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Smugglers Trail: A Route in Beer, Gin & Whiskey

On dark nights of foul weather sturdy little luggers snaked silently through the marshes and creeks. For over 300 years, Norfolk’s miles of coastline, peppered with isolated beaches and secret streams, made this watery landscape a smuggler’s dream. And a nightmare for the revenue men. Unless, of course, they were on the take. Because smugglers didn’t work alone. Fishermen, farmers, clergy, gentry, magistrates and excise men were complicit, willing recipients of the gin, brandy-wine and rum they helped move inland. Today microbreweries, tap rooms and gin distilleries are the source of such shenanigans – a fabulous way to sample Norfolk’s buccaneering spirit.

Day 1
Brewery Kiosk at Duration Brewing

Brewery Kiosk at Duration Brewing

Few things are more tempting than the darkly delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee. Unless it’s the pleasing balance of a well poured beer! Both are waiting for you at the ‘Cellar Door’, Duration Brewing’s characterful Kiosk shop, set in the barrel store of their historic West Acre home.

If you’re off on a Norfolk adventure, pack your knapsack with wholesome treats like kettlecorn, coffee, sausage rolls, and of course small batch beers!  There’s something for everyone, whether you prefer American Pale Ale, West Coast IPA, Wheat Beers or Stouts. Not sure? Duration Brewing’s friendly staff are always on hand to shared expert knowledge of their full range. Or book a weekly Tap Day (Friday and Saturday afternoons) and tuck into a tasting board to see what takes your fancy. There’s no better way to sample farm-to-glass beers than right in the place where they’re brewed!

As well as refreshments, Duration’s got you covered for unusual sustainable gifts. There’s locally roasted artisanal coffee from The Brew Project, beer box gift sets and handmade walking sticks from a local whittler. If you’ve booked an event like a Brewery Tour & Tasting, or Yoga & Beer Session, this is the place to pick up fabulous souvenirs.

The Kiosk opens Monday to Saturdays, it’s dog and family friendly and there’s no appointment required. Plenty of free parking too! Everyone’s welcome to browse the superb range of award-winning fresh beers and wild ales, all inspired by the richness of Norfolk’s landscape.

Duration Brewery Tours & Beer Tasting

Duration Brewery Tours & Beer Tasting

Enjoy a Brewery Tour and Beer Tasting at the heart of Duration’s innovative independent farmhouse brewery in West Norfolk, on select Saturdays at 3pm. Rooted in their historic, majestic West Acre home, by a crystal clear chalk river, and framed by the ruins of a medieval priory, Duration Brewery’s ‘Beers That Belong’ are brewed from nature and inspired by Norfolk’s rich landscapes.

This innovative brewery’s beers and ales are infused with an essence of time and place. Surrounded by nature’s creative solitude, Duration believes in making good beer, with good people and a sense of belonging. Their estate approach cultivates time, terroir, and purpose to produce ‘modern beers and wood-aged wild ales’. No wonder they keep on winning awards!

With terrific crowdfunding success, Duration has a clear eye on future developments, so now is the time to take a founder-led tour of their high-end Bavarian brewhouse and cellar. Discover the barrel ageing program and see one of 6 rare working UK coolships while learning about the brewing process, Duration’s sustainable ethos and where the brewery makes their deliciously balanced small batch beers, including fresh pale ales, crisp pilsners and wild ales, aged in wood at a slower pace. The beautifully packaged beers and informative tour make great gift ideas for beer-lovers or the beer-curious.

There’s free parking and full wheelchair access too. And after the tour ends, guests are most welcome to stay on in the taproom for the Duration.

The Black Dog Ram

The Black Dog Ram

Up to no good? Divert attention Norfolk-style by summoning a ravenous, fire-breathing hellhound! And if you can’t find one, there’s always a sheep in wolf’s clothing…

Tales of Black Shuck, Norfolk’s monstrous, one-eyed demon dog, weren’t just fireside yarns spun on wild nights when the wind came howling in from the sea. They were also used as distractions by a shadowy network of smugglers and their accomplices.

