All but essential travel is off for now, but it won’t last forever. And the beautiful beaches, coast and countryside of the East of England will be here waiting for you when it’s all over. Start planning now for the post-lockdown breakout…
Set in aspic in the 1950s, Southwold has buckets of charm and simply oozes sophistication. Think the Kristin Scott-Thomas of seaside resorts.
Enjoy the traditional Victorian Pier with its far-from-traditional amusements, colourful beach huts, sandy beach, stroll the High Street with its boutiques and quirky independent shops, and take a tour of the Adnams brewery and distillery.
Book your stay: Situated in the heart of the town, by the market place, The Swan is within a minute’s walk of the beach and Common which offers views over the Blyth Valley and the coast.
Not strictly a misnomer, the port of Wells-next-the-Sea is actually a mile from the lapping waves. But walk along the Beach Road path and you’ll soon discover one of the most picturesque beaches imaginable, backed by a giant pine forest and punctuated by a line of 200 higgledy-piggledy multi-coloured beach huts.
Return on the miniature railway and you’ll still have energy in your legs to explore the old-fashioned streets of pubs, restaurants and galleries. This is the closest Norfolk gets to a Cornish pirate village.
A short walk or cycle away is the Palladian grandeur of Holkham Hall and its lovely estate where you can look out for the herds of deer.
Book your stay: Overlooking a pretty Georgian green in the heart of the town, The Globe is a friendly and comfortable 4* hotel-cum-restaurant-cum-pub that epitomises relaxed north Norfolk living.
Once a resort that looked as if it was helping police with its enquiries, Great Yarmouth has scrubbed up nicely and is rightly proud of its standing as the East Coast’s premier traditional seaside location.
The Golden Mile does what it says on the tin – the long seafront of amusements topped and tailed by the refurbished Venetian Waterways and the Pleasure Beach, with its 1930s wooden rollercoaster, the last one in the country still needing a brakeman because… it has no automated brakes. Eek!
There’s plenty of history here too, from the Time & Tide Museum, once home to a herring smokehouse, to the Hippodrome Circus, one of only four in the world with its original central water feature and Britain’s last remaining total circus building.
Book your stay: The imposing Grade II Nelson Hotel is right in the centre of the seafront and ideally placed to enjoy the town’s cultural highlights as well as seaside fun.
One of the largest beaches in Norfolk, look right and you’ll see the National Trust’s Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve around which summer regattas are held, go left and you’ll discover the RSPB’s Titchwell Reserve and Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Holme Dunes, where the legendary 4000-year-old Bronze Age Seahenge was discovered in 1998. A short walk further and you’ll be under the stripy-coloured cliffs of Sunny Hunny Hunstanton.
Brancaster has a bustling port with a don’t-miss Crab Hut by The Staithe, and a short drive away is Burnham Market, otherwise known as Chelsea-on-Sea. And not because everyone is wearing a replica Chelsea FC shirt. Quite the opposite.
Book your stay: Titchwell Manor is a coastal boutique hotel, dating from 1896, that is plum in the middle of terrific birdwatching territory as well as being close to Brancaster beach and the Royal West Norfolk Golf Course (Wills and Harry have been regulars).
The Broads National Park
Norfolk is synonymous with B-roads and the Broads, one tarmac, one water, but both ideal for sauntering along taking in the lovely landscapes and wildlife spotting.
Man-made by medieval peat-digging, the Broads National Park is a series of deep lakes connected by 125 miles of easily-navigable, lock-free waterways. You can enjoy them by foot or cycle, but the best way is on the water itself – hired a picnic day boat with galley and loos for the full experience.
The Broads is also the only English National Park with a city in it. Norwich is a must-see for lovers of both medieval history (stunning Norman Cathedral and Castle) and shopping, with the independent-heavy Lanes, largest covered market place in Europe and the delightful Jarrold Department Store.
Book your stay: The Norfolk Mead is a luxurious and comfortable country house hotel on the River Bure at Coltishall. Why not borrow a boat or canoe and head into Wroxham, the capital of the Broads with Roys, the world’s largest village store.
Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
One of the most delightful stretches of coast you’re ever likely to discover, the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB is perfect for a relaxing few days, with quaint pubs, places to picnic, the quirky seaside village of Walberswick, hamlet of Dunwich that was once one of the largest medieval ports in England (check out the story in the museum), and the charming coastal town of Aldeburgh.
Don’t miss the 1930s recreation of a Merrie England village at Thorpeness (just look for the House in the Clouds) with its rowing boat Mere and, for history buffs, head to the church at Blythburgh that commemorates the member of the Kennedy clan who should have been the President of the USA.
Book your stay: Here’s a Daily Mail headline: ‘Revealed, the pub bedroom where William and Kate enjoyed their anniversary night (and a fry-up the next day)’. The pub? The Westleton Crown. Enough said.
