March 3 2015 Latest news:
Thursday, April 24, 2014
From giants to fairytale thatched roundhouses, tales of a dormant volcano in Diss to the site of medieval whippings, doughnuts to world-famous scones, Norfolk offers every visitor the perfect day out. STACIA BRIGGS and her family set off on a Grand Tour of the county to discover some old favourites and hidden treasures.
It’s a Grand Tour on a small scale, a whistle-stop tour of some of Norfolk’s most beautiful corners, a snapshot of as many of the county’s wonderful attractions as it’s possible to visit in just one day.
Historically undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means between 1660 and 1840, Grand Tours lasted for months and were an educational rite of passage and an odyssey to discover the art, culture and roots of Western civilisation.
I am with my Mum and 15-year-old daughter and am hoping to discover the scones, ice-creams and beaches of Norfolk (oh, and some art and culture, too) – in about ten hours. Our itinerary is packed, ambitious and slightly insane. My daughter gets travel-sick. This might not end well.
As Norwich dwellers, we shun the city (we can be tourists there another day) and plan a route that takes in as much of the county as we can manage in a day without (a) overstretching ourselves (b) passing every beauty spot at 60mph and (c) killing each other.
For the purposes of you, the reader, we have split our tour into two sections which we call “the first bit” and “the second bit” – the second bit will appear in tomorrow’s EDP and includes the part where at least two out of three of us start asking “are we nearly home yet?” and complaining that they need something else to eat/to visit the bathroom/to stop and buy rat poison (don’t ask).
South Norfolk will be covered by a lone traveller (me) on the basis that no one is willing to rise at 6.30am during the Easter holidays in order to enjoy an early morning gaze at Diss Mere which, according to whimsical folklore, is the crater of an extinct volcano, is bottomless and purges itself once a year. It’s actually 20ft deep at its deepest although there’s then a 51-foot layer of mud, but let’s not let fact stand in the way of a good story.
As you approach the town, Diss appears – they love this joke in Diss – and it’s a fine place to explore with its wonderful examples of gothic architecture, acres of parkland, museum, gateway to Boudica’s Way and selection of shops on the high street. At 7.15am it’s not exactly bustling, but then again, nor am I.
Heading away from the dormant volcano, I head to Wymondham – regretfully passing both Banham Zoo and Bressingham Steam Experience and Gardens, both of which I love for very different reasons (meerkats/small trains) - for a glimpse of the Abbey and a closer look at the Market Cross.
Wymondham was founded in Anglo-Saxon times, probably by a leader with the fantastic name of ‘Wigmund’, and the cross is likely to have been in the same location since at least 1204, when King John granted the town its first Friday market charter.
The cross was destroyed by fire in 1615 and replaced with the building we see today, with its circular design on wooden, stilt-like posts accessed by stairs to the upper room, in 1618. It was restored in both 1863 and the 1980s and has been the scene of several hangings, whippings, Royal proclamations, marriage banns and corpse-laying outs. On that delicious note: breakfast and the picking up of the lazier members of the family in Norwich.
Our first joint outing is to Wroxham Barns, owned by Ian Russell. Home to the world’s only dedicated scone competition, Wroxham Barns also boasts a fairground, a shopping centre, a junior farm, a restaurant and the chance to discover your creative side at the Made By You art studio (even on a strict time schedule, we whipped up a ‘decopatch’ moon and sun. Speed decopatching may well become the newest Olympic discipline).
We traverse the Junior Farm at great speed, pursued by a giant ram who sniffs ‘large animal feed’ on our persons, pet rabbits and guinea pigs, ooh and aah at newborn lambs, attempt conversation with a crowing cockerel and see pigs, goats and donkeys.
Figuring that we’ve already blown at least part of the schedule, we have lunch – locally-sourced ingredients aplenty, posh cheese on toast for me, a baked potato for Ruby and Caesar salad for my Mum. And perhaps a raspberry ripple cheesecake between the three of us. Ahem.
There’s no time to visit the circus or the shops, and despite protestations from seniors about not having time to visit the Junior Farm again, we head out towards the coast and Great Yarmouth
Yarmouth houses my favourite building in Norfolk – the Hippodrome Circus (if you didn’t go to its Easter Circus, you missed out – this is my number one suggestion to anyone who asks me what they MUST do in Norfolk) – the brilliant Time and Tide, Elizabethan House and Tolhouse Museums, the incredible snails in Joyland (a Norfolk rite of passage), the wooden rollercoaster, the waterways, the piers… I could go on. Did I mention the doughnuts, ice-cream, chips and candyfloss?
Although I believe it technically illegal to visit Yarmouth without eating chips, we make do with ice-cream. Don’t tell the tourism police.
Heading along the coast, we call in at St Mary’s church at West Somerton to pay a visit to the Norfolk Giant, Robert Hales who was born in the village in 1820 and rose to the towering height of seven feet eight inches. His size granted him a job in the circus and an audience with Queen Victoria but also cut short his life in 1863. His final resting place is in a distinctly un-gigantic tomb chest – I dread to think how he fitted inside. St Mary’s is also worth a look – there are stunning medieval wall paintings that are visible, including remains of a Last Judgement scene where you can spot angels playing trumpets.
Almost across the road are the dramatic ruins of the former St Mary’s Church, which used to serve East Somerton, literally one of Norfolk’s hidden gems.
Search through the woods and you will find the remains of a vast church, complete with an oak tree growing in the centre of the nave.
Quite incredible: if you find it, you’ll never forget it.
Next, a slice of South Africa on the edge of Norfolk – the pastel-coloured, thatched roundhouses that dot the cliffs at Winterton and were inspired by a trip to Cape Town where the owners were enchanted by similar huts in a slightly warmer climate. I once fell over and sliced open my knee trying to take a picture of these huts, but I won’t hold that against them. With no time (or room in our stomachs) for a trip to the excellent Winterton café, we head in the direction of the picture-postcard-perfect striped lighthouse at Happisburgh and past the church tower we climbed last year for a view over the coast and head towards Cromer and Sheringham.
After tea and flapjacks at the wonderful Funky Mackerel Café in Sheringham on Cliff Road (about 10 steps from the car park) we drive along the A149 coast road – probably my favourite drive in the county – past the muted colours of the saltmarshes, the shingle banks, the glistening mud flats and sand dunes, through Salthouse and to Cley where, after a judicious stop for delicatessen treats at Picnic Fayre, we cut through to Holt.
To be continued. Spoiler: there will be no more giants, the rat poison will be bought and there may well be more cake.
Tomorrow: Baconsthorpe, Holt, Glandford, Walsingham, King’s Lynn (almost), Castle Acre, Downham Market, Swaffham, North Elmham, Reepham, home.