Legend has it that anyone who sees Black Shuck is doomed to die, but in case that wasn’t  terrifying enough Norfolk’s smugglers had another trick to discourage prying eyes. They dressed a huge black ram as the Shuck, his face up-lit by a lantern on his collar to cast distorting shadows, a trick later used in horror films.

Moving contraband cross country was a lucrative business and, when waterways were being watched, quiet green lanes and ancient tracks like Peddars Way were favoured routes for slipping under the noses of any revenue men who couldn’t be bribed.

Peddars Way runs from the wooded Brecks close to Thetford to the coast near Hunstanton. The section north of Massingham was once so busy with nefarious traffic that locals called it Smugglers’ Way and the sandy track near Bodney was known as Smugglers’ Road.

To experience these haunting paths as smugglers once did, take a winter walk in their footsteps. The perfect prelude to a cosy night of seasonal ghost stories.

Wait! What’s that sound? Probably just the wind…

Stay in a Treehouse

Stay in a Treehouse

Life moves pretty fast. Wouldn’t you like slow it down once in a while? Simplify the To Do List and just: relax, unwind, explore. All you need is the magic of West Lexham.

Discover a luxurious, alternative range of glamping accommodation stretched across 21 acres of lush garden, woodland, lake and river. Your home-from-home could be a boutique bell tent on the shore of a lake, cool, quirky cabin or peaceful treehouse in the leafy embrace of a forest. West Lexham’s eco-friendly paradise is perfect for back-to-nature adventure holidays and enchanting escapes for couples seeking some very special together time. Each bewitching treehouse is as different and full of character as the trees it sits among, blending rustic boho design with the finest contemporary comforts.

West Lexham is a spellbinding, healing environment that’s all about connection, nurture, creativity and transformation. It’s not just an Instagrammable place to sleep. West Lexham is a holistic retreat, snuggled down in an idyllic river valley alive with majestic ancient trees, abundant wildlife and nights full of stars.

To nourish your body the Manor gardens provide fresh seasonal produce for the restaurant, and the innovative kitchen team will get your jaded old taste buds tingling again. Almost entirely powered by renewables, West Lexham a place to unplug, unwind and recharge, away from the world’s noise and mayhem. Chill and wander with nature as you find your own little corner of calm to reflect, breathe and just be. Bliss.

Day 2
Wise Old Owl

Wise Old Owl

Love gin? Then there’s nothing better than learning how to create your own at an award winning Norfolk distillery! And of course you get to take it home, made to your very own bespoke recipe dontcha know!

Nicky and Jason, owners of WhataHoot Gin, are never happier than when sharing their passion so they’ve created a fantastic range of experiences and masterclasses welcoming gin lovers to their wonderful boozy world. Go back to the classroom at their purpose-built Gin School in a beautiful heritage building at the heart of King’s Lynn.

For this 4 hour Gin Masterclass you’ll be welcomed to your workstations, each equipped with its own beautiful copper still, to learn the step-by-step process of gin distillation and discover how botanicals give each gin its distinct flavour. Then it’s time to design your own concoction, experimenting with over 30 botanicals from across the world including Madagascar, Egypt and Spain, as well as Norfolk’s famous lavender and sea samphire.

Highlights include:

  • Making a 70cl bottle of gin to takeaway with personalised label
  • Indulgent 4 Gin & Tonics during your session (per person)
  • Discover the history of Gin and WhataHoot whilst on a Distillery Tour
  • Enjoy a Norfolk inspired locally sourced seasonal grazing board supplied by Bank House
  • Gin Making Experience Photos

A WhataHoot masterclass makes a brilliant present for gin lovers. Why not book for the whole gang? You’ll learn loads from top notch tutors while having fun in good company. That’s edutainment!

