How to have a very Norfolk year

PUBLISHED: 11:09 03 January 2019

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Nineteen ways to make the most of 2019 – and enjoy some of the sights and experiences which make the county unique.

Grey seal pups on Horsey beach. Picture Jo Clarke, iwitness24Grey seal pups on Horsey beach. Picture Jo Clarke, iwitness24

1 See the seals. More than 2,000 almost impossibly adorable furry seal pups have already been born along the east coast of Norfolk this winter. Take a walk along the coast from the carefully managed car park at Horsey to see the seals from viewing areas until the end of January and then from November 2019.

2 Be Old Father, or Jack, Valentine. Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers. Do your bit to keep the Norfolk tradition going on February 14, by leaving small gifts on children or grandchildren’s doorsteps, ideally attached to string to be hilariously twitched away when the door is answered.

Wherries on Wroxham Broad.  

3 Get your thrills at King’s Lynn Mart. The fairground rides of the King’s Lynn Mart whirl into action every February 14. It’s the first funfair of the year for the Showmen’s Guild and a gathering which can trace its history back more than 800 years. As well as thousands of thrill seekers and a kaleidoscope of lights, sounds and candy floss, the fair is also reckoned to bring cold ‘Mart weather’.

4 Enjoy one of the oldest arts festivals in the world. The Norfolk and Norwich Festival can trace its history back 247 years and this year runs from May 10 to 26. Programmes in recent years have featured events involving sleeping in tree-houses, a bus ride around Norwich with drama at every stop, an upside-down world viewed through mirrors and sky-high outdoor acrobatics. Innovative and imaginative performances are being planned for 2019, including world-class concerts as befits a festival which has seen Holst and Vaughan Williams conducting their own music.

Lynn Lumiere at King's Lynn Minster.  Picture: Matthew Usher.Lynn Lumiere at King's Lynn Minster. Picture: Matthew Usher.

5 Try bird-watching. As one of the best places in the country for bird-watching, a new celebration of all things avian will focus on some of our star birds, and the places to see them as well as the art and books they inspire. The first Norfolk Bird and Wildlife Fair, is being put together by nature and conservation experts and is based at Pensthorpe Natural Park, Fakenham on May 18-19.

6 Britain’s largest butterfly, the swallowtail, can only be seen in the wild in the Norfolk Broads. One of the best places to glimpse the yellow and black wonder is very early on a bright morning towards the end of May, at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Hickling Broad.

The rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly, with its clear wings, green eyes and characteristic yellow triangle on its body, can also be seen at Hickling Broad, Upton Broad and Marshes, and Strumpshaw Fen from late May to mid July.

7 Show up for the largest two-day agricultural show in the country. The Royal Norfolk Showbrings a feast of food and farming, plus spectacular entertainment, to the Norfolk Showground, near Norwich, on Wednesday and Thursday June 26 and 27. See amazing animals, mega machinery, spectacular stunts and much more.

8 Visit one of the world’s three aquatic circuses. When the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth opened in 1903 it was called ‘Undoubtedly the finest palace of entertainment in Great Britain.’ It still hosts world-class circus shows and has an extraordinary extra trick of its own. As the finale of a show approaches the floor slides away, fountains soar, water gushes in, and the circus ring becomes a swimming pool. Britain’s only surviving complete circus building is still astonishing modern audiences as it transforms from circus ring to swimming pool. There are shows throughout the year, with the aptly named Summer Spectacular opening in July.

9 See the only surviving end-of-the-pier show of its kind in the world. On Cromer’s beautiful Victorian pier is a flourishing theatre, with a packed programme including a traditional variety show loved by generations of summer seaside visitors.

10 A wherry wonderful way to enjoy the Broads. The Norfolk Broads are simultaneously one of the best-known and least-known aspects of Norfolk. One way of discovering some of the secrets of the waterways is via wherry. Norfolk wherries were cargo boats, taking goods inland from sea-going ships. In Victorian times they began to be used for sailing for pleasure and holidaying on the Broads. Some were converted, some purpose-built as wherry yachts. Today just a few remain and can be hired for daytrips or holidays, or toured for free on open days at How Hill near Ludham.

