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East of England Sandringham and the Norfolk Broads - August 2023


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It was summer holidays again and the family had booked a week away so I wasn’t needed for Grandparenting duties. I’d booked a holiday with Acklams Travel who I’ve used before and like. They offer a home pick up which means once I’ve locked the door, I’m their responsibility.

Entitled Sandringham and the Norfolk Broads, the brochure promised
"Visit Georgian market town of Holt and then take a ride on the Poppy Line Steam Railway (North Norfolk Railway) to Sheringham. Included is a 90minute cruise on the Broads to Wroxham and spend an afternoon exploring all that Norwich has to offer. To end this memorable holiday, we spend time visiting Sandringham House, Museum and Gardens."

I don't know this part of East Anglia very well. The family have holidayed in the area several times and have come home with glowing stoiries about it and especially the North Norfolk Railway, which was a favourite with both grandsons. I decided it was time to find out why!

The weather also co-operated this holiday and the sun shone every day.

Sunday - To Norwich

I was picked up and taken to Drax Golf Club which Acklams use as their feeder point. A bacon sandwich and a drink was waiting for us. It was then on the coach and heading for Stamford.

I know Stamford well and spent the time walking round the town and and had a quick look in the four medieval churches in the town centre - St Martin’s with the Burghley tombs, the anglo-catholic St Mary’s with a very strong smell of incense, the now redundant St John’s in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust with its angel roof and All Saints’, the largest with an impressive display of brasses. Having already got lots of photographs, I didn’t need to take any more!

We stopped in the Holiday Inn on the edge of Norwich which is corporate and a bit boring but does have easy access to roads out. It was a pleasant stay with a few minor niggles but let down badly by the evening meals...

I had a double room which was clean and comfortable. It was fine for one person but would have been decidedly snug for two. The bathroom was particularly small. The large walk in shower also sprayed water all over the floor and base of the door if the shower head wasn't pointing down. The trim down the outer edge of the door was hanging off. I did report this to reception, but it was still hanging off when I left.

Breakfast was a self service buffet and was excellent with plenty of choice. After that I never needed much lunch.

The dinners though really did let down the hotel. We had a set menu which was different to the menu offered to other guests. The choices were restrictive and some of the food wasn't particularly appetising. Service was also very slow too.

The great thing for me was that it was ten minutes walk away from Marston Marshes Local Nature Reserve, on the flood plain of the River Yare. There was a surfaced walk around the marshes which took about 50 minutes from the hotel. It was lovely being out away from the crowds in the countryside before dinner. There wasn’t much bird life but plenty of wild flowers.

Marston Marshes.jpg

River Bure, Marston Marshes.jpg

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Monday - Norfolk Broads Cruise and Norwich

We drove to Horning for a cruise on the Norfolk Broads. The paddle steamer was built in 1977 as a floating pub but the owners soon realised it would be a lot more profitable to use it to run cruises.

I managed to get a seat in the open air on the top deck. The cruise begins at Horning and goes to Ranworth where it turns round. There is a commentary on the outward leg with information about the history and wild life of the area. On the return journey children are invited to join the skipper and have a go at steering the boat.

Broads cruise .jpg

There was a lot of really expensive housing coming out of Horning, many with thatched roofs. A local bylaw means that thatch has to be replaced with more thatch, from locally grown reeds.

Broads cruise 3.jpg

Once away from the village we were into the marshes.

Broads cruise 2.jpg

Norfolk broads.jpg

We saw a couple of herons, ducks and a lot of grebes. I was hoping to see a kingfisher, but no luck. The skipper said there was a marsh harrier overhead, but I didn’t manage to spot it, despite its five foot wing span. The population has recovered from a single breeding pair in the 1990s and apparently they are now fairly common. Otters have also been reintroduced, but we didn’t see any.

There is a 6mph speed limit dropping to 3mph through the villages , designed to protect the banks and animals living in them. This makes it seem a really relaxing trip.

We had a brief lunch stop in Wroxham and Hoveton afterwards. The two are separated by the old bridge over the River Bure and each have their own church. Hoveton is the main shopping area with Roys being described as the largest Village store in the country. It opened in 1899 and sells clothes, toys, garden equipment, plants, books, home-ware, electrical goods... It also has a supermarket complete with a McDonalds in it!

