Chelsea with huge skies

Explore Norfolk this summer and find long beaches, romantic skies, fab delis and low house prices
From Hunstanton on the Wash to Cromer in the south, the north Norfolk coast is one of the country’s most popular places to buy a home.

Known locally as the gold coast, more than one in 10 properties is a second home and the pretty little town of Burnham Market, with its restaurants and boutiques, has become a magnet for weekenders from London, so much so that it has long been referred to as “Chelsea-on-Sea”.

So what is the attraction? North Norfolk is undoubtedly something of an acquired taste. Its attractions are not immediately obvious but for those who fall in love with this coast it becomes a life-long obsession.

This is a coastal scenery of huge skies, salt marshes, creeks, windmills and pine clad sand dunes. Outdoors there are beaches, golf courses, sailing, fishing and bird and seal watching.

'Norfolk's attractions are not immediately obvious, but for those who fall in love with this coast it becomes a life-long obsession'

In the villages there are medieval churches - a reminder of the time when East Anglia was at the centre of Britain’s wood trade - pretty cottages of brick and flint, or in the more north-western villages, brick and carstone or brick and chalk.

The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market, Norfolk
The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market, Norfolk
Good local food is another lure for London weekenders who have a choice of restaurants and gastro pubs. They return to the capital laden with local specialities such as samphire, smoked fish, crab, and locally grown fruit and vegetables.

A recent survey by estate agent Savills shows that in some coastal parishes as many as half of all homes now belong to second home-owners. House prices in these micro-markets are on average at least 50 per cent higher than in the surrounding area.

Coastal villages

The North Norfolk fishing village of Blakeney and its neighbour, Cley next the Sea, with its salt marshes, windmill, gastro delicatessen and smoked-fish shop, were singled out in the survey as places with the highest house prices relative to neighbouring areas, putting them on a par with the better-known coastal hotspots, such as Salcombe in Devon and Rock in Cornwall.

In Burnham Market, with its Georgian architecture and the little stream that cuts through the green in the centre of the high street, the influx of London style doesn’t detract from the charm of the small town.

Windmill at Cley next the Sea
© David George
The windmill at Cley next the Sea

'This is a coastal scenery of huge skies, salt marshes, creeks, windmills and pine clad sand dunes'

It is easy to while away the day there with lunch at the Hoste Arms; shopping for dinner in Humble Pie, the local delicatessen; followed by a little gentle browsing in the bookshops, boutiques and galleries.

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Along the coast there are pretty villages, some with sandy beaches, others with magical views of creeks and salt marshes, such as Old Hunstanton, Holme-next-the-Sea, Thornham, Brancaster, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Overy Staithe.

At Holkham, there is a wide sandy beach and Holkham Hall, the family home of the Earls of Leicester, who also own the fashionable Victoria Hotel, which was renovated in 2001 and has a restaurant where you can sample medallions of Holkham beef fillet with tempura of Thornham oysters, champ potato and Guinness cream for £17.95.

Wells-next-the-Sea is still a working fishing port with a lively quay and a pretty town green surrounded by Georgian houses.

Beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea
Beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea
Blakeney is a popular sailing village, while the next village travelling east is Cley next the Sea, which is famous for its craft-selling workshop Made In Cley, where you can watch craftspeople at work; the Cley Smokehouse, which sells delicious smoked fish; and a windmill that is run as a bed and breakfast.

From there there is a beautiful walk along the long spit of shingle to Blakeney Point where common and grey seals are often seen basking in the sun, and where bird-watching twitchers spend hours waiting for migratory birds.

Further east still there are the quiet seaside towns of Sheringham and more lively Cromer, famous for its crab, its pier, beach cafés and sandy beaches.

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Fact file

Local councils: Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk (01553 616200) and North Norfolk District Council (01263 513811).

Council tax: Band D 2008/09 King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, £1,420.29; North Norfolk, £1,442.89.

Burnham Market's small stream
© David George
Burnham Market's small stream
Eating out: White Horse (01485 210262) at Brancaster Staithe; Hoste Arms (01328 738777) and Fishes Restaurant (01328 738588) in Burnham Market; Victoria Hotel in Holkham (01328 711008); Lifeboat Inn (01485 512236) in Thornham.

Shopping: In Burnham Market, try delicatessen Humble Pie (01328 738581); for women’s clothes go to Lime Green (01328 738653) or Anna (01328 730325), which now has two branches in London; for interiors and gifts there is Norfolk Living (01328 730668). In Cley next the Sea, there is the Cley Smokehouse (01263 740282) for smoked fish and Made In Cley (01263 740134) for unusual crafts.

Country houses: Blickling Hall (01263 738030); Felbrigg Hall (01263 837444); Holkham Hall (01328 710227); and Sandringham (01553 612908).

Golf courses: Hunstanton (01485 532811); Royal West Norfolk (01485 210223); Royal Cromer (01263 512884); and Sheringham (01263 822038).

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