Alan Partridge may have blighted the image of Norfolk for generations, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the gems.
This was what we discovered when we hired a barn conversion in Fakenham, in the north of the county, for a few days.
The cottage itself – named Partridge Barn (no connection) – was a very spacious affair with a roaring wood burner, good kitchen and lovely high ceilings. It provided the perfect base for days of rambling, sight-seeing and seafood.
Even the most hard-hearted of men cannot fail to be moved by blubbery parent seals and cute little cubs
Seal watching takes place at Blakeney point, about a 25-minute drive from Fakenham, where a number of boat operators compete for your business
Of which there was much. From the point of view of the children – I have an 11-year-old and nine-year-old twins – the seal watching has to be the main attraction.
This takes place at Blakeney point, about a 25-minute drive from Fakenham, where a number of boat operators compete for your business.
Beans Boats is good. You are taken out for several passes of the mud flats where the seals bask, and even the most hard-hearted of men cannot fail to be moved by the blubbery parents and cute little cubs – yes, I’m still talking seals – that lounge all day by the water.
The Fakenham barn conversion’s high ceilings and wide views made for a very relaxing visit
There are miles of sandy beaches to be strolled upon with the children, in winter or summer
The bedrooms were excellently equipped for families with children of all ages
The village of Blakeney, by the way, is worth a visit with its fine examples of pebbled flint cottages and artisan delis. Located by the sea, it also offers fine crabbing, fishing, birdwatching and canoeing.
Speaking of which, the perfect Norfolk lunch can be found at the Wells Crab House at Wells-Next-The-Sea, less than 20 minutes’ drive from Fakenham.
Crabs, really, are where it’s at when it comes to north Norfolk cuisine, but this restaurant also excels at oysters, scallops and staples like halibut and hake. Portions are hearty and the staff excel at delivering unpretentious and excellent grub.
Another day-trip that delights young and old alike is a visit to the North Norfolk Railway, about a 35-minute drive from the cottage.
The beautiful Norfolk marshland facing Berney Arms Mill as the sun sets
A group of excited children watch the seals near Blakeney, north Norfolk
The vast Norfolk skies are a beautiful backdrop for the luxurious barn conversion
A roaring wood burner provided warmth and comfort for when the temperature dropped
In my experience, a steam train ride caters for everyone. Small children can enthuse about Thomas and fat controllers, older ones can eat snacks and window-watch, parents can relax and grandparents can sleep. It can be rather pricey, though.
And then, of course, there are the walks. Half-an-hour from Fakenham is the Titchwell Nature Reserve, where an elegant, modernist hide allows a spectacular view of marsh harriers, bitterns, bearded tits (frequent in Norfolk) and avocets.
The flat marshland with huge and elemental skies are a feature of the East Anglian landscape, and unique to the British Isles.
Last but not least, there are the pubs. Let’s face it: you’re spoiled for choice in north Norfolk. From the Recruiting Sergeant in the village of Horstead, which offers excellent real ales, roaring fires and heated terraces (book in advance) to the 14th Century Green Dragon at Wymondham – one of the oldest pubs in Britain – there’s always somewhere for a pint and some proper Norfolk fare.
Returning south, I was struck anew by the richness of our British Isles. Fancy foreign holidays certainly have their place, but there is so much to explore here at home that is all too frequently overlooked.
And it was lovely seeing it from Partridge Barn. Again, no connection.
Seven nights’ self-catered accommodation at Partridge Barn near Fakenham, sleeping six in three bedrooms with two pets welcome, starts from £1,255 (£29.88 per person per night). Valid for arrival 5 July 2019.
Please visit cottages.com/cottages/partridge-barn-ccck for more details.