The largest and best-preserved of Suffolk’s Wool Towns, a visit to Lavenham is like walking back in time. With more Grade I and Grade II listed buildings than you can shake a stick at, this chocolate box village has fine timber-framed houses, grand churches and higgledy-piggledy streets, all from the days when merchants grew fabulously wealthy on what came off the back of their sheep.
The ethereal quality of the town brought Harry Potter film-makers here – Lavenham is the home of Godric’s Hollow, birthplace of the eponymous wizard and his headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
While you’re here, explore some of the other wonderful Wool Towns, including Clare, Long Melford and Hadleigh.
Book your stay: Get to stay in one of those famous timber-framed merchant’s homes, the 15th century Swan Inn, and discover the Airmen’s Bar and spa.
A beautifully-preserved Victorian seaside town, Cromer has a pier with the world’s last end-of-pier theatre hosting Summer and Christmas variety shows, many places to eat the eponymous crab (the most succulent and tasty because they feed from the world’s longest chalk reef just offshore), and some of the best fish and chip shops you’ll ever find.
We recommend eating in MaryJane’s, a Cromer institution, or No 1 Cromer, which has a restaurant with stunning views over the pier and beach. Or buy them take-out and sit on a bench on the Promenade. Don’t forget, lashings of vinegar and salt… you’re on holiday.
If you want to burn off the calories, take a cycle ride on the quiet lanes of Cromer Ridge behind the town – this is the highest point in the East of England. And who said Norfolk was flat?
Book your stay: Historic Northrepps Cottage Country Hotel is a lovely bijou hotel and ideal base from which to explore Cromer, the coast and also the Broads National Park.
A series of pretty villages on the chalk-fed River Burn, Nelson’s River, that created a prosperous trading hub until the 19th century, the Burnhams have lots to off the inquisitive traveller.
At Burnham Thorpe, discover the Rectory where England’s greatest naval commander was brought up and the church where his father took services. At Burnham Overy Staithe discover the shallows where he learnt to sail as a boy before walking to the beach at Holkham, regularly voted the best in Britain. You, not him.
The gentrification of Burnham Market back in the 1980s, and in particular the refurbishment of The Hoste Arms by Paul Whittome, arguably began the transition of sleepy, undeveloped north Norfolk into what it is now, the Cotswolds-by-the-Coast. There aren’t many small villages in England with shops for fine hats and wines alongside fresh fish and galleries.
Book your stay: The White House is a secluded gem tucked away in gorgeous farmland.
The county town of Suffolk, Ipswich has a proud maritime history with a picturesque waterfront studded with cafes, shops, galleries, the 19th century Old Custom House and University of Suffolk.
You can take a boat trip along the Orwell (yes, the river the Animal Farm and 1984 author thought sounded more authorly than Blair) to the majestic Orwell Bridge, explore history in Ipswich Museum and Gallery and the Tudor Saints Quarter, or stroll through the Arboretum at Christchurch Park before viewing the works of Gainsborough and Constable in Christchurch Mansion.
Book your stay: One of the best boutique hotels in the region, The Salthouse has snazzy interiors and lovely views over the historic waterside.
Bury St Edmunds
Celebrating its 1000th birthday in 2020, Bury St Edmunds Abbey and St Edmundsbury Cathedral define this fine former Wool Town.
Named after the original patron saint of England, who was martyred by the Vikings, Bury St Edmunds is a veritable warren of little streets to explore. Discover the National Trust-owned Theatre Royal, explore the beautiful Abbey Gardens, take a tour of the Greene King Brewery or a tipple in The Nutshell, Britain’s smallest pub.
A short drive away and you’re in Newmarket, world home of horseracing as well as the National Museum of Horseracing.
Book your stay: If The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds looks familiar, you might have seen the recent Personal Life of David Copperfield starring Dev Patel and Tilda Swinton, among others. It was in the background for some key scenes when film-makers restored Angel Hill to its Charles Dickens’ heyday. With a groovy interior, The Angel couldn’t be better positioned for exploration.
A picturesque medieval village that looks unchanged since its heyday as a famous place of pilgrimage. In 1601, the Lady of the Manor had a vision of the Virgin Mary and the subsequent shrine became one of the most important in Europe, up there with Lourdes and Santiago de Compostela.
Rather quieter today, the village has timber-framed buildings, splendid Georgian facades, the shrine itself (this one dating to 1931) and the ruins of a 12th century priory, famous in its own right for Spring snowdrops.
Little Walsingham is the ideal base for exploring the north Norfolk coast and countryside. Head to Morston Quay and take a boat trip to the country’s largest seal colony on Blakeney Point.
Book your stay: Set in the heart of the historic shrine village of Little Walsingham, the terribly quaint Old Bakehouse has three spacious en-suite guest rooms.