Sitting in an ejector seat, exploding glass and coming face to face with a giant polar bear are probably not usually associated with a holiday in Norfolk but our recent break to the majestic Broads was a great success for all the family – even the teenager enjoyed it.
Once in Norfolk it’s pretty easy getting around. The A149 takes you from King’s Lynn in the west along the coast to Great Yarmouth in the east of the county. Take in the changing landscape and wildlife on the miles that make up the Norfolk Coastal Path discovering unspoilt sandy beaches, pretty harbours and rugged salt marshes and dunes. Fishing and seal trips can be booked at Blakeney, pick up kippers and crab from Cley Smokehouse or watch the boats at Wells-next-the-Sea.
Reminders of the devastation caused by the storm surge in December 2013 scatter the coastline. Signs mark the highest point of the flood at Blakeney where waters rose over eight feet above its picturesque quayside. Forty miles south in Hemsby, five homes crashed onto the beach below as the cliff edges crumbled away and debris still litters the shores. The classic seaside resort of Cromer also suffered that winter, but the Victorian pier recovered. With families crabbing off the end of the pier, and a lively entertainment programme it has won the coveted Pier of the Year Award 2015.
Norfolk’s only city, Norwich, does its county proud, being a vibrant combination of history and modern sophistication. Two cathedrals and the castle are the main landmarks – the castle, built by the Normans as a Royal Palace 900 years ago is now home to the Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Explore the dungeons and battlements and have a whistle-stop tour through the ages from Anglo Saxon to Egyptians, but look out for the giant polar bear and his friends in the Natural History section.
Shopping in Norwich is also full of variety. Family-run department store Jarrold’s, has been a part of Norfolk life for over 200 years, just as long as Colman’s have been producing their famous mustard. Their shop and museum is in the gorgeous art nouveau Royal Arcade and is packed with all things mustard. The city has a fine selection of welcoming restaurants and pubs and this year sees the City of Ale festival return for its fifth year. The 10-day celebration which will run from 21-31st May and visitors can expect to take part in ale trails, pub quizzes, live music and events, whilst tasting a variety of speciality beers along the way.
With over 125 miles of waterways, spanning seven rivers and 63 broads, boating holidays are undoubtedly one of Norfolk’s biggest tourist attractions. Herbert Woods have been operating since 1926 and now have fleet of over 130 cruisers and waterside properties around the Broads Haven Marina in Potter Heigham. Our choice of a well-equipped apartment included a day’s boat hire, which saw us expertly navigate the River Thurne. Waking up to the sound of birdsong, we soon began to see the attraction of life on the Broads and even with little or no experience the larger cruisers are easy to handle after a little tuition from the patient experts at Herbert Woods. There are plenty of destinations to choose from, all with short-term moorings allowing you to stop for for a pub lunch, afternoon tea or to pick up provisions.
Nestled in the heart of the Broads is the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum where we enjoyed a fascinating tour. Following RAF cuts the museum was bought out and is now run by a very friendly and knowledgeable bunch of volunteers, many of whom worked at the base. The guides take you through the history of Radar and Air Defence Systems from 1935 to the present day, the centre-piece being the Cold War Operations Room left exactly as it was in 1954 when the main Operation Centre was relocated in an underground bunker. All twenty rooms are visitor-friendly, which is a great way to engage the kids – their highlight was sitting in an actual ejector seat and in the cockpit of a jet fighter.
For a different, creative day out we visited Langham Glass in Fakenham. We watched the live glassmaking demonstrations, marvelling how the craftsmen turned the molten crystal into beautiful glasses, vases and tiny ornaments. Hands-on experiences are available, from tea-light holders to children’s hand casts. Our youngest blew a large glass ball before the expert glassmaker smashed it with a loud bang. Don’t worry, all the glass is recycled and re-used. With a weekly gas bill of £800 it needs to be!
This was our fourth trip to Norfolk and we are already looking forward to our next visit. Officially one of the sunniest and driest counties in the UK, there is so much more left to discover. Whatever the time of year, or weather, Norfolk is a very special and surprising place.
• The Day family stayed in the Wagtail apartment at Herbert Woods, Potter Heigham, NR29 5JF. 0800 144 4472, www.herbertwoods.co.uk
RAF Radar Museum, Horning NR12 8YB. 01692 631485, www.radarmuseum.co.uk
Norwich City of Ale. www.cityofale.org.uk
Langham Glass, Fakenham NR21 8ET. 01328 863500, www.langhamglass.co.uk