Winter wonders - things to do despite dark nights and cold
Winter need not be a time to hibernate with the central heating — get outside and there's lots to do in Norfolk's winter wonderland, not all of it is about Christmas. SIMON PARKIN highlights ways to enjoy this magical time of year.
ON THE SLOPES
Will we get snow this winter? Probably, but will it be more than a dusting? Head to Norfolk Snowsports in Trowse and it doesn't matter either way.
The artificial slopes are a perfect way to make the most of the winter sports season — strapping on your skis or board whatever the weather.
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.
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It is open all year round and provides an extensive range of lessons and sessions (ski course �50/snowboard �60) for all ability levels as well as being 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.
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They also run snow tubing sessions (�10) — whizzing down the slope on a giant rubber inner tube, which is great fun. More details at: www.norfolksnowsports.com
SLED WITH HUSKIES
Siberian Huskies are a natural and ancient breed of sled dog, developed by the Chukchi Indians of Siberia over many centuries of co-dependence. These highly social, friendly and intelligent dogs earned their keep by pulling the Chukchis' sleds swiftly across vast tracts of inhospitable hunting grounds, where speed, stamina and hardiness were crucial for survival.
Forstal Siberian Husky Rides, based at Lynford, near Thetford, offer dog-pulled fun lasting an hour or so (it doesn't even have to have snowed, they do it in wheelie vehicles too) run by a team of between six and 10 dogs, which are family pets too.
You will also be able to meet the huskies and join in helping to walk the dogs after their workout, or simply watch and enjoy the spectacle.
'We work the dogs throughout the year and run distances will largely be dependent on the prevailing weather conditions, temperature and humidity in particular,' said co-owner Sally Leich. 'We go out at first light in the morning in order to catch the coldest temperatures, so expect to be up before the dawn chorus!'
For costs and dates call 01842 878246 or visit: www.huskyrides.co.uk. You need to be aged at least 16.
As the rides normally take place in the early morning, stay the night before at The Glebe B&B at Elveden (www.glebecountryhouse.co.uk).
NORWICH TO LAPLAND
Imagine waking up on a grey Norfolk winter's morning and, before you know it, flying off to the pristine white snowscapes of Lapland with a date to keep with Santa himself.
Well you can. Specialist holiday operators Transun are again running their special flight direct from Norwich Airport to Lapland, the magical home of the real Father Christmas.
They've been operating day breaks and short breaks to Lapland for over 20 years and this year's Norwich flight takes place on December 8.
The one-day trip includes a search for Santa in his secret log cabin and a host of other activities including Santa's reindeer, husky rides, snowmobile safaris and fun playing in the snow tobogganing, snowballing and snowman-making.
You'll also get to glimpse one or two of Santa's elves in their green clothes, and, of course, your family with have a private visit to the great man himself where children will receive a present.
Prices from �447 per person including return flights, all taxes, thermal suits and boots, welcome meeting and a souvenir Lapland passport. For more details visit: www.transun.co.uk/winter-wonderland
WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND
Winter is a wonderful time to get out and about in the beautiful Norfolk coast and countryside. Pull on your walking boots and take a brisk walk past snowy landscapes and crisp hedgerows in the crackling frosty winter.
Get exploring some of Norfolk's 2,400 miles of public rights of way and long-distance walks, or try a shorter circular walk, that can take in country lanes, bridleways and footpaths. They are perfect for inexperienced walkers and a great way to experience the Norfolk countryside close up.
It's easy to leave the car behind. Take the Bittern Line train from Norwich to Sheringham, hop off at a station and do a Railway Ramble; or carry on to Cromer or Sheringham, and walk part of the Norfolk Coast Path, with the help of the Coasthopper Bus. The Bittern Line Ranger ticket is a great way to explore, combining the Norwich-Cromer/Sheringham train and Coasthopper bus tickets, and allows you to hop-on and hop-off along the Coasthopper route. Or head out east on the Wherry Line train, and explore one of the circular walks on the Norwich to Great Yarmouth Wherryman's Way.
The closure of Planet Ice in Hellesdon earlier this year was a bitter blow to ice skaters and with no temporary rink outside the Forum either, you'll have to travel a little further to pull on your skates.
The Oasis leisure complex in Hunstanton has a great little eco-ice-skating rink. Unlike most real ice-skating rinks the synthetic eco-ice is produced using the very latest technology and requires no power to creative surface, other than the energy you exert when you skate! It is suitable for all ages and abilities; they even have special skates for toddlers to attach to their own shoes so that they can join in too. Its open 12pm-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays during term time, 12pm-6pm daily in the holidays. Entry �3.70, �2.95 children, �10.50 families, spectators �2.
Skating fans will also have the chance to take to the 'ice' in Aylsham as part of the festive celebrations.
The ice rink will be part of Aylsham Frost Fayre from November 29 to December 1. It will take 40 skaters at a time and the cost will be �5 for a 40-minute slot with tots free on the Thursday and Friday until 3pm along with a fee-paying adult. Family ticket �18.50 (two adults/two children).
When the freezing weather arrives, why not try outdoor skating which has a long history of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire's Fens. Water level and the frost combine to make good skating conditions at 'Bury Fen,' between the villages of Earith and Bluntisham, Mere Fen, between Swavesey and Over, Welney wash, Whittlesea wash and St Ives, on a flooded meadow, near the Dolphin Hotel.
