Let's staycation in...Aylsham
- Credit: Danielle Booden
If you’re looking for a relaxing mini-break then you couldn’t ask for a more laidback destination than Aylsham.
Packed with charm, the pretty town enjoys the best of both worlds and is within easy reach of vibrant Norwich and the gorgeous north Norfolk coast.
And it has a centuries-long association with the wool and textile trade, the legacy of which are the ornate 18th century houses surrounding the Market Place.
Aylsham is actually one of just a handful of Cittaslow towns in the UK.
Italian for slow city, it’s a movement which emerged in the 1990s, encouraging people to embrace a more mindful, less frenetic pace of life – a reset that many of us are keen to make after the lockdowns of the last 18 months.
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As part of that, priorities are caring for the environment, promoting a healthy lifestyle and celebrating the unique character of the local area and its producers and businesses.
The centrepiece is Aylsham Food Festival, which is on now.
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Traditionally held the first weekend in October, highlights include produce markets showcasing the area’s bounty and the Sunday morning Big Slow Brunch, where diners are positively encouraged to take time out and savour a delicious breakfast.
It’s little wonder then, with a focus on quality of life, that in 2019, the Sunday Times named Aylsham as one of the best places to live in the eastern region.
And for a taste of that, it makes an excellent base for an autumn short break.
Where to stay in Aylsham
If you like your holiday accommodation to have character, how does your very own Rapunzel Tower sound?
Formerly the Earl of Buckinghamshire’s race stand, Blickling Tower, on the nearby National Trust Blickling Estate, makes for a special and luxurious escape.
There’s also a roof terrace, with original features including large arched windows and a quirky spiral staircase.
Set in the Blickling parklands, there are walking and cycling trails to explore – or you could just sit back and drink in the beautiful views.
It sleeps four and there is a minimum stay of three nights.
Other properties nearby are also available as holiday lets through the National Trust, including the grand, 18th century, five bedroom Itteringham Manor and Mill Farm Barn, a rural retreat on the outskirts of the Blickling Estate.
See nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays for details.
Where to eat in Aylsham
The Bucks Arms
Within the Blickling Estate, former coaching inn the Bucks Arms has been welcoming guests since the 17th century.
It’s famous for its Sunday roasts with all the trimmings – choose from roasted beef sirloin, Swannington pork loin, Norfolk roast chicken breast or cauliflower cheese bubble and squeak cake for veggies.
And if you fancy making a stay of it there are four luxury rooms offering B&B.
The Black Boys Hotel
Presiding over the Market Place, the Grade II listed Black Boys Hotel’s illustrious former guests reputedly include Daniel Defoe, Horatio Nelson and Princess Victoria.
Its history can be traced back to the 1470s and it was turned into an inn in the 1650s – although it has also been used as a magistrates court.
As befits its location a short drive from the coast, seafood features prominently on the menu, including Cromer crab and Lowestoft skate, but there is something for everyone, including stacked and loaded burgers and four inventive veggie options.
Award-winning Norfolk artisan bakery Bread Source’s cinnamon buns are possibly the ultimate breakfast treat – and the residents of Aylsham are lucky enough to have a branch right on their doorstep, in Red Lion Street.
Bread is made traditionally, with flour, water, natural yeast, salt and no artificial additives, and time, attention and care to develop the perfect dough.
Everything stops for tea – and at Biddy’s in the Market Place there are more than 50 blends to choose from.
The quirky Victorian-inspired café (there’s also a branch in Norwich) has an in-house bakery and specialises in decadent afternoon teas featuring dainty hand-cut sandwiches, warm scones straight from the oven and hearty slices of cake.
Hodson and Co Cheeseroom and Delicatessen
Cheese lovers will be in heaven at Hodson and Co on Red Lion Street. Run by Charlie Hodson, a passionate champion of Norfolk produce, you'll find more than 50 cheeses from Norfolk and beyond on the counter - and lots of advice to help you create the cheeseboard of your dreams. If you're planning a rural ramble, then stop off here before you go and stock up on goodies to keep you adequately fuelled - the range includes freshly baked sausage rolls, pies, cheese tarts, sourdough loaves, croissants and much more. Charlie also runs a pop-up Table for Two dining experience which foodies shouldn't miss,.
Walpole Arms, Itteringham
A short drive from Aylsham, the charming 18th century Walpole Arms serves up authentic Spanish tapas which showcases some of Norfolk’s best seasonal produce.
So, depending on the time of year, you might find Morston mussels, Cromer crabs and lobsters, samphire or asparagus on the menu.
What to do in Aylsham
Aylsham is a town with an independent spirit. Mondays and Fridays are market days and you can while away the time pleasantly pottering around the shops.
Pack your walking boots, because there is some lovely countryside to explore.
The Weaver’s Way trail – named for the area’s rich textile history – follows a disused railway line from Aylsham to North Walsham.
And because if’s off road, it’s great for cyclists and horse riders too.
Or you can also follow the Bure Valley Walk, a nine-mile path between Aylsham and Wroxham, capital of the Norfolk Broads.
The walking and cycling route runs alongside the Bure Valley Railway line, so you could always let a narrow gauge steam train take the strain if you’d prefer.
And if you love all things equine, then a visit to Redwings Horse Sanctuary to meet the adorable residents is a must.
10 minutes away...
Probably nearer five minutes away is one of Norfolk’s most magnificent houses, Blickling Hall.
The Jacobean house was home to the Boleyn family from 1499 to 1505 and it’s believed that Anne Boleyn’s ghost still roams the corridors.
If you’ve got green fingers, then the gardens are a must-see and don’t miss the beautiful 14th century church of St Michael and All Angels.
There’s also a brilliant secondhand bookshop – and, as this is a National Trust property, cake and scones are mandatory.
15 minutes away
With the Broads and its beautiful coastline, Norfolk is synonymous with sailing, but what you might not know is that it also has a canal.
North Walsham and Dilham Canal is the county’s only locked sailing canal and thanks to volunteers it is gradually being brought back to life.
It was created 200 years ago for cargo wherries and originally ran almost nine miles from Antingham near North Walsham to the navigable River Ant near Stalham, linking into the Broads and out to sea at Great Yarmouth.
Now visitors can enjoy a mile-long stretch of water on board the solar powered Ella II.
20 minutes away
Nothing beats an old-fashioned trip to the seaside – and the resort of Cromer is only 20 minutes away.
It might not be paddling weather, unless you’re very brave, but there’s still lots to enjoy out of season - fish and chips on the prom, a bracing stroll along the pier and trying your luck on the 2p slot machines in the arcades.
Nothing beats it.