Where to stay

Prices quoted are for a double room based on two people sharing (unless otherwise stated) with breakfast.

The Ship Hotel A warm, friendly gastro-style pub with nine superior bedrooms (little tip: book one of the rooms at the back to avoid any noise from the main road traffic) and The Kiwi Fish Hut, with fish and chips to take away and scoff on the nearby beach. Doubles from £90. Main Road, Brancaster, 01485 210 333,

Byfords Reportedly the town’s oldest building, this beautiful Grade II listed property is filled with character. With a deli, an event caterer, a café and a 16-room bed and breakfast – there are just too many ‘strings to its bow’ to mention at this busy town hub. Doubles from £160. 1-3 Shirehall Plain, Holt, 01263 711400,

Morston Hall A smart, comfortable option, its proximity is especially welcome after a blowout in its highly praised restaurant. From £160 per person based on two sharing, including a four-course set dinner and full English breakfast. Morston Halt, 01263 741041,

The Neptune Restaurant with Rooms The cosiest option (with great beds) is also only one floor away from the dinner table below. From £235 for dinner, bed and breakfast, based on two sharing. 85 Old Hunstanton Road, Old Hunstanton, 01485 532122,

The Hoste Arms This 17th-century coaching inn offers 34 individually decorated rooms in super-posh Burnham Market – there’s also a light-filled conservatory and pretty, walled garden for alfresco dining. From £126 for a double. The Green, Burnham Market, 01328 738777,

Travel Information

Norfolk is one of England’s driest counties and has a mean annual temperature of around 13-14˚C. This rises to an average of 22˚C in the mild summer months, although the exposed coastline is always a couple of degrees cooler. December to February are the coldest months. Cold airstreams from the North Sea can bring with them snow showers throughout winter and early spring.

Greater Anglia ( for travel from London by train: London Liverpool Street to Norwich, then Norwich to Sheringham on the Bittern Line and pick up the Coasthopper Bus at Sheringham.

First Capital Connect ( offers alternative travel from London. King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, then pick up the Coasthopper Bus at King’s Lynn station.

The Coasthopper Bus ( calls at all the villages on the North Norfolk Coast between King’s Lynn and Cromer (A149).

Visit Norfolk (01603 213999, has a wealth of information on its website on topics from accommodation to wildlife. You’ll also find details of forthcoming events and local atractions. There are numerous regional Tourist Information Centres around the county, including the main office in Norwich.

Cooking At Morston Hall by Galton Blackiston (Navigator Guides, £12.95). Blackiston wrote his first book to celebrate ten years of running his Norfolk-based, Michelin-starred, country house restaurant. The book emphasises the importance of local and seasonally sourced ingredients in his cooking at Morston Hall: Blakeney lobsters, Cromer crabs and Morston mussels, with a collection of Blackiston’s favourite recipes, which are simple to adapt and recreate in your own kitchen.

Where to eat

Prices quoted are per person for three courses (without wine), unless otherwise stated.

The Norfolk Riddle Sporting a luxuriant moustache, Frenchman Hervé Stouvenel serves up excellent bistro food that makes the best of local ingredients. From £15.50. 2 Wells Road, Little Walsingham, 01328, 821903,

The Neptune Restaurant with Rooms Kevin and Jacki Mangeolles have created something special in this atmospheric former smuggler’s hangout, from £50. 85 Old Hunstanton Road, Old Hunstanton, 01485 532122,

Morston Hall Chef-proprietor Galton Blackiston was the first to get a Michelin star in this part of the world. This intimate country house offers dining at its (pretty formal) best. From £62. Morston, Holt, 01263 741041,

Wiveton Hall Fruit Farm Café & Farm Shop Cookery doyenne Delia Smith is a big fan of this lively spot that makes superior summer pudding and boasts views over the PYO raspberry canes and marshes to the sea, From £20. Wiveton Hall, Holt, 01263 740515,

The Terrace pop-up restaurant Yes, the pop-up phenomenon has reached North Norfolk and this is among the best, held during the summer months at Creake Abbey. From £25. Owsley-Brown Catering Company, Common Road, Kings Lynn, 01553 840190,

