Best British beaches: North Norfolk
Vast expanses of soft sand make the North Norfolk coast special, says Jane Butler.
Traditional flint-built cottages, quiet inland villages, lively quayside ports, dense pinewoods and open salt marsh that flushes purple with sea-lavender in August all contribute to North Norfolk's great appeal. But what makes the area really special are the vast expanses of soft, yellow sand that fringe this stretch of Heritage Coast. From Holme-next-the-Sea to Weybourne, you will find plenty of room for beach cricket, kite-flying or an undisturbed family picnic in the dunes – even on the sunniest days in July and August.
Shallow seas and sand pools are ideal for safe paddling, but strong currents can make swimming hazardous. At low water, the channel at the family-friendly beach at Wells-next-the-Sea is a great place for a dip. Once away from the car park entrance, the huge beach at Holkham or the dunes at Brancaster are the best places to escape the crowds. Alternatively, catch the small passenger ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe to find soft sand and dunes at remote Scolt Head. Travelling east from Blakeney, beaches become pebbly, but Cley's shingle stretch is also popular with swimmers – and another good place to find peace and quiet.
Where to stay
Good choices along the coast include Titchwell Manor near Brancaster (01485 210221; www.titchwellmanor.com) This Victorian house has been extended to provide 27 rooms (including three for families), with rates from £55 per person with breakfast. Rooms 2, 3 and 4 have views over the marshes, while new contemporary-style rooms at the back overlook meadows or the hotel's herb garden. Expect to pay about £35 for an à-la-carte evening meal.
The Victoria (01328 711008; www.victoriaatholkham.co.uk) is well located – sandwiched between the beach and wooded estate at Holkham – but more expensive, with rooms starting at £85 per person in peak season.
Cley's 18th-century windmill (01263 740209; www.cleymill.co.uk) is a long-established and charming guesthouse with superb views from the upper rooms (from £67.50 per person).
For a large selection of cottages, contact Norfolk Country Cottages (01603 871872; www.norfolkcottages.co.uk)
Where to eat
The Yurt Restaurant, at Drove Orchards near Thornham (07765 333232; www.theyurt.co.uk), is due to open in mid-June in a large Mongolian-style, circular tent, with central woodburner. Main courses, using local produce, will cost from about £10. The top gastropub is The Crown in Wells-next-the-Sea (01328 710209; www.thecrownhotelwells.co.uk), run by a local chef, Chris Coubrough – who has recently taken over The King's Head in Leatheringsett (01263 712691; www.letheringsettkingshead.co.uk) The best lunch spots are the Deepdale Café in Burnham Deepdale (01485 211055; www.deepdale-cafe.co.uk) and Wiveton Farm Café (01263 740525; www.wivetonhall.co.uk) The latter wins on location – set among shady pines in the peaceful, marsh-side grounds of Wiveton Hall. Main courses, using local produce, start at about £8, and the café opens on weekend evenings until 8pm for tapas and barbecues through the summer. Morston Hall in Morston (01263 741041; www.morstonhall.com) is the only restaurant along this coast to have a Michelin star.
What to do and see
The top excursion on a fine day is a boat trip to see the colony of common and grey seals that reliably basks by the water's edge on the tip of Blakeney Point, an area managed by the National Trust. Ferries depart regularly from Morston Quay and land passengers on The Point for up to an hour. Book with Beans Boat Trips (01263 740505; www.beansboattrips.co.uk), adults £8, children £4. The best free family activity is "gillying" – catching crabs on lines off bridges at Morston or off the quay at Wells-next-the-Sea (local shops sell lines; use raw bacon for bait). Natural Surroundings (01263 711091) near Holt, is a little-known gem that offers pond-dipping-style activities to younger children – a good alternative to the beach. If it's wet, stately homes in the area include Holkham Hall (www.holkham.co.uk) and two National Trust properties, Felbrigg and Blickling Hall (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
The biennial Country Fair on July 18 and 19 in the grounds of Holkham Hall (see above), where there are outdoor operatic and theatrical performances through the summer. The Wells Carnival is August 1-9 (www.wellscarnival.co.uk) There is also Blakeney's Aqua-sport day in mid-August and the Stiffkey Fete, on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The Telegraph - Journalist: Jane Butler