Having had a huge breakfast, I didn’t need any lunch so went in search of Wroxham church which describes itself as Norfolk’s hidden secret. It is at the edge of the village overlooking the fens, although trees mask the view. It also has the massive and impressive Trafford Mausoleum in the churchyard. The church is flint with a large tower and lovely Norman doorway. The outside was more impressive than the inside.

Wroxham Church .jpg

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Norwich where we had just over two hours. We were parked near the shopping area. Norwich is thriving with no closed shops and no charity shops. It was busy.

I had picked up a map from the hotel and marked out on it what I wanted to see and a route between them. However, I quickly discovered it didn’t mark all the streets and Norwich streets didn’t seem to have street names on them either. Those that did often seemed to be different to those on the map...

Norwich .jpg

I did get lost around the shopping area and there were so many narrow and interesting streets, including the art nouveau Victorian Royal Arcade.

Royal Arcade.jpg

Elm Hill is still cobbled, lined with old buildings and completely unspoilt. Being quite a walk from the shopping centre, castle and cathedral there weren’t many tourists around.

Norwich Elm Hill.jpg

Norwich is a city of Medieval churches. There were originally 57 but now only 31 remain. Most are either now redundant and being used for other purposes or locked.


St Peter Mancroft, the largest of the churches, was open and very impressive, both out and in.


Having visited the Cathedral on a previous visit, I didn’t go in, but instead headed through the Close to the River Wensum and Pulls Ferry where stone from the cathedral was landed.

Pulls Ferry .jpg

I followed the river to Cow Tower, which was built in 1398/9 to defend the north east approach to Norwich and is the earliest purpose built artillery blockhouse in England. Now it can only be admired from the outside.

Cow Tower.jpg

It was then back to the coach and fortunately I managed to find my way back without getting too lost!

Tuesday - Sandringham

We spent the day at Sandringham with a tour of the house included.

Sandringham .jpg

Originally, bought for the future Edward. VII and his wife as a country house away from the dissipations of London, this is still very much a well loved Royal Home where the Royal family spend the winter.

I enjoyed the house much more than I expected. Despite the rather OTT Victorian outside, the inside is very under stated and has a very homely feel . It is understandable why the Royal family like it so much.

You just see the main public rooms - entrance hall, saloon where they read the papers, have morning coffee and gather at night to listen to music, white drawing room facing west where the queen always had afternoon tea. Off is the smaller and more intimate drawing room and on the other side is the dining room with table set with silver chandeliers and glasses with a gold wide rim. This leads into the gun room with a display of shot guns including many belonging to George V. Beyond this is the Ballroom, which is now used as a cinema with a large screen at one end. This year there was also a display of some of King Charles’s paintings.

There is a free flow system through the house with guides in each of the rooms. There isn’t a current guide book as they are still waiting for a new edition after the death of the Queen. Understandably there are no photographs allowed inside the house. I asked about heating the house in winter and they have a bio mass boiler using wood from the estate and sawmill which was installed by Prince Philip about 15 years ago, before the rest of us had even heard about them...

The house is surrounded by a huge estate with a lot of woodland and two small lakes. The nmap provided with our ticket also marked way marked walks around the grounds but I didn't have time to do any of these.

The estate was ploughed up during the war to grow food and the gardens were never reinstated. The area was grassed over instead and is a bit boring. The King is wanting to return the gardens to what they might have looked like before the war and has planted a lot of new trees and replanted the topiary garden outside the front of the house. There is so much space and it is easy to loose the crowds.

Sandringham grounds.jpg

Sandringham lake .jpg

The church is a short walk from the house and is the one used by the Royal family.

Sandringham Church .jpg

The inside is absolutely stunning with a silver altar front and reredos as well as a silver front to the pulpit and silver processional cross. Chancel walls and ceiling are painted.


sandringham Church 3.jpg

Edward VII put up lots of memorials to his mother and brothers and sisters on the walls. There are also later memorials to George V and Queen Mary as well as George VI and the Queen Mother.


Wednesday - Holt, North Norfolk Railway, Sheringham and Cromer

This was a very full day with a relatively early start and late back to the hotel.

We had free time in Holt first. This is the main market town for North Norfolk and is a delightful small town with a lot of old housing and many narrow streets and yards to explore. It had an amazing range of shops too. Most are small independently owned shops. There are no closed shops and very few charity shops. There is no out of town retail park and the only supermarket is Budgens near the town centre. Instead it has burtchers, bakers and greengrocers. It is the equal of many Cotswold towns so beloved by the Americans, but without the tourists. You could imaging Miss Marple going out with her shopping basket...

