A break fuelled by food, rain and long walks
Just before Christmas, a Groupon offer for a short break to Cley next to Sea popped up in my inbox. Very appealing indeed as we needed to recharge our batteries and this short break in Norfolk just ticked all the boxes. Once you have signed up with Groupon, it’s a straightforward process these days. Now you only buy the voucher, and your booking has been made.
I was delighted when the confirmation came through from Secret Escapes as their portfolio holds some lovely properties. I left it for some time before I started planning the rest of our trip, which was for the last two days of the year. Not very clever though as it’s popular area especially for Londoners to escape to for the weekend. Many of them have holiday homes here, and from time to time you think you’re in London rather than the wilds of Norfolk. Especially Burnham Market, which is aptly called ‘Chelsea by the sea’.
Our residence for the two nights was going to be ‘the George Hotel at Cley‘. When I checked out Tripadvisor, I got slightly worried by the mixed reviews but noticed the reviews improved when it changed hands in August. This part of Norfolk was pretty booked up by November already, so there was no other choice than to go for the George Hotel. Definitely no rooms in Wiveton Bell, The Victoria at Holkham or the Host Arms in Burnham market so we decided to go with the flow. As time went on the reviews improved, and the general consent was ‘a lovely quiet place to stay’.
Booking dinner for 2 nights for foodies like us at such short notice was also a challenge. No Michelin stars for us this time as Morston hall was fully booked. The Blakeney hotel had no places either. Finding a food blog with good reviews was a problematic find. No blogs about this part of the world at all. So I had to use my foodie instinct. I was pleased to come across a lovely little gem in Wiveton, but for New Year’s Eve, there was very little choice. The local pub didn’t appeal as Tripadvisor scared us off. I know it might be unfair, but the reviews were pretty consistent, so we decided to give it a miss. We resorted to booking the New Year’s Eve party at the George at Cley, which would start with bubbly and canapés followed by a roast dinner. I’m not a big fan of roasts, but the promise of live music probably would secure a bit of a party that night. After a long day of walking, staying in would probably be our best choice.
Day 1 – 30 December 2013
After a glorious day beforehand with an excellent 12 miles walk around Cambridge, the day didn’t look very promising. Grey clouds were packed over Cambridge, and heaven soon broke open. Still being positive, I assured Mr Globetrotter that by the time we would arrive in Burnham Market it would have cleared up.
On our way to Norfolk
From Cambridge, it takes you about 2 hours to get to Burnham Market. On sunny days it is a lovely drive. Unfortunately not on a rainy one as that day. Just before Bircham, I spotted pigs roaming around in a field. You can call these pigs almost ‘mobile pigs’. Well not the pigs themselves, but the enterprise. The people behind this project rent farmland of farmers to rear their pigs fir a season on their land. The sword cuts in two ways as it’s an excellent way of fertilising the soil.
The plan was to do some shopping and have a cup of coffee in a Burnham Market, but by the time we got there after a late start, it was more time for lunch than coffee. With torrential rains and no parking space in sight, our decision to head off to our lunch spot was quickly made. A pity though as I would have loved to browse through some nice frocks in one of my favourite shops just off the main street, which is lined with lovely shops, galleries, restaurants and a great deli.
Following the windy roads, the estate walls of Holkham estate were a welcome sight. I have many good memories of Holkham beach and The Victoria Hotel, which stands proud at the entrance gates of Holkham hotel. The beach takes me back to the famous Dutch beaches of Ameland and Texel with their wide sandy beaches lined with pine forests.
The Victoria Hotel at Holkham? I was looking forward to a trip down memory lane; a few years ago, on a cold afternoon. Our visit was running into the evening with good wine and conversation lounging in their very comfy sofas. I couldn’t wished for more that day. The total shock came over me when the only thing was left of this ‘memory’ was the open fire. They had refurbished earlier this year, and the comfy sofa’s had gone. The destination of the couches wasn’t entirely clear though; they either had ended up in Holkham hall or gone to an auction.
Lunch was very nice though, and the restaurant soon filled up with what seemed to be holidaymakers from Greater London. As grey clouds and the rain were still dominating the sky, we decided to skip our walk to Holkham beach and check-in at the George in Cley Next To Sea.
New Years Eve at Cley Next To Sea
This quaint little village has very narrow streets, which can be very difficult to travel through, especially at summertime with cars parked along the road. It’s one of the popular starting points for the famous coastal walk. The windmill towers high above the village on the edge of marshland with the waving brown reeds and the sea in the far distant, creating a stunning and dramatic view. Imagine sipping a glass of crisp wine on a sunny day here overlooking the marshland from the balcony of the windmill. Life can be a drag!
