Salt marshes and sandy beaches, enchanted woodlands and tea shops with home-made doggy biscuits – between Cley-next-the-Sea and Holkam every step makes the heart sing and the dog’s tail wag. Here are Wunderdog’s tips for a wonderful break in Norfolk
It was a bird-watching friend who first introduced me to North Norfolk, and even though she loves dogs, bird-watchers are perhaps the only people in Norfolk who don’t usually welcome pooches in the midst. Thankfully, there is enough space on the protected salt marshes, the beaches and enchanted forests for animal lovers of all kinds to co-exist peacefully.
And pro-animal it certainly is around here. Drive up the tree-lined road to Holkam beach and you might see horses with sandy hooves and riders having a picnic after a beach hack. Take a boat in Morston or Blakeney to see the huge seal colony enjoying themselves in a surprisingly noisy manner. Or have tea and cake at Natural Surroundings in Glandford, a little café tucked away in a wildlife gardening shop and garden, from where you can watch birds at the feeders outside the shop window or even on a CCTV monitor. And no birdwatcher will tell you off for having a dog here – the café welcomes dogs with open arms and water bowls, like most places here.
If us dog people celebrated honeymoons – or “gotcha”-moons perhaps for adoptaversaries – North Norfolk would be top of the destinations list, most of all perhaps for the breath-taking Holkam beach. The four miles of unspoilt sandy beach sits between a pine forest and the shallow North Sea and stretches from Wells-next-the-Sea’s colourful beach huts to the grand Holkam estate. In Wells, you can start your walk on the adorable Albatros pancake boat (carry dogs below deck), and in Holkam end your walk with a meal on the terrace of the Victoria Inn. On the way past the reception to the terrace, Wunderdog counted 12 dog bowls with water – the surest sign of a dog-friendly hotel and restaurant.
But it’s not just this famous beach: we love the tucked-away walks across the marshes in Morston and Cley-next-the-Sea with its ridiculously photogenic windmill (another hotel and restaurant). Cley feels the homeliest of this coastal stretch, which is why we stayed here. Our B&B overlooks the marshes, has a walled garden, and the paths opposite the front door take you past the windmill to Cley’s smokehouse, deli and the Artemis coffee shop with its terrace looking towards the sea.
Here are Wunderdog’s recommendations for a wonderfully lazy week in North Norfolk.
Where we stayed
Wunderdog stayed at The Studio B&B, owned by artist photographer Frances Kearney. This wonderfully eccentric house overlooks the marshes on the outskirts of Cley. Each of the four rooms is individually decorated with artworks, photography, beach finds and taxidermy. Frances has an exceptional eye for colour, so even a plaster wall with a single painting works beautifully. The B&B has two shared bathrooms and a kitchen for guests, alongside a huge sitting room with a dining table, piano and fireplace. The walled garden is incredibly peaceful.
One thing: don’t come here, if you except to be in a hotel-like accommodation. Think of it more as staying with your artist friend who has a son and a life. There is also a three-legged cat, so dogs need to be either on best behaviour or on the lead.
Where we ate
We ate a lot: lunch and tea at Wiveton Hall is always flawless and a friendly experience; the above-mentioned Natural Surroundings café has possibly the biggest slices of cake; the Art Café in Glandford specialises in fancy coffees and light lunches; Artemis in Cley offers an old-school mix of tea and scones or coffee and cake, and if you must spend £50 per person on a posh dinner, go to the Wiveton Bell. Our favourite spot for dinner is the Dun Cow in Salthouse, where you can have lobsters or burgers either on the lawn (with marshes view, of course) or in the cosy little restaurant, fully equipped with fireplace, art (photography by Frances and paintings by her father) and a well-stocked bar.
Around a half-hour drive inland is the single-street village of Heydon, a picture-postcard setting complete with outsized church, village green, red telephone box and bunting-decorated tea shop. This village tea shop has been the reason for our several visits: the lavender scones with home-made lemon custard are heaven on a plate. And if you think life couldn’t get any better, a second plate arrives with home-made cookies for the dogs.
Where we walked
The best way to work up an appetite for all the cake and scones is by walking, obviously. Alongside the above-mentioned beach stretch between Wells and Holkam, Wunderdog’s other favourite walks start from Morston quay. Walk either left alongside the top of the marshes towards the fields in Stiffkey or – for the more adventurous ramblers – walk left along the river over the wooden bridges. When you think you are stuck, keep walking – it gets better (for as long as there are boats on your right).
For a change of scenery, we strolled through Sheringham Park, one of the many National Trust sites here. The rhododendron was just coming out of bloom at our visit, and it is a shaded option full of new smells for a pooch who is so over this beach thing.
How to get there
Wunderdog strongly recommends to drive, because some villages are practically inaccessible by public transport. Alternatively, take the train to King’s Lynn and the Coasthopper bus to your chosen village. The bus service is frequent (around every half hour) and dog-friendly.
A couple of other things
Don’t be that douche who gives all dog owners a bad name: clean up after your dog. There aren’t many bins around, so either go for a short toilet walk near your home before your big outing or be prepared to carry. But don’t be ignorant.
Since a lot of sites are managed by the National Trust, it might make sense to take out a membership, which gives you free parking for example at Morston quay and at Sheringham Park.