Holt 2 .jpg

Holt 3.jpg


There is a town trail which I followed and I also went in the church, another splendid flint building.

Holt Church .jpg

We drove the short distance to Holt Railway Station for a trip on the North Norfolk Railway to Sherringham.

North Norfolk Railway - Holt .jpg

Stations are beaultfully restored and it really did feel like stepping back to my youth in the 1950s before Dr Beeching decimated the Railway system in the cause of efficiency savings.

NNR Holt Station .jpg

The line is not very long with just a halt and station at Weybourn where trains cross. It is through gently undulating farmland with distant views of the sea. I now know why the family like it so much!

NNR Weybourne.jpg

NNR - the sea!.jpg

We had about an hour to explore Sheringham which still feels like an unspoilt 1950s seaside town with a long sandy beach.



We finished the day at at Cromer with its pier and another thriving sea side town.This was busy with families crabbing off the end. Some of the crabs being caught were quite big too.

Cromer pier.jpg

The church has the tallest tower in Norfolk and had a light on the top to act as a guide to passing shipping before the lighthouse was built.

Cromer church .jpg

It has some lovely stained glass with images of local landmarks and the lifeboat.

Cromer church stained glass .jpg

Thursday - Back home, via Lincoln

We had nearly three hours in Lincoln on the way home.Being less than 25 miles from home, I know the town well. I decided to head up Steep Hill to visit the Old Bishop’s Palace (#14) just below the cathedral with has recently reopened after a major £2.5 million conservation project.

Lincoln .jpg

The ruins are confusing and not the easiest to understand. I watched the video, read the information boards, went to explore the ruins, and came back to rewatch the video again. I think I now understand the site!

Old Bishop's Palace, Lincoln.jpg

Old Bishop's palace 2.jpg

It is a lovely site overlooked by the cathedral and with views across Lincoln. Facing south it is a real sun trap, so I easily managed to fill my time there before heading back to the coach.

I really enjoyed the holiday. It was action packed with plenty of things to do and see. We had a reasonable amount of time in the different places and I managed to achieve everything on my list. The sunshine also helped too! It is a lovely area, and although popular with many English visitors, has yet to be discovered by foreign tourists.
Yes, the central shopping area of Norwich is easy to get lost in, as the roads are rather wriggly, and unstructured. On the flip side, once you've lived here a while, it's good to have 2-3 alternative routes for even a short a to b.

Holt is a lovely place, as mentioned earlier, with shopping somewhat dominated by Bakers and Larners, but the upside is they really are good. The food hall used to be a regular pre-christmas destination for us to build hampers from the wide and interesting selection.

Cromer crab is world famous in Norfolk ;). It's well-regarded for the sweetness of flavour, and one of my old work colleagues used to 'dress them' (break them apart and present them ready to eat) as a summer job when he was young. His dad also used to fish for them and lobsters, and he recounted that at school lunchtime, there was always eagerness to swap other kids' cheese sandwiches with his lobster ones !!

We've got friends living near Cromer (in East Runton) and so we've now discovered it a bot more. It does have tourism, but isn't as dominated by it as (Great) Yarmouth, there are also some lovely walks along and above the beach, though for both there is a risk of the cliffs falling after heavy rain. There are also some lesser used but lovely inland walks through woodland. Sheringham indeed also lovely, touched by tourism for sure, but still maintaining an identity of their own, e.g. a recent planning application for a Tesco supermarket was blocked. We're due to go up there soon, as there's a shop selling Tin Tin stuff. Also worthy of note is a good old-fashioned hardware store, the sort that's often disappeared elsewhere, but Norfolk still has a few (e.g. the cavernous Thorns in Norwich).

I've not been to Sandringham, but recall a story of someone in a shop there going up to an old lady and saying "you look just like the Queen". "That's rather reassuring" replied the Queen:woot::D
Thank you Ian. I love the story about the 'old lady'...

I loved Norfolk and it is definitely a county I'd like to see a lot more of. I was very conscious I was only scratching the surface of places and could have done with a lot more time to explore. It has so much going for it - a much more relaxed approach to life, some excellent shops, good food (and beer!) as well as all the different attractions. Even the tourism seems old fashioned in the nicest possible way.

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