We were lucky. The sun was fighting to come out and walking down to the deli, local smokehouse and following the path along the edge of the marshland shed a stunning early evening light on the quaint cottages and marshland.
After a day of travel, we’re looking forward to dinner at the Wiveton Bell. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a taxi, so we had to drive. Wiveton is the next village up from Cley, and you’ll find the pub just at the end of the village. The Wiveton Bell has become a popular dining place, especially since it has attracted a new chef. If I found it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit, the Wiveton Bell certainly did the trick with the stunning lit Christmas trees outside, the roaring fire and Christmas tea lights. A quick glance on the menu got us very excited. It was almost hard to choose, but the Scotch egg with confit of duck was definitely hard to resist. The evening meal was delicious. Just a pity they had paper napkins rather than linen, which would have been more in keeping with the quality of the food and location. You will not go away hungry as the portions are rather big!
Day 2 – 31 December 2013
There is nothing better than walking into a dining room and to find a roaring fire. It sparks off that lovely welcoming feeling and making you feel at home. We did need that roaring fire this morning as the sky over Cley was grey, and it was barely light outside, even at 8.45am in the morning. We were destined to walk as much possible of the Coastal path from Cley to the west. With the knowledge that rain was going to hit Norfolk again, we set off at 09.30am after a delicious hearty breakfast.
The start of the Coastal path is just after the river Glavan, which is only 1 minute down the road from the deli. We slightly hesitated at the beginning as the coastal path seemed to be closed due to recent floods. We couldn’t see any high water, so we decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did as it is a stunning walk along the edge of the marshland with fast, dramatic views, which I do miss very much. A scene often to be seen in the Netherlands. Meandering our way through mud, collapsed flood defences, boats pushed away by the sea on to the mainland, woodlands, shrubs and villages, we decided this was a good excuse for another tasty research; eat and drink our way along the coastal path of Norfolk.
It didn’t take long until we got hit by our first drop of rain. By the time we arrived in Blakeney, we were soaking and covered in mud. We were sure we weren’t welcome guests in the Blakeney hotel in this state so moved on to the Moorings for a refreshment. The menu looked really appealing, but we just had breakfast, so we need to resist. It’s very popular, so if you would like to go, you’d better book a table. We were shocked to see how high the water had been in Blakeney a few months ago; just as high as in 1953.
We were keen to go to our next stop in Morston. We were told that the Anchor Inn had had a complete makeover. Their chef did win an award the other day at Aylsham food fair. When you come off the Coastal path, you will bump into one of the top restaurants in the UK, Morston Hall. It recently was voted no. 50! Just around the corner, you will find the Anchor Inn, and I have to say; it’s a fantastic place. The food was excellent and the New Year’s Eve party looked fun too. They were even serving their own Haggis!
With changing clouds, we decided not to aim for Wells Next To Sea as our last stop, but finish at Stiffekey. This was a wise decision as it tipped it down for 2 of the 3 miles. Breaking off the Coastal path at Stiffkey was a bit more of a challenge. You have to go up the hill called Stiffekey green and then turn straight away left and walk along with the farmland. After 9 miles of walking, we decided to give our feet a rest and to hop on the bus. Although the Coasthopper claims to stop at Stiffkey stores, it actually does end at Stiffkey Campside too.
The New Year’s Eve party was a pleasant and intimate affair. A nice group of people with many international travel and food experiences. Breakfast on New Year’s day always seems to come too early. The weather turned pretty grey and horrible again, but it didn’t spoil our lovely drive along the coastal road to Cromer. With still some spare time before lunch, it seemed a better idea to pop into Norwich rather than for a stroll on the beach. A place I never really visited properly, but only passed through on many occasions. This short visit, the looks of ‘ the Bicycle shop’ and the sound of local breweries definitely have spurred me on to explore the foodie side of Norwich soon.
Wildebeest in Norwich
Time for lunch! As if we ‘hadn’t eaten enough since Christmas Eve’. The excuse this time was to catch up with Karen, my web designer and also a very close friend. We tried to get a table at her local, but they were fully booked. After a recommendation from a fellow guest at The George, we opted for ‘the Wildebeest’, an excellent choice indeed. The Wildebeest is part of the collection of ‘animal pubs’. These are the type of restaurants, which certainly appeal to me having lived in Cape Town for a few years.
Although the weather wasn’t fabulous, Norfolk has a lot to offer and has left us hungry for more!