11 quirky autumn days out in Norfolk

Some fascinating new artefacts have been discovered at Oxburgh Hall. Picture: IAN BURT

Some fascinating new artefacts have been discovered at Oxburgh Hall. Picture: IAN BURT - Credit: Ian Burt

From secret dungeons and pyramids to fossil hunting, it’s time to explore the ‘hidden’ side of the county.

Sunset at Sea Palling. Picture: Daniel Mason/iwitness24

Sunset at Sea Palling. Picture: Daniel Mason/iwitness24 - Credit: Daniel Mason

The secret’s out

Combine the world’s fastest growing water sport with exploring some of the country’s most beautful scenery. Based at Coltishall, Secret’SUP offers stand-up paddle boarding experiences on the lesser known stretches of the River Bure.

The River Bure at Coltishall is a beautiful spot – the water is so clear you can see fish darting beneath your board – and you’re more likely to see kingfishers and herons than other people, which makes it a truly socially distanced activity.

And SUP is an inclusive sport – Secret’SUP say that anyone can do it, regardless of your age or agility and it’s a great way to improve your fitness and unwind. Group and individual bookings are available all year round – the Broads are particularly picturesque at this time of year with the leaves on the turn – and instructors are qualified under the British Stand-Up Paddleboard Association scheme. Equipment is also available to hire.

The ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle. Picture: Ian Burt

The ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

See the Secret’SUP Facebook page for more information.

Take a trip back in time

Most Read

The stretch of coast between Weybourne and Cart Gap has become known as the Deep History Coast – and that’s because it’s the perfect place to go fossil hunting. Back in 1990, a couple found a large bone at the foot of the cliffs in West Runton, which was confirmed that it was a pelvic bone of a Steppe mammoth. Further excavations were carried out in 1991 and 1995, when 85 per cent of the mammoth’s skeleton was discovered – the largest almost complete, and oldest, mammoth skeleton ever found in the UK.

Members of the Caistor Roman Project working on the temple site in Caistor St Edmund. Picture: Ella

Members of the Caistor Roman Project working on the temple site in Caistor St Edmund. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

In fact, many fascinating archaeological discoveries have been made along the north Norfolk coast, such as a flint handaxe and footprints of the first visitors who walked in Norfolk hundreds of thousands of years ago, which have helped shape what palaeontologists understand about how society evolved. And keep an eye out, because you might make some fascinating discoveries of your own.

You can follow the Deep History Coast Discovery Trail (See the Deep History Coast Facebook pafe for details), go rockpool dipping at West Runton beach (there are regular sessions run by Norfolk Wildlife Trust – see their website for details) or keep an eye out on your walk – you might spot a belemnite or hyaena coprolites, aka fossilised dung.

Going underground

The hidden underground street beneath the KindaKafe in Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

The hidden underground street beneath the KindaKafe in Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Hidden two flights of stairs below the headquarters of The Missing Kind on bustling Castle Street in Norwich, is the city’s own Diagon Alley, a street which dates back to the 15th century. There are many myths and tales about the undercroft, including secret dungeons, escape routes to Norwich Castle and tunnels that sneak through the city.

The Missing Kind is back hosting socially distanced underground tours. For more details, and to book a place, visit missingkind.org.

Go east

King's Lynn has some stunning architecture, including the checkerboard town hall: Picture: Ian Burt

King's Lynn has some stunning architecture, including the checkerboard town hall: Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

While it might be the beaches of north Norfolk which traditionally attract the most tourists, the dunes and bays of east Norfolk, from Cromer to the old-school holiday resort charm of Sea Palling round to Winterton are teeming with wildlife and glorious swiming spots. The seal population on this stretch of the coast is booming, the golden sands are perfect for building sandcastles and you don’t get the crowds that you encounter further west.

Hidden treasures

A £6m restoration of Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham has revealed a fascinating collection of artefacts hidden under the floorboards – from a banned prayer book to a wartime chocolate box.

Lynn Chadwick Lion 1, 1990 at the UEA Sculpture Park. Picture: Brittany Woodman

Lynn Chadwick Lion 1, 1990 at the UEA Sculpture Park. Picture: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

The moated courtyard house dates back to 1476, when it was built for Sir Edmund Bedingfield – and his descendents still live in part of the building today. The Bedingfelds were once rising stars of the Tudor royal court before falling from grace when Sir Edmund refused to sign the Queen’s Act of Uniformity in 1559, which banned Catholic mass.

But the family stayed true to their faith over the centuries despite being ostracised and persecuted. They even had a secret compartment, called a priest hole, installed at Oxburgh Hall as a place for the clergy to hide from Queen Elizabeth’s priest hunters.

The “star” find was a 15th-century illuminated manuscript fragment on parchment, whose bright blue and gold leaf still glimmer.

Researchers from the Cambridge University Library said the fragment, with text from the Latin Vulgate Psalm 39, was likely to have been from a portable prayer book called a Book of Hours. The small, 8cm x 13cm volume may have been used in illegal masses and deliberately hidden by the family after Catholic mass was outlawed by Queen Elizabeth.

