A weekend in Norfolk

Our weekend away to celebrate our anniversary got off to a shaky start on Friday afternoon – telephoning the hotel to find out what time check-in ended I discovered that I had in fact booked it for only one night instead of two, and they were fully booked on Saturday. Cue panic. Had the website messed up or was I just an idiot? Turned out it was (probably) the latter. It also meant that the price that I’d thought was for two nights was only for one, so instead of being in a very nice hotel, we were in a VERY nice hotel.

Anyway, I managed to book somewhere cheaper for Saturday night, left work early and we were all packed up and driving out of London by 6pm. Once through Central London the traffic was great and we sped up towards Cambridge. James realised we were actually going to pass very close by Cambridge and so we decided to stop and have dinner in one of our old haunts – the Three Horseshoes. We ate here when we were dating and both took our families for a post-graduation dinner. We saw Stephen Hawking there one time and there are often people who look like academics sat by themselves with a glass of wine. It’s basically a pub with very posh food.

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We started with an oyster each and then I had crab on toast as my starter – the crab deliciously spicy. Then, as I wasn’t that hungry I’d gone for another starter as my main – meaty scallops in a buttermilk sauce. It was fantastic, nicely washed down with a small glass of red wine.

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Then we were off again, driving towards Kings Lynn. We arrived at our hotel, Congham Hall, in a tiny village a few miles from Kings Lynn around 10.30pm. It was wonderful. A big old country house with lots of little communal hideaway areas with comfy chairs and sofas; our room was ginormous with the biggest bed I’ve ever slept in and hundreds of pillows.

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We woke up refreshed on Saturday morning to a slightly grey day with blue sky threatening to peek through. Our planned cycle route was about 50 miles, to take us onto the Norfolk Coastal Cycleway at Sandringham then on the cycle way up round the coast before cutting back across the countryside to our hotel.

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We had a bit of a problem finding the Cycleway, ending up on a busier road running parallel to it. But as soon as we were on it, it was very well sign-posted and it was great not having to constantly think about the next turn or the next village. The roads varied from wide, lined with well-spaced out trees and tended lawns around Sandringham, to tiny country lanes bordered by hedges and miles of fields. Norfolk is known for being very flat and I was worried it might be slightly boring but that wasn’t the case, the countryside was more gently rolling than absolutely flat with some lovely curving downhills and uphills. We managed 470m of climbing over almost 90 km so while not exactly hilly, not completely flat!

At one point we decided to leave the Cycleway behind and head down to the coastal road to see if we could see the sea. This was a much busier road but we made our way along it to Wells-on-sea, a bustling fishing village full of walkers, fishermen and crabbers.

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We stopped for some fish and chips before setting off back to the hotel. This was slightly more difficult as we were off the Cycleway and so it involved memorising village names and having to stop regularly to check directions. Need to save up for a bike computer with maps! Or an iPhone holder…..

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We had a quick drink on the terrace at the hotel before driving 5 minutes down the road to our next hotel – a large sprawling complex situated right by a busy roundabout. The buildings and decor were quite dated but it was nice enough. I had stupidly only booked for one person (what is wrong with me?!!) so we had a small double. The bed was probably less than half the size of the bed the previous night! That evening we were back to Congham Hall for a lovely dinner starting with two glasses of champagne. Proper, posh, old fashioned food. I had broad bean and mint risotto followed by lamb, and we shared a cheese board for dessert. It was all lovely but expensive – James was probably right in saying we’ve been spoilt by incredible food at much cheaper prices in London! It wasn’t any nicer really than the lamb I had at Shrub and Shutter which was probably about half the price!

We were slightly hungover when we woke up on Sunday morning but we packed up the car and headed across the road to a farm shop we’d spotted to buy some veg and a few Norfolk chutneys and cheese biscuits. Then it was a quick drive across country to Castle Acre.

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By the time we parked the car, the morning mist had cleared and the sun was out. We were at the castle of Castle Acre – built back in the early 11th century. I’m pretty sure we learnt about this place in history at school as an example of a motte and bailey castle built during the Norman era.

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It’s just ruins now but the shape of the place is still clearly visible all these centuries later, the moat and the grassy mounds where the various buildings would be.

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We explored for a wee while and then set off on a walk along part of the Peddars Way, a national trail which runs for 150 km through Norfolk. The route ran along the narrow River Nar and was really beautiful – clear skies, long vistas of fields… The only downside was quite a lot of dog poo on the path! Come on dog owners – please at least just kick it off the path. The route eventually ended up on a small country lane, before heading down another footpath.

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We didn’t want to go much further as we didn’t have the time, and weren’t sure when or how the route would curve back into Castle Acre so decided to re-trace our steps before taking another footpath towards the priory at Castle Acre.

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We’d spotted these ruins in the distance and they were only more impressive as we approached through the fields. There was a tiny fence around them, and as we couldn’t be bothered to walk all the way to the top and then all the way back down on the inside, we climbed through the fence to explore. It was as we were climbing up some steep narrow steps into a restored room that I realised the fence might not have been just to keep animals out…..

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A quick google revealed the fact that we were actually on a National Heritage site! It had been a priory back in Norman times – turns out its actually one of the oldest and best preserved monastic sites in the UK. We explored a bit more and then made our way out through the gift shop and ticket office, saying a cheery “thank you” to the guy at the desk before we scurried on our way! Ooops!

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An hour’s drive saw us in Ely, where we wandered down to the canal for afternoon tea in the wonderful Peacocks Tearooms. The garden was lovely, the scones were delicious, the apple and cinnamon cake was INCREDIBLE. So light and fluffy, even when I thought I was too full to eat anything else I managed to polish it off.

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And then we drove back to London and ended our wonderful weekend with a few beers with good friends at the Crown and Anchor. I really feel as if I’ve been away on a holiday even though it was only a weekend and would really recommend a trip to Norfolk!!

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