10 of the most romantic places to visit in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 11:43 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:43 06 February 2018
Looking for love? From the sea, to the stars and flowers to funfairs, here are some of the most romantic places in Norfolk
1. A wild island romance
There is wild romance in an island rarely open to the public. Heigham Holmes is a nature reserve on the Broads, surrounded by the waters of the River Thurne and its tributaries. For most of the year the 500 acres of marshland, woodland and meadows are left to wildlife including marsh harriers, barn owls, cranes, lapwing, avocet, redshank hobbies, bitterns and deer. Just once a year the floating river bridge is opened for all-comers to explore this green gem, with this year’s annual open day on Sunday, August 5. There are also occasional tours for nature lovers – including a guided walk on World Wetlands Day, Sunday, February 4 .(Tickets £9, book online or by calling 0344 2491895.)
2. The fun of the fair
A St Valentine’s Day fair has been held in King’s Lynn for centuries - and the ancient King’s Lynn Mart still traditionally opens on February 14. For almost a fortnight the town’s historic quarter is alive with a kaleidoscope of flashing lights and neon colours, a cacophony of music and screams of laughter and terror, and that winning combination of traditional fairground attractions for all the family and raucous, white-knuckle dare-devil rides for thrill seekers.
Whether you are holding hands on the big wheel or being forcibly thrown together on the waltzers, there is something impossibly seductive about the fun of the fair. Follow it up with some candy floss to share and a go at winning an impossibly large cuddly toy and it might be love….
3. Seeing stars!
There is something special about stargazing, the magic of an entire universe drawing you in, the chance to follow the Milky Way and explore the stories of a million stars.
At Seething Observatory there are a series of public events throughout the year run by the Norwich Astronomical Society where you can learn more about astronomy and gaze at the night sky through some of its large aperture telescopes.
Norfolk is one of the best places in the country for astronomy, thanks to the relative lack of light pollution. According to the CPRE, Norfolk’s residents are among the privileged minority of only 9% of UK residents who have a clear view of the Milky Way, so why not head to Seething Observatory to see for yourself?
4. Lovers Lane
A walk through beautiful Broads countryside on a route taking in a Lovers Lane, plus mills and staithes, thatched cottages and a nature reserve has to be a contender for a perfect Valentines place. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust suggests a circular walk around Ludham, taking in romantic riverside paths and passing pubs and tearooms, with two chances to wander hand-in-hand along Lovers Lane, Ludham.
5. Shakespeare was in love...
We know it’s no longer just Norfolk’s little secret – the joys of Holkham Beach having long been shared with the rest of the world – but nonetheless it remains one of the most romantic places in our county, whatever the time of year.
Long before anyone who is anyone declared it their favourite beach came Gwyneth Paltrow, walking serenely along the tide line as she filmed the closing sequence of Hollywood blockbuster Shakespeare in Love. It not only showed off Holkham’s wild beauty, it further boosted its credentials in the romance stakes.
For a truly magical experience, try and visit during a very high tide - as you emerge through the pines and see the basin-like bay filled like a lagoon it is something to behold. Take plenty of warm rugs, a hot flask of coffee and some croissants and voila – the perfect date.
6. Step back in time
Cobbled streets, secret alleyways, picturesque waterside views, a heritage rich in literary heroes and heroines and of course, magnificent medieval buildings – how can you not fall in love with, and fall in love in, Norwich?
Hand-in-hand, explore its history, architecture and culture and soak up the unique atmosphere of our fabulous, fascinating city on one of many organised walking tours. Learn about Viking pillaging and Norman invasion; Colman’s Mustard and Caley’s chocolate; writers and painters inspired by Norwich and Norfolk; historic, hidden nooks and crannies and much more.
The city is also home to many great independent cafes and restaurants, so start with a delicious breakfast or follow your walk with a cosy, romantic afternoon tea – you will be spoilt for choice.
For a full programme of walks see www.visitnorwich.co.uk
Roses might be the traditional flower of romance – but in February in Norfolk it is snowdrops which sparkle in some of our most romantic settings. Walk with a loved one past the ruins of Walsingham Abbey or in the gardens of Raveningham Hall and see drifts of the delicate harbingers of spring.
At Walsingham, once one of the most famous pilgrimage shrines in Europe, the Abbey gardens are swathed in snowdrops every February. Literally millions of the flowers transform the woodland and water-meadow gardens into a wonderland of white. The Abbey Gardens snowdrop season runs from Saturday, January 27 to Sunday, March 4,. Admission is £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. www.walsinghamabbey.com
Raveningham Gardens opens for the snowdrop season from Thursday, February 1 to Wednesday, February 28 (closed Saturdays) 11am-4pm (dusk if earlier). Proceeds on Sundays, February 11 and 18 go to the Priscilla Bacon Lodge Hospice in Norwich – named for Priscilla Bacon, the late mother of the current owner of the hall, who planted many of the snowdrops. Garden entry £5 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and children under 16 free
8. Sail away
Taking a boat around Blakeney Point to see the seals is in itself a lovely thing to do, but why not charter a boat for you and your loved one to enjoy your own private voyage on the ocean… (well tidal channels and tranquil inlets anyway!)
