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10 ways to enjoy Norfolk this Spring

08:00 25 March 2016

It must be Easter. Bunny's and Bluebells photo at Lynford Arboretum near Thetford.

It must be Easter. Bunny's and Bluebells photo at Lynford Arboretum near Thetford.

The mercury is climbing, the trees are beginning to blossom, there are tantalising signs of the season to follow in the woodlands, meadows and hedgerows and there’s a real feeling of optimism in the air. Spring is a wonderful season to enjoy our amazing county. Stacia Briggs finds out how to make the most of this blossoming season.

Spring is the season of renewal, the time of year when nature bursts back into life in a sensory explosion that can’t fail to lift the spirits.

After the dark months of short days, long nights and chilly temperatures, the world around us begins to warm up and nature responds in kind, rewarding those that venture outdoor with stunning displays of wild flowers, spectacular birdsong and the awakening of animals from their winter slumber.

And in addition to the spectacular entertainment offered during spring by our wide selection of natural wonders, there’s also plenty of entertainment on offer, from Easter Egg hunts to a huge programme of events courtesy of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival which begins in May.

1. Greet some old friends – as the temperature rises, so do Britain’s hibernating animals who emerge from their winter sleep to welcome the sun. Look out for hedgehogs, bats and – if you’re lucky – dormice and you’ll also be more likely to spot squirrels. And it’s not just mammals making their first day trip of the year, bumblebees and butterflies such as peacocks, orange-tips, speckled woods and brimstones have taken to the air to give us a flavour of summertime. And on the floral front, the blossom on trees is heralding spring, be it on fruiting trees, blackthorn or hawthorn – just as butterflies and bees promise the warmth of summer, the blossom brings hope of future harvests.

2. A kaleidoscope of cultural delights will entertain audiences during the Norfolk and Norwich Festival from May 13 to 29.

This year’s line-up includes everything from circus cabaret White Nights in the Adnams Spiegeltent to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performing with the Festival Chorus at St Andrew’s Hall to The James Plays trilogy being performed at Norwich Theatre Royal. More events to be announced soon.

Visit www.nnfestival.org.uk.

3. Have a cracking time with the children as you hunt Easter eggs at a range of events across the county. The Norwich Business Improvement District is holding an Easter Egg Hunt until April 1 which will see a trail of eggs hidden in locations around the city centre displayed on posters, inside businesses or in windows – find 10 and you can claim a free chocolate egg while stocks last from the Form (www.norwichbid.co.uk). The National Trust has teamed up with Cadbury once again to hold Cadbury Easter Egg Trails at its historic locations (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) while at Holkham Hall there are four packed days of egg-citing activities on offer from Good Friday to Easter Monday and the chance to meet the hall’s Easter rabbit and be offered a chocolate egg (www.holkham.co.uk). Look in tomorrow’s EDP Event for details of dozens of events around the county.

4. The asparagus season begins in May – sometimes earlier – and offers lucky diners their first true taste of summer. Norfolk is famous for its top quality asparagus which is shipped out to some of the country’s best markets such as Covent Garden and Spitalfields in addition to being available in the county. Our soil is perfect for this most luxurious of vegetables, which prefers light, free-running soil, and nothing beats the flavour of fresh-cut asparagus. The first official day of the asparagus season is St George’s Day on April 23 which is when the first green spears start to spring from a lacy network of roots at the beginning of a season which lasts for up to eight weeks. The end of the season is traditionally marked by the longest day of the year, June 21. Best served steamed with melting butter, asparagus is also a delicious alternative to toast soldiers with a boiled chicken or duck egg and is a welcome addition to an early barbecue, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

5. It’s a sign that amorous amphibians have sprung into life for spring – frog and toad spawn are as much a part of the landscape of the season as bluebells and wild garlic. Frog spawn can usually be spotted in ponds and slow-moving streams from March but can be earlier or later depending on the weather – look for a thick mass of clear jelly with black dots in the centre which have been laid in trademark clumps. Toad spawn is laid in long chains. If you have a chance to monitor the spawn, watch for the telltale jostle of the black dots which heralds the transformation of the spawn into the tadpoles which will in turn become froglets and toadlets. Another reason to be watchful is to help toads and frogs who are crossing busy roads to spawn, tempted out of hibernation by warmer weather. Look out at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Thompson Common reserve, Felbrigg Hall, and Mousehold Heath in Norwich.

