Reboot classic British family holiday on ‘Golden Great’ coast
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We were heading the long way east – not to Asia’s tropical shores, but to Norfolk’s beautiful beaches in the East of England.
After many miserable months of lockdown and with international travel all but out of bounds, we decided now was the time to holiday in the UK.
While Norfolk, which borders Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, was on our wish list of places to visit, the East Anglia county always seemed a cross-country trek too far from our home in Wales.
But with staycations unsurprisingly very much in favour this year, we geared ourselves up for the five-hour-long drive to Gorleston-on-Sea.
Lying just south of Great Yarmouth, this charming coastal town managed to catch the eye of director Danny Boyle for his 2019 film Yesterday.
What grabbed our attention was the curved stretch of sandy beach, one of the most spectacular you will find, as we pulled up at the Pier Hotel, our base for our break.
This grand old hotel is itself a bit of a local celebrity, having had a starring role in the Beatles-inspired film. Just yards from the beach, we kicked off the evening with a couple of drinks on the hotel terrace, before ambling into town for dinner at the Olive Garden. This modern restaurant has a real cool vibe with bench seating at wooden tables.
After poring over the extensive Mediterranean menu, we opted for beef stifado and honey and lime chicken – both were good portions and beautifully flavoured (mains from £9, olivegardengorleston.co.uk).
Waking up to a glorious morning we breakfasted al fresco, testing the hotel’s full English offering and we’re pleased to report it passed with flying colours.
Fuelled up, we were ready for our first adventure, setting of on the 11-mile drive up the coast to Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens. Near the village of Filby, it is home to amazing rare Asian animals including Sumatran tigers, snow leopards and red pandas.
Wooden walkways take you alongside and above them and there’s a viewing tunnel that lets you get up close and personal to the tigers. Be sure to look out for other exotic residents including crocodiles, cockatoos, gibbons and meerkats (£15.50 for adults, £11.50 for children aged four to 14 – under-fours free, thrigbyhall.com).
We could easily have whiled away hours there wandering through its 250-year-old landscaped gardens, enjoying a picnic or refreshments from the cafe but reluctantly we tore ourselves away, driving 12 miles further up the coast to the village of Sea Palling whose gorgeous golden beach backed by sand dunes was awarded Blue Flag status for its pristine waters, and is rated one of the country’s top beaches.
Returning south along the coastal road we stumbled on yet another stunning and even more tranquil beach at former fishing village Winterton-on-Sea.
Stopping to dip our toes in the water, a visit to 300-year-old pub the Fishermans Return was very much in order. From a mouthwatering menu, we chose creamy mushrooms and whitebait for starters.
For mains it had to be fisherman’s pie – packed with seafood, oozing with dill sauce and topped with a cheesy mash, it’s a favourite with the locals.
My partner’s perfectly cooked sirloin steak and chips came with a peppercorn sauce and all the trimmings (mains from £13, fishermansreturn.com).
Back in Gorleston, to round off the day we enjoyed refreshments at The Fig Bar & Grill on the promenade drinking in the splendid coastal views from the rooftop terrace.
Not daring to leave Norfolk without taking a boat trip on the famous Broads, we hired 17ft Seamaster Summer Bridge from Bridge Stores at St Olaves which we were told was ideal for nautical novices.
Equipped with lifejackets and a map, and after taking in instructions we were off. Easy to navigate, there’s something totally relaxing about meandering along the waterways, soaking up the scenery and waving to passing boating folk (from £60, bridgestores-stolaves.com).
Having worked up an healthy appetite after a couple of hours pottering about on the water, we moored up at The Bell Inn in St Olaves.
Reputedly Broadland’s oldest recorded hostelry, the Grade II listed pub was clearly a popular hotspot but luckily we didn’t have too long to wait for our tasty Indian and Thai curries – and extra portion of chips (free moorings for customers, bellinn-stolaves.co.uk).
Our last afternoon was spent at one of the UK’s best-loved seaside resorts. Great Yarmouth’s huge beach and amusement arcades, fish and chip shops, souvenir stores and other attractions stretching along the Golden Mile, instantly transport you back to those Great British seaside holidays of your childhood.
And award-winning Merrivale Model Village on the seafront has something for all the family. We marvelled at the intricately made models of miniature buildings and landscapes, from a country club to a sports stadium – and, of course, a seaside scene. There are sensory gardens and crazy golf too, but the highlight for us were the old penny arcade machines (seven-day pass, £9.99 merrivalemodelvillage.co.uk).
We finished on a high by getting a ticket to ride on the Great Yarmouth Wheel (a bit like the London Eye) – the fantastic 360° views over the resort and the magnificent coastline took our breath away (£8, greatyarmouthwheel.com). And yes Norfolk, you were well worth the five-hour trip!
- Danny Boyle
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