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The Burnhams: My kind of town


The constantly changing relationship between sea, sand, dunes, marshes and land never ceases to fascinate Peter Stanford.

Why the Burnhams?

I've been going to this Norfolk outpost regularly for around 15 years; my wife since she was a child; and both of us well before it started to be labelled (unfairly) as Chelsea-by-the-Sea.

Our children don't know there is anywhere else you can go on holiday. There are six distinct villages called Burnham. My favourite is Burnham Overy Staithe, the local harbour, where the constantly changing relationship between sea, sand, dunes, marshes and land round the creek never ceases to fascinate.

What do you miss most when you are away?

The skies (because north Norfolk is relatively - but not wholly - flat), and the emptiness. Even when visitors are there in force in August, you can always find an acre or two of beach all to yourself at Scolt Head.

What’s the first thing you do when you return?

In winter, walk out along the embankments from Burnham Overy Staithe to the beach at Gun Hill. In summer, take the cockle path from the same place and wade over to the island at Scolt Head.

Where’s the best place to stay?

The views from Flagstaff House - divided into four extremely well-appointed holiday lets - right on the front at Burnham Overy Staithe cannot be beaten. It's where we always used to stay before we got our own place (01728 638637; www.flagstaff-holidays.co.uk; prices start at £345 for a three-day off-season break).

A close second is the outlook over Brancaster Staithe from the ground-floor rooms with their own terraces at the White Horse Hotel, just past Burnham Deepdale (01485 210262; www.whitehorsebrancaster.co.uk); summer b&b costs from £60 per night).

Where would you meet friends for a drink?

With children and a dog, the Lord Nelson at Burnham Thorpe is a perfect combination of snug, old-fashioned bar with log fire in winter and huge back garden, with mini-playground and an excellent barbecue every evening throughout the summer.

Where are your favourite places for lunch?

The Nelson Tea Rooms on the main street in Wells-next-the-Sea has old-style dinner-ladies charm by the ladle, down to steamed up windows and steak and kidney pud. It's a turn-up-and-be-served place. Less anachronistic is the Hoste Arms on the green at Burnham Market. The loos - with piped Elvis - are worth a visit on their own (01328 738777; www.hostearms.co.uk)

And for dinner?

Mussels are the local dish, best tried at Fishes on Burnham Market Green (01328 738588; www.fishesrestaurant.co.uk) or the Deepdale Café at Burnham Deepdale (01485 211055; www.deepdale-cafe.co.uk)

Or eat with a view, and a bit of literary history, just along the coast at Blakeney, at the waters'-edge Blakeney Hotel (01263 740797; www.blakeney-hotel.co.uk). This is where Cecil Day-Lewis stayed in the summer of 1929, engaging in a lengthy correspondence with WH Auden that laid the foundations for the poetic revolution they spearheaded in the 1930s.

Where do you send a first-time visitor

To Burnham Norton Church, one of many beautiful, largely unspoilt, medieval churches along this coast. It stands on a hill and from the graveyard you get a perfect panorama of the coastline.

What should they avoid?

Burnham Market on a Saturday. Too many four-wheel drives that have never tackled anything more taxing than Sloane Square. Go early or late to enjoy the shops and bars.

Public transport or taxi

Public transport is almost nil, but the Burnhams are all close, so take your bike, or hire one locally (there's a place at Burnham Overy Staithe), or simply walk.

Handbag or money-belt?

Only city-hardened second-homers lock their doors or cars. Your main worry is the tides, which can come in across the marsh paths quicker than an adult can run. Check the times carefully before venturing out.

What should I take home?

Wonderful shells from the beaches cost nothing.

There are lots with holes that can be made into lucky necklaces. Or local mussels in bags from Carole at Burnham Overy Staithe chandlers at about a quarter of London prices. Or a volume of local poet Kevin Crossley-Holland's collected verse from the White House Book Shop in Burnham Market.

And if you've only got time for one shop?

The landscape here attracts many photographers, but local man Harry Cory-Wright has a rare and supreme talent for capturing its shapes and mystery. His Saltwater Gallery at the Burnham Overy end of Burnham Market (01328 730382; www.saltwater.co.uk) contains everything from postcards of his work to vast canvases.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster who lives in London and north Norfolk. His book, C Day-Lewis: A Life, the first authorised biography of the poet, is published by Continuum (£25)

The Telegraph - Journalist: Peter Stanford
20/08/2007