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Friday, January 18, 2013
Winter may feel like the time to slump on the sofa and hibernate with the central heating on, but if you head outdoors there’s plenty to do in Norfolk’s winter wonderland. STACIA BRIGGS and SIMON PARKIN find 10 ways to enjoy this snowy weekend and beyond.
1. The arrival of proper snow always prompts families to flock to the steeper part of the county to seek out those top places to go sledging. In Norwich the most popular place to go whizzing down the freezing slopes is at Mousehold Heath which has always been turned into a makeshift ski slope going back decades. Other great spots include Earlham Park, Jubilee Park and the grounds of the UEA. As ever take care. Select a hill that has a long flat area at the bottom for you to glide to a stop. Avoid hillsides that end near a street or parked cars. And avoid hills that end near ponds, trees, fences or other hazards.
2. Snow is falling and there may even be enough to dig out the skis and take to the slopes of…Gas Hill (who says Norfolk is flat?). If you head to Norfolk Snowsports in Trowse, it doesn’t matter if it snows enough or not — the artificial slopes are a perfect way to make the most of the winter sports season. Founded in 1972, the club has grown over the years to become one of the largest member-run ski and snowboard clubs in the country. Open all year round, it provides an extensive range of lessons and sessions for all ability levels and is also hugely popular with experienced skiers and boarders getting in some practice before heading off on their holidays. Ski and snowboard lessons are available from initial one-hour taster sessions (£8) and from beginner to advanced levels. All sessions are conducted under the supervision of experienced instructors and helpers. For the young, and young-at-heart, snow tubing sessions are held (£10) allowing you to whizz down the slope on a giant rubber inner tube. More detail at: www.norfolksnowsports.com
3. With freezing weather here why not try outdoor skating, which has a long history of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire’s Fens? Water level and the frost frequently combine to make good skating conditions at Bury Fen, between of Earith and Bluntisham, Mere Fen, between Swavesey and Over, Welney Wash, Whittlesea Wash and at St Ives. A spokesman for the Fen Skating Association said: “The cold weather we are experiencing at the moment is looking very good for some skating this weekend, providing we don’t get too much snow. Because we have more water in the Fens than normal, many of the fields where we usually skate are deeper than normal, and therefore we need to be even more careful before going on the ice.” More details at: www.fenskating.co.uk
4. You’ll need to wrap up warm, but it’ll be worth it for a sailing experience you’ll never forget. The Broads in winter is a truly magical experience, offering sailors the chance to enjoy the views without the clutter of summer tourist crowds. Often, the only sound to be heard amid this unique and beautiful landscape will be the lapping of the water on your hull and the passing winter birdlife. As its name suggests, the Norwich Frostbite Sailing Club based in Thorpe St Andrew, revel hoisting sails regardless of wind, rain, snow and ice. Sailing takes place every Sunday morning between October and May and visitors are always welcome to sail or to watch – and there are plenty of opportunities to crew for a club member. Find out more on 01603 454567 or visit www.frostbites.org. If you’d prefer to let a motor take the strain, try Freedom Boating (freedomboatingholidays.co.uk) which hires cruisers, day boats and dinghy hire throughout the season.
5. One of the most majestic sights in Norfolk’s winter calendar are the snowdrops that carpet our region like floral drifts of snow welcoming the first signs of spring. A particularly lovely place to see snowdrops is at Walsingham Abbey grounds which are open daily throughout the snowdrop season, which starts in earnest in early February and continues into early March and admission is through the Shirehall Museum, a completely original Georgian courtroom now housing a collection which covers the story of Walsingham from medieval times and includes local history, photographs and artefacts. Walsingham Abbey Grounds and Shirehall Museum are at Common Place, Little Walsingham. The grounds open daily from February 4, 10am-4pm, admission £4, £2.50 children. More details on 01328 820510, www.walsinghamabbey.com
6. From the Milky Way to Mars and far-off Galaxies, there’s a chocolate box of celestial treats in the night sky ready to be sampled by amateur astronomers and Norfolk’s renowned dark skies are the very best place to spot them. The county boasts huge stretches of countryside where the skies are unaffected by the light pollution which plagues star-gazers in other parts of the UK. On clear evenings during January and February, catch one of the sky’s most magnificent constellations – Orion. A collection of seven bright stars, Orion can be found in the southern part of the sky: look for three stars of similar brightness that sit in a straight line and form the hunter’s belt. Norwich Astronomical Society is running Stargazing Live Extra Time tonight and tomorrow 7.30pm-10.30pm at Seething Observatory, Toad Lane, Thwaite St Mary. Featuring a special family talk run on the themes raised on the BBC’s Stargazing Live programme, it also offers a chance to view through telescopes and quizzed the experts. Dress warmly and take a red torch if possible. Hot drinks will be available. Places £3 adults, £1.50 children. More details on 01953 602624, www.norwich.astronomicalsociety.org.uk
7. There’s just enough time to witness one of Norfolk’s most breath-taking sights — the dawn flight of tens of thousands of pink-footed geese leaving their night-time roost on The Wash and heading inland to feed. The visitors from Iceland and Greenland can be spotted from the RSPB’s Snettisham site and this Saturday sees the last “Pinkie Breakfast” of 2013 when early-risers can enjoy the majesty of the pink-footed geese. To join this unforgettable experience, book your place on this Saturday’s tour by calling 01485 210779. The tour begins at the Snettisham RSPB car park at 7am sharp and costs £6 for non-members and £5 for members. As a reward for having risen with the dawn chorus, you can opt for a full English breakfast after your bird-watching at The Old Bank restaurant in Snettisham.
8. Introduce your children or grandchildren to the glory of a Norfolk winter at the Children’s Wildlife Watch at Pensthorpe. Join the team in the heart of Norfolk for the Winter Waterfowl Watch where you’ll be able to spot ducks, geese and swans in their brightest, best plumage of the year and observe their curious courtship behaviour. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust-run watch takes place on February 3 at Pensthorpe from 10am to noon and costs £4 for NWT members and £6 for non-members. Pre-booking essential on 01603 625540.
9. Winter is the perfect time to blow away the cobwebs with a walk in the county’s spectacular countryside or along our 90 miles of coastline. Norfolk boasts more than 2,400 miles of public walkways which showcase the county’s beauty and can be easily reached by public transport – either bus or rail. The Bittern Line from Norwich to Sheringham is a wonderful way to kick-start a day’s walking, as is the Wherry Line from Norwich to Lowestoft. You can also hop on Coasthopper bus route which shadows the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail from Hunstanton to Cromer. Wooden signposts along the trail point tired walkers towards the nearest Coasthopper bus stop so that you can take a well-deserved breather along the way. More information at: www.coasthopper.co.uk, www.bitternline.com or www.wherrylines.org.uk
10. What better way to celebrate real winter weather than a sled-ride pulled by huskies? Siberian Huskies are an ancient breed of sled dog bred by the Chukchi Indians of Siberia – friendly, highly social and intelligent, the dogs earned their keep by pulling the Chukchi people swiftly across vast tracts of inhospitable hunting grounds. Forstal Siberian Husky Rides, based at Lynford near Thetford, offers dog-pulled fun lasting an hour with teams of between six and 10 dogs. You can meet the huskies, who are family pets, and join in helping to walk the dogs after their workout or simply watch and enjoy the spectacle. You don’t actually even need snow – the company has wheeled sleds too. For costs and dates, call 01842 878246 or visit www.huskyrides.co.uk (you must be at least 16). As the rides generally take place at dawn, when temperatures are at their lowest, staying nearby the night before is advised.