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According to the welcoming notes in our rented house in North Norfolk, the beach at Holkham is “the best in Britain”.
That’s a big claim, and devotees of Constantine Bay in Cornwall or Bamburgh in Northumberland might beg to differ. So, with raised expectations, we turn into the beach car park where a path leads to the beach. Pedestrian traffic is heavy, and we fear it will be cheek-by-jowl by the time we reach the golden sands.
But that’s absurd – there’s room for everyone, with acres of beach stretching into the distance and the North Sea shimmering almost a mile away.
Plenty of families are enjoying their picnic and flying kites, but you hardly notice them in this vast landscape. In fact, Norfolk’s north coast is almost one continuous beach, backed by saltings, channels and runnels, from Hunstanton to Cromer. It’s also pretty much a continuous bird reserve.
To the west at Titchwell waders, ducks and geese mark the passage of spring and autumn. Further east at Cley Next The Sea you’ll find the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve, its pretty windmill and irresistible fresh crab sold at nearby Salthouse.
At Snettisham, on the edge of the Wash, thousands of knot and other waders weave patterns of silver and black as they twist and turn over the foreshore.
My father-in-law, who knows about these things, says Holkham provides a roost for up to 20 000 Pinkfooted geese.
We are staying in Burnham Market – “Burnham mark-up” to the locals, who are quite rude about the weekenders who clog up the place with their smart motors. Its Georgian buildings are so beautiful, they seem almost out of place and there’s a proper butcher, fishmonger, gastro pub and more than enough dinky shops to visit when the heavens open.
We are staying in Unicorn House, rented through Norfolk Country Cottages, which sleeps seven and is a great base for exploring the county. We head for Sandringham, and I’m amazed by how much we can look at.
Built in the 1870s by the then Prince of Wales, it’s not the prettiest stately home, but you can wander through rooms the Royal Family uses at Christmas, complete with Queen Elizabeth’s special table where she sits to do her jigsaw puzzles.
In the stable block is a museum with a collection of royal motor cars and many of the gifts bestowed on her during her reign.
Up the coast is Holkham Hall, described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the “most classically correct” house in England.
Nearby Houghton Hall, built by Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, is now the seat of the Marquis of Cholmondeley, the chap who as Lord Great Chamberlain walks backwards in front of the queen at the state opening of the British parliament.
A safer bet for children is Snettisham Park, where you can bottle-feed lambs, collect eggs and get in touch with your inner Farmer Giles.
Norfolk folk like to keep this county to themselves.
You can understand why: it’s an absolute treasure.
Unicorn House sleeps seven and starts from £692 (about R9 000) for a week (01263 715779, norfolkcottages.co.uk). – Daily Mail