Is this the ultimate Norfolk road trip?
- Credit: Jane Vaucher-Grand
If you're planning a road trip - nowhere could be better than the North Norfolk coast, where there are so many beautiful stopping points along the way.
Today, we’re looking at a stretch of the A149 that takes us from Cromer to King’s Lynn, although the coast road ends in Great Yarmouth, snaking around the belly of Britain and past some of our-best loved towns and villages.
This is a journey that can take a few hours or several days and one that can be enjoyed by those making their first trip to the county or lifelong Norfolk dwellers.
1. Cromer: Sandy beaches, a pier that stretches into the sea, windswept cliffs, a maze of twisting streets, the tallest church in Norfolk, sweet Cromer crabs, fascinating museums, ice-creams, fish and chips and Victorian faded glamour – this is a town that has something to charm everyone. Why not try? Visiting Happy Valley – start at North Lodge Park in the town, clamber up the clifftop path out of Cromer and be rewarded with stunning views across the town and cliffs. Wander back through Warren Woods, once pleasure grounds, and enjoy the shade of the beech, oak and lime trees. There are bluebells and white ransoms here in spring. You can take in octagonal tower of the lighthouse, too.
2. Sheringham: With the sea on its doorstep and the countryside in its back yard, Sheringham is filled with flint cottages and charm, its own steam engine railway line (come in summer for the poppies), a professional theatre with the smallest stage in the UK and some of the best seafront views in the county. There’s a fabulous museum, The Mo, a Fisherman’s Heritage Centre and even a shell gallery. And you can enjoy an al fresco exhibition from The Sheringham Art and Sculpture Trail which has transformed the bleak concrete sea defences. Why not try? Visiting the West Prom boating lake at sunset where you can enjoy breathtaking views across the sea (and maybe a bag of chips). From nearby Skelding Hill, to the left of the lake, you can see Blakeney Point.
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3. Cley: The road from Sheringham takes you past the pretty cottages of Kelling and Weybourne to Cley-next-the-Sea with its beautiful 18th century windmill on the edge of the marshes (once the family home of singer James Blunt). The village church, St Margaret’s next to the village green is stunning, there’s a top-notch delicatessen for you to make your own picnic, Picnic Fayre, the wonderful Cley Smokehouse, a bookshop, pub, gallery and tea shop. A walk across the saltmarsh takes you to Cley beach, which is perfect for those that like to REALLY get away from everything. Think shingle not sand, the views all around are incredible: from the mill and Salthouse Church to Blakeney Point. Why not try? Looking for the World War Two relics on the beach from the days when Norfolk’s proximity to mainland Europe meant it was filled with defences: there are pill boxes and the remains of an Allan Williams Gun Turret. Head to the Muckleburgh Collection nearby, a military museum set up on the derelict Weybourne Camp.
4. Blakeney: This picture perfect village is a magical place to while away a few hours – once the third most important port in Norfolk, today the quay is filled with pleasure craft and there’s little more relaxing than watching them bob up and down on the tide. Look out for the imposing church of St Nicholas on the hill, walk alongside Blakeney Cut, take a boat trip from Blakeney Point to see the seals if you visit at the right time of the year. Why not try? Stopping for a piece of cake and a cup of tea at The Blakeney Hotel which has some incredible views of the sea and marshes.
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5. Stiffkey: The village of Stiffkey is packed with beautiful cottages and houses and is right in the heart of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Renowned for its saltmarsh, which is one of Britain’s richest in wildlife, the walks that take you past the twisting muddy creeks which are flooded daily by the tide are incredible. Did you know? Henry Williamson, who wrote Tarka the Otter, once lived in Stiffkey
6. Wells-next-the-Sea: A warrant of streets with Victorian and Georgian houses, a bustling quay where you can try your luck catching crabs, its very own ferry and the most famous beach huts in the East, Wells is a seaside town that offers a lot of bang for your buck. French’s Fish and Chip shop is a Norfolk institution and the beach here has featured in countless Instagram posts. There’s the added bonus of the Corsican pine belt which offers shelter in blistering heat and pouring rain. Why not try? A ride on the world’s smallest public railway, the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway which steams to the Abbey village through beautiful countryside.
7. Holkham: Holkham Bay is one of the most dramatic beaches in the country and when the weather is good, you could be somewhere tropical (although it’s equally fantastic when the skies are moody and the weather not so kind). Access is by Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham and there’s lots of paid-for parking. The Holkham Hall estate also offers visitors a great day out – at the heart is a fine Palladian mansion and there are also walled gardens, a woodland play area, places to eat, extensive parkland and the chance to hire a bike and really explore. The estate opened The Lookout visitor centre in 2018 which helps you learn more about the environment it is set in and offers views across the gorgeous Holkham National Nature Reserve. Did you know? Holkham was a favourite beach for the Royal Family: Prince Charles and Princess Anne regularly played there when they were younger.
8. Brancaster: You get two for the price of one with Brancaster: Brancaster itself and Brancaster Staithe, both of which offer a wealth of things to do from walks on the beach to sailing or kite surfing, bird-watching to incredible seafood stalls. Make sure you try the mussels. Did you know? The remains of a petrified forest can be seen at low tide at Brancaster beach – the black, rubbery remains are the fossilized remains of vegetation and can often be found on the shoreline.
9. Hunstanton: For a magical sunsets, head to Sunny Hunny where you can watch the day end in glorious style as the sun sets into the sea thanks to its unique westerly position. Famous for its stripy fossil-flecked cliffs, acres of sand and clear water, Hunstanton offers traditional seaside fun with a fair, beach front amusements and plenty of places to eat, drink and be entertained. Look out for Skegness which is 16 miles away by sea and 70 by road – you can see the twinkling lights of the funfair, another example of Hunstanton’s unusual claim that it’s the only east coast resort that faces west! Why not try? A Seal Safari on Wizzy the Wash Monster by Searles Sea Tours which will take you across the wash to see thousands of seals from the boat.
10. King’s Lynn: The capital of West Norfolk is packed with incredible buildings that line the historic quarter stretching along King Street and Nelson Street and for a different view of the town, catch the ferry across the river and stroll along the boardwalk for sweeping views. The Walks is a beautiful park for picnics and strolls and there are some great museums including the Lynn Museum where you can see the preserved remains of a unique Bronze Age timber circle found in the shifting sands of Holme beach nearby. Purfleet Quay is a lovely place for a walk – look out for Custom House, which was used by Customs and Excise up until 1989 –and St Margaret’s Church is worth a visit (try and spot the brass memorial that features a loyal dog!). Why not try? Visit Red Mount Chapel at The Walks, once a gathering place for pilgrims on their way to, or from, Walsingham. One of the most peculiar late medieval buildings in England, it is octagonal and three storeys high and even boasts centuries-old graffiti.