In August 2021 we had to cancel our summer holiday to Scotland, due to personal circumstances, at the very last minute. With an absolute immediate need to feel the water on my skin and the sand in between my toes (not to mention make it up to the children who were understandably a bit gutted) we booked a cottage about an hour away from the coast in North Norfolk for some August beach fun. And yes, an hour was as close as we could get in travel restricted covid times without remortgaging our house!
We stayed in Littleport near Ely in a AirBnb cottage. We paid £280 for the accommodation and £100 cleaning fee. Which honestly irks me a little when it was spotless when we left after just 2 nights and we had to strip the beds ourselves; but there you have it.
It was a lovely little attached cottage, beautiful details inside and set on a plot with an airfield. We did hear the planes go out a couple of times which was exciting for the children. It also had really beautiful views of the sunset. I am a sucker for a sunset. Another thing I am a sucker for, is proper cottage style wooden doors, and this place had wooden doors a plenty. Niche, but true!
The purpose of the trip really however, was to visit the beaches and have a break. To sit on the beautiful Norfolk sand and take in the healing sea air with fish and chips in hand where the world felt like it might just be stood still. For that moment at least.
That we did…
We basically beach hopped. Arriving after the three hour drive we headed straight to Heacham (the nearest beach). The dream was a little shattered to find the sea 4000 miles out and shingled sand. You know the kind that actually hurts the soles of your feet with every step? Alongside what can only be described as tar like sludge that will never ever come off those new white shorts Roma was wearing, even the sea shoes couldn’t save us…
We did make the most of it like true brits with dead crabs to play with (please tell me it isn’t just my children?!) a picnic and appreciating that we were still in fact at the start of our beach trip.
The hunt for a more suitable spot however, for the only full day we had the next day, was on. No one wants to waste time when time is in short supply.*
*Obviously the beach (Heacham) is lovely and very enjoyable for some people; I just mean for us and for what we wanted it wasn’t suitable. Don’t come at me if you love it. Each to their own as the saying goes!
Anyway it was Instagram to the rescue. I picked brains of friends and followers who came up with the goods and a whole list of beaches to try. Got to love having personal recommendations at your fingertips in times like this.
One of the recommendations was a ‘secret’ beach which is apparently one mostly locals use. There was a public unisex toilet block, a little hut selling ice cream at the car park (which was £6 for all day) and a little walk to the wide stretch of beautiful sea, sand and open views.
This was more like it.
We went armed with a picnic, beach tent, we even took the paddle boards in the roof box just in case.
It was really beautiful and shallow for miles so the walking along the shoreline dream was real. Actual bliss. Of course a British summer seaside trip (especially ours) wouldn’t be complete without a little laughter. It turns out it was a little (lot) windy, slightly cold when the sun wasn’t shining and we had to brace ourselves for sand in the face and weigh the blankets and towels down with so many stones it looked like we were building a fort. Thankfully it was a sand and stone beach so it was full of them and led to a little game for the children to find the biggest ones. The beach tent however could only be likened to a crisp packet as it fought to stay upright and I am sure it was giving more than just us a headache.
You have to laugh though don’t you? We sure do get ourselves into these predicaments. Eating our picnic in the tent in order to not get sand in our mouths never mind our sandwiches meaning we were pretty much unable to hear each other speak will be a comical moment I don’t think I will ever forget and never not smile at the memory.
Eva, armed with her new pre teen confidence, made a friend by the sea’s edge. I just sat there as they wandered together paddling and chatting getting to know each other and investing the time despite knowing full well they would never see each other again. The juxtaposition of the innocence and maturity of it all gave me a lump in my throat.
As the sea receded further out of reach and our tummies rumbled for ice cream we decided to head to another highly recommended beach. Hopefully one with a coffee shop, as nice as Holme was, the amenities would have taken it up a notch for sure. Coffee cart anyone?
Windswept yet happy.
Beach number three of our trip which came teamed with so many recommendations but pre-warning for the walk to actually get there was but that it would be totally worth it, was Holkham. And wow they were not wrong about either of these things. We arrived to a BIG stretch of marshlands before opening up to the beach for miles; and a very ominous sky.
The walk, although long is stunning and even the tree lined wooden walk is fit for exploration. The vast sea of purple was really something.
There was a big car park and cafe (with queues to match) and we got ourselves coffees and snacks to end the day with sat in the dunes with the softest sand. Perfect for digging too apparently. I mean which child (and adult alike) doesn’t dig holes when they are on the beach? It’s like a childhood rite of passage and I am pretty sure it’s been an activity on every beach I have ever been to! Especially since being with Eddy, he loves it just as much as the children do! Is there much more fun than digging a hole in the sand and subsequently burying a family member in said hole? I think not.
Dune running however proved to be the real activity of choice though. It turned out to be the most fun for all of us once again with the feeling that you body might overtake your feet as momentum takes Holland your toes sink deeper into the sand with every gravity driven step. If you can’t release your inner child on the beach then when can you I say?