How long could you survive lost in the winter wilds? If you're like us, not long before you'd be hankering for the central heating.
The Canoe Man runs a selection of winter bushcraft courses designed to allow you to experience nature in winter, learning survival skills from around the world.
The day courses incorporates elements of knife skills, shelter building, traditional fire making techniques, back-country cooking and methods of sourcing and identifying appropriate materials for various uses that would help to keep you alive should you ever be stranded.
Courses take place on November 10, December 8 and January 12, between 1pm and 4pm, places �40 per person. More details on 0845 4969177 or visit: www.thecanoeman.com
You need to warm up really warm, but it worth it. Sailing on the Norfolk Broads in winter is a truly magical experience. Without the hullabaloo of the summer tourist crowds you often have the whole river or Broad to yourself. In fact, wrap up warm and you'll find the river virtually empty, it's a place to relax, do a spot of bird watching or fishing and really get away from other people.
Often the only sound to be heard amid this unique landscape is the lapping of the water on your hull and the passing winter birdlife.
As their name suggests, Norwich Frostbite Sailing Club, based in Thorpe St Andrew, revel in hoisting up their sails in the winter months — in wind, rain, snow and ice. Sailing takes place every Sunday morning between October and May with class and all comers racing. Visitors are always welcome to sail or watch and if you do not have a boat of your own then there are plenty of opportunities to crew for a club member. More details on 01603 454567 or visit: www.frostbites.org
Snowflake Sailing Club, based in Horning, provide a full racing programme on Sundays from the third weekend in October for 23 weeks. More details on 01508 531371 or visit: www.sfsc.co.uk
If you'd prefer to let a motor take the strain, you can still hire boats throughout the winter.
Freedom Boating (freedomboatingholidays.co.uk) offers cruiser, day boats and dinghy hire throughout the season if you fancy a winter day on the river. Herbert Woods (www.herbertwoods.co.uk) also do limited winter hiring of cruisers sleeping from two people up to eight.
CHRISTMAS ART TRAIL
The Norwichristmas Art Trail is back for another year from November 22 until the Twelfth night in January, with Norwich playing host to the festive art trail this year including enormous wooden stacks of presents!
Each sculpture will be decorated by local talented school children who have been busy painting, sculpting and crafting with artists to create individual designs that range from fun and quirky to simple and striking. Eye-catching and family-friendly, the designs are based on traditional Christmas themes.
Trail maps can be downloaded at www.visitnorwich.co.uk or picked up from each of the sculpture sites - the trail can be started at any point . At each sculpture, you will find a stamp to add to your map. After the trail has been completed with 10 stamps, submit the completed entries in the hope of winning fantastic prizes, including the grand prize worth �500.
The rural nature of much of Norfolk means it is a great place to observe the night sky. The lack of light pollution has the effect of brightening the night sky, rendering many fainter objects invisible. Indeed while for us city dweller it is not possible to see the glorious site of the Milky Way arching overhead, out in the countryside you can glimpse the heavens in all their glory.
Clear winter skies are especially good — providing you wrap up warm before heading out.
Kelling Heath, near Holt, is renowned as one of the best places in Norfolk, looking out over the sea where light pollution is minimal. Norwich Astronomical Society hosts their hugely popular 'star parties' at the holiday park attracting amateur astronomers from across the UK. You can rent a cosy lodge sleeping six. More details on 01263 588181 or visit: www.kellingheath.co.uk
Cley Beach boasts excellent stellar vistas too. If you want to go stargazing on the beach, Cley Windmill (01263 740209; www.cleywindmill.com) is a gorgeous (and warm) historic place to stay close by.
Norwich Astronomical Society has a winter programme of talks at their Seething Observatory if you want to learn more. The Future of Space Travel by Dave Cook (Dec 7/8) ponders how we'd send a manned mission to the nearest star — and could we get them back? Stargazing Live Extra Time by Dave Balcombe (Jan 18/19) will following on from themes of this year's Star Gazing Live event. Admission is �3, �1.50 children. More details at: www.norwich.astronomicalsociety.org.uk
Winter is the season to visit if you're a serious twitcher — it's a perfect time to see birds and wildlife. Norfolk is famous in particular for its winter waders and migrants. With thrushes arriving from across the North Sea, and the return of wild geese and swans, you'll be sure to see a winter wildlife wonderland.
At RSPB Snettisham you'll be spellbound as you watch tens of thousands of pink-footed geese from Iceland leave their night time roost site and head inland to feed. This is also the place to witness the spectacular movement of thousands of wading birds pushed off their feeding grounds at high tide.
Holkham National Nature Reserve is also a key site to witness hundreds or thousands of wild geese and swans as they settle down for the night.
The Norfolk coast and Broads are great places for waders and wintering birds of prey, including merlin, peregrine and hen harrier, and you can see them best at dusk at places such as Titchwell Marsh or Hickling Broad. If you're lucky you may see Norfolk's resident flock of common cranes at Hickling too.
At Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, it's a good time to see many native species of waterfowl including Golden Eye, Gadwell, Goosander, Shoveller and Pintail. It's a great opportunity to see Europe's smallest duck, the European Teal and you may even catch a glimpse of one of the UK's most endangered owls, the Long Eared Owl, as they come together in winter for communal roosts.
Don't forget to take your binoculars!