25 of the weirdest and most wonderful things to see and do in Norfolk
- Credit: Steve Adams
From a pyramid to a lunar landscape, the northern lights to the Norfolk giant and a secret underground street to Father Valentine, here are some of the quirkiest things to see and do in our Fine County.
Even Norfolk natives may not know about some of the hidden treasures on our list of quirky and unusual things to see and do in the county. Some may be seasonal, some may involve waiting until current restrictions have ended until you can visit but all offer something a little bit different, from the greatest showmen to racing snails, piers to pyramids and rollercoasters to shipwrecks, how many of these Norfolk wonders do you know about?
1) Follow in the footsteps of a rebel for a fantastic view
One of Norwich’s best-kept secrets, Kett’s Heights offers majestic views of Norwich, the ruins of a medieval chapel, 19th century garden terraces and is where Robert Kett and his 10,000 followers gathered before they besieged the city in 1549. Now maintained by the Friends of Kett’s Heights, the entrance to the climb to the top of the hill is about halfway up Kett’s Hill on the B1140 out of Norwich and is accessed through well-signed metal gates.
2) See a pyramid in Norfolk
The extraordinary pyramid mausoleum is in the Great Wood on the Blickling Hall estate and was built in the 1790s and designed by architect Joseph Bonomi, Lord of the Bedchamber to both George II and George III. John Hobart and his two wives lie within the walls. Built of 200,000 bricks faced with limestone, the pyramid is so porous that it turns black in the rain. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
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3) Scream if you want to go faster
It’s one of Norfolk’s most curious listed buildings: the wooden scenic rollercoaster of 1928, designed by Erich Heidrich which opened in Great Yarmouth in 1932. One of only two of its kind in the UK and one of eight in the world, the coaster is one of only two where a brakeman is required to ride with the train to control its speed. The rollercoaster, which was originally built for the Colonial Exhibition in Paris, is at the Great Yarmouth Pleasurebeach which itself opened in 1909. www.pleasure-beach.co.uk
4) Spot the aurora borealis
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North Norfolk boasts some of the darkest skies in the UK and is, therefore, a mecca for stargazers. It’s also one of the only places in the country where you have a chance of spotting the Northern Lights, the natural phenomenon caused by collisions between electically-charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. To see the lights, check weather forecasts and head to coastal vantage points such as Cromer, Sheringham, Blakeney Point and Wells. Download the AuroraWatch UK app so you can find out the best times to spot the colours in the sky.
5) Walk in the footsteps of prehistoric humans
Visit Happisburgh beach and you may find yourself walking in the footprints of our ancestors from 950,000 years ago. The oldest human footprints found outside Africa were found on a storm-lashed beach and showed that a long-extinct early human species made this corner of Norfolk their home. They would have walked along an estuary of what is now the Thames, through a river valley grazed by mammoths, hippos and rhinoceros.
6) Visit a shipwreck – on dry land
Wedged into the sand at St Edmund’s Point in Old Hunstanton are the remains of the Steam Trawler Sheraton, a brave little boat that played a role in both World Wars. Launched in 1907, the trawler was used to in anti-submarine trawls from 1914 to 1918 and in World War Two it was used by the Royal Navy and armed with a six-pounder gun. It settled on the beach in 1947 after high winds and a large section of its hull can still be seen today at low tide.
7) Take your seat at one of the seven wonders of the British seaside
The Historic Hippodrome is Britain’s only surviving total circus building, built in 1903 by the legendary circus showman George Gilbert. Throughout the century the circus has played host to an incredible variety of entertainment, from amazing water spectacles and stage shows to Lloyd George’s political rallies, Lillie Langtry’s concerts, Little Tich’s clowning, Max Miller’s comedy Houdini escapology. The Jay family took over in 1981 and bring magic to Great Yarmouth throughout the year with astonishing circus shows. Find out more at www.hippodromecircus.co.uk
8) Take a walk along a secret underground street in Norwich
Underneath our feet in Norwich is a whole subterranean world of tunnels and crypts – but underneath the Missing Kind’s headquarters and KindaKafe in Norwich is an underground street complete with abandoned houses and shops. Step carefully down two flights of stairs to explore the layers of architecture that date from the 15th century.www.kindakafe.org
9) Visit a sunken pleasure garden
The gothic splendour of Norwich’s Plantation Garden was, like Sleeping Beauty’s palace, protected from decay by dense brambles. Now brought back to life by The Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, the garden is hidden between two Victorian villas on Earlham Road close to the Roman Catholic Cathedral. It boasts a Gothic fountain, flower beds, a Parterre in a lawn, an Italian terrace, medieval-style wall, a summerhouse, woodland walkways and a rustic bridge. Open from 9am to 6pm or dusk, entrance is just £2. www.plantationgarden.co.uk
10) Take a ride on the World's Smallest Public Railway
All aboard the longest 10 ¼” narrow gauge steam railways in the world! Travel from the holy village of Walsingham to the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea in style. Climb aboard, sit back and enjoy a half-hour trip through beautiful countryside whilst you take in the evocative sights, sounds and smells of steam travel. An unforgettable trip back in time clanks over and under bridges, chuffs past a hill-fort and through a real ghost platform. www.wwlr.co.uk
11) Meet Norfolk’s Mammoth
Found in 1990 in the cliffs at West Runton, the Steppe Mammoth is the oldest mammoth to have been discovered in the UK. You can piece together the mammoth for yourself by visiting his remains at Cromer Museum, Norwich Castle Museum and Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse (the latter boasts the huge skull of the 4m beast and its amazing tusks!).
