Discover the ultimate Norfolk road trip
In little more than 100 miles you can pass through some of the most beautiful landscapes, towns and villages in the country - enjoying some of its finest food and most historically-important locations on the way
Think of the best road trips in the world and a few spring immediately to mind, from the 2,000-mile Route 66 in America to Australia’s Great Ocean Road, which is 92% shorter. Italy has its Great St Bernard Pass from Turin to Montreux (143 miles) and India can boast the Wayanad Ghat Road from Kozhikode to Wayanad (53 miles) but it’s arguable that in terms of variety, food and natural beauty none of them can compare with the 100-mile trip around the county called Timeless Norfolk.
Earlier this year, a panel of international travel experts and professionals assembled a list of the best road trips in the UK, and judged that driving from Norwich to Hunstanton was the sixth best in the country you could hope to experience.
“This is a trip that begs the question what more could you want?” they said. “Every few hundred yards you’ve got a wealth of history and heritage. You’ll enjoy long coastal views and even longer sandy beaches, and you’ll see incredible buildings, stately homes, unique churches, picture-perfect cottages and the very essence of what makes an English village. And when you do want to stop for a bite to eat, you can rest assured it’s one of the best bites you’ve had since the one you had five miles back.”
Starting from Norwich with its harmonious combination of historical importance and contemporary culture, you reach the north Norfolk coast via a delightful detour to Salhouse for a brief view of the unique Norfolk Broads (you can read about their story on page 8) - and find yourself in Cromer, a picturesque town with a proud maritime past that managed to retain its character despite its transformation after the Victorians ‘discovered’ the appeal of having holidays by the seaside.
Home to the tastiest crabs in the entire country (and arguably Norfolk’s finest fish and chips) this is a town defined by its 140m pier - which is the only pier you’ll see on this entire trip. Voted Pier of the Year by The Piers Society in 2015, it’s home to the last full-season variety show in the world - which several theatre critics think rivals many West End productions.
If you’ve got time, pop into the town’s inspiring Henry Blogg Museum, which celebrates the local lifeboatman who served the RNLI for 53 years and saved almost 900 lives in the process.
Leaving Cromer, you’ll see plenty of East and West Runton at 40 mph along the A149, but as you approach Sheringham on your right you’ll see Beeston Bump - a feature that dispels the myth that Norfolk is relentlessly flat. An intimidating 206ft above sea level, it was formed by retreating glaciers in the Ice Age and was used for gathering intelligence during the Second World War - and is said to be one of the haunts of Black Shuck, the undead dog that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who enjoyed the nearby golf course) to write The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The next 10 miles to Blakeney cover the landscape most associated with the north Norfolk coast, a heady mix of particularly fine restaurants and vast salt marshes and nature reserves. In the winter these narrow lanes are serene and captivating, broken only by the occasional windmill (the one at Cley-next-the-Sea was once the family home of singer James Blunt) or roadside seafood shop.
Blakeney is the very definition of this part of the coastline - beautiful flint fisherman’s cottages and cute gift shops, boat trips to colonies of seals, views for miles across the wide-open spaces (no prizes for guessing the main subject of the work in the area’s many art galleries) and a wealth of wonderful pubs, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. The fact it’s an Area of Outstanding Beauty is hardly a surprise.
Your next stop will be Wells-Next-the-Sea, everyone’s idea of the perfect family summer holiday. Fish and chips out of newspaper, dropping crab lines off the harbour wall, and an extraordinary beach (complete with picturesque beach huts) at the end of the equally-amazing Beach Road promenade. It’s also on the doorstep of the nationally-important Holkham Nature Reserve, the astonishing Holkham estate, and a breathtaking pine woods.
Travelling slightly inland for a while gives you a chance to see how Burnham Market is finally exchanging its Chelsea-on-Sea reputation for a more authentic Norfolk experience, but you’ll soon need to head north again to see the natural wonders of Titchwell and Thornham. By now the award-winning food, expansive tidal marshes and important nature reserves will start becoming de rigueur for you, but it’s good to see them retaining a distinct character of their own.
The road will lead you inexorably towards the west-facing part of the coastline and the holiday resort of Hunstanton, which is the youngest place you’ve visited. Although the landscape and famous layer-cake cliffs are the result of millions of years’ worth of natural processes, the town was created by local landowner Henry Le Strange in 1846 to take advantage of the growing interest in ‘bathing holidays’ and the rise of the railways.
By rights the Timeless Norfolk road trip ends here, but there’s an extra treat in store for people with more time on their hands. Follow the coast as it bends southwards and you’ll pass the delightful villages of Heacham, Snettisham and Dersingham before skirting the edge of the royal estate at Sandringham.
And you’ll finally arrive at King’s Lynn - a thriving port town that was once one of the most important in Europe and has retained a huge concentration of beautiful listed buildings, many of them unique. In fact, it’s a town so fascinating it gave its name to the very magazine you’re reading. All you have to do now is enjoy one of the town’s great restaurants, turn around, and get started on the return trip.