Last minute efforts to find a camping pitch for the May 2018 bank holiday were fruitless — Norfolk was booked. This transpired to be a fantastic piece of luck, pushing us to be a little more creative and go wild. Armed with the only equipment we currently have in the UK — a £4 festival ‘tent’ and a duvet — and my uncannily effective ongoing special power of rain avoidance, we headed first to the North Norfolk Coast and then into the heart of the Broads, the two areas that always spring to mind when I think of home.
Despite being one of the busiest weekends of the year, with long spells of warm sunshine, by avoiding formal sites we enjoyed two iconic places before the hordes of day-trippers arrived, and after they left. And wow, what a good call!
Burnham Overy Staithe
Burnham, sited on the River Burn, was the port for the ‘the Burnhams’ (including Burnham Thorpe, arguably the most well known of the villages being Nelson’s birthplace). When the river silted up at the end of the Medieval period, commercial traffic switched to the downstream Staithe, which is now the larger settlement and a recreational sailing centre. Beyond the tidal creeks and marshes separating the village from the sea is Scolt Head Island, a shingle and sand barrier island formed by the coastal erosion and longshore drift processes that are removing large chunks of the coast further east.
The island forms part of a complex of National Nature Reserves, with Holkham to the east and Holme Dunes to the west, and the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh slightly closer by. Large areas of the dune systems and beaches are cordoned off during the breeding season for the benefit of nesting little terns, oystercatchers and ringed plovers. The salt marshes and reedbeds also host internationally important bird and plant populations.
Yellow flag iris
Silver Y moth
One of the vocal black-headed gulls
St. Benet’s Abbey, Ludham
A Broadland classic, with it’s famous 18th century windmill planted by a farmer somewhat puzzlingly into the ruins of the abbey’s gatehouse, St. Benet’s was taken from the Saxons after the Norman conquest. By the late 13th century, the powerful Benedictine community had property in 76 parishes. Unusually, the monastery continued its work after the Dissolution but was abandoned in the 1530s. The buildings became ruined and most of their materials taken for use in the construction of Ludham village.
Part of the knave walls remain, with the position of the high altar marked by a cross made of oak from the Sandringham Royal Estate (above). The church ruins remain the property of the Diocese of Norwich but are leased by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, which owns the gatehouse and mill outright.
River Ant at St. Benet’s, dawn
A local farmer has planted field margins with ‘wildflower mix’ as part of a conservation scheme, with spectacular results