Why we booked
Quite simply, we love it and need little excuse to go back. The major draws for us are Holkham Beach – one of our favourite places in the UK – and the charming, ever-so-slightly-honky-tonk town of Wells-next-the-sea. That said, the whole region offers the right ingredients for a summer break – big skies, wide beaches, pretty villages, steam railways, bobbing boats and traditional seaside resorts. It feels sufficiently away from it all (no motorways or even dual carriageways) but there’s plenty to do and, in August, when we go, a cheery holiday vibe. The bunting’s out, the carnival season is in full swing, and you might even get a few scorching days (I said might).
We’ve been twice with children. The first time was when Kirsty was heavily pregnant with Genevieve (Leo was 2); and the second a year later, when Genevieve was crawling about.
Where we stayed
Both times we stayed in Wells. The first time we hired a lovely little cottage through Norfolk Hideaways (3 Honeymoon Row). This is a perfect place for a family of 3 – cosy with a lovely safe garden and bang in the middle of town, crucially with a parking space – a scarce commodity in Wells and highly appreciated when carting kids’ stuff about. The second time we stayed at The Crown Hotel, a good choice if you don’t want a week. They have family rooms with a second bedroom containing bunk beds for the children; and the rooms are within baby-monitor distance of the downstairs restaurant. Recommended.
The great thing about Wells is that it has every thing you need. The high street has independent butchers, bakers, greengrocers and so on, plus there’s the excellent (if expensive) Wells Deli on the quay for your posh picnics. The quay itself has fish and chip shops (obligatory on any visit); seafood stalls selling crab (yuck, but the wife likes it) and excellent opportunities for catching your own (TIP: the butchers will sells you scraps of bacon to put on your lines for 50p). There’s a great little play park next to the quay with a pirate ship, good for some (free) fun for half an hour. Then there’s the beach. An enormous swathe of sand at low tide and incredibly picturesque, with much-photographed beach huts running along the back. The coolest thing of all for a 3 year old boy is that you can get a miniature train to it! Behind the beach there’s a surprisingly tasteful mobile home site (it’s run by the Holkham Estate) that has trampolines, mini golf and a boating lake for use by non-residents – again, more fun when the kids tire of the beach.
What were the highlights?
Sunny days on Holkham Beach: there are few places in the world I’d rather be than Holkham Beach on a warm summer’s day. Never crowded, the sand is white and powder soft and, at low-tide, is endless. There are dunes for kids to slide down; pools left by the retreating water for them to paddle in; plus shells and stones to decorate castles with. I’ve even swum with seals in the sea there. The only drawback is that you have to walk to get there. For us, it’s no bother – in fact, the stroll through the Corsican pines is delightful. But with lots of kit in tow and dunes to cross, it can become a bit of a struggle if you want to get seclusion away from the car park.
The Wells and Walsingham railway: a pint-sized train that trundles across the fields from Wells to the holy village of Walsingham makes a perfect morning excursion, especially if the weather is not saying ‘beach’. You can just stay on the train and come right back (it’s about 30 mins each way) or you can hop out and visit the shrine and one of the tea shops. There’s also a nice farm shop there if you want to pick up some things for lunch.
Cromer: worth the drive along the coast (about 40 minutes). Cromer is a Victorian seaside resort that has all the trappings – pier, amusement parks, boating lakes etc. – but retains a lot of old-school charm without the brashness of its neighbour Yarmouth. My Nan lived here for years, so perhaps that has informed by opinion, but I always like to pay a visit for fish and chips and a walk on the cliff tops when I’m back.
Carnival: in Wells, it’s the first week of August and it’s a great time to be there with loads going on. It’s more than just a procession – there’s a week’s worth of activities. I took part in the Wells Fun Run whilst I was there, cheered on by Leo. Parking is a nightmare though.
What wasn’t so good?
The weather is a risk. We’ve generally been lucky – at least a few of the days we’ve been there have been hot enough to be on the beach. When it rains, at least there are alternatives – the North Norfolk railway is a good option.
The wind: it blows off the North Sea and can chill you to the bone. Bring a fleece!
If you want hills – forget it. You can have cliffs though if you head towards Sheringham and Cromer – always good for a bracing walk but perhaps not with young kids as they are unfenced and precipitous!
If you are renting a cottage, get a supermarket delivery on the night you arrive to cover off the basics – Sainsbury’s deliver to Wells. But do make sure you shop locally too – the shops in the high street are great. We like the greengrocer – a great choice of summery fruit and veg.
We love it and try to go at least once a year. Unfortunately, this year, it’s just not working out – so one of you go in my place and make me jealous!