A family short break in North Norfolk

A family short break in North Norfolk

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.

An autumn sky at Holkham beach, North Norfolk

Our short break in North Norfolk: an autumn sky at Holkham beach, North Norfolk

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 Hall, North Norfolk

Holkham Hall, North Norfolk

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.

Deer in the grounds of Holkham Hall

Deer in the grounds of Holkham Hall

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.

The adventure playground at Holkham Hall, North Norfolk short break

The adventure playground at Holkham Hall

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.

The beach at low tide, Holkham National Nature Reserve

The beach at low tide, Holkham National Nature Reserve

Paddling at Holkham National Nature Reserve

Our short break in North Norfolk: paddling at Holkham National Nature Reserve

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.

The Lookout at Holkham National Nature Reserve

The Lookout at Holkham National Nature Reserve

Looking for shells at Holkham beach, North Norfolk

Our short break in North Norfolk: looking for shells at Holkham beach, North Norfolk

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.

Sunset at Holkham National Nature Reserve, North Norfolk

Sunset at Holkham National Nature Reserve, North Norfolk

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.

Exploring Blickling Estate by bike

Our short break in North Norfolk: Exploring Blickling Estate by bike

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.

Autumn sunset over Holkham National Nature Reserve, North Norfolk

Autumn sunset over Holkham National Nature Reserve, North Norfolk

 

Holkham Estate has limited opening times over winter. Please check the website for full details.

If you’re driving in the UK, make sure you take a look at my post about family-friendly places to stop just off the motorway. It covers everything from play areas to picnic spots, castles to nature reserves. 

Looking for more UK family holiday ideas?

The Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall

The Isles of Scilly

Family city break in York

Half term at Center Parcs

Camping in Somerset

A perfect short break in Dorset

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50 Comments

  1. Clare Thomson
    17th January 2019 / 3:44 pm

    I really fancy visiting North Norfolk this year, Annabel, so this is a great post to read. I loved the big sweep of sand on Holkham and that adventure playground looks really impressive. I like the idea of visiting outside of the main holiday season too – to avoid the crowds. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  2. 17th January 2019 / 11:41 pm

    Holkham Hall looks like tonnes of fun! That adventure playground and the deer especially, and to be honest, I immediately thought of Toad Hall when I saw it. #FarawayFiles

  3. 18th January 2019 / 4:59 pm

    Wow so impressed with your four-year old! Which balance bike did you use? Mine never got on with them as think it was too heavy…Your photos look idyllic, I love this part of the world, would love to get back here – autumn looks like a lovely time of year to visit.

    • smudgedpostcard
      19th January 2019 / 9:34 am

      We’ve been through a few balance bikes. I’m not sure what make they were but they weren’t expensive. They were quite simple ones and fairly lightweight, I guess that it key. Avoiding stabilisers would be my biggest suggestion, they are completely pointless. To teach my boys to pedal (they learnt on the same day when they were 5 and 3), we pushed them down a long gentle grassy slope. The slight incline gave the momentum so that they could concentrate on balancing rather than needing to do lots of pedalling. I always thought we would need to teach them in a big flat empty car park but a grass slope is perfect in my opinion (provided it’s nice and dry)!

  4. 19th January 2019 / 11:30 pm

    We’ve been to this area two years in a row now, as we’ve loved it. We really enjoyed Blickling but haven’t managed to do Holkam as yet. Mich x

    • smudgedpostcard
      21st January 2019 / 10:56 am

      It’s great isn’t it? It’s our favourite beach destination as it’s the easiest to reach without tackling busy motorways.

  5. 20th January 2019 / 4:58 pm

    I have only been to North Norfolk once and remember an icy cold wind blowing as we walked along an almost deserted beach where you could see for miles. I loved it! #Farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      21st January 2019 / 10:55 am

      We had an icy wind once at the end of May, October was much nicer!

  6. 21st January 2019 / 10:28 am

    Norfolk is a part of the country I don’t know at all, but I’ve seen a few posts from the area that make me want to visit one day. Looks like you found a lovely place to stay and the National Trust visit looks a real treat. cycling with your kids sounds like it has moved into a new dimension, enjoy this phase before they start to leave you behind! #CountryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      21st January 2019 / 10:53 am

      I fear that phase shall be upon us very shortly!

