered beach actually faces west, and seems to bathe in more than its fair share of sunshine.
Old Hunstanton is far removed from the likes of the more up-market Wells-next-the-Sea, with its smaller, uniformly painted huts, arranged in a regimented fashion. Here the huts are larger, more randomly situated…somehow more real. And the games the children play seem removed from modern life. Swimming costume clad children scamper amongst the dunes playing hide and seek, while their parents, some still sporting a knotted handkerchief to protect a sunburnt scalp, keep an eye from a distance. It feels like a seaside holiday thirty years ago. Warning: don’t pull off the main road here if you are looking for slot machines and a disco!
Where to eat
Old Hunstanton has just the one store by the beach – and it’s the only one you’ll need. The Old Boat House Café (01485 532931) serves a fine array of simple fare. A super cooked breakfast, or cheese on toast for lunch will set you back less than a fiver, and the odd cup of coffee to take away and drink on the beach is less than a pound. It sells a few essentials like spare flip-flops or a new bucket and spade, and should you become captivated by the charms of this sleepy gem, it’s also the place to enquire about beach huts for sale or to rent. Ask for Geoff.
Or head up the quiet lane away from the sea and you’ll reach The Ancient Mariner Inn (01485 534411), where you can enjoy a more substantial meal for around ten pounds a head (£5 for a children’s meal), and a pint of real ale. It is perfect for winter visits, with roaring log fires and cosy atmosphere.
And our personal favourite way to end the day is for one of us to hop in the car and pop over to Hunstanton to fetch freshly caught fish and chips, which we eat from paper on the beach as everyone else heads home. The odd grain of sand in your crispy batter is a small price to pay for such simple luxury!
Where to stay
Set right on the sandy beach, the Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel is perfectly positioned and offers a choice of accommodation – choose from a variety of rooms, including four poster suites, or opt for a self-catering apartment in the neighbouring Boathouse. You can pick up a room for the weekend from just over £100 per night for bed and breakfast.
Or, a 400 yard stroll from the beach, you’ll get a warm welcome and friendly service at The Lodge Hotel. Rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable. When we last stayed there they weren’t the swankiest, but were perfectly adequate and are in the process of being refurbished. Again, you’ll be looking at spending around about £100 per night.
For those visiting with a family, who prefer the freedom of a self catering cottage, it’s worth checking out the prettily decorated Sleepy Gull. Situated a few minutes from the beach, and handily close to the village shop, this little house sleeps six people in two bedrooms and boasts a courtyard with barbeque for the summer months and a wood burning stove for snuggling up by in the winter. Short breaks start at under £200 in low season.
What to do
If you tire of sand dunes or the sunshine fails you, you’ll find Hunstanton just a mile or so down the beach or coast road. Built in 1860 to accommodate Victorian holiday-makers, it has a lot to offer the family with children in need of entertainment. This lively resort has the expected pier area, complete with amusements, funfair and bandstand.
The Sea Life Centre on the Southern Parade (01485 533576) boasts not only the requisite aquarium, but penguins, otters and a seal sanctuary and hospital.
Or simply stay where you are and take a stroll round the Le Strange Old Barns, Antiques, Arts and Crafts Centre (01485 533402), which is open daily with free entrance.
For the more sporting, stretching behind the dunes lies Hunstanton Golf Club (01485 532811), with its championship links course and friendly welcome, and it’s open to visitors all year round.
If you really must escape the tranquillity of Old Hunstanton, and the newer resort isn’t your cup of tea, take a twenty minute drive to the queen’s Sandringham Estate (01553 612908), which is open daily and offers 600 acres of grounds to explore, and guided tours of the spectacular house. Relax with a cup of fresh coffee and cake in the tea rooms.