The house’s north-west corner contained two ancient rats’ nests made of more than 200 fragments of high-quality textiles including silk, velvet, satin, leather, wool and embroidered fabrics.

And a builder working in an attic void discovered a gilded leather book of the King’s Psalms 1568 in an attic void, which is now being researched.

More modern objects which have been found include cigarette packets and an empty box of Second World War-era Terry’s chocolates.

See nationaltrust.org.uk for details of opening times.

UEA Scuplture Park

With its own Broad, the Yare river valley and internationally important urban modernist architecture designed by Norman Foster, Denys Lasdun and Rick Mather, the 350 acres of parkland which form the University of East Anglia campus has plenty to enjoy. And nestled among the flora and fauna, you’ll find works by some of sculpture’s leading names, including Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Lynn Chadwick, Liliane Lijn and Antony Gormley. You can download the Sculpture Park map from the Sainsbury Centre gallery’s website, sainsburycentre.co.uk

Capture the castle

The ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle, a moated and fortified 15th century manor house near Holt, tell the story of the rise and fall of prominent Norfolk family The Heydons. The family were lawyers, but the main source of their wealth was the wool industry – in the past Norfolk was famed for its distinctive Worstead cloth. It is thought that Baconsthorpe Castle was built as the family’s main residence in the mid 1400s and it became larger as the family’s wealth grew. It is thought that the inner gatehouse was built by Sir John Heydon during the Wars of the Roses, with the fortified house completed by his son, Sir Henry and their descendents converted part of the castle into a textile factory. While the turreted Elizabethan outer gateway was inhabited until 1920, much of the castle was demolished in 1650 because of debts.

See english-heritage.org.uk

Pyramid scheme

Did you know that Norfolk has its own pyramid? The Mausoleum at Blicking was built to commemorate John Hobart, the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, who died in 1793. His daughter, Lady Caroline Suffield commussioned architect Joseph Bonomi to design the Mausoleum based on the tomb of Cestius in Rome. Built of 190,000 Portland stone blocks, it stands on the edge of ancient woodland and is well worth seeking out on a ramble round the estate’s parkland.

See nationaltrust.org.uk

What did the Romans do for Norfolk?

Caistor St Edmund on the outskirts of Norwich, or Venta Icenorum as it was known, was the largest Roman town in East Anglia. The site continues to give up its secrets, and an insight into life deep in the past – and now archaeologists have unearthed the foundations of one of the largest Roman temple buildings in the country.

The temple, which was built by the Iceni tribe, was 20-metres by 20-metres and would have been up to 12-metres high. It was found following a three-week dig by the community archaeology group Caistor Roman Project about 800 metres north east of Venta Icenorum. It was discovered after a three-week excavation about 800m north east of Venta Icenorum, which was the largest Roman town in East Anglia.

The existence of the temple, which dates back to the latter part of the first century AD, has been known since the 1950s, but it is only now that it has been excavated.

The temple would have been a major focal point where Romans would have worshiped and left offerings to Gods such as Mercury, Venus and Neptune.

The Caistor Roman Project will resume digs next year with the focus on understanding the wider temple development, including a villa like building.

Venta Icenorum was first established in the AD70s and was laid around a grid of streets and had running water, baths, a basilica (town hall), and a forum. It was still occupied from the early 6th century, during the early part of the Anglo-Saxon period, but the Roman buildings and infrastructure were left to decay and was eventually abandoned in the 8th century, when Norwich became the civic centre for the county. It is one of only three Roman towns in the country that were not built over in later centuries.

Set sail

Based at the East Quay at Wells, the Coastal Exploration Company’s sailing tours celebrate Norfolk’s rich maritime history, its wild beauty and its delicious food and drink scene. Founded by former Royal Marine Henry Chamberlain, they offer a wide range of expeditions on refurbished traditional sailing vessels: explore the salt marshes, get a guided tour of the area’s best wild swimming and foraging spots or take a breath, switch off and reconnect with nature on a wellness sail, all accompanied by the best produce from the local larder. Or why not learn to sail yourself? Keep a look out for extra special events too – at the end of August Norfolk singer-songwriter Beth Orton played a series of socially distanced acoustic gigs with refurbished fishing boats as the stage and venue.


A grand day out

With its quaint cobbled streets, picturesque quay and grand buildings, presided over by the stunning Lynn Minster, there’s no wonder that King’s Lynn has lit up the silver screen. The town’s becoming quite the foodie destination – favourites include Marriott’s Warehouse on South Quay and the Bank House in King’s Staithe Square – and it has a growing creative scene. Amble round the old town, exploring its rich maritime heritage – it was once one of Europe’s most important ports. The Town Hall, with its checkerboard exterior is highly Instagrammable – and Shakespeare himself is reputed to have performed at the Guildhall of St George in King Street.