The young Nelson knew a landscape of gently sloping hills facing the North Sea’s wild expanse. It hasn’t changed much since his day. The gleaming tidal creeks, salty winds and beaches of soft sand and brittle shell seem timeless, as tides rhythmically rise and fall, filling fissures of mud carved by the waves. Forever changing, yet forever the same. The River Burn still spills its waters into the salty brine, flowing though villages that share its name. This is Nelson Country and he was proud of it. As you explore, imagine how this evocative land inspired a local hero centuries before.
Have you read When Marnie Was There? It’s the story of Anna, a solitary London orphan sent to convalesce on the north Norfolk coast who meets a kindred spirit called Marnie in the mysterious Marsh House. Published in 1967, this ghostly tale of a little girl’s loneliness was shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie medal and is still a much loved children’s classic. Studio Ghibli made an anime film version in 2014, on the suggestion of Hayao Miyazaki, the great animator known for his love of European landscapes. In the film the story is relocated to rural Japan, but the softs tones of Norfolk’s timeless marshland are beautifully rendered. The fictional village in the book is named Little Overton but if you wander round Burnham Overy Staithe you’ll be immersed in Marnie’s world. Author Joan G Robinson spent family holidays here, inspired by the evocative landscape of meadow and marsh where the sky is ‘grey as a pearl’. You can see the red brick Granary with its blue door, the real life Marsh House, and a black and white windmill that’s stood here for over 200 years, just like the one that haunts Marnie’s imagination – and ours.
Take time to absorb the atmosphere of Burnham Overy Staithe. Walk the coast road and River Burn, surrounded by grasslands whispering in a salt breeze, bleached by lemony winter sunshine. Barn owls glide in the early dusk where crows repeat harsh cries. Time to turn in, get cosy and rediscover a childhood classic.
Burnham Overy Staithe is a reflective place of lapping water and salty air. It’s peaceful here, just the cries of seabirds riding the wind and chinking masts, dinghies hauled up, sails cocooned, waiting for clear weather.
This is where naval heroes were forged and a small boy first heard the call of the sea. Admiral Lord Nelson’s eventual victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was launched here in the little North Norfolk village where it’s likely he first learned to sail. These creeks were his teachers, he studied the tides and weather, cutting through marshy streams to the mouth of the River Burn and out into the open sea.
Walk east along the coast path past the marsh, grazing grounds for pink foot geese, oyster catchers and redshank. If you’re lucky rare curlews fill the air with thrilling wild crescendos and red kite hover high above. To your left twisting creeks meander though sea purse where dunlin probe the rippling mudflats for shellfish. Eventually you reach the beach, lonely, windswept, and vast. At low tide vistas of sand and sky meet in a shining mirage of restless light.
But beware of time and tide. When the sea returns, its pace is swift, racing into dips and hollows, turning the sands into islands before covering them completely. Even the carpark can flood, so keep an eye on the sea. When the tide is high, unless you’re a seagull, head to a local pub or cosy up in a café for tea.
Park your stress and hop on a bike! Leave the car behind and get some fresh Norfolk air in those lungs. Dip and swerve through ancient heathland and magical woods on pretty tracks and trails where the majestic North Norfolk coast sweeps suddenly into view. Cries of gulls and geese pierce the air. Amid such beauty, coupled with the pleasure of physical exertion, life’s limitations fall away. The sense of freedom is a rush, a natural (and legal) high! Cycling is known to boost fitness, unleash the imagination and, most importantly, make you happy.
Family business Huff and Puff Cycles provides friendly, efficient cycle hire for individuals, couples and families. Love being part of a crowd? Huff and Puff’s fleet of over 150 top quality cycles easily caters for large group bookings. Tag-a-longs, child seats and buggies are available too. For twice the fun, try a tandem! Or breeze along, letting an electric bike take the strain.
A range of free downloads helps you plan your ideal cycle route, mainly off-road, from an easy 3.5 mile jaunt to a 15 mile challenge. Or try the ‘Huff and Puff’ trail, which includes a nostalgic steam train journey. Huff and Puff also has great value accessories, servicing, and repairs for your own bicycles. If you’re staying in local accommodation, a delivery service brings the bikes right to your door so you can head off without even getting in the car. Low carbon, slow travel at its finest! Let’s go!
Clues to historic military campaigns of air, land and sea are hidden among the tranquil villages of west Norfolk’s Nelson Loop.
Begin your cycle route at the parsonage of All Saints’ Church at Burnham Thorpe. A plaque marks the 1758 birthplace of Admiral Lord Nelson, born here when his father, Edmund, was rector. Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 after a victorious career, celebrated at the church.
When the villages of Burnhams Ulph, Sutton and Westgate were absorbed by Burnham Market, the new boundaries formed one parish containing five churches. Two are gone, but you can see the ruins of St. Ethelbert’s at Burnham Sutton. And both St. Mary’s at Burnham Westgate and All Saints’ at Burnham Ulph remain in regular use. Beyond the Burnhams, you’ll pass Stanhoe Hall, where a World War Two Wellington bomber crashed in 1943. In contrast, the villages of Great and Little Barwick have a peaceful history, though smaller now than in their medieval heyday. At this time, nearby North Creake was dominated by beautiful Creake Abbey, an Augustinian priory elevated to abbey status in 1225. When plague killed the last abbot in 1506 the beautiful buildings fell into picturesque ruin.
