It’s official! Norfolk has taken the top spot in a list of Britain’s Classiest Counties (The Telegraph Online, 5th June 2014). Whilst the list is fairly informal, with no facts or figures to quantify how the editors came to their decision, there are plenty of reasons why residents and holidaymakers alike can concur with the results.
Here’s 5 reasons why we like Classy Norfolk
Sandringham House has been the private residence of four generations of the Royal Family and is situated within 20,000 acres of the Norfolk countryside near the village of Sandringham.
The story began in 1861 with Prince Albert looking for a country retreat for his eldest son, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. After the sudden death of Prince Albert in December of that year it was left up to Albert to conclude the house hunt. After viewing Sandringham House the following year, Albert was sufficiently impressed to purchase the house.
The Queen, like her father, grandfather and great-grandfather, has a strong attachment to Sandringham, and favours the house as her winter residence. Royal patronage continues right up to the present day with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge setting up their new family home on the estate.
The house is open to the public and around 600 acres of the estate are open for walkers to explore. When our kids were younger we’d spend hours exploring the sculpture trail and tiring them out on the play area, whilst grandparents explored the house. Our walks often take us past the nearby Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene, which is used regularly by the Royal Family and well worth a visit.
We usually take a picnic, but if you fancy dining in there is an excellent restaurant café near the visitors centre, ideal for rainy days.
Picturesque Country Villages
One of the things that has struck me as I’ve toured Norfolk is how little it has changed. I can show you pictures taken over the last 30 years and, fashions aside, you’d be hard pressed to pin a date on them.
As you enter each village there is more often than not a well maintained traditional village sign on the green to greet you. Residents take pride in the upkeep of their properties and there is a great sense of community spirit. Out in the sticks you’d be hard pressed to find litter or graffiti.
The towns, often only slightly larger than the villages, are a delight to walk around. Efforts are made to maintain their unique identity, with local shop fronts dominating the high streets.
Big Sky Norfolk
If you ask people who are not familiar with Norfolk to describe the area they will invariably say “It’s flat, isn’t it?”, or mention the Broads. I’m often at pains to point out that there is more to the area than that!
The county lays claim to some of the best beaches in the country, with miles of golden sand, clean bathing water and excellent facilities around the coast. The beaches are quiet and perfect for bathing, beach sports, building sandcastles and burying Dad. If you hanker for a livelier resort then you can stroll along Yarmouth’s “Golden Mile”.
Sheringham is literally “Twixt Sea and Pine” with the coastal path and inland trails to explore whilst soaking in the fresh air and stunning scenery.
If you head towards the North East of Norfolk you will encounter the Broads. Covering an area over 100 square miles, the Broads are a series of lakes and navigable waterways. It’s possible to hire a boat for an afternoon or longer and it’s the perfect way to explore parts of Norfolk that are not easily accessible by road.
The big sky does not stop at night and there is nothing more stunning than a late evening walk under a cloudless starry sky which, in the absence of light pollution, can be awe inspiring.
Norfolk is home to some of the best heritage attractions in Great Britain. National Trust properties include Blickling Estate, Felbrigg Hall, Oxburgh Hall and closer to home, Sheringham Park. The National Trust maintain these properties to a very high standard, but are not the only organisation dedicated to preserving local heritage.
There is the Norwich 12; a dozen iconic landmarks that celebrate over 900 years of Norfolk history:
- Norwich Castle – A Norman keep, now home to Norwich Museum.
- Norwich Cathedral – A Norman cathedral and iconic
- The Great Hospital – Medieval hospital buildings, still in use today as sheltered housing.
- The Halls – The most complete medieval friary complex in England.
- The Guildhall – England’s largest provincial medieval city hall.
- Dragon Hall – Magnificent medieval merchant trading hall.
- The Assembly House – A glorious Georgian assembly room.
- St. James Mill – A quintessential English relic from the Industrial Revolution.
- The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist – VIctorian Gothic Catholic Cathedral
- Surrey House – Edwardian office buildings.
- City Hall – The home of Norwich City Council
- The Forum – A landmark Millennium building.
The steam railway introduced generations of holidaymakers to the wonders of the Norfolk coast. The tables are turned now, with heritage railways like the North Norfolk Railway in Sheringham preserving steam for the pleasure of tourists.
Relaxing Pace of Life
If you are a city dweller like me then it can take a day or so to embrace the Norfolk pace of life. There are no traffic jams out in the sticks. Even in Norwich the traffic is relatively calm. The beaches are busy, but rarely overcrowded. Everyone is just so friendly; I’ve had many a conversation on the promenade or in a shop and it’s as if I’ve known the person I’m talking to for years.
I highly recommend Norfolk if you need an antidote for the stresses of modern life.
You can see now why we agree with The Telegraph survey: Royal patronage, community spirit, fantastic beaches, iconic buildings and a better pace of life. It all adds up to make Norfolk the number #1 classy county!