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10 ways to enjoy winter in Norfolk

20:00 07 January 2016

Pink-footed geese at RSPB Snettisham Reserve. Here they are pictured flying over the jetty. Picture: Ian Burt

Pink-footed geese at RSPB Snettisham Reserve. Here they are pictured flying over the jetty. Picture: Ian Burt

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There’s plenty of reasons to feel warm in Norfolk this winter. Our countryside has a seasonal magic of its own, our seaside resorts glow pink at night as the winter sun dips and there’s no better time for a bracing walk. Stacia Briggs finds 10 wonderful ways to enjoy winter in Norfolk.

A baby seal pup in the dunes at Horsey. Picture: James BassA baby seal pup in the dunes at Horsey. Picture: James Bass

Whether it’s a long night spent warming yourself in front of the fire at one of the county’s welcoming pubs, a day wrapped up against the chill walking along miles of coastline you have all to yourself or a family session of booing, hissing and laughing at a local pantomime, winter is a wonderful time to enjoy Norfolk.

Make the most of the season with a host of winter activities that range from spotting geese on the wing, taking a walk in wintry woodland, booing and hissing at the pantomime, watching the sun rise, seeing seals and learning a new skill.

Amie Howes as Snow White in the Norwich Theatre Royal panto.Amie Howes as Snow White in the Norwich Theatre Royal panto.

1. Pink-footed geese on the wing: There are few winter spectacles that are as impressive as majestic skeins of pink-footed geese. An astonishing third of the world’s population of this beautiful species winter in Norfolk and the geese are at their peak in January and February, making their presence known in cackling flocks of tens of thousands of birds. The geese roost together at night in vast numbers on remote parts of the coast and their dawn and dusk flights between roosts and their inland feeding areas on farmland are a true sight to behold. The geese can be spotted in north-west Norfolk and in the Thurne Valley in the Broads and will return to their home in Iceland to breed by early spring. Check www.rspb.org.uk and www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk for details of organised trips to see the geese and where to see the spectacle.

2. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to panto we go: Find out who the fairest of them all is at the Theatre Royal Norwich’s spectacular Snow White pantomime which runs until January 17, giving you an opportunity to banish the winter blues with some really deep belly laughs. You can expect all the usual traditional ingredients for a fabulous family pantomime including the famous Dame, song sheets, slapstick, stunning sets and special effects, beautiful costumes, unexpected surprises and, of course, plenty of opportunities for you to boo and hiss! Book tickets at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on Norwich 630000.

Brancaster mussels are a winter delight. Picture: James BassBrancaster mussels are a winter delight. Picture: James Bass

3. Winter woodland walks: According to Dr Eeva Karjalainen and her colleagues at the Finnish Forest Research Institute, walking in the woods can reduce stress and depression, ease muscle tension, counter attention deficit disorder and even calm an erratic heart – and top of that, it’s also one of life’s great pleasures to walk in woodland at any time of year. Britain may be one of the least forested countries in Europe, but woods still cover 12 per cent of the countryside and more than half are open to the public. In Norfolk, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to woodland with two-thirds of us living within two miles of a wood. During wintertime, woods are laid bare and you can explore the architecture of trees while appreciating the birdlife that you can see as well as hear. Look out for long-tailed tits, plus finches, treecreepers, nuthatches and marsh tits.

4. Chase away the blues with grey seals: Nothing quite prepares you the incredible sight of seal pups on the beach. Head to Horsey where you can safely watch the seals (Latin name Halichoerus grypus, meaning ‘hook-nosed sea pig’) from a distance which begin to pup in late October and carry on until early February. The Friends of Horsey Seals, a volunteer seal warden group, took over from Natural England in 2012 and now monitor the seals and the area every day. They cordon off the beach during pupping season but there are excellent paths you can follow to get a great view of the seals and their adorable pups. Park at the Horsey Gap car park, pay your parking charge and follow the signs to the seals where you can walk along the dunes to a viewing point 10 minutes away. An even more impressive viewing point can be found 20 minutes from the car park. You can also spot seals on dedicated tours which take you out to Blakeney Point.