Warehouses on the Wash

Warehouses on the Wash

On the banks of the River Ouse in King’s Lynn stands the last surviving Hanseatic building in England. The brick Hanse House gets its name from the German traders who once owned it, a relic from the days of the Hanseatic League, the powerful medieval trading bloc that stretched all the way from King’s Lynn to the heart of Russia. Lasting hundreds of years, it was one of the most successful trade alliances in history, winning the loyalty of nearly 200 towns around the North Sea and the Baltic and securing the prosperity of north west Europe.

Another reminder of King’s Lynn’s global trading prominence is Marriott’s Warehouse, now a popular restaurant with some of the finest views in town. It’s thought to have been built in its present form by local merchant Thomas Clayborne around 1580 as a store for corn, salt and wine. However, some of great oak beams date back to the 1300s, when the site was already a bustling riverside quay. It’s quiet down by the river these days, but back then the whole quayside would have been rammed with every kind of landing stage, or ‘staithe’, both public and private, where cargoes of wax, wool and pepper were unloaded by sailors and merchants, yelling orders and oaths in a cacophony of languages. Then, the tidal waters of the Ouse would have lapped around the warehouses with ships moored right outside, and by evening the town taverns were full of characters from all over Europe.

Nip and Growler Craft Ale House

Nip and Growler Craft Ale House

Back in the 1500s you could buy eels and candles from Nip & Growler. But in those days it was called The Bull, a rowdy tavern near King’s Lynn’s busy riverside quay, packed with sailors letting off steam. Now a Craft Ale House, this award-winning gem is run by two best mates who know their booze only too well. It was designed and built by their own fair hands with local tradesmen using local recycled materials, proving new isn’t necessarily better. In fact this site is home to the oldest pub in Lynn, first recorded in 1348 when the Black Death was ravaging the country. No wonder people needed a drink.

With board games and playing cards always available, there’s a warm welcome for everyone who loves something memorable and different, great for holing up on a rainy winter evening to savour local ales sourced from nearby micro-breweries. There are 13 ales & ciders on tap, changed daily to introduce customers to a different way of drinking. It’s about flavour not quantity, so you can choose your tipple served in ⅓, ½, ⅔ pint measures. If want to discover a new ale or cider to thrill your taste buds just ask for tasters before you buy. There’s a good selection of wines and spirits plus soft and fruit drinks and bar snacks. The ales are changing all the time but the owners’ attitude to life remains the same. Drink, be merry, be kind and never laugh at a bad joke.

Day 3
The Revenue Mans Lament

The Revenue Mans Lament

In the quiet churchyard of St Mary in Old Hunstanton, seek out the graves of two ‘honest officers’ of the government. William Webb was ‘shot from his horse’ and ‘poor’ William Green ‘inhumanely murdered by a gang of Smugglers’ in 1748. Allegedly, the gang’s guilt was beyond question, yet a local jury found them innocent. Furious, the thwarted prosecuting counsel tried the smugglers a second time. And again the jury cried ‘innocent’. So…was this coastal community intimidated into silence or were they (whisper it) complicit?

After all, who was most familiar with the inlets of Norfolk’s tidal creeks or knew secret paths on moonless nights? Which farmer might have lent a horse, provided a storeroom, hidden a key? Who were the ‘tubmen’, hauling contraband miles inland? And whose wealth provided the capital for these illicit ventures? How did the draper afford that fine silk or the parson get such cheap tea? Is it surprising the squire preferred his wine duty free? In a tight-knit, and even tighter-lipped community, it seems no-one was telling.

Here’s a clue to local loyalties; in 1822, revenue officers impounded 80 tubs of contraband at nearby Snettisham. Over 100 people armed with bludgeons and rifles rocked up to seize it back. Clearly Norfolk’s smugglers had determined support.

The idea of buccaneering free traders is certainly romantic, but also deadly. In an age when punishing taxes often left rural populations on the edge of starvation, which side would you have been on?

