48 hours in North Norfolk
Big skies, boundless beaches, freshly caught seafood, eclectic independent shops and cafes, and cosy boltholes await you.
North Norfolk is magical at this time of year. Each winter, more than a third of the world’s pink-footed geese can be witnessed forming squawking ‘V’ formations in the endless skies. While at Blakeney Point, home to the largest seal colony in England, thousands of pups are born. On Holkham Beach at low tide the sea disappears completely into the horizon, leaving miles of pristine sand.
It’s not just the wildlife that’s special. Each of North Norfolk’s small towns and villages has a unique character. Evocative names such as Stiffkey, Salthouse and Little Snoring sound as though they’re lifted straight from a storybook.
In the towns, you’ll find few of the typical high-street offerings – instead, think stylish homeware stores, lovely art galleries and atmospheric antiques shops. Georgian market town Holt has long been a favoured spot for antiques hunting, but Walsingham, famous for its religious shrines, is great for off-the-beaten-track finds.
From late January, Walsingham Abbey also opens for riverside snowdrop walks, which is arguably the prettiest way to see these delicate flowers in the county.
Places to shop in Norfolk
Hidden away on the site of a former icon painter’s studio, Littleblood is brilliantly bonkers. The shop is filled floor to ceiling with a staggering array of curiosities, such as a taxidermy crow, a bowl of ornamental snails, a mermaid door knocker and a vintage Punch and Judy. Former fashion designer Helena also makes one-of-a-kind upholstered chairs – they’re works of art in themselves.
Holt Antique Furniture
Holt Antiques (confusingly in Walsingham) is housed in a former bridewell and mill and focuses on exceptional pieces of country oak furniture from the 16th to 19th centuries. There’s always a strong selection of stick back chairs, early carved oak panels and tabletop chests and boxes – all temptingly easy to fit in the car.
Richard Scott Antiques
Richard has spent 55 years in the antiques trade and was formerly a restorer at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This petite shop, filled with beautiful ceramics and glass, is testament to his vast knowledge and experience.
Currently Richard’s favourite piece is an Italian wet drug jar from the 1680s, but he’s fond of all his stock – ranging from Chinese Ming dynasty pots to dainty pieces of 18th and 19th-century china.
Bold and stylish newcomers Mark and Katie specialise in sculptural antiques and intriguing decorative items, all of which are displayed alongside a beautiful edit of 20th-century art. Their pared-back, white-panelled shop, Scout Decorative, is reminiscent of a gallery.
Mark and Katie are part of the new generation of antiques dealers who are just as likely to sell via Instagram as from the shop, so their stock moves quickly.
Current highlights include a set of six ‘wonky’ metal vessels dating from the early 20th century and a 19th-century Gibson chair featuring its original red paint – albeit now wonderfully worn.
Paffron and Scott
Saffron and Luke have eclectic taste, but focus mainly on the English country house style, resulting in a quirky selection of charming objects and furniture, including early Staffordshire figures and a Murano glass chandelier, all housed in a blue-painted wood-clad building, reminiscent of the beach huts at Holkham.
They are also the sole dealers for retired sailor Colin Millington, whose summer 2021 exhibition of traditional nautical woolwork pictures is eagerly awaited.
Places to visit in Norfolk
Holkham’s imposing mansion was built between 1734 and 1764 by Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, after his six-year Grand Tour. And it is filled with the enormous collection of treasures he accumulated on his travels.
The Statue Gallery contains one of the most complete classical collections of statuary in a private house in Britain – the niches in the room were specially designed to show each statue off to its best advantage.
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Subsequent Earls were enthusiastic tree-planters, resulting in the spectacular parkland that surrounds the house today, as well as the Corsican pines on the dunes at Holkham Beach.
Places to eat in Norfolk
Twenty-eight-year-old Polly recently opened her artisan bakery and cafe in a former railway goods shed. Melton Constable was once one of the busiest railway interchanges in Norfolk, but now only the redundant red brick buildings in the sidings remain.
The light and airy space has been beautifully converted, making it the perfect stop to warm up with grilled English buffalo cheddar on sourdough or, for something sweeter, a hazelnut brioche or pear Bostock.
Off the coast road between Sheringham and Cromer you’ll find this entrepreneurial local fishing family’s laid-back restaurant, Rocky Bottoms. In a restored 1800s brick kiln overlooking the sea, Alison cooks the crabs and lobsters that her fisherman husband Richard catches.
The food is simple but delicious – think lobster and chips, or crab salad. Come early for the widest choice – once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Places to stay in Norfolk
The Control Tower
On the site of a former RAF airfield near Walsingham, vegetarian B&B The Control Tower is the perfect choice for Art Deco and aviation enthusiasts. RAF North Creake flew its first operations in 1944 in support of the D-Day landings.
\Nigel and Claire have returned the control tower to the clean lines of its original Modernist design, restoring the metal-framed windows and decorating it with furniture of the period.
The Bohemian Blue Hut
Possibly the cosiest place to sleep in North Norfolk is Martin’s hand-built shepherd’s hut, idyllically located in a secluded spot on the banks of the River Stiffkey and furnished with auction finds.
The tiny kitchen has been ingeniously created from a pair of antique sideboards and you can loll in the Edwardian double bed as you watch logs crackle in the stove or listen to the wind in