Norfolk’s most famous “gentleman farmer” Desmond MacCarthy is back on BBC2 tonight. In Normal for Norfolk, he opens his 17th-century manor house to the cameras, bringing a bit of telly glamour to this much-maligned county. But there’s more to Nelson’s County than lovable posh blokes and bucolic countryside…
1. The great draw of Norfolk is its coastline, which means plenty of beaches, from the never-ending sands of Holkham to the family-friendly Sea Palling. Added excitement comes from the fact that Norfolk’s cliffs are rapidly falling into the sea. What’s a trip to the seaside without minor peril?
Holkham dunes and beach
2. Do be considerate of the local wildlife: residents of Hunstanton, Blakeney and Horsey often leave their beach towels out for lounging seals.
3. If all that nature gets a little too much, this writer recommends Splash swimming pool in Sheringham, where every Norfolk child spent every birthday party between the ages of seven and ten. It has a wicked wave machine.
4. Also on the coast: you can catch crabs! The good kind. Locals know to head to Cromer for the best fish and chips, but it’s also The Crucible of crabbing – it hosts the World Pier Crabbing Championships every August bank holiday.
5. Norfolk’s capital Norwich is full of history, and pubs. But that’s enough on that, because the media has a Norwich bias and there’s more to Norfolk than this really lovely cathedral city that has a castle and a Champions League football team and not one but two shopping malls. It’s also the only English city to be excommunicated by the Pope, which makes a lot of sense when you go down Prince of Wales Road on a Friday night.
6. Fed up with efficient, modern public transport? You’re in luck! No, I’m not talking about Abellio Greater Anglia – north Norfolk is home to the Bure Valley Railway, where steam trains chug the nine miles from Aylsham to Wroxham. Further north is the Poppy Line, linking Sheringham to classy market town Holt.
7. At Christmas, the Poppy Line transforms into the Santa Express, taking you straight to the man himself – RT can exclusively reveal that from the 3rd to the 24th of December, between the hours of 10 and 5, he can be found at Weybourne station. Norfolk also boasts its own winter wonderland: the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, essentially three hours of dancing snowmen and scantily clad showgirls. Predictably, it’s wildly popular.
Ormesby Little Broad, one of the fresh-water lakes that make up the Norfolk Broads
8. Also wildly popular are the Norfolk broads, despite their distinct lack of showgirls. This 125-mile network of lakes and rivers is known as the Mediterranean of the East (probably) because it’s best enjoyed by boat – just beware falling cows.
9. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the county’s most distinguished residents: the royals. If you don’t manage to scale the fence at Sandringham, try hanging out in the aforementioned classy market town Holt – the Duchess of Cambridge (“our Kate” to us locals) is a regular visitor.
10. You can also see how the other half live with a visit to Blickling Hall, near Aylsham. Tour the house (familiar to I’m Alan Partridge viewers as Bono’s house), wander its expansive grounds and walled gardens and then recover with a pint in the nearby Buckinghamshire Arms. I’m pretty sure that’s the date that helped Anne Boleyn, who was born at Blickling, seal the deal with Henry VIII.
11. And, of course, there’s Wiveton (“Wifton” in local parlance) Hall, the idyllic 17th-century farm and manor house that Desmond MacCarthy, star of Normal for Norfolk, calls home. A chance to bump into the man himself is surely incentive enough for a visit…
Desmond MacCarthy, star of BBC2’s Normal for Norfolk, which begins on Monday 17th July, BBC2, 10pm