Catesby’s Neil Honor and partner Jonathan Pegg’s Ile-de-Réstyle walled garden café-cum-home store offers locally baked cakes from £3 and Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies, from £6. Staithe Street, Wells-next-the Sea, 01328 711591,

Cookie’s Crab Shop Peter and Susanne McKnespiey are the third generation to sell shellfish here, serving lobster and crab salads overlooking the marshes. From £15 for two courses. The Green, Salthouse, Holt, 01263 740352,

French’s Fish Shop A chip shop has stood on this site since 1923. Now a Wells institution, French’s offers the best fish and chips around – nibble straight from the box sitting on the sea wall opposite. Large haddock and chips, from £6.90. 10 Quayside, Wells-next-the-Sea, 01328 710396,

Food Glossary

Food and Travel Review

The skies are big on the North Norfolk coast. Lapwings soar and dive through the iridescent blue over lofty dunes and endless salt marshes. It’s a region that can easily be described as twitcher nirvana – the capital of birdwatching in Britain.

The marshes and farmland that dominate the coastline have restricted the growth of many of North Norfolk’s towns and villages, ensuring plenty of untouched wilderness. Migrating birds from the Arctic to Africa are drawn here – from the rare and elusive bittern, their booming call echoing across the reeds, to 15 different species of marsh harriers that were near extinction in the 1960s.

In the spring and summer months magnificent wading birds, such as avocets, redshanks, stone curlews and black-tailed godwits, flock to the estuaries and shimmering saline lagoons.

The beaches here are nothing short of majestic. Long, wide sweeps of pristine sand disappear into the sparkling gunmetal grey of the North Sea. But before you reach the shore, there are numerous tidal creeks and salt marshes to navigate – on foot via a network of raised paths or by sea via small boats, whose colourful sails you’ll see weaving surreally across the land and out to sea.

And it really is all about the sea here. The coast stretches for 43 miles, from Hunstanton to Cromer. Farrow & Ball-painted villages, such as Blakeney and Brancaster, eventually giving way to the kissme-quick coastal resorts of Sheringham and Cromer.

The Queen and other resident nobles lend the coast a decidedly stately air, with Sandringham just a few miles inland and the Holkham Estate straddling a key part of the coast – its empirical, Palladian presence a constant reminder of its once powerful past.

As far back as The Tudors, the Dukes of Norfolk were often extended members of the royal family, big figures in politics and rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. The estates and homes that survive today are built on valuable farmland, harking back to a time when land ownership meant power and wealth. While Norfolk’s market towns reflected the importance of sheep farming, the development of coastal towns have maintained the historical links to trade with Europe that have existed since the Middle Ages.

Today, Holkham is powerful for different reasons. It’s part of the drive for good, local food, which it showcases in an annual food event – The North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival. The region has been undergoing a transformation in recent years, from Michelin-starred restaurants to gastro pubs, microbrewers to artisanal producers – the area even has its own pop-up restaurant, The Terrace. But you can’t have a food revolution without good quality ingredients.

Farmers around here commonly grow animals for meat slowly, rearing them on locally grown crops and in grassy meadows, with extra flavour added by blustery sea breezes that carry the salt inland. And there is also a huge natural source of good food – tender, aromatic samphire and crabs, lobster, fish and oysters from the sea and local beaches that cannot be hurried in their growth to full size, nor harvested intensively – one of the causes of flavour loss.

With a happy mix of braying gentry and knotted–hankie-wearing visitors, this is the British seaside at its best. Wave-battered fishing boats line the harbours and quaysides of Wells, Blakeney, Sheringham and Cromer. The fishermen draw in the crowds as they unload their catch: brown crabs, pink shrimps, black lobsters and mussels (whelks used to be the major catch here before their popularity waned). The fishing industry is part of the region’s charm as well as its livelihood, supporting tourism – the main economic driver on the North Norfolk coast. It also supplies fresh fish, the quality and abundance lapped up by both visitors and locals alike.