  7. 21st January 2019 / 11:33 am

    I love those family rites of passage – when you realise all the potential you and your littles can tackle after crossing through. Yay to the freedom of family bike rides, especially when such a beautiful place to do so! I’m a sucker for a walk along the beach – any time of year, so would definitely target the Holkham grounds and National Park – love the seaside pics there! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – cheers from Copenhagen.

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:46 am

      Erin, how easy is it to hire bikes for very small children in Copenhagen? My 4 year old is on the small side and I’m wondering whether to bring his bike with us when we visit in April. He’s rather attached to it..!

  8. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    21st January 2019 / 2:27 pm

    Lovely to read your post after seeing your photos on Instagram. Those skies – we get them here where I live but to see the sea at the same time is wonderful. #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:44 am

      Yes, big skies and the sea are magical aren’t they? We could have stayed there for hours but it was getting rather dark!

  9. 21st January 2019 / 2:49 pm

    I am lucky enough to have a cottage in Brancaster, so I am totally sold on North Norfolk, such a special part of the country.

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:44 am

      It is, I can’t wait to return for a summer trip!

  10. 22nd January 2019 / 6:25 pm

    I love the look of the places you’ve visited, especially the nature reserve. It’s a part of the country I don’t know at all, but looks perfect for a winter adventure #countrykids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:43 am

      It’s a great part of the country. We live relatively close so it’s our fav location for a quick beach break!

  11. 23rd January 2019 / 5:41 pm

    I love your photos of the sand dunes and beaches with wide open skies. North Norfolk looks like a fab place to visit with kids. My youngest also just started to ride his own bike, and I can’t wait to go on family cycles with them in safe places like Blickling.
    #CountryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:42 am

      Cycling is such a fun family experience. We’re heading to Denmark at Easter so I’m hoping we’ll be in our element there!

  12. 23rd January 2019 / 7:21 pm

    We’ve only ever visited Norfolk in the Autumn time and the coastline is super dramatic in the winter! Love the look of this place and the adventure play area is amazing! #countrykids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:40 am

      Autumn and winter are lovely times to visit. The beach is so beautiful when it’s empty!

  13. 23rd January 2019 / 11:20 pm

    That adventure playground at Holkham looks amazing. I’m not surprised your kids would have happily stayed there all day. The grounds are stunning though. Looks like you had fun on the beach. I’m impressed at how far your little one can cycle. The Blickling Estate looks like the perfect place for exploring by bike too. Thanks for sharing with #CountryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:39 am

      Yes, the playground is fab. And we had it pretty much to ourselves!

  14. 24th January 2019 / 4:01 am

    It all looks so tranquil and calm and that adventure playground looks amazing. I love those chromatography sunsets too. What a fab 3 nights you had, and lots of exploring at Blickling too – love that bike hire project, what a bargain. Thanks for sharing with us at #CountryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th January 2019 / 11:38 am

      We were so lucky with the weather! Yes, the bike hire is brilliant, I really hope they roll it out at other locations. It saves us strapping our bikes to the car!

  15. pigeonpairandme
    24th January 2019 / 11:40 am

    I do like Norfolk. It’s so unline anywhere else in the UK. It seems to me more like parts of the Netherlands – unsurprising, given its closeness. And yes, I’m reassured that I’m unlikely to run into anyone having a sneaky wee :-).

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st February 2019 / 12:59 pm

      I’m looking forward to seeing a bit of the Netherlands when we catch the ferry there this summer. My experience is limited to Amsterdam and Utrecht so I’ve enjoyed reading about some of your visits.

  16. 24th January 2019 / 1:29 pm

    Norfolk is an area we have yet to explore. Thanks for sharing your experience with us #CountryKids

  17. 26th January 2019 / 8:39 am

    Norfolk is definitely on my radar this year – and it’s good to know out-of-season is a good time to visit. The Holkham playground looks fantastic for little ones.

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st February 2019 / 12:55 pm

      It’s definitely a year-round destination. We were very tempted to go back for Feb half term.

  18. dqfamilytravel
    28th January 2019 / 2:08 pm

    What a beautiful location! The beach and that playground are spectacular. I’m going to save this as we are likely going to the UK soon.