Finally, at South Creake the village sign records a furious battle between Danes and Angles, a slaughter so terrible the hill is still named Bloodgate. The enigmatic traces of an Iron Age earthwork ‘hillfort’ are all that remain of this turbulent chapter in Norfolk’s distant past.
If you’re a foodie, don’t miss Creake Abbey Food Hall! It sits amid beautiful water meadows a few miles south of Burnham Market and the glorious north Norfolk coast. A stone’s throw from the magnificent ruins of an Augustinian Abbey dating from 1206 you’ll find an airy café, food hall and beautifully curated collection of independent shops and services including a florist, hairdresser, picture-framer and boutique of pristine preloved designer gear.
Forget sterile supermarkets! Creake Abbey’s friendly Food Hall is a treasure trove of delicious local produce embracing the seasonal richness of Norfolk and beyond.
This glorious food experience supports local farmers and wonderful local food and drink producers, offering everything from chewy sourdough bread to zingy salads and super fresh deli treats including best selling cheeses Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue and Ferndale Farm’s Norfolk Dapple. Add a box of Creake Abbey’s famous sausage rolls along with gorgeous fruit and vegetable harvests, soft drinks, wine and beer and there’s everything you need for a fabulous feast. Can’t be bothered to cook? Chefs at onsite Creak Abbey Café rustle up delectable oven-ready meals including classics like scrumptious fish pie, authentic lasagne and fabulous crumbles. Third helping? Don’t mind if I do!
As well as celebrating Norfolk produce, Creake Abbey Food Hall expertly sources exciting new food and drink brands perfect for stylish stocking fillers and gourmet gifting. Hampers for all seasons are a speciality or let the crew sort out your own bespoke Norfolk picnic! So good!
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is the hero of many young sailors. Renowned for courage and seamanship, plus being rather good at winning battles, he’s celebrated by Nelson’s Column, a majestic statue at the centre point of London’s Trafalgar Square. Long before such accolades, Nelson grew up in the quiet landscapes of North Norfolk. His father was the Parson for Burnham Thorpe, still peaceful, unspoilt village. Young Nelson learned to sail on the Norfolk Coast at Burnham Overy Staithe near Holkham, a beautiful place for an autumn stroll.
Nelson was proud to be from Norfolk. Following his famous victory at the Nile in 1798 he told a cheering crowd at Great Yarmouth ‘I am myself a Norfolk man and I glory in being so’.
The parsonage where Nelson grew up is long gone, demolished in 1803, but the 13th century church where Nelson’s father was parson for 48 years is still there, restored in honour of the local hero with unique permission to fly the white pre-ensign flag from the tower. Look for the Nelson’s medicine chest, the font where Nelson was baptised, and the graves of his parents and siblings. It’s said that wood from HMS Victory was used for the altar, rood and lectern, donated by the Admiralty.
Finally, the Lord Nelson pub is a must. Once called The Plough, Nelson knew it well and many original features remain, including worn flagstones the great man would have crossed on his way for a pint of ale.
If you admire the Admiral, walk in Lord Nelson’s footsteps and have a drink in his local. The Lord Nelson is a beautiful, traditional pub steeped in history, standing majestically near the North Norfolk coast on the edge of Burnham Thorpe where Horatio Nelson was born. And this was once The Plough, a taproom where young Nelson drank and dreamed of a career in the British navy. Renamed after Nelson’s victory in the Battle of the Nile, it’s an incredibly cosy place, with original snug bars and wood burning stoves, the quintessential winter pub. The look of Nelson’s time has been preserved and refined, with wooden settles (including one on which the Admiral sat) and the same stone floors he walked on sensitively restored. There’s plenty of Nelson memorabilia on the walls too. With local ales from Woodforde’s Brewery tapped from the cask and a fabulous menu celebrating the rich variety of Norfolk’s local seasonal produce, it’s a wonderful place to stop for lunch when you’re out exploring the beautiful Burnhams.
History buffs might enjoy an afternoon on the trail of this area’s most famous son. Visit All Saints Church, opposite The Lord Nelson pub where Nelson’s parents and brother and sister are buried and the altar, rood screen and lectern are made with timbers donated by the Admiralty from Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory. There’s plenty more to discover too, before a night in the pub, snug by the fire instead of somewhere out there on the wintry sea.
Seafarers have honed their knowledge along Norfolk’s coast for centuries. Now it’s your turn to take the helm! Learn sea craft on traditional working sail boats. Vessels like the mussel flat, lug rigged crab boat and gaff rigged whelker have been sailed by local people working the marshes and sea, earning a living from this wild landscape throughout history.
Coastal Exploration Company’s Traditional Sea School gives you the chance to sail these beautifully restored heritage boats, feeling the wind’s kick and salt spray. In fact, you may have seen the mussel flat before, it’s the very same boat used in The Personal History of David Copperfield starring Dev Patel.
Your 8 hour day begins in Wells, heading out on the morning tide in the safe hands of expert local mariners. You’ll be taught how to handle the boat and practice skills to help you survive in an unpredictable environment. When the tide ebbs you’ll forage along the sandbanks and lonely creeks of this salt-ringed county, an ancient, wild place that speaks to the soul.
You’ll breakfast on local bacon and eggs or halloumi, mushrooms and tomatoes with plenty of hot tea and Norfolk ground coffee. For lunch the crew will demonstrate how to fillet fresh mackerel, served with a picnic or hot soup.
At the close of the day, a short walk takes you off the salt marsh to be picked up and taken back to Wells where there are some lovely pubs to toast your new skills!
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