Why I Love Norfolk: Dean Ashton

Dean Ashton at the 2021 Festival of Sport

Dean Ashton at the 2021 Festival of Sport - Credit: Festival of Sport


Meeting my wife Gemma for the first time in the city when I transferred to Norwich City from Crewe Alexandra in 2005. She was working as a hostess at Mercy on Prince of Wales Road at the time so she had the dubious honour of welcoming me and the NCFC squad in on nights out. Our first date was at the Old Ram at Tivetshall St Mary – where despite my insisting on her paying half she still agreed to see me again. Things took off pretty quickly and within three months we were off to London together for my transfer to West Ham. I’m still in love with her and this place 17 years on. 

I love the cathedral in Norwich, towering above the city and such an iconic part of the city’s skyline. It genuinely reminds me how lucky I am to live in such a great city every time I see it. 

Holkham of course, and Wells-next-the-sea. The views from both are incredible, with great walks to be had. I’ve also got a real soft spot for the Victoria Inn at Holkham, whether it’s holing up in front of the open fire after a bracing winter walk or enjoying a pint outside in the sunshine after a cycle ride with the family. We’ll be up at Holkham Park in August for Festival of Sport but we’re unlikely to have time then as we’ll be too busy enjoying all of the sports and activities on offer there.  
Town, city or village

 It’s definitely village life for me, although having said that we currently live quite centrally in Norwich. I grew up in a village in Cheshire, and Norfolk certainly has some beautiful spots. When I first moved to Norwich I lived in Trowse which is the best of both worlds as it’s so close to the city but still has a real village vibe plus Whitlingham Lake on the doorstep. Gemma and I moved to Hethersett when we got married and still have lots of happy memories of our time there. It's a great community village, but big enough to have lots of facilities. You're surrounded by countryside but only six miles from the centre of Norwich, close to Wymondham, the hospital and Colney training ground of course! 
Place to eat

Thornham Deli is a gem! Me and my wife love driving out there for brunch. I tend to go for the healthier option – smoked salmon and scrambled egg, or avocado on toast, while my wife enjoys a full English. We usually end up picking up plenty of extras to takeaway too, and it’s a beautiful spot to walk around so we’ll often head off through the village to the old harbour or down to the beach to work off a few of the calories.  

There’s so much choice in Norfolk that it’s hard to pick just one, but one of my absolute favourites is The Brisley Bell outside Dereham. It’s a proper pub, with bags of character, a great selection of food and drink and really good service. My go-to is their Sunday roast – fantastic giant Yorkshire puddings and there’s a great kick to the fresh horseradish sauce.  
Attraction or day out

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As a family, we absolutely love a day at the beach front in Great Yarmouth. Crazy golf, arcades and fish and chips – what more could you want? It’s always a winner for us, whatever the weather and it’s great value for money. The beach is also beautiful and pretty under-rated. It reminds me of days out at Blackpool when I was a kid, and I love sharing that same experience with my own children.  
Thing that happens every year

It’s got to be Festival of Sport at Holkham Park. A full weekend of dozens of different sports and a whole load of fun. It’s such an amazing opportunity to enjoy a massive range of activities and have the festival experience as a family at the same time as well as meeting people from all over the country. I’m looking forward to having a go at Laser Run which is new for this year – running and firing a laser pistol which is part of the Modern Pentathlon. And I get a bit star-struck too – chatting to Olympic gold medallists and international caps while watching the kids get stuck in is quite surreal but it’s something that everyone that comes has the chance to do.  

The Chocolate Box in Sheringham - I can’t go there without stocking up on bags full of my old-school favourites like proper foam bananas and shrimps, cola cubes and pink mice. We’re regulars at Jarrolds too which is another of Norwich’s greatest assets – it's my first port of call for new threads (Reiss usually, if you’re asking) and the deli is always an excellent lunch choice too.   

It’s got to be Cromer Crab - absolutely delicious with a glass of bubbly. We usually buy ours on Norwich market and it’s a bit of a household tradition to start any celebrations with a huge platter of crab, lobster and other seafood. It tastes all the better knowing that it’s locally-sourced.  
Dean Ashton will be at Festival of Sport, Holkham Park from August 12-15. Tickets for the full weekend are on sale now, at £370 for one adult and one child aged 5-17 (under 5s go free). Additional adult tickets are £160, additional child tickets £210. Find out more at festivalofsportuk.com