The Smugglers Brew

The Smugglers Brew

On a misty winter’s night there’s nothing so welcoming as the warm glow of pub windows, fires lit and merry laughter spilling from the door. Head to The Jolly Sailors at Brancaster Staithe for an evening supping Norfolk beers brewed by Norfolk people, rich in flavour and fireside stories. The Jolly Sailors brews small batches of top quality real ale from ingredients sourced nearby and named for local heritage. In winter, try ‘The Smuggler’, a strong stout named after…you guessed…a smuggler. Once landlord of this very pub, William Hotching had a lucrative, highly illegal side hustle.

His ‘crop’ of contraband tobacco and bootleg rum was hidden in a secret cellar at the Hat and Feathers, another of his inns. Pulled by his horse, Black Bess, the stash was transported on a cart under a mound of herring. Well, would you fancy searching through a pile of old fish after a few days on the road? Exactly.

Hotching was soon running goods across the Atlantic in ‘Harlequin’, his speedy clipper. Eventually the excise men arrested Brancaster’s buccaneering free trader in Boston in 1865, nearly a century after the revolutionary Tea Party.

Not keen on stout? Try a refreshingly tangy ‘Sharpie’, named after a traditional Norfolk sailing boat or ‘The Wreck’ an aromatic old English Ale made with malted Maris Otter barley from Wells-next-the-sea. It’s named after the old merchant navy vessel, SS Vina, whose lonely wreck is visible on the Brancaster shoreline at low tide.

The Cavalry Charge of Wells

The Cavalry Charge of Wells

Wells Next The Sea, a friendly town, where law abiding folk go about their private business. Take a walk out to the golden sands. Peaceful, isn’t it? Let’s wind back a couple of hundred years.

It’s 1817. A big day out. There’s a town horse race on the sands. Everyone will be distracted. Especially the ‘preventative men’, Customs and Excise officers, perpetually trying to outwit local smuggler gangs. But one man’s criminal is another’s hero, bucking the system to avoid paying taxes to the crown. Swaggering ‘Free traders’ were quite open about their illegal activities. After all, a mix of violent threat and local support gave them licence to behave as they liked. Certainly, the vast majority of those who lived in and around the tiny villages of Blakeney, Stiffkey and Wells benefited from this tax-free trade. Indeed, it was often funded by wealthy local venturers.

So John Dunn, leader of the smugglers, planned to land his contraband during the horse race, an audacious crime committed in plain sight. But the prevention officers weren’t that stupid! They tried to seize the barrels and were immediately attacked by the lawless gang. A yeomanry Major happened to be in the crowd and ordered his men to pile in. The cavalry charged full pelt into the fray, clouting locals across the head in a pitched battle. It was mayhem!

Oddly, the gang still escaped with most of the barrels. And, we reckon, a jolly good evening was had by all.

Ancient Barrows and Dark Skies

Ancient Barrows and Dark Skies

Barrow Common is a nature-rich County Wildlife Site and there’s a long human history here too. The remains of an ancient mound and round barrow mean you walk in the footsteps of the ancestors. And as a designated Dark Sky site, you can look even further back, into deep time and the ancient cosmos. Barrow Common is classed as a ‘Milky Way Plus’ site, meaning there’s the potential for breathtaking views of the stars on clear nights. The local astronomy club has fantastic telescopes, so check out their website to find regular open public events at Barrow Common and around West Norfolk.

Predominantly acid grassland the rolling Common is edged by woodland, part of a mosaic of natural habitats. From high on the ridge there are dramatic views over a patchwork of natural coastal habitats out towards the sea. This strategic vantage point was well used in less peaceful times. In 1940 a Second World War radar station was built facing the sea, installed with a ‘bedstead’ aerial mounted on the roof, intended to detect suspicious low flying aircraft up to 35 miles across the North Sea. The lookout was manned until 1944, after which it was closed, but can still be seen on the north-west side of the site.

A good starting point for a winter walk is Brancaster where the Jolly Sailor and the White Horse are two excellent foodie pubs to fuel up before your adventure or to settle in for a cosy evening afterwards.

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