The Charles William chugs skillfully into Wells Harbour dodging the multitude of small sailing boats moored for the summer. Hessian sacking keeps the sun off stacked plastic crates of crab and lobster as ruddy-faced fishermen, jeans tucked deeply into their boots, flick off seaweed before humping their catch onto a waiting van.

Lucy and Doris, from the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary hover patiently in the background, pouncing on any discards, such as scorpion fish and starfish. ‘We have an arrangement with the fishermen,’ they confide, before whisking their booty back to their viewing tanks on the other side of the cultural divide.

With its vast caravan parks and proliferation of fish and chip shops, Hunstanton is a far cry from the Chelsea-by-Sea-dubbed Burnham Market and Hampstead-loving Holt. You can even measure it by the cost of a beach hut – £15,000 for one in Hunstanton, while you’ll shell out £65,000 for a hut in Wells. But class borders blur when it comes to gawping at the daily catch.

The fishing industry on the North Norfolk Coast has had a welcome boost recently with funding from the EU to help make it more sustainable. And it’s a thriving, albeit small, commercial success story with 62 boats landing 493 tonnes of fish annually – despite the challenges posed by fishing quotas and the continued development of wind energy off the North Norfolk coast.

The wind farms are an ever-present part of the seascape here, their luminous white blades dotting the skyline like a fleet of tall, magnificent ships. Fishing boats give them, and the many shipwrecks scattered on the seabed, a wide berth as they push relentlessly on to the main fishing grounds of Triton Knoll, Silver Pit and Dudgeon. But there’s plenty of fish to be had from the shore, with 14 beaches along a 50-mile stretch singled out as prime fishing spots.

Galton Blackiston uses only fish caught along the North Norfolk coast. And the chef-proprietor of the region’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, Morston Hall, can now add foraging along the seashore to his list of leisure activities, plucking the likes of samphire and fleshy leafed sea purslane for his innovative, mouthwatering dishes – all of which are inspired by famous Danish restaurant, Noma.

The no-choice set dinner starts off with a chilli-spiked bang – a tempura of pak choi half submerged in a spicy shot of cauliflower soup. Then it’s on to the Blickling Hall beef carpaccio, which shakes the tastebuds up even further, accented with dabs of garlic purée and a Marc Veyrat-style scattering of foraged wild flowers.

The lemon sole, with a sage and parmesan crust sitting in a Champagne nage and a smear of parsley ‘paint’ cutting through the beigeness, was no less satisfying, pipped only marginally by a pink-cooked locally shot squab. A dark chocolate and Sharrington raspberry torte kept up the intensity. ‘The emphasis has always been on what’s around us, and what’s in season,’ explains Blackiston, ‘I want that and customers want that. People’s knowledge is so much better, and expectations are so much higher these days. Ten years ago the coast was pretty bare of decent places to eat, but now there’s an explosion – particularly in pubs.’ What’s happening in North Norfolk mirrors elsewhere in the country, as top chefs turn their backs on fine dining in pursuit more of a casual offering.

The Neptune in Old Hunstanton used to be a pub. Now it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant (the only other Michelin star on the coast) with rooms run by Yorkshire-born chef Kevin Mangeolles and his wife Jacki. ‘The produce around here is a chef’s dream. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am,’ admits Mangeolles, who moved here back in 2007 from Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, where he held a Michelin star at The George Hotel for ten years.

The 18th-century former coaching inn is positioned at the beginning of the picturesque coast road, in Old Hunstanton. It’s enticingly cosy, with its roaring fire, fresh flowers, polished wood floors and boaty paraphernalia. There’s even a secret passageway that runs down to the houses on the coast. The Neptune was once a notorious smuggler’s haunt way back in the 1780s, and the wine cellar now sits where a stash of contraband was once hidden.

Mangeolles gets quinces from neighbouring Drove Orchards, the oysters and mussels he uses are from just down the road in the village of Thornham, the lobster from a man in Brancaster and he buys his lamb from Sedgeford farm, located nearby. ‘The quinces are gorgeous – much plumper than I’ve ever had before. The lobster is so sweet and tender,’ he enthuses.