6. Norfolk boasts some of the darkest skies in the UK making it the ideal place for star-gazing. This spring, look out for the Lyrids – the oldest known meteor shower – from April 22 to 23: even though there is a full moon which will block out all but the brightest meteors, there is the possibility of seeing the bright dust trails which enchanted night sky-watchers in the 1860s. From May 6 to 7, the Eta Aquarids will pay a fleeting visit – one of two meteor showers created by debris from Comet Halley, they offer a dazzling light show and keen spotters can see up to 30 meteors an hour. The new moon will ensure dark skies for what could be an excellent show, although you’ll need to set your alarm clock: the best time to view is just before dawn.

7. Spring is a time for mad March hares and frolicking lambs, and Norfolk is a great place to spot both. Although the number of hares in the UK has declined, brown hares are fairly common across the county and can be spotted in wheat and barley fields and on coastal marshes and heathlands. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a female boxing to drive away over-keen males or a gathering of dozens of hares in the late afternoon or evening. A far more guaranteed sighting is that of new lambs. There are plenty of places to go and coo over beautiful woolly babies, incouding Snettisham Park and Wroxham Barns.

8. Every spring, the Cromer and Sheringham Crab and Lobster Festival brings the two towns together to celebrate the bounty of the North Sea and the world-famous seafood produced by both coastal resorts. Recently hailed by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the best food festivals in the UK, the seafood spectacular stars local delicacies from the deep and attracts more than 20,000 people to north Norfolk every year. This year’s festival is on May 21 and 22 and will include all manner of crustaceous celebrations, from street markets to live music, heritage and seafaring crafts to children’s activities, the chance to meet local fishermen and chefs and crab dressing masterclasses.

For more information, visit www.crabandlobsterfestival.co.uk.

9. There’s some incredible birdlife to spot in spring in Norfolk, so keep an eye to the sky. Look out for lapwings with their glorious green and purple plumage and orange feathering as they twist and turn in the sky in a display of amazing aerial aerobatics – the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserves at Cley, Holme Dunes, Hickling Broad or Upton Broad are great places to spot this spectacle. Marsh harriers are equally nimble in the air and April and May are the time to watch for male marsh harriers passing food to females in mid-air.

At the end of spring, listen out for the unusual churring of the nightjar on the county’s heathland – these amazing songsters can carry a tune for five minutes solid, producing up to 2,000 notes a minute! Elegant sea swallows arrive in April and have their young in May and June while the famous ‘screaming’ swifts announce their arrival in late April and early May, heralding the beginning of warmer weather and brighter days. Summer is coming!

10. For a few short weeks, our woodlands are transformed into a hypnotic blue wonderland as the bluebells spring into life. Spring bluebells hint at the summer’s warmth to come and burst into bloom around mid-April, their sticky nectar attracting the first of the year’s bumble bees who helpfully pollinate the flowers before the leaves on the trees fully unfurl and steal the sunshine from the blue woodland carpet.

The National Trust boasts two of the most beautiful places to spot bluebells in all their glory at both Blickling Great Wood, which boasts a five-mile waymarked estate walk, and Sheringham Park with its mature woodlands. Foxley Wood, the largest ancient woodland in Norfolk a mile north-east of Foxley village on the A1067 and maintained by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, has a stunning display of bluebells every year and Wayland Wood near Watton, believed to be the site mentioned in the Babes in the Wood legend, is a beautiful, wild wood where bluebells thrive.

You can also try and spot the purple haze at Burlingham Woods, Bacton Wood, Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden in South Walsham, Buckenham Woods and Sisland Carr near Chedgrave and Loddon.

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