10 things to do in Norfolk this autumn
10:33 06 October 2015
ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2008
The leaves are transforming our woodlands into a blaze of red, gold and orange, fungi are springing up overnight, wildlife is on the move and there are some spirited events planned to mark All Hallow’s Eve. STACIA BRIGGS finds 10 ways to make the most of Norfolk in the autumn.
Autumn is setting the leaves ablaze, pumpkins are ripening in the fields, early evening sunsets are streaking the skies with flashes of pink and turquoise, summer-visiting birds are leaving in droves and the countdown is on until sparkling nights of fireworks and bonfires.
Make the most of this vibrant season with a host of autumnal activities that range from creating a cracking conker for competition, celebrating the harvest, foraging for fungi, walking in the woods, star-gazing, watching bonfires blazing and being scared silly at special scare nights.
1. Visit one of the county’s spectacular woods or forests as they become a patchwork of colour: try Thetford Forest (www.forestry.gov.uk/thetfordforestpark), where your every step will be on a cushion of pine needles and where a riot of autumnal colour will be a feast for the eyes, Burlingham Woods near Acle, a mixture of mature woodland and more recent plantings with easy circular walks of one mile, two miles and three miles, Sheringham Park (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) where you can wander through mature woodlands designed by Humphry Repton, Foxley Wood (www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk) which is Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland, Bacton Wood outside North Walsham (www.forestry.gov.uk) which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and offers a wide variety of autumnal colour with ancient Sessile oaks amongst more than 30 different species of trees or Mousehold Heath in Norwich, one of the city’s most expansive green lungs.
2. Go bonkers for conkers: Keep your eyes peeled for the unmistakeable gleam of the nut-brown conker poking out from its green spiky shell on the ground beneath mighty horse chestnut trees. Choose a smooth, crack-free, firm conker with a symmetrical shape. Pour a quarter of a pint of vinegar into a jug and place the conker into the jug for no more than two minutes before taking it out and placing it on a firm surface. Heat your oven to 250C and bake the conker for one minute and 30 seconds. Leave on a hard surface until lukewarm and then thread a piece of string through a stout needle and pierce through the conker from the top to the bottom. Tie a knot at one end and your conker is ready for action!
3. Apple Day: At Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse on October 18 the museum just outside Dereham will celebrate its biggest day of the year: Apple Day. Celebrate the very best of autumn with apple identifying, pressing, tasting and buying. Play apple games, watch local craftspeople at work, sip a cup of cider or hot apple juice, stroll round the orchard and enjoy the farm at this special time of year (from 10am to 5pm, ticket prices from £10 for young people and £13.50 for adults, group rates apply). There’s also an apple market at Stow Bardolph (www.churchfarmsstowbardolph.co.uk) and an Apple Day at Oxburgh Hall (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oxburgh-hall), near Swaffham, both on October 11.
4. Watch the skies: As the nights start to draw in, temperatures drop and the world of birds becomes dominated by migration, it’s a great time to see warblers, redstarts, whinchats and pied flycatchers, robins, goldcrests and the arrival of starlings and winter thrushes. Large numbers of geese and ducks have returned for winter and, if we’re lucky enough to have an Indian Summer, it can be a great time to spot late passerine migrants.
5. Fungus forays: There’s something fungi going on under the mulch of leaves, a massive network of fungal mycelia is releasing its fruiting bodies to produce the spores that will become mushrooms. In the ideal environment of damp leaf-litter, fungi can appear in lightning speed. It’s a tricky business, distinguishing which fruits of the forest floor you can and can’t eat, and one that you don’t want to take a chance with: picking the wrong mushroom can be deadly. To ensure that your fungus foraging is a success, sign up for a special fungus foray - check the events section of www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or www.fenfungi.com for details of forthcoming events. One of the easiest fungi to identify is the puffball, a large, white round fungi which can often grow as large, if not larger, than a football. It’s soft and edible as long as the insides are white in colour. Crush two cloves of garlic into a paste with a little salt and mix with a glug of olive oil and then brush over slices of puffball mushroom which are 1cm thick. Push rosemary sprigs into the flesh of the puffball and season with salt and pepper before cooking on both sides on a griddle pan for three to four minutes. Serve with extra olive oil and with crusty bread.