Dinner includes a crisp Elvedon beetroot tart with Binham Blue beignets (using Mrs Temple’s famous blue cheese – more of which later). Jewel-like nuggets of golden beetroot arranged on a waferthin pastry base, scooped up with a Binham Blue mousse, braised beetroot stalks and a beetroot and PX sherry jelly. And that delightful lobster – poached, the claw set in a mint-flecked jelly. Then there’s the tender Sedgeford farm lamb loin served with a belly confit and freshly-picked broad beans from the local farm shop.

There’s been a flurry of farm shops opening here, all playing an important part in North Norfolk’s food awakening. ‘Norfolk producers recognise that sourcing their goods locally leads to increased rural prosperity and sustainability. Given the long travelling distances between towns, farm shops are not only seen as fundamental – as somewhere to shop for provisions nearby – they are also seen as benefitting the local community by keeping money spent in the area,’ reasons Jane Miller, managing director of Produced in Norfolk, a cooperative of 140 Norfolk artisan food, drink and craft producers.

And the region is an area where traditional methods are still commonplace – Norfolk folk are renowned for taking their time and doing things carefully, an approach that’s appreciated by locals and tourists alike. In fact, the huge influx from London who have weekend homes here, have played a significant part in Norfolk’s food renaissance, bringing with them a taste for the finer things, a ready market for local artisan producers and even joining them – leaving the rat race to start up their own artisan businesses.

Walsingham has a cracker of a farm shop. The town is well-known for its religious shrines and is even on the world pilgrimage circuit. Surrounded by medieval monastic houses, the Walsingham Farms Shop boasts its own kitchen garden, bakes its own pork pies, sells its own meat and runs a decent restaurant in the village, The Norfolk Riddle. The restaurant is packed on religious feast days and festivals – and in Walsingham there are many.

Drove Orchards Farm Shop planted its first tree in 1952 and now has over 150 varieties of apples and pears, as well as quinces, gages, soft fruits and its own market garden. The produce is sold from wooden boxes, carefully balanced on hay bales in front of the shop and handily positioned on the main coast road. Step inside the shop and you can pick up a slab of Mrs Temple’s cheese.

Catherine Temple is the aunt everybody wants. Warm, generous and just a tad bonkers, she’s bursting with energy, juggling her busy life as a farmer with making award-winning, handmade cheese in a range of flavours and textures. Her farm and dairy is located a couple of miles north of Wells in the village of Wighton. ‘Come and have a look at my Brown Swiss cows,’ beckons Temple, a trained pharmacist, showing off a handsome, mink-coloured beast, which provides the milk for her Appenzeller-style Wells Alpine cheese.

Much of her inspiration comes from holidays abroad. ‘I was on a cycling holiday in The Alps and loved the local cheese so much I thought I’d make my own version,’ she laughs. And it was a walking holiday in the Picos de Europa, a mountain range in northern Spain, that prompted her much-celebrated, soft-veined Binham Blue.

Gurney’s Gold is her latest creation, a washed rind cheese not dissimilar to Pont l’Évêque (her homage to the washed rind cheeses of Normandy), snapped up – along with the others – by the likes of Morston Hall. ‘And what do you get if you mix them up? A Norfolk fondue!’ she roars excitedly. But she’s deadly serious. Her take on the Alpine speciality is crumbled chunks of Gurney’s Gold and Wells Alpine cheeses melted into a half bottle of Whin Hill Cider.

Situated near the quayside in Wells-next-the-Sea, Whin Hill Cider has been operating for 13 years. Co-owner Jim Fergusson saw a gap in the market for quality cider and has always liked gardening, so he gave up his job at the Electricity Board to manage an orchard 10 miles inland. And ensuring his legacy continues, Ferguson is already training his successors, Mark and Lisa Jarvis, who take over when he retires this year. Stocked with 15 different varieties of apples and pears, the orchard makes nine different blended ciders, three single varietals, a couple of perries, as well as a range of juices. It’s the dry, still blended cider that gets the biggest thumbs up, a perfect match for the local mackerel. It can even tackle a kipper, though preferably a Cley Smokehouse kipper, with its delicate flavour and juicy flesh.

