I’m just back from a lovely short break in Norfolk with the family. There were 9 of us: 5 adults and 4 children, all boys (2, 4, 5 and 8), plus 2 dogs, so we needed a large house to accommodate us all. Fortunately, I found the perfect place on Booking.com in Clippesby, about halfway between Norwich and Great Yarmouth.
The house was big enough that even when it rained from time to time, there was plenty of room for the boys to play. A large walled garden at the back also kept the dogs safe and they couldn’t escape.
Clippesby is a small village in the Norfolk Broads National Park (see below). It’s very small and has no shops or pubs but you’ll find some in Acle, just a couple of miles away, or other villages close by. There is, however, a church and it was just opposite the house we were staying in – St Peter’s Church – which some of us visited one afternoon.
It’s a beautiful little church with a round tower dating mainly from medieval times in the 12th century, but with Norman doorways and even Saxon influences. There are many round tower churches in the area, something I hadn’t seen before and they are found mainly in this eastern part of England – East Anglia. It’s an area without the kind of stone normally used for building churches and flint is used instead. We thought many walls also seemed to be constructed from the large stones we found on beaches, held together with some kind of mud. They were also built as defences against invaders like the Vikings and certainly the towers were very much like the kind seen on castles and forts. The round towers date from Saxon times.
It was a lovely church inside and had a nice sense of being one that was used and loved by the community.
There was some beautiful stained-glass windows and some unusual and more modern-looking tapestries.
The Norfolk Broads
The Broads have been a popular holiday destination for a long time and are a series of open expanses of water joined by – sometimes very narrow – waterways. I’ve known about The Broads for as long as I can remember and of people holidaying on them in large boats, but had never visited them before. It’s an area of wide open spaces, often referred to as The Fenlands – ‘fen’ being an area of low, marshy land which frequently floods. There are three rivers – the Yare, Waveney and Bure – and where they swell into wide expanses, these are called The Broads. It’s a unique landscape with its huge skies that stretch endlessly across the horizon, rich in wildlife and culture. They influenced Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons, who often holidayed there and mentioned them in his writings. The Broads were originally cut out of the land in medieval times to gather peat for fuel. Because the land was so low and by the sea, the diggings eventually flooded with water.
Later, windpumps were built to drain the excess water from the land into the waterways, so the land could be used for agriculture. We visited one of the most famous windpumps – Horsey Windpump, now owned by the National Trust. Built in 1912, it was operational until 1943 when it was struck by lightning. The National Trust have extensively restored it.
You can go inside the windpump (National Trust members free, otherwise £6.50 for adults). Inside we looked up to the workings and saw the small cabin where the millman slept.
We couldn’t go right to the top but still got a good view over this part of The Broads.
Down below we bought coffee in the small cafe and some gorgeous chocolate-chip cookies which we were told were baked that morning. Then we set off along the footpath and not far along found a sign telling us about a boat trip on The Broads. A little time later we saw the boat return and went to ask when the next trip was. The boatman – Philip with his dog Alfie – said he could take us out straight away for an hour’s trip (£11 per adult).
It was a wonderful piece of serendipity that he’d come back at just the time we were there, and our exploration of The Broads with someone who had lived there all his life and knew all its history as well as having a fantastic knowledge of the local wildlife was a real highlight.
There were just four of us as my son and family had set off home that morning and we enjoyed a private tour. We motored down the short bit of waterway and out into the expanse of Horsey Mere.
Crossing the Mere, we entered a narrow waterway where tall reeds grew on either side.
Philip’s knowledge of the local bird life was tremendous, pointing out birds some way off. My daughter and wife, keen birdwatchers, had binoculars with them and we moved across the boat to see out in all directions. He also told us he’d seen an otter earlier that day – showed us photos on his phone – but it’s very rare to see them. The biggest excitement for us was seeing a Marsh Harrier in flight, which I managed to photograph.
At times Philip turned the boat’s motor off and we just drifted along, peace and just the sound of birds around us. It was really special. He said this part of The Broads doesn’t get busy because of the narrow entrances further along which prevent the large holiday boats getting through. When our hour was up we headed back up towards Horsey Windpump in the distance.
To do this boat trip visit Ross’s Wildlife Boat Trips on their Facebook page: click here
Birds and all the wildlife on The Broads isn’t the only excitement in the area for this part of Norfolk is well known for its seal colonies. Nearby Horsey beach is a popular destination to see seals. The thriving colony of grey seals breed here between November and January and you can see the baby seals at that time. The beach is roped off then but you can see down onto it from the dunes.
We went to Winterton-on-Sea a few miles further south, and just an 11 minute drive from our house, to walk and saw seals there.
We’d planned to have lunch there on our first day, heading for a cafe recommended in our guidebook but were told that it had dropped into the sea four years ago! There’s a lot of erosion of the cliffs along here and we saw odd bits of walls and other debris. However, it’s a beautiful place with long, long stretches of sand and that huge Norfolk sky and endless horizon out at sea. I just love it.
And we did see seals, which was of great excitement for all but especially the small boys. The first day we saw a seal on the beach, were initially worried about whether it was alive, but soon saw it move.
The next morning we walked in the other direction having crossed through a gap in the dunes. It was a glorious morning, an almost empty beach and we caught sight of seals swimming across the waves.
With such small children in our party, we had no plans to eat out in the evening and as it was my birthday weekend, my son and daughter offered to do all the cooking. On the first night, Nicola cooked a great Moroccan vegetarian meal:
With poached pears and ice cream for dessert:
The second evening son Jonathan barbecued some marinated lamb which was delicious served with roasted vegetables and broccoli:
On the third night Jonathan made fabulous sourdough pizza – he’d brought his sourdough starter from London:
On the final evening, Nicola made a lovely Ottolenghi salmon dish:
We did eat out at lunchtime a couple of times. The Dune Cafe may have dropped into the sea at Winterton-on-Sea but fortunately there was the Seal View cafe now where we found good coffee and great snack dishes for lunch.
There was fish & chips for £10; and egg & bacon bap for £5. I had a ‘posh fish finger sandwich’ for £6. It was warm enough to sit outside on benches (there was a cabin for indoor seating) and enjoy the view across the dunes and sea.
We ate out at lunchtime the following day in Acle at the Bridge Inn.
There are moorings at the end of the garden and thus you’re right by the water.
There was entertainment for kids with a big wooden boat to climb, some large battery run bikes (£1) in one fenced-off area and a small amusement arcade.
An extensive menu offered meals, snacks and a kids’ menu. I had fish & chips.
Eldest grandson had a kids’ burger – which was almost the size of the adult one my son had. The kids’ menu at £7.50 also came with ice cream.
It was a great four days with the family. The house suited us perfectly for its size and garden. There were so many interesting things to do in the area that we barely touched all we might like to see in the short time there. But what we did manage to visit was excellent – all those seals, the trip along The Broads, the windpump, the pretty church. It’s an area full of natural beauty with a kind of haunting quality with those huge expanses of flat land and sky and is really quite special.
GPSMyCity Seasonal Giveaway
Many of my travel posts are published on the brilliant GPSmyCity app. With this app, guides to thousands of cities all over the world are available to you at the touch of your phone or tablet screen. They are offering the chance to win one year’s premium membership FOR FREE. The prizes will go to the first ten people to download the app and contact them. Get the app from your phone’s ‘store’, go to “More” screen and “Feedback” and send them an email with the claim code: (26600425) and you may be one of the lucky ones. The deadline to claim the prize is 2 May 2023.