Family weekends are often a case of compromise. As parents we either ‘ruined it’ by not making it exciting enough, or we feel ruined by trying to keep the kids happy. Not this weekend. We managed to go for a couple of stunning coastal walks, stayed in a boutique hotel, enjoyed a lazy gastro pub lunch, dined in style in a posh restaurant, drank Prosecco/hot chocolate in a roll top bath and – and everyone absolutely loved it and behaved nearly impeccably. North Norfolk had a magical effect on all five of us. I say five as Max the dog was invited to test Norfolk’s dog friendlyness. Was Norfolk ready for the Alexanders?
Visit North Norfolk invited us to test the perfect family and dog friendly weekend. Lunch in the award wining Gastro Pub the jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe was the perfect way to shift a gear from our suburban working week, and into the weekend in North Norfolk mode. The kids were welcome, as were muddy boots and dogs. Max soon spread out under the table for a nap while we pulled out some gorgeous wooden board games to keep the kids happy during the very short wait for our food/to stop G pretending to be a dog.
I wish it had been longer, we were just getting to grips with backgammon, and L’s made up rules to this other game, any idea what it is? I had half a pint of lager, hurrah, must be in a proper pub! An award winning great British pub none the less.
My homemade falafel burger came in a brioche bun, served with handout chips, homemade relish and a gorgeous slaw. Mr A loved his meat pie and veg and the kids had child size portions of fish and chips and pizza.
Dessert was incredible too, sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie were particular favourites.
“Hey Lady, you are trespassing on my dessert.” Can’t quite believe what comes to of the mouths of babes sometimes, but yep this is what my 6yo said when I tried to steal some Sticky Toffee Pud. Meanwhile L tried to come up with a noun for a boy who thinks he is a cat and sometimes a dog….
After lunch Max made friends with a whippet, I made friends with a local, an elderly gent who loved greyhounds, and the kids made friends with a boy their age in the beer garden play area. The pub is popular with families, dog walkers, ramblers, locals, couples – a really varied clientele, all happily co existing. You could snuggle by the fire on a romantic pub stop for two, play games as a family, or gather in a bigger group. The beer garden even has an ice cream shack, you can see it in blue here.
Next an afternoon ramble.
Tim from Walk Norfolk greeted us as StiffKey Salt Marshes National Trust car park. This isn’t signposted, so follow the signs for ‘Recuse Wooden Boats’ and keep driving out towards the sea until you arrive at the car park. Tim waited patiently as we kitted ourselves out for proper outdoor life, he’d already tweeted us to bring wellies. Max the dog jumped out the boot and G jumped in and refused to get out. Normally he is the one who loves exploring. After some gentle persuasion from us lot left standing waiting in a chilly wind, he agreed to join us.
The salt marshes might look a little bleak on this chilly March day, but G was soon to find out they were an absolute treasure trove of tiny creeks and streams, leading out to the sea and a brilliant playground, as long as you are aware of the tides. Our walk took place as the tide was out. Tim peppered our walk conversation with stories of his own children growing up in North Norfolk – we could absolutely imagine what a magical childhood they must have had.
Tim had written a scavenger hunt list for both children. G was too busy picking up giant sticks and straight in to jumping streams to take part, L on the other hand, loved it and instantly started ticking things off. I did notice G definitely had an ear cocked as Tim explained some of the stranger finds to L. One of the finds was the tideline, we were essentially walking along it, although we could barely see the sea it reaches so far out, Tim had planned our walk to allow us to get a sense of the tide and the sea. There first find was a Whelks Egg Nest, which took me back to visiting the seaside as a child.
To navigate the salt marsh you have to wind your way around, finding paths which aren’t too muddy or wet, unless of course you have wellies or it is a summer day and you are barefoot. On the way out towards the sea are a series of little bridges over the larger which added to the adventure. As a retired racing greyhound Max is still learning about new terrains, it took him a while to understand stairs at home and he hates stiles. He was very resistant to the bridges, but it was nothing that couldn’t be sorted with a dog biscuit every time we encountered one.
Soon we reached the sandy sea bed. The kids immediately started damming creeks and writing in the sand. It was a little blustery to stay too long, but in Summer the vast acres of long sandy beaches must make an amazing playground. Although I have to say, all my trips to Norfolk have been in Spring and it is the most fabulous place to blow away the cobwebs.
We walked back through the wooded area that overlooks the sea, full of crops of daffodils and a plant we learnt was called Alexander, our namesake. If we’d arrived earlier we would have taken in the Rescue Wooden Boats visitor centre but it was closed. So it was off to our hotel in Wells next the sea.
Both kids absolutely loved this walk, and were suitably worn out and wind blasted, they completely crashed out at the hotel. We stayed at The Crown in Wells. A beautifully decorated room, with bunks in a small second room which was perfect for our kids. Max was spoilt with a warm towel, a dog bed and biscuits.
I will admit, we were a little worried the hotel would be too posh and that turning up muddy and dishevelled would be a problem. But we were in good company with fellow dog owners and walkers. We whisked Max into the bathroom to have his paws cleaned, the kids were stripped of muddy clothes and dunked in the roll top bath. It was a military operation for 10 minutes, but worth it to appreciate utter luxury! We all crashed on our beds with tea, hot chocolate and complimentary flapjacks.
Look, this has to be the best hotel we have ever stayed in as a family!
The Crown booked us into the bar where you can take your dogs, but knowing Max would settle best snuggled with his blankets in the car, we decided it would be more relaxing to have dinner without him. This meant we could eat in the stylish and gorgeous restaurant, the likes of which we haven’t really attempted as a family. I was slightly afraid we wouldn’t be able to relax with the kids here, especially when Mr G dropped a side plate about ten minutes in. But the staff had the most brilliant manner with kids, they were absolutely treated like grown ups and it had an amazing effect on them. They rose to meet the challenge. The colouring sheets and walls of books helped, many are kids’ books so they had lots to distract them.
They popped lots of Quails’ Eggs and olives to start, and then enjoyed their child sized main courses of cheesy pasta with peas or ham and sausage and mash. My parsnip risotto tasted and looked amazing and I was really pleased to receive a special vegetarian menu. Mr A enjoyed his, I’m veggie and he’s not, so that’s as far as I go on his food! The wine selection was great and I really enjoyed my Prosecco and Sauvingnon Blanc. The puddings were incredible. I had warm banana cake with Rum and Raisin ice cream, Mr A had the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. he kids had room for ice cream only. I know, we ate a lot of cake this weekend.
We were all so pleased to have enjoyed a really incredible meal out together. And then dear reader to bed, with no fuss or complaints from anyone, because we had another big day ahead. More on Sunday and our amazing visit to Pensthorpe, the nature reserve where Springwatch has been filmed, and Wells next the sea here in part two, and in our video of our weekend.
We stayed at The Crown, Wells Next the Sea. By far the most family and dog friendly hotel we have ever stayed in.
We ate at The Jolly Sailors, Brancaster Staithe, Regional Winner in the Great British Pub Awards 2013 and 2014.
We were guided by Tim from Walk Norfolk who design bespoke walking routes for individuals and businesses.
Rescue Wooden Boats are based at Stiffkey, follow their signs from Stiffkey village to find the National Trust Car Park we used and go to the Rescue Wooden Boats visitor centre.
For more great ideas of what to do in Norfolk, check out Visit North Norfolk
Mr A and G wear hoodies from local company Gone Crabbing, not far from The Jolly Sailor pub.