When neighbouring Cley-next-the-Sea’s main street is not choked with traffic in August it’s a tranquil place, with its black and white-windmill and an abundance of trademark flint-studded cottages. One of the reasons Norfolk’s architecture remains so specific is down to its isolation. It didn’t have the mass Victorianisation of other towns in the country and buildings are very specific to the area.

Squashed in amongst the intricately decorated period buildings is the 40-year-old Cley Smokehouse. With a chimney that soars four metres above the ochre-tiled rooftops the smoked fish that’s produced here is coveted by top stores such as Selfridges. ‘You know it’s ready just by looking at it,’ explains owner Glen Weston, opening the door to the smoker, revealing regimented lines of kippers and releasing a heady waft of smouldering oak into the shop.

Whin Hill Cider permitting, beer is the best match for kippers – and Norfolk certainly has plenty of beer. This part of England sees the least rain, and with its fertile soils and maritime climate it’s ideal for growing barley. ‘The country’s maltsters seek out North Norfolk barley,’ declares barley grower, Teddy Maufe. Every town around these parts used to have a maltings, and Wells had the biggest – its gantry still looms over the quay. Maufe remembers it still being used in the Sixties, now it’s a block of swanky apartments.

But here’s a first, a barley farmer who also happens to run a real ale shop alongside his fields. Maufe opened the aptly-named Real Ale Shop six years ago and it showcases not only the beers produced in the region, but also ales from the rest of the country and beyond – but then Maufe also exports his malted barley to brewers in the USA, most notably to the Magnolia Brewery, in San Francisco.

‘Real ale is enjoying such a renaissance,’ says Maufe, who is chair of the North Norfolk fledgling food and drink festival that’s held at Holkam Hall in September. ‘And it’s not just the guys that are drinking it, plenty of girls actually love real ale, too,’ he continues.

A van crunches up the gravel drive and a brewer jumps out, preparing to make the weekly switch – bottles of ale for a few sacks of Maufe’s malted barley. ‘The partnership works well. The Fox Brewery in Heacham even puts the grid reference of my barley field on their bottles,’ says Maufe. There are now 20 brewers on the North Norfolk coast – when he started there were just seven. ‘What’s driving this, and the whole focus on food here, is that people want to know where their food comes from. It’s all about provenance.’

So, whether it’s for the bitterns, the beer, the lobsters or lords, North Norfolk has much to offer those wanting to satisfy their stomachs as well as their thirst for history. And you’ll probably never see a longer white sandy beach, or a bigger expanse of blue sky.

Don’t Miss

Holkham Hall Steeped in history, Viscount Coke’s grand Palladian home is surrounded by acres of rolling parkland, is rich in wildlife, hogs a prime bit of coastline and is still a very much a lived-in family home. Admission to the Hall, adults £12. Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the-Sea, 01328 713111,

Stiffkey Stores A proliferation of chic café-cum-shops have opened in the area in recent years and this is definitely one of the best, serving great homemade cakes and coffee, local and organic produce – including artisan breads and savouries – plus stylish homewares and accessories. The Old Coach House, Wells Road, Stiffkey, 01328 830489,

North Norfolk Food & Drink Festival Over 60 independent North Norfolk food and drink producing folk get together to show off their wares in early September, with celebrity cook-off challenges, advice from local chefs, talks and demos. Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the-Sea. http://northnorfolkfoodfestiva...

Barge sailing cruise With local Morston boatbuilder Charlie Ward on ‘Juno’.
Launched in 2000, and the first sailing barge to be built in the UK in many years, Juno’s shallow draft enables her to venture up the smallest tidal creeks. She leaves Blakeney Harbour and skirts the coast taking in remote beaches, Scolt Head Island and the seal colony. £685 for a half-day charter, maximum 10 people. The Boathouse, Morston, 01263 740377,

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