Fluffy nostalgia is a daft reason to board a thrill ride, particularly if you’re a scaredy-cat like me. But pulling down the safety bar on Great Yarmouth’s famous wooden Roller Coaster, painted in the brightest shades of red and blue, feels like a chance to thunder back in time.
This clattering caterpillar first opened in 1932, had a cameo in Madness’s House Of Fun video, and still very much serves up a stomach-lurching three-minute masterclass in kinetic energy.
And get this for an added fear factor: it grinds to a halt only when the teenage attendant on board squeezes a hand-brake.
Great Yarmouth’s coastline ‘on a blue-sky day does a decent impression of California’, says Joanna
Dubbed The Scenic, thanks to the clear views of Norfolk’s custard-yellow sands and the slate-blue North Sea, this is the most-queued-for attraction at Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach, where a £15 ticket lets you ride dozens of fairground and thrill rides – cups and saucers, anyone? – as many times as you like in a four-hour slot.
If many of the UK’s other classic seaside towns – Margate, Weymouth, Brighton – have been spruced up with trendy coffee shops and boutique shopping, then Great Yarmouth still faithfully worships at the altar of kiss-me-quick, with its Golden Mile a colourful mish-mash of Vegas-esque arcades, crazy golf, chippies and ice cream shops.
It all backs up to 15 miles of soft, golden sand, which is largely upstaged by the neon-lit entertainment. But it shouldn’t be – on a blue-sky day, this stretch of coast does a decent impression of California.
Great Yarmouth ‘still faithfully worships at the altar of kiss-me-quick, with its colourful mish-mash of Vegas-esque arcades, crazy golf, chippies and ice cream shops’
‘Depending on your appetite for seaside kitsch, actually basing yourself in Great Yarmouth might feel too much,’ writes Joanna
There’s more nostalgia when I discover my childhood funfair snack of choice is also gloriously unchanged by time. In a quick breather between the dodgems, the log flume and the Haunted Hotel, I tussle with my daughters over a paper bag brimming with hot sugar-drenched doughnuts that are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Later we chow down on smoky sticky ribs, sweetcorn and loaded potato skins at the retro-looking Joyland American Diner, which sits on the beach, right next to the pier.
Stuffed to the gills, our final jaunt of the day comes via the more sedate Observation Wheel, a statuesque, 165ft-high ferris wheel which circles tourists high above the Golden Mile.
After five minutes at the top we start to wonder whether the attendants have packed up and gone home for tea – but once we’re back on terra firma we’re reassured that they stop it just to let you truly savour the best view in town.
Depending on your appetite for seaside kitsch, actually basing yourself in Great Yarmouth might feel too much.
With the kind of special exhaustion that only a day at the beach can bring, we retreat 20 minutes away to upmarket Fritton Lake, a large woodland resort with rooms, cottages and lodges set in 1,000 acres of Norfolk countryside.
Booking in gives you access to clay tennis courts, wild swimming and boating in the lake, plus the chance to take a dip in a beautiful heated outdoor pool.
So serene is our Sunday morning swim in Fritton’s pool that I question whether our jaunt into high-octane Great Yarmouth was actually just a candy-floss hued reverie – it feels a million miles away from this rural hideaway.
Pictured above is Great Yarmouth’s quay and Town Hall. ‘Reacquainting yourself with an old-fashioned seaside favourite could be just the ticket this summer,’ writes Joanna
Pictured above is Great Yarmouth’s famous wooden Roller Coaster, which opened in 1932 and went on to have a cameo in Madness’s House Of Fun video. Joanna reveals that ‘it grinds to a halt only when the teenage attendant on board squeezes a hand-brake’. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons licensing
The upside down house at Great Yarmouth’s crazy golf course. Joanna describes Great Yarmouth as a ‘classic seaside town’
At The Fritton Arms on the estate the menu is ambitious, seasonal and local.
The special on the day we dine is scallops with dashi soup and samphire. There’s a nod to fast-food too – kids will love the stone-baked pizzas that take minutes to emerge hot and delicious from the kitchen.
After lunch we head to Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, a 20-minute drive from Great Yarmouth, and titter at the slap-dash antics of chattering gibbons, hilariously quiffed warthogs and cute meerkats. The hall itself dates back to 1736 but was transformed into a wildlife park by Ken Sims in 1979.
He has retired but his ethos lives on. Inspired as a teenager by conservationists David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell, he started the gardens with two large pythons that he transported here via train after being given them by a friend. It is now home to snow leopards, alligators and red pandas.
It’s back to the coast for our final pit-stop, Gorleston-on-Sea – Yarmouth’s much smaller, infinitely more sensible sibling.
This understated resort town enjoyed 15 minutes of fame when Suffolk resident Richard Curtis set his 2019 Beatles-inspired hit film Yesterday here. Director Danny Boyle put out a call for locals to join in as extras for a concert scene on the beach and more than 5,000 turned up.
Before we make the big drive back home, we stroll along Gorleston’s promenade placing other key locations from the film – the historic Pier Hotel and neighbouring Ocean Room among them.
The kids, meanwhile, spend every last moment they can on the flour-soft beach – and seem to bring half of it back with them to the car.
Reacquainting yourself with an old-fashioned seaside favourite could be just the ticket this summer. And the appeal of this coast-and-country portion of Norfolk is that, if you’ve got wheels, you can dip in and out of a myriad of different holiday experiences without spending the earth.
Just hang on to your hat if you board that wooden roller coaster.