12) Visit the only independent working lighthouse
The oldest working light in East Anglia and the only independently-run lighthouse in Britain is an Instagrammer’s delight with its red and white stripes. Maintained and operated entirely by voluntary contributions, the lighthouse hopes to reopen in spring for open days and private visits but at present you can walk up to the boundary wall.
13) Pretend you’re in Provence
Norfolk Lavender boasts 100 acres of lavender fields that transport you straight to the south of France in the summertime. Based at Heacham, Norfolk Lavender was established in 1932 by Linn Chilvers and maintained a centuries-old tradition of commercial lavender growing in England. www.norfolk-lavender.co.uk
14) Cheer on the snails
Back in 2021, the World Snail Racing Championships at Congham see the world’s fastest snails take on a 13 inch course against the clock. Reigning champion Sammy is owned by Maria Welby who said, after Sammy’s win: “I am ecstatic. I went out this morning an ordinary woman and now I’m the owner of a world champion.” When it comes to the race, just watch that escargot (geddit?). www.snailracing.net
15) Enjoy an African view from Norfolk sand dunes
The Hermanus Huts in Winterton are small pastel-coloured thatched roundhouses which were built after the park owner returned from South Africa’s Hermanus Bay and decided to dedicate a corner of Norfolk to the views he’d enjoyed. They look beautiful from the dunes. www.hermanusholidays.com#
16) Take a look at part of Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet
The Bishop of Norwich’s historic private gardens next-door to Norwich Cathedral are full of delights such as herbaceous borders, a woodland walk, a wild grass labyrinth, tree ferns, a boxed herb garden, bees and a hebe planted from a sprig taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet in 1840. The Gardens open in spring and summer for visits. www.dioceseofnorwich.org
17) Catch a sunset over the sea in Hunstanton
Most of Norfolk’s beaches face north and east, offering spectacular sun rises, but few face west for sunsets. Famous for its stripy cliffs and Victorian glamour, Hunstanton is a wonderful place to watch the sun melt into the sea.
18) Go Seal Spotting at the larges seal colony in England
Blakeney Point is home to a large colony of around 500 seals and there are regular boat trips out to see these playful marine mammals. They are best observed from the water and many will come down from their basking to swim and play around the boat – the organised tours cause no disturbance to the colony. Ferries leave from Morston Quay and last for around an hour and a half www.beansboattrips.co.uk
19) Go underground to see where Neolithic miners worked by candlelight
It looks like an eerie alien landscape, craters fill a woodland clearing and make it look distinctly other-worldly, but this is actually a Neolithic flint mine and each of the craters is a collapsed mine shaft. Known as Grime’s Graves, as many as 433 mine shafts have been found and some are still intact – and you can venture nine metres down into the ground to see where Neolithic miners worked by candlelight and used deer antlers to extract rock. www.english-heritage.org.uk
20) Visit the oldest and the smallest nature reserves in the country
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.
21) Be 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.
22) Spot 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.
23) Enjoy the only show of its kind in the world!
Cromer Pier stretches more than 150m into the North Sea and its early 20th century Pavilion Theatre is home to the only end-of-the-pier show in Europe. Expect all the glitz and glamour worthy of the only full season end of pier show in the world, the finest production values, rib-tickling comedy, show-stopping vocals, mind-blowing specialty acts and an eclectic blend of dance! Show plans for 2021 will be released soon and there’s a Christmas show from December 4. www.cromerpier.co.uk
24) Walk over the sea to Norfolk’s most beautiful island
You can catch the seasonal ferry from Brancaster to this offshore barrier island close to Wells-next-the-Sea which is managed by Natural England, but equally you can walk there at low tide: just be careful! The wreck of the SS Vina, an 1894 steamer, an be seen at low tide.
25) Pay your respects to the Norfolk Giant
West Somerton's Robert Hales, who reached the height of 7ft 8in, joined Greatest Showman PT Barnum in his cabinet of human curiosities and married a Giantess. Born in West Somerton, in his remarkable life he met Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, lived with Barnum at his country villa and appeared in a ‘living museum’ alongside General Tom Thumb (whose daughter Minnie Stratton is buried at Earlham Cemetery in Norwich), conjoined twins Chang and Eng, Annie Jones The Bearded Lady, Prince Randian the Human Caterpillar and Isaac Sprague The Living Skeleton. He died, aged just 43, in Great Yarmouth in 1863 and was buried in West Somerton's St Mary's in a tomb far less than 7ft 6 long - and there lies another mystery, just how did he fit within it?