It was the proximity to home that first attracted us to Norfolk 5 years ago. We wanted a short trip away in early September to celebrate Andy’s 40th and had a 3 month old baby who hated being in her car seat. The North Norfolk coast was about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive away so we thought we would try a visit there. We imagined that we would head to somewhere “nicer”, maybe Cornwall, the following year.
Well, we never got back to Cornwall. Despite barely scratching the surface or discovering what were to become our favourite Norfolk places, we fell in love with the area. Completely head over heels. We returned for a week with Andy’s parents the following spring and again for the following two summers. I’ve written lots about our trips, I’ll put the links at the end of this post.
Many people have *that* favourite happy place. A sanctuary away from the storm. A place where you feel you can breathe again after the rush, rush of everyday life. Where your shoulders visibly relax. Where there is less shouting, more smiling, more connection. Where forever memories are made, books are read, plans are hatched. Well, Norfolk became that place for us. We loved the gorgeous beaches, the stillness, the fields that seem to go on forever, the historic houses, the abundance of fabulous places to eat, that “normal for Norfolk” quirkiness.
We had every intention of making regular trips there forever. We even talked about retiring there. Andy wanted to get a boat. On a date night, 3 weeks before he died, we started to talk about how our lives might change when I went back to work. We wanted to try to use the extra income for more adventures. We wanted to travel further now the girls were older, take them abroad for the first time, and we started to come up with a list of places to visit with them. But, Norfolk wasn’t to be forgotten. We wondered if we could buy a second home there as a holiday rental investment, possibly that would be the place we could retire to.
We had actually tentatively decided to holiday elsewhere in 2018. You can get too much of a good thing you see. We never got round to booking that holiday though and I am so grateful for that. I couldn’t have gone on a holiday as a 3 that we had booked as a 4. Instead, I spent last summer bouncing around on trips with and to see family and friends.
When someone dies, there’s something about the happy memories from when they were alive becoming bittersweet. Could I go back to Norfolk? Would visiting our happy place be too painful? It was a trip that had the potential to be very tough. Sort of the emotional equivalent of picking at a very large scab. But, something bigger pushed aside my doubts.
Andy died during the May half term week. I knew I didn’t want to be at home for the anniversary. I didn’t want to wake up in the bed where he had his cardiac arrest or stand in the hallway where Imogen and I opened the door to the paramedics. I didn’t want to be in the playroom where I bundled the kids out of the way or be in the kitchen that filled with family and friends bringing food and condolences. I didn’t want to sit on the sofa where I sat that day and told the girls that their father had died.
And I could not think of anywhere I’d rather be than in our happy place.
But I did dread the trip, the anniversary, the ashes scattering which we also decided to do there. I spent May tightly furled into an anxious ball, torturing myself with “this time last year” thoughts.
I’d booked a house in Blakeney with views across the salt marshes and mudflats down to the River Glaven and North Sea beyond that. The sunsets were amazing. It was a peaceful spot with room for all five of us (we went with Andy’s parents) to have our own space. There were rabbits skipping around the garden. At the bottom of the garden was a private path that led to the coast path which took you to Blakeney about a mile in one direction or Moreston 3/4 of a mile in the other. It was a wonderful spot for contemplation.
It was only when I got there that I realised we had never properly visited Blakeney before. We drove the village once but didn’t stop. I appreciated finding somewhere to make new memories.
We only had a vague plan for the week and enjoyed lazy mornings, walks along the coastal path and afternoon adventures out. Norfolk worked its magic. I relaxed. I’m sure a ratio of 3 adults to 2 children helped with that. I slept brilliantly and woke up without the aches and pains I have at home. My period even returned, it had disappeared for a couple of months probably down to stress.
We visited the Pigs in Edgefield for Sunday lunch. I’ve never been to a more child friendly pub. It has a games room filled with lego and small world play and an outdoor play area designed by the team behind the BeWILDerwood theme park. And there’s no compromise on the food and drink either as is often the case with such family friendly places.
We also visited the beach at West Runton that day. Dodging the rain and battling the wind. But the kids don’t care about that and set to work digging in the sand and paddling in the sea.
On Monday (Bank Holiday) we planned to go to Wells-Next-The-Sea but the huge beach side car park was closed for some reason so we drove on the Brancaster. Brancaster was to be the place where we planned to scatter Andy’s ashes on the Friday. I hadn’t intended to go in advance but I also hadn’t planned not to. It’s our favourite beach in the area and it was good to do a recce. I checked the practicalities of the place were as I remembered – loos, parking, shop – so I could tell the others who were joining us on that day. We also tried to work out how far the sea would be out and in at various times. We started to collect shells and stones to use on the sandcastle we wanted to build that day. The sea was stormy and not only did we get caught in the rain, we got caught in a hail stones and were drenched before we got back to the car. If I was into “signs” from the universe then I would have taken it as a sign never to return…
I’d forgotten spare clothes for the kids and never carry them for myself so we arrived for dinner at Eric’s Fish & Chips somewhat damp. Eric’s is one of those hip new fish & chip places that are springing up. A bit retro in both decor and that they fry in beef dripping – not good for a non-meat eater but you can request your dinner is fried in rapeseed oil. I failed to take any photos but the the substance matched the style and the fish and chips were very good. The kids were enthralled with the jars of toppings we were given for ice-cream too.
The weather was better on Tuesday and we visited Sheringham Park to see the famous rhododendrons in bloom. Imogen had had a late night the night before and was tired and grumpy but I think the rest of us enjoyed it.
On Wednesday we finally got to Wells. The beach here is beautiful, with photogenic beach huts and the sea never goes out too far. The kids mainly played in sea. I went for a walk and collected shells. On the way home we popped into Mabel’s in Burnham Market for sweets – this is an absolute favourite with the girls.
Andy’s brother and his wife arrived on Thursday and uncle Dave set about guiding the girls through a crabbing mission on the edge of the river in Blakeney. I’m not sure who had most fun! We then drove to Cromer for more fish and chips at No1, a stroll down the pier and tuppeny falls action in the amusements.
Friday was the anniversary, I will come back to that in another post. Saturday, the day we left, was typically the sunniest day of the trip. We dropped keys back to Blakeney and went for a walk then sat on edge of river to eat lunch.
I wasn’t keen to come home. I’d happily have had a full day out and drove home at night time. But the kids were keen to get back and a day out is no fun with reluctant children. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so down after a holiday. “Shall we move to Norfolk” I asked Seren. “But our friends are here in Enfield aren’t they?”. Good point. It will always be my happy place to visit though.
Links to posts about past trips –