North Norfolk first won my heart when my oldest was a baby, she might not remember our first days out in Norfolk but I will never forget barn owls, windmills, seals, pebbled cottages, snuggling her on beaches that seemed to never end, and the incredible food.
Dogs and kids are made really welcome in Norfolk, meaning parents can truly relax. There are vast swathes of sandy beach to let off steam and lots of opportunities to get close wildlife, such as barn owls, red squirrels and seals. If you are a foodie you are going to be in heaven with some incredible delis and gastro pubs. It’s no wonder we keep returning.
Days out in Norfolk
I’ve shared our top tips for adventures along the North Norfolk coast, from Brancaster Staithe to Cromer – you could base yourself anywhere along this stretch for an amazing holiday. We’ve enjoyed staying in Wells, Blakeney and Holt. We’ve also caravanned on the Sandringham estate which is worth exploring, it is beautiful, and stopped in Hunstanton to let off steam on the vast sandy beach.
Lunch at the award-winning Gastro Pub The Jolly Sailors, in Brancaster Staithe was the perfect way to shift a gear from our working week, and into the weekend in North Norfolk mode. Kids are welcome, as are muddy boots and dogs. Max our greyhound 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. My homemade falafel burger came in a brioche bun, served with handcut 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.
Holkham Hall and Beach
North Norfolk boasts vast swathes of film-set-worthy sandy beach. Holkham’s golden sandy beach, was trodden by actress Gwyneth Paltrow in the closing scenes of ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Norfolk is the place I bought my first grown-up pair of binoculars, after a walk along the beach we drove through the grounds of Holkham Hall and watched barn owl after barn owl fly past. I’ve never been so close to these amazing birds and to this day they remain a favourite.
Wells Next The Sea
The beach is a half hour walk out from the harbour, which is renowned for crabbing – you’ll probably want to explore both. There is a little train you can catch if you don’t fancy walking, or you can drive and park near to the beach. There is a stretch of lovely pine forest before you get to the sandy beach, which is a real treat to behold.
I could look at the beautiful beach huts all day, and really enjoyed snapping them. Dogs have lots of room to run free. We stopped at Wells Beach Cafe for refreshment, of the canine and human kind, Norfolk is so dog-friendly and Max was excited to find a special doggy hydration station.
We ate an evening meal at The Crown which while quite formal, the staff had the most brilliant manner with kids, and dogs can join you in the bar. 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. The wine selection was great and I really enjoyed my Prosecco and Sauvignon Blanc. I had warm banana cake with Rum and Raisin ice cream, Mr A had the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream – both were incredibly good. The kids had room for ice cream only.
Stiffkey Salt Marshes
The salt marshes might look a little bleak on this chilly March day, but 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.
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. Soon we reached the sandy seabed. The kids immediately started damming creeks and writing in the sand.
We stayed in Blakeney when L was a baby, we feasted nightly at the Deli and ate at the cosy local pub. North Norfolk pubs are something else. We went out to see seals in a boat from here (not one for dogs) and took blustery walks on the beaches.
Cley next the sea
Pretty as a postcard (yet I failed to take any photos myself) Cley next the sea is a tiny village which has a windmill and a deli, a bookshop and locally made crafts shop, it is a dreamy high street. We fell in love with the pottery in Made in Cley, so our cheese dome is from this shop. If you love well-made things and gorgeous food you will love it here. Cley Marshes nature reserve is also one of the top spots to birdwatch in the country.
We took the North Norfolk railway, or Poppy Line steam train to Sheringham, and loved the old fashioned station, with vintage signs, suitcases and cafe. The walk down to the seafront is lined with all kinds of gift shops and eateries, it’s a real new meets old seaside town, with something for all generations.
We ate at the Two Lifeboats pub for decent sausage/fish and chips (get there early if you want a sea view table) which was dog and kid friendly, but as we were leaving I saw a tweet telling me Funky Mackerel has the best hot chocolate and flapjacks. Something the kids and thier cousin could have really done with after paddling – they had an amazing time in the sea, even in October.
I love the old-fashioned pier at Cromer and the Victorian seaside feel. After the tiny villages of the North coast it has more hustle and bustle, yet remains beautiful. I first visited with my parents and daughter when she was a baby.
The kids’ faces when we drove into Pensthorpe nature reserve, home of Springwatch, were brilliant. They could not believe the sight of Wild Rootz, the outdoor play area. Pensthorpe was the only bit where dogs aren’t allowed in, but Max was worn out from our walking earlier in the day, and very content to doze in the car.
The staff at Pensthorpe are brilliant, absolutely go out of their way to take time to talk about what they are doing. We saw Luke three times during our visit. When G wanted to know what he was digging, he took a break to explain why he was cleaning out the pond. When we saw him by the red squirrel enclosure he told us all about Pensthorpe’s successes with reintroducing them into the wild in Anglesey, one of the squirrels has had 50 babies. Luke even tracked us down as he wanted us to see a hedgehog who lives on the site. We took a walk through the wildlife garden, and it was really incredible to come so close to some of the seabirds, some of which we had seen on our walk the day before, being able to get this close is wonderfully inspiring for kids.
To finish our perfect day we had a pre-booked afternoon tea in the cafe. It must have been all the fresh air, but we absolutely found room for it all. The kids looked on in amazement as a platter of sandwiches, a stunning slate of cakes and a cake stand of scones appeared.
Although not in North Norfolk, do go if you pass through Norwich! Bewilderwood, just outside Norwich, consists of 50 acres of forest filled with zip wires, treehouses, climbing frames, dens, a maze, storytelling, boat trips and general magic. Created by local author Tom Blofeld, as you enter the forest there are lovely touches like tiny socks hanging in the trees and miniature houses belonging to the creatures who inhabit the wood, the Twiggles. The Observer voted it one of the 50 best places to visit in the world and we concur. Defintley one of our best days out in Norfolk. The best bit is nearly everything can be done as a family. All four of us were able to climb safely through the trees together, even my son who was only 20 months at the time.
Norfolk Dog and Family Friendly Accommodation
For cosy dog and family friendly cottages in Norfolk with gorgeous interiors, check out Norfolk Cottages. Merryweather Cottage (near Cromer) is five minutes from the sea and sleeps 4 plus a dog or two. Vine Cottage is a thatched cottage between Sheringham and Cromer that sleeps 4 and a dog. For crabbing mad kids try Lugger’s Cottage, which is a few minutes walk from the quayside in Wells-next-the-sea. For a romantic escape without the kids, but with the dog, try Simon’s Barn in Langham between Stiffkey and Blakney. For an unforgettable group get together, why not book Cley windmill?
Do you have any recommendations for dog, child and family-friendly days out in Norfolk?