To Blakeney, a small town on the north Norfolk coast. I collected the Wonderful Councillor at County Hall in Kingston and we then drove to the Blakeney Hotel on the quayside overlooking the salt marshes. We were met there by the Retired Pedagogue who had travelled separately from Northamptonshire, for a three day (four night) walking break. The three of us have met up (fairly regularly) in the spring for walking holidays in areas such as the Derbyshire Peak District and Brecon Beacons. The somewhat less mountainous location this time (“very flat Norfolk”) was due to two of us wanting gentler walks having had operations fairly recently. For Jerome K. Jerome fans I’m afraid we don’t have a dog called Montmorency.
The Blakeney Hotel (*****) was unknown to me, though my two companions had stayed there before, and it was an excellent choice. Our single rooms were small but comfortable, but many of the doubles and twins are very spacious and have splendid views across the marshes. The public rooms are light and airy, and the bar had a choice of three real ales. I particularly enjoyed Nelson’s Revenge, a local beer from Woodforde’s of Woodbastwick, near Wroxham. It is an amber ale (4.5%) with a bittersweet taste. Nelson himself was born at Burnham Thorpe, 13 miles west of Blakeney.
Our room rates were on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis and each evening there were two menus: a “Seasonal Menu” which remained the same, and “Today’s Dinner Menu” which changed each night. Both menus were the same price for three courses and coffee (apart from supplements for Dover sole and fillet of beef) and diners can pick and choose from each, giving a choice of about eight starters, ten main courses and eight desserts or a selection of local cheeses. Three hungry walkers made the most of the choice available. To start I variously enjoyed home cured gravadlax, crushed avocado terrine with Binham blue cheese, Blakeney fish soup, and smoked pigeon breast (four dishes not one). Main courses such as pan fried rump of lamb on tarragon crushed potatoes, Norfolk Dapple cheese souffle, and North African marinated chicken breast with chickpea ragout followed. The great English actor Robert Morley wrote that the only time he got excited was when he saw the dessert trolley being wheeled towards him. He would certainly have indulged himself at the Blakeney Hotel on, among others, mixed berry roulade, ginger and lemongrass crème brulee and warm sticky toffee pudding. With such a range of starters and main courses we decided to partner the dishes with choices from the extensive list of wines by the glass (8 whites, 6 reds, 2 roses). I won’t go into a full description of breakfast but it would be hard to find fault. The restaurant and bar run the whole length of the hotel and provide extensive views across the marshes, as does the lounge upstairs where complimentary coffee and petits fours are served. All of the staff were charming helpful and efficient.
After all of that food exercise was definitely needed, and the RP led us on very interesting walks. On our first day we parked at Felbrigg Hall, a National trust house dating from the 1620s,with a west wing of 1675-8. The house was built by the Wyndhams (previously Wymondhams and later on Windhams) and the interior rooms are of various periods, and have the usual tales of the various inhabitants. One of these, “Mad” Windham, had a penchant for dressing in uniforms, including as a station master who caused chaos on the platform with unauthorised blasts on a whistle. After a light lunch al fresco at the “Squire’s Pantry” including a delicious homemade mushroom soup, we set off on foot across the extensive grounds, stopping off at the fifteenth century church of St.Margaret (full of Windham tombs) in the direction of Metton and then back via the lake to Felbrigg.
The next day we drove west along the coast to Wells-next-the-Sea (hyphenated) to the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway where we boarded “the world’s smallest public railway” to Walsingham. The journey on this family run railway takes about 45 minutes – quite bumpy but great fun – to reach Walsingham. In the middle-ages Walsingham was second only to Canterbury as an English pilgrimage site, originating in a chapel built around 1100 by Richelde of Fervaques, following a vision of the Annunciation. The pilgrimages stopped with the Reformation but were revived after 1897. Though (according to the Pevsner guide) the town contains more buildings from the seventeenth century or earlier than any other of its size in England, and though it has the remains of the medieval abbey and the heavily rebuilt (after a fire in 1961) church of St Peter, it is the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham of 1931-37 that is most visited. Those only familiar with their local mainstream Anglican or evangelical parish church will be astonished by the richness of the decoration here. The Shrine was built when the Bishop of Norfolk told the then vicar of Walsingham Father Patten to remove the image of Our Lady of Walsingham from the parish church. Father Patten, though a member of the Church of England, was part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition and the shrine he created glows with brightly coloured murals, gilding, terracotta panels and images of the Virgin Mary and the Saints. We weren’t there for a service but expect plenty of incense. Whatever ones taste in church design I do feel that the Pevsner guide’s (very short) description of the Shrine as “looking for all its ambitions like a minor suburban church” is rather perfunctory.
“What about the walking” I here you cry. Well, Walsingham has other shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary and we then walked the 1.5 miles to the Catholic Basilica and its Slipper Chapel, which in the middle ages was the place where pilgrims removed their shoes before walking the last stage of their pilgrimage into Walsingham. It was an attractive place in the late March sunshine, though nowhere near as ornate as its Anglican counterpart in the town. We then had a pleasant walk along the defunct old railway line back to Walsingham where we were just in time to catch our light railway back to Wells-next-the-sea.
On the way back to Blakeney we stopped off at the Anchor Inn at Morston for the Councillor and me to book places on late afternoon boat trip out to Blakeney Point to see the seals. After 20 minutes enjoyable motor boating we arrived off a sandbank where about a dozen seals were beached. We saw both common and grey seals. These are perhaps a little more attractive than the elephant seals Mrs. MAE and I saw on the Big Sur in California which reminded me of gigantic, bad tempered, slugs, but on land no adult seal is a thing of beauty. We did see one seal in the water but only in the distance.
On our third day we walked east on a raised pathway over the marshes from Blakeney to the pretty village of Cley next the Sea (for some reason, unhyphenated) . We stopped off for a browse at two very attractive shops: Made in Cley (geddit?) is a working pottery, and Crabpot Books, a bright and airy quality second hand bookshop with (I’m pleased to say) none of that dingy, damp, musty atmosphere some bibliophiles are addicted to. I bought some greetings cards and the Councillor a book of the Letters and Journals of Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, who was Private Secretary to King George VI. We then walked a little further round the coast to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Visitors’ Centre where we had a light lunch. It has a breathtaking vista over the marshes and the viewing deck gives visitors the opportunity to try out a range of birdwatching telescopes. We then headed inland to Wiveton with its Decorated gothic church (early fourteenth century). We spent a little time on a bench watching the village green being mowed. Watching other people work is, I think, one of life’s minor pleasures. I suppose it is a mild form of Schadenfreude. From the churchyard Cley and Blakeney churches can be seen and we headed off to the latter. On the way out of Wiveton I spotted an official looking road sign for motorists entering the village saying “SLOW YOU DOWN”. This must be in the Broad Norfolk dialect made famous by the Singing Postman (real name Allan Smethurst) in his 1964 hit “Hev yew got a loight, boy “. I’ve just noticed that there are many photographs of the sign on Google Images. On the way into Blakeney is the church of St. Nicholas. It is notable for having a tower at each end. In addition to the conventional and massive west tower there is a slender octagonal tower at the north-east corner, presumably built as a lookout or beacon tower. I’m told the views are worth climbing the main tower for. The church also has a rare seven light lancet window in the chancel. We then walked back to the quay and our hotel in time to put our feet up before our final dinner.