11 See something miraculous. Kings and Queens once travelled for days to pray in Norfolk. Walsingham was known as the Nazareth of England and the Milky Way, seeming to arc north from London, was called the Walsingham Way. Almost 1,000 years ago a Saxon noblewoman dreamed she was being ordered to build an exact replica of the Virgin Mary’s home. The small wooden house she built was later cased in stone to become a church. A well sprang up and pilgrims included seven kings of England. But the last, Henry VIII, eventually ordered its destruction, along with other holy shrines in Norfolk including Bromholme, near Bacton, which is said to have possessed a piece of Christ’s cross, and Bawburgh, near Norwich, where miracle-working farmer St Walstan was buried more than a thousand years ago.

12 Dive into the Deep History Coast. The earliest evidence of humans outside Africa are the footprints of five people wandering along a muddy riverbank 850,000 years ago. They were uncovered at Happisburgh, close to the oldest hand axe in north west Europe. Norfolk is the only county in the country where evidence of four species of human have been found. At a time when Britain was joined to the rest of Europe by an area of low hills and river valleys which now lies beneath the North Sea, mammoths, lions, hyenas, bison and rhinos roamed Norfolk – including the immense fossilised mammoth, cut from the cliffs at West Runton. Just out to sea from our miles of beautiful beaches is the longest chalk reef in Europe and home to a huge variety of life including eight-tentacled, colour-changing, ink-squirting cuttlefish; the tallest, foot-high anemone species in UK waters, sea toads which decorated themselves with seaweed – and more species of seaweed at a single site (West Runton) than anywhere else in the country. There are also small spotted catsharks (or dogfish), mermaids (the tallest sponge in the east is the mermaid’s glove sponge) and tiny transparent skeleton shrimps.

13 Norfolk has more round-towered churches than anywhere else in the country. In fact it has more round-towered churches than everywhere else in the country, put together. There are more than 120 right across the county from Titchwell in the north west to Needham in the south east. Most date back around 1,000 years and there are particularly beautiful examples at Haddiscoe, Hales, Little Snoring – and well, all over Norfolk. The Norfolk Churches Trust bike ride and walk on September 14 this year is an ideal time to try to visit as many as possible.

14 Time travel for free during the Heritage Open Days – which this year run for 10 days from September 13 to 22. Hundreds of normally hidden historic gems will be open for free– from crypts to towers and gardens to boats. Norfolk is always a hotspot of activity for the national celebration of history which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

15 The 31 nature reserves run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust include the oldest reserve in the country (Cley Marshes) and the smallest (a single thorn tree at Hethel, near Norwich.) There are also fens and heaths, dunes and warrens, woodland and wetland and an abandoned railway line.

16 Let Lynn Lumiere light up your evening. Waves of colour and light break over the ruins of an ancient monastery and the stone tower slowly fills with shimmering water. A street away, cloaked skeletons and a sea monster scale the Minster turrets and vast bright clocks whirl through starry skies. On the quayside mariners set sail for uncharted lands and in the market square a bank is built, decorated and decays, over and over as dusk deepens. The free Lynn Lumiere sees mesmerising pictures and patterns projected on to some of the town’s most beautiful buildings, every evening from dusk.

17 Horatio Nelson is a national hero and a Norfolk hero. There’s even a national day to celebrate the victory he led, aboard HMS Victory, against the combined French and Spanish fleet, at Trafalgar. Trafalgar Day, on October 19, is an ideal opportunity to visit the Nelson Monument, aka Norfolk Naval Pillar, in South Denes, Yarmouth. It is 200 years old this year. At the top a statue of Britannia gazes across Norfolk to Burnham Thorpe where Nelson was born. Architect William Wilkins also designed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, where an even taller monument to Nelson was built 24 years later.

18 The biggest Christmas show in Europe began as a farmyard carol service in the tiny village of Thursford, near Fakenham. People travel from across Britain to catch the astounding, all-singing, all-dancing, Christmas Spectacular performances – this year from November 6 to December 23.

19 Share Christmas with the royals. Norfolk is where the royal family chooses to spend Christmas. People can line the path to the church to greet them on Christmas morning.

After a Christmas dinner of Norfolk turkey, the royals, like millions of other families, settle down for the Queen’s Speech. The very first Christmas message, by the Queen’s grandfather, George V, was broadcast from Sandringham in 1932. On Christmas Day 1957, Elizabeth II made the first televised Queen’s Speech from the library in Sandringham.

Sandringham’s gardens were first opened to the public more than a century ago, and this year the house, gardens and museum will be open from April 1 to October 20, except Good Friday and July 23-25.

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