The agile nuthatch in a typical woodland pose. Picture: Steve PlumeThe agile nuthatch in a typical woodland pose. Picture: Steve Plume

5. Learn how to capture nature on film: Norfolk wildlife photographer Peter Mallett is holding an exhibition of his work at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes from January 6 to 19 – many of the pictures in A Farmer’s Wildlife are taken on his smallholding in east Norfolk which is home to several declining species including water voles, yellowhammers and turtle doves. Peter will also be running a photography for beginners workshop linked to the exhibition on January 16 from 10.30am to 1.30pm. The workshop is aimed at beginners in digital SLR photography and will cover basic camera controls and operations, understanding exposure, ISO, shutter speeds, apertures, exposure compensation and how to use these settings to improve your images. For more information, visit www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or call 01603 625540.

6. Indulge in a Norfolk delicacy: Plump Brancaster mussels can be enjoyed during months with an ‘r’ in them, so from September to April although they are at their peak in the coldest months. One of the best comfort foods when the temperature dips is a bowl of Norfolk mussels cooked in wine and with a dash of cream, served with a bowl of hot French fries. Perfection. If you’d rather forgo your own kitchen, many of the pubs and restaurants along the north Norfolk coast serve mussels fresh from Brancaster – try The Jolly Sailors or The White Horse.

7. Following tracks: Snow or frost provides a wonderful opportunity to study animal tracks. Look for the double slot tracks of deer or the prints of fox, badger or even an otter. Winter, even without snow, is the best time to find both tracks and trails as with fewer plants to obscure tracks on the ground and plenty of muddy areas and damp soft ground you will have plenty of opportunity to test your skills. Equally, amid the bare or snow-covered countryside, brown hares are easier to spot in winter. The best time is either first thing in the morning or in the early evening. In late winter, you can see females fighting off the mating urges of males, standing on their hind legs and ‘boxing’ their front paws.

8. Set your alarm for sunrise: If you’ve always wanted to greet the sun but you’re a night owl rather than a morning lark, choose one of the shorter days in the year to wake up early and contemplate the beauty of the rising sun. Our scenic coastline is a wonderful place to watch the sun rise (check the weather before you set your alarm – clouds can most definitely stop play) – try Great Yarmouth with its rolling dunes, golden sands and picturesque piers, just up the road from Lowestoft where the most easterly part of the UK greets the sun first every single day. If you fancy a bit of a drive, Ely Cathedral is a magical place to watch the sunrise – watch from one of the grassy areas to the west so you can see the sun rise in the wide open sky above the majestic cathedral.

9. Drop in to see snowdrops: They’re the first signpost to spring, the delicate white flowers that are symbolic of new life and renewal, flowering around Candlemas on February 2 which commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary 40 days after the birth of Christ. Find them at Walsingham Abbey, whose famous snowdrop walk provides an unrivalled display or visit the National Gardens Scheme website for details of local gardens which open to showcase their snowdrop collections at www.ngs.org.uk.

10. Bird roosts: Although you may have to steel yourself against winter winds and freezing temperatures, the coldest days of the year are some of the best times to watch birds roosting together. At NWT Hickling Broad nature reserve arrive at sunset to watch a dazzling spectacle close to Stubb Mill. Around 100 marsh harriers fly in at sunset to roost on the reserve and you may also be lucky enough to spot Chinese water deer, barn owls, common cranes and hen harriers. Last year, Norwich played host to a rare murmuration of starlings when up to 3,000 birds flew in formation in the city centre at dusk before roosting on an office building on St Stephen’s Street. One particularly lyrical onlooker noted: “I’ve seen a peregrine split the swirling flock in two like Moses parting the Red Sea as it grabs prey.” Also worth checking out: 10,000 rooks and crows which roost in the Yare valley at Buckenham Marshes, the largest winter corvid gathering in England.

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