  19. 28th January 2019 / 5:15 pm

    Happiness in Holkham! I love North Norfolk and have such fond memories of spending time there when I was a kid. We’re hoping to take our boys up to that part of the coast this year – possibly Easter, so out of ‘high-season’ like you. We love visiting beaches out of season as there’s no expectation to get in the water! #mondayescapes

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st February 2019 / 12:56 pm

      ha ha, good point! My son went for a paddle and really regretted it!

  20. 29th January 2019 / 11:48 am

    The bike hire is a brilliant idea – I’d have loved to find something like that when my boys were younger. Gorgeous photos of the countryside and coastline – you were lucky it wasn’t windy cos it really is wide open spaces!

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st February 2019 / 12:57 pm

      I really hope bike hire takes off at places like this. It’s a great way to cover a bit more ground with little people!

  21. bavariansojourn
    29th January 2019 / 3:18 pm

    When we lived in Cambridge for just over a year when we came back to the UK, having Norfolk up the road was a real highlight, it’s such a beautiful part of the UK! We will go to Holkham now next visit too! 🙂 #mondayescapes

  22. 31st January 2019 / 1:44 pm

    I was just saying recently that I’d love to head to North Norfolk soon as it has been such a long time since I visited (my GCSE field trip to be precise, where we studied coastal erosion!).
    I absolutely love to look of the beach at Holkham, with the sand dunes and pine forests it looks simply dreamy!
    Thanks so much for linking up to #MondayEscapes

  23. 31st January 2019 / 2:11 pm

    We spent the October half term in North Norfolk (post about our week over on my blog!) and my three boys loved it – they keep asking when we’re going back. Didn’t make it to Holkham Hall though, definitely going on the list for next time, it looks lovely.

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st February 2019 / 11:00 am

      Will have to head over to your blog to see what you got up to! There’s so much to do there, will be interested to see where you went.

  24. 10th February 2019 / 12:46 pm

    We really want to visit Norfolk this year so I loved this post. Good to learn about places that are great for bikes and little legs too. Blickling Estate looks gorgeous, and the adventure playground at Holkham Hall would be a firm favourite with our three. Thanks so much for linking up to #MondayEscapes Annabel 🙂

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th February 2019 / 12:52 pm

      Norfolk is our nearest beach area of choice, so many lovely spots and great expanses of sand!

  25. 4th March 2019 / 11:07 am

    Great post! I love Norfolk… it’s an often overlooked county but it’s so interesting with some great seasides. I have such great memories of Holkham Hall when I was a kid. Can’t wait to return with my kids one day #fearlessfamtrav

    • 5th March 2019 / 8:35 pm

      Yes, it’s funny that so many people make it all the way to Cornwall but they don’t venture to Norfolk. Although that works rather well in our favour!

  26. 5th March 2019 / 7:57 pm

    I totally agree that getting away in the autumn can make for the best holidays. It looks like you had some wonderful weather and that cottage looks brilliant. I’ve heard great things about Holkham Hall but haven’t made it there yet. I think my kids would love the adventure playground. It looks more like BeWILDerwood than a standard play area!

    • 5th March 2019 / 8:33 pm

      We were very lucky with the weather! I’m quite tempted to try an autumn / winter break in the west country now, so many lovely beaches to choose from!

  27. 8th March 2019 / 12:59 pm

    Norfolk is a part of the country we don’t know at all. It’s such a long way from Wales! My mum raves about it though and i’m tempted by a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads, so hopefully one day soon. Thanks for linking up to #fearlessfamtrav this time around.

    • 10th March 2019 / 9:45 pm

      The Broads are great fun, so tranquil and relaxing. But yes, such a long way from Wales! And you have such stunning beaches in Wales.

  28. 10th March 2019 / 3:52 pm

    Your photos are just stunning – you’ve captured such a beautiful light. What great weather you had for October! We’re actually looking to visit North Norfolk in a couple of months, so I’ll have to revisit this post.

    • 10th March 2019 / 9:38 pm

      We were sooo lucky with that weather! The beaches there are stunning. Holkham beach is so vast that even in August you can find empty stretches. It’s utterly lovely. Book in advance if you’re going there in the school hols.

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