Why I love Norfolk: Henry Layte

Henry Layte

Henry Layte - Credit: Andi Sapey


My wedding. In my dad and his partner's idyllic garden on the banks of the Bure outside Aylsham, 250 friends gathered on a perfect summer day. Aside from missing those people who could not be there including my mum who'd died eight years before, it was a perfect day for a massive party with Norfolk looking its best.

Norfolk's coast always gets all the attention but I am going to give a shout out for its rivers. I grew up on the banks of the Wensum in Swanton Morley and the millpond was an extension of our garden. There are two tiny little river beaches - one each side of the bridge - where I spent many years of my childhood in the muddy water with my brother and cousins. It's still as lovely now.

The mausoleum at Blicking. I've been going for walks around the lake and grounds there since I was a toddler. The mysterious dark shape of the pyramid in the middle of the English countryside has always been a wonderful and mysterious sight.

Having lived away from Norfolk for many years I've always met people who say how they love the place. But they only know a tiny bit of it and the city has always had a bad reputation for being parochial and behind the times. People are at last beginning to realise that it's one of the great cities in the UK, and we meet thousands of tourists in the Book Hive every year who can't believe the gem they've found.

Place to eat
The Rocket House cafe in Cromer. This has been a mainstay in our lives since our two kids were born as we spend so much time on Cromer beach where we have a hut. Not only a lovely space with great sea views but brilliant food and always a feeling of being on holiday, whatever time of the day or year. Excellent for parties too!

This is sad for me. I love pubs. A lot. But when I think of the really great Norfolk pubs it's always in the past, because I think they've become shadows of what they used to be with huge restaurants in order to stay in business. I don't go to this place anymore as I don't live in Norwich but The Alexandra Tavern remains my favourite proper pub, where I spent a huge amount of time (and money) when I first moved back to the county.

Attraction/day out
Happisburgh Lighthouse. My wife grew up in the village and I'd never been there before we met. I think that stretch of coast is amazing - steeped in a shifting sense of history as it erodes and changes shape. It's also one of the best beaches and best Norfolk skies you'll see and walking the coast path there under the sound of the skylarks is always both fascinating and rejuvenating. The lighthouse represents all that.

Event that happens every year
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival. I have always worked in the arts with theatre and music being my great loves. When I first moved back here I couldn't believe this world class festival with such an astounding array of great things was happening in the place I'd chosen to leave! Seeing the programme revealed each year is still something I look forward to with great excitement - even if I never get to see as much as I want to.

This may be a bit of a cheat but essentially it's a number of independent shops so Norwich Market gets my vote. The quality of food available now is a real jewel in Norwich's crown, but at the same time it hasn't lost its sense of identity as a proper working market for all, with a wide range of stalls. A great example of improvement on what was there whilst avoiding the hideous curse of 'gentrification.'

My parents' interest in food bordered on obsessional when I was growing up, which I have inherited. Both were superb cooks, who had a kitchen garden of immense production. But Norfolk was also our larder, and the start of the samphire season each year was a moment of celebration as we headed out across Stiffkey marshes to gather one of nature's greatest gifts to the kitchen. Seeing it on expensive London menus always gives me a smug kick.

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