Many of the seal boat operators at Morston Quay offer bespoke tours tailored to your interests. Enjoy the skipper’s in-depth knowledge of the atmospheric marshes and creeks, spot birds and seals and then head to glorious Blakeney Point where you can spend as much or as little time as you want before being picked up. Just don’t forget a blanket, picnic and a bottle of champagne – or perhaps a flask of tea if it’s too chilly for anything iced.
9. A royal romance
Prince Harry and his bride-to-be Meghan Markle would be spoilt for choice if spending Valentine’s Day in Norfolk. From romantic cliff-top walks to cosy village pubs there are almost limitless places for loved-up couples to enjoy. And while we cannot all claim a granny with a royal estate in Norfolk, we can all visit Sandringham. Part of the grounds were designated a country park exactly 50 years ago and now the 600 acres of parkland includes nature trails and woodland paths and is open, for free, every day. If you want to add a romantic meal, or present, to your day the restaurant, tearooms gift shop and plant centre are open all year round.
10. Jack Valentine
In Victorian times February 14 was as big as Christmas in Norfolk. And to this day, Jack (or Father) Valentine is at the centre of celebrations for many families. He is the elusive, mischievous, gift-giver who will leave presents for the children on the doorstep. Sometimes he simply knocks and disappears, sometimes the parcels are attached to a piece of string and twitched out of children’s grasp as they reach for them
Jack Valentine has been leaving gifts for East Anglian children for centuries but, unlike Father Christmas, he never went global and generally only strays outside the region when summoned by ex-pats.
In 19th century Northrepps, near Cromer, children would call at the biggest houses to sing songs and to this day guests at Yarmouth’s Imperial Hotel are treated to gifts from Jack Valentine on February 14.
In Victorian times couples bought each other lavish gifts, and filled bags with love tokens to give to friends and family. At the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell a shop window is dressed ready to celebrate Valentine’s Eve. Norfolk Museums Service also has one of the best collections of Valentine’s cards in Britain.
Another Valentine’s tradition, first spotted in Norfolk, became a worldwide phenomenon. The first known Valentine was sent, in 1477, from Topcroft, in the Waveney valley. Margery Brews sat beneath a mulberry tree in the gardens of Topcroft Hall, to write a love letter to her ‘right well beloved Valentine’ John Paston. Reader, she married him and Margery is pictured writing her Valentine on the village sign.
So many romances started at the dance hall where they stood guard, but on Valentine’s Day eve, a very special appeal will be launched to provide some love and attention to one of the iconic statues from the Samson and Hercules.
Standing with pride, alongside Hercules, the statue of Samson was an integral part of Norwich’s social history - and a witness to generations of young people meeting and falling in love.
The two statues were put in place either side of the doorway of 16 Tombland, the home of Norwich mayor, city MP, draper and Freeman Christopher Jay, in 1657.
Over the centuries, the building changed names and went through many incarnations and all the time these great carved figures stood watching over an incredible social history. As processions passed through the city led by the mischevious ‘dragon’ Snap; at the comings and goings of the Cathedral and Norwich School; the Tombland Fairs, and the days of trading and of rowdy rioting – Samson and Hercules looked on.
But for most of us, our memories of Samson and Hercules will be as “Norwich’s oldest doormen” at the entrance to the ballroom in the 1930s, which eventually became a nightclub in the 1980s – bringing generations of young people to dance the night away in Tombland.
In 1993, such was their historical significance, the original statues were moved for their own protection and new fibreglass replicas were installed in their place.
The 360 year old originals are owned by Norfolk Museums Service, and now there are ambitious plans to display the figure of Samson – a unique exampled of a 17th century carving.
Made from a single piece of oak, he has been at a specialist conservation lab in London for two years, where layers of paint have painstakingly been removed, revealing fine craftsmanship beneath depicting a beautifully detailed figure – complete with long curly hair..
Jenny Caynes, curator of community history at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, said: “He is an important historical figure - a nationally unique survivor of a carving of this type from the 17th century - and also in terms of our social history, and all that he has witnessed during his years of standing in Tombland.”
Before he can be returned to the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell for display, a bespoke, climate controlled display case is needed to ensure his condition is preserved. There will also be information boards charting his journey through history and his survival.
On February 13, a six week crowd-funding campaign will be launched in a bid to raise to raise £15,000 to help fund the project.
Look out on the Museum of Norwich Facebook page for further information closer to the time. facebook.com/MuseumofNorwich