6. Spooky fun: There are plenty of ways to celebrate Halloween in Norfolk – at either end of the scale there’s The Fairyland Trust’s gentle family celebration at Holt Hall on Friday October 30 and Saturday October 31 which will include magical workshops, a woodland trail and activities, live music, real fires, candlelit telling of The Real Halloween Story in the woods, a twilight animal lantern parade, traditional autumn games, lantern making, food stalls, the Good Elf Beer Tent, the Halloween Café, handmade crafts and a photobooth (see www.fairylandtrust.org for details) while at the other is Dinosaur Adventure’s PrimEVIL event. At PrimEVIL, the friendly atmosphere of the Dinosaur Adventure Park is transformed into a terrifying fright festival with five live horror experiences featuring actors whose main aim is to scare the living daylights out of you. This year, daring visitors can test their mettle in The Dark, The Forest of Fear, The Circus of Terrors, Zone 64 East and Mayhem Manor Hotel. Not for the fainthearted, it’s a rollercoaster ride of sheer fear for thrillseekers (see www.primevil-scare.com for details).
7. Whether you’re keen to hear the clash of antlers or would prefer a more sedate safari, now is a wonderful time to spot deer in Norfolk. On Holkham Estate tomorrow and October 14 at 11am and 2pm, join the Deer Discovery Walk to learn more about the estate’s herd (£3 adults, £1 child, book on 01328 713111, www.holkham.co.uk). There are also Deer Safaris at Holkham on Saturday October 10 and 24 at 11am and 2pm (£3 adults, £1.50 child).
8. Star-gazing: Norfolk boasts some of the UK’s darkest skies with unrivalled, crystal-clear views of the heavens, making it the perfect place for a spot of star-gazing. Make sure you wrap up warm, bring extra blankets and take a flask of hot chocolate to keep yourself toasty and head for North Norfolk’s skies to spot the Draconid meteor shower on October 8 and 9. Generally a leisurely affair, if the fiery Draconid Dragon awakes, hundreds of meteors can be spotted in a single hour and this shower is family-friendly, starting at nightfall into the early evening. Early birds may well catch a view of the Orionids which can leave persistent meteor trails in the sky and often produce bright fireballs which flame in the sky – look for them just before dawn on October 22.
9. Take it sloe-ly: One of the kings of the hedgerow, the sloe is the fruit of the blackthorn, the plump bluish-black fruit hiding in stiff, spiky branches fringed with oval-shaped green leaves. A bitter pill to swallow on their own, they are transformed into a thing of beauty when added to gin. Pop a bag full of clean sloes into your freezer and leave overnight, which will burst the skins. Sterilise a large Kilner jar with a tight seal and then add 1lb of sloes, 200g of white sugar and then fill with gin – it needn’t be expensive gin, the sloes will transform it. Store the jar in a dark place for three months, shaking every few days at first until the sugar dissolves. By Christmas, your gin will be ready, although aficionados will have several vintages on the go – every year that passes, your gin will become darker and thicker until you have a delectable liqueur. Strain the gin before drinking and use the leftover fruit (remove the pits) as a decadent addition to ice-cream, pies, Christmas puddings or as an unusual centre for a chocolate truffle.
10. Fireworks: Remember, remember the fifth of November by celebrating Bonfire Night with a bang(er). Watch the skies light up above Norfolk at a series of organised events across the county. One of the more unusual displays is at Corpusty and Saxthorpe (Saturday November 7, 5pm to 9pm) where a life-size Guy is made and pulled round the village on a cart, followed by a procession of people carrying lanterns. The display has been part of village life for more than 100 years and is firmly part of village tradition. For a full guide to fireworks displays in Norfolk, look in EDP Event on October 29.