The sea was so far out we could barely see it so I would recommend for sure checking the tide times, not something I am grown up enough to take care of. It definitely didn’t mar our experience there though with the soft sand, dunes and then much to our horse loving Romas delight, lots, and lots, of horses. I expect there is a riding school very close by as lines of high vis jacket clad children on ponies trotted into view instigating squeals of joy. We even watched on as one horse lost its young rider subsequently running unaided wildly around the sand with owners in pursuit which caused much beach excitement. Especially when all was well with horse, owner and rider seeming happy and unfazed by the incident. Roma could not take her eyes off them and just wished to be riding herself.
As those ominous skies became water droplets we managed to just judge it to make it back to the car. IT was 6oclock and we went in search of fish and chips. A seaside must.
This photo, all the heart eyes. You know sometimes when you just realise you’re very lucky. That.
Wells Next The Sea
A place that had come recommended on multiple occasions was French’s Fish & Chip shop in Wells. We arrived with half the UK tourist population it seemed with a queue so long it wrapped around the building. At this point there was really no choice and hey, if it’s that popular it has to be good right? Waiting in the cold and rain with two tired and hungry children for an hour isn’t necessarily my idea of fun for a fish supper. It took an hour and cost £40. These two things may have tainted our reviews so I guess we will leave it there! I have also heard the best things about the actual beach so I feel a repeat trip one day may be in order as we definitely did not see enough to have a balanced opinion.
All in all though we ended our day full of adventure and food with a mostly relaxed middle of nowhere vibes.
Which brings us on to our final stop.
The actual plan for the last day was to stay local to the accommodation and explore Ely which isn’t somewhere we have ever been. But plans are made to be broken and flexible and, well our midland dwelling selves just couldn’t keep away from the water. Plus Eddy really wanted to see the Banksy art that had popped up on the seafront here so after checking out of our accommodation and loading up the car, Cromer bound we were.
It’s also a place with fond memories as a few years ago when my sister and I brought the girls to Norfolk whilst Eddy was working we visited Cromer in search of a dressed crab to take back to him. This and it gifted the girls with a unique opportunity to share some inside ‘I’ve been here before’ knowledge with their Dad. Not something that happens every day!
Cromer has your more typical British seaside vibe than any of the other beaches. If pier, arcades and all the amenities is what you are after then this is the one.
First on the agenda was lunch. Always lunch. We got ourselves a jacket potato from a lovely little cafe so we didn’t waste any time getting down to the beach. It had lots of vegan options and vegan cakes which is always refreshing. We couldn’t resist picking some up to share later. There is something about sitting by the sea eating out of cardboard trays that just has simple joy written all over it. And Eddy with his crab sandwich for that Cromer crab fix. Perfection.
Opposite that little cafe was a coffee roasters called Grey Seal. They had a little cart outside and the coffee was amazing. So good in fact we returned to pick up a bag of their beans to recreate the joy upon our return home.
To see the Banksy we walked the path down to the east side of the beach. Cromer is a very stony beach but thankfully the walkway spans most of it with beach huts lining the picturesque cliffs above. The artwork was cool to see, though much smaller than I had anticipated and a very British line for photographs. I love it!
We wandered back to arguably Roma’s favourite part. The Pier.
Why the Pier you ask?
Well last time we were here with her little 5 year old self, she became obsessed with people crabbing off the edge. This time she took much pride in showing Eddy the many, many people who were partaking on this particular day and was equally as taken with it two years on.
She looked in every single persons buckets we passed along the way chatting to them, age being no barrier to her. We even learnt a lot of crabbing facts. Like what they prefer to eat (cockles), what best side of the pier to crab (west) and even how to tell if the caught crab wriggling in the bucket was a male or female (underneath they have a triangle, the male is wide, the female is narrow and smaller). We’re basically (very novice) experts now.
Roma also asked to look in every boat on the journey down to the west beach. Whilst Eva took a quieter approach to the beach with a book. Each to their own as they say.
Making our way to the west side of the beach via more coffee and ice cream served through the cutest shop window. It was the best ice cream, with an array of vegan options and £9 for 5. We stationed ourselves down this end with less people and closer to our parked car until real life pulled us back home.
On this side beach there are openings of much less stony areas and the tide was in enough for us to paddle. We didn’t bring beach stuff this time like swimsuits and towels because the water wasn’t in the plan.
But then my sister and I took a non competitive* sisterly walk into the sea and happened to get completely and utterly soaked.
*and by that I mean she said she could go further than me and we ended up half the way to Amsterdam before we could agree on a draw and the whole bottom half was rendered to the boot whilst I travelled the three hours back in my pants! Totally worth the memories though!
With Cromer’s very typical British Seaside town vibe it would never be my first choice (give me a deserted beach in the middle of nowhere any day of the week) we had a really lovely time to finish our trip.
And there endeth the very short but very sweet trip to Norfolk and our emergency holiday for 2021. It was perfect for what it was. Though I do hope the future brings a lot more sunshine, a lot more sandy beaches and maybe a cocktail or two thrown in for good measure.
Beautiful Norfolk thank you for coming to the rescue. You’ll always have a special place in our hearts. And we will no doubt, be back again.
As lovely as it is to see beautiful picturesque pictures of the beach, it’s also nice to not have an expectation vs reality and lovely to see real life day to day of the summer holidays in the uk where beaches have people loving life together.