If you thought North Norfolk was just a summer holiday destination, think again. We enjoyed a short break in North Norfolk at the end of October, exploring two of the region’s loveliest country estates. With the crowds of summer gone, we felt like we had the place to ourselves: stunning walks along the beach and peaceful bike rides through colourful woodland.
Cannister Hall Barns, near Fakenham
We spent our three nights at Cannister Hall Barns near Fakenham. I picked the property, via the excellent Kett Country Cottages, as it has an indoor swimming pool and a well equipped games room. The swimming pool water was a tad chilly but the kids loved the games: pool, table tennis and table football were immensely popular.
We stayed in the three bedroom Hayloft which had everything we needed for our stay. I’ll write a separate post on the property in due course. Cannister Hall Barns are in a great location for exploring North Norfolk, with Wells-next-the-Sea, Holkham, Hunstanton and Blakeney all within easy driving distance.
Holkham Estate and Beach
On the first day of our short break in North Norfolk we drove the 20 minutes to Holkham Hall for a walk and cycle around the grounds of this vast estate. Located just west of Wells-next-the-Sea, Holkham Hall and the surrounding land has been the family home of the Earl of Leicester since the 18th century. The estate comprises the Palladian Hall and its grounds, along with extensive farmland plus the Holkham National Nature Reserve which runs along the coast from Wells to Burnham Overy.
In high season it’s possible to hire bikes, explore the stately home and learn about farming in the excellent Field to Fork exhibition. As we were visiting at the end of October these attractions were closed, however as our younger son has a very low tolerance for indoor attractions this wasn’t a problem.
There’s a brilliant adventure playground at Holkham (shut over winter but open for the half terms) which our kids could happily have spent the whole day in. We eventually peeled them off the zip wire and convinced them to hop on their bikes (which we’d brought from home) and explore the grounds. There are wide paved and gravel roads through much of the estate which are perfect for little kids like ours to explore with relative independence.
The UK is packed with grand estates, historical country piles and manicured parklands. What sets Holkham apart is its incredible stretch of coastline. We’d visited this part of Norfolk several times but on this occasion, despite it being autumn, the weather was at its most perfect. It was cold but completely still with not a gust of wind in the air.
Once we’d exhausted the parkland we drove over to the car park at Lady Ann’s Drive for our trip to the beach. From the car park, it’s a short walk through the pine woods to the immense sandy beach. There’s a new visitor centre, the Lookout (with impressive green credentials) next to the car park where you can learn more about the reserve. Most importantly though, the Lookout has toilets (and a cafe) so the beautiful sand dunes and pine forests can return to their job of protecting nature rather than protecting the modesty of those looking for a discreet place to have a quick wee.
We arrived just before dusk, the tide was out and the sun was setting behind the sand dunes. We played on the beach and hunted for shells. My older son went for a paddle (a bit chilly apparently) and we watched incredible clouds of migrating starlings swirl through the sky. Next time I’ll take a more sophisticated camera along to capture the birds.
The National Trust’s Blickling Estate
My younger son has been on a bike of some sort since he was 18 months old. Once he reached that toddler age where he wanted to escape the confines of his buggy but only on his terms (ie be carried up a hill when the novelty of walking wears off), I decided to plonk him on a balance bike. As a result, he can now do a six mile bike ride at the age of 4. Unfortunately his road safety skills are not at quite the same level so I’m always on the look out for safe places for him to cycle which aren’t too hilly (his legs are too short for a geared bike).
Blickling Estate, along with two other National Trust properties, has entered a partnership with British Cycling and HSBC to offer visitors affordable bike hire, (we paid just £4 for 3 hours for an adult bike). And they aren’t just any old bikes, we hired Frogs for us grown ups at Blickling which was a real treat (our bikes at home are a tad heavier!) Blickling also offers trailers, tag alongs and balance bikes so there’s something for all the family. If you’re considering investing in a Frog bike (once my boys are a bit bigger I expect we will), this is a great way to give them a try. We’ll be paying a visit to Osterley Park just west of London for our next National Trust bike ride. Subject to popularity, the bike hire will be available year-round so it’s a good activity for keeping the kids warm on a winter’s day out. Just call ahead to check opening hours.
With our lovely lightweight bicycles and a packed lunch we set off on Blickling’s four mile loop which passes farmland, unusual buildings and a few exhilarating slopes for the kids to zoom down. Now that our kids are confident on their bikes, us parents can actually cycle properly with the boys rather than stopping to give them a push every few metres. It feels like we’ve entered a whole new era of parenthood and it’s very liberating.
Holkham Estate has limited opening times over winter. Please check the website for full details.
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