A distinctive mixture of broad landscapes and 90 miles of unspoilt coastline make days out in Norfolk a bit different from jaunts to the rest of the UK. This part of East Anglia bulges out gently into the North Sea, and Norfolk’s as close to the Netherlands as it is to London. It’s known as ‘Britain’s breadbasket’ because of the wheat and barley that grow well in the county’s unique climate, landscape and soils. I’ve written before about Norfolk attractions for families. This time, we spent a day in Cromer.
Where is Cromer?
Cromer’s a seaside town in north Norfolk, on the coast between Sheringham to the west, Norwich to the south, and the Norfolk Broads to the east. It’s a small town of just under 8,000 inhabitants. Drivers can get there easily via one of two main A-roads, the A140 and the A148. When we visited on a sunny day in June, we drove from our base in Hemsby past wild poppies, thatched cottages and signs offering local asparagus for sale. The town was busy with holidaymakers, and we just about managed to find a parking space in the main car park, next to the Cromer tourist information centre.
Famous writers on Cromer
Cromer was a sleepy fishing village until 1877, when a new railway line brought visitors from London, the south of England and the East Midlands. One of these visitors was writer and critic Clement Scott. He was charmed by this stretch of coastline, calling it ‘Poppyland‘ in a piece he wrote for the Telegraph. This early example of a travel ‘influencer’ prompted readers of the broadsheet to visit Cromer in droves. The town soon became a haunt for artists, writers and bon vivants.
Visitors can still see evidence of Cromer’s booming formative years in the beautiful Edwardian buildings that line the seafront. But not everyone came away from this part of Norfolk with an impression of bucolic charm. Writer Arthur Conan Doyle was so struck by the terrifying tale of Black Shuck, the Hellhound of Norfolk, that he was inspired to write his enduring classic, the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Cromer Beach Norfolk
These days, if you’re looking for fun days out in Norfolk, Cromer fits the bill of a pretty, uncomplicated seaside town. Cromer Beach is mainly sand, with a few pebbles and rocks thrown in for good measure. The North Sea’s never going to be as warm as the waters off the UK’s southern shores, but a lot of the chill comes off in the summer, and we did manage a bracing dip at the beginning of June. Not as bracing, though, as it would be for Cromer’s annual Boxing Day Dip. This has been run as an annual charity fundraiser for the last 30 years, and sees hundreds of brave souls plunging into the sea.
Cromer’s late Victorian pier stretches out for 151m. It doesn’t reach quite as far as Shipden, the old medieval town that was lost to the sea in the 14th Century. Before coastal defences were built in 1845, this stretch of coastline went through a lot of erosion, with whole towns and villages like Shipden being swallowed up. Despite the sea defences, the coastline’s still potentially at the mercy of the sea’s ravages. Cyclone Xaver damaged part of Cromer Pier as recently as 2013.
The pier was repaired, though, and it still boasts a unique ‘end of pier’ show in its Pavilion Theatre. A stroll along the pier will take you out past a restaurant selling Cromer fish and chips, as well as crab dishes. The seafood’s a local speciality. Judging by the number of crabs we saw in the buckets of people fishing off the pier, the waters must be full of the crustaceans. Our family of four includes two vegetarians so we didn’t fancy buying a crabbing kit of bucket, line and bait. But the people clustered along the pier’s railings with the thin lines dangling down in the sea, looked as though they were having fun.
Cromer Lifeboat Station
Cromer’s was the first lifeboat station in Norfolk. We walked to the end of Cromer Pier, where the 1804 station is still in use. A Tamar lifeboat sat there, poised and ready for action. It performs about a dozen rescues each year.
Cromer Lifeboat Station was free to enter and included interactive displays about how lifeboats work, the different sizes and speeds of the vessels, and the volunteers who sail out to rescue boats and people in trouble.
There was also a board showing a lengthy inventory of the times Cromer’s lifeboat had been called out to help people in distress.
Cromer Lifeboat Station is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm, every day for most of the year, and at the weekends in November and December. Entrance is free.
Cromer Museum was next to Cromer’s 14th Century church. It was based in a tiny street of quaint, red-brick fisherman’s cottages, set around a small courtyard. Some rooms were reconstructed to look as they would have done in the 19th Century.
The area of coastline around Cromer is rich in pleistocene fossils. A Geology Gallery in Cromer Museum included hands-on examples of these finds, buried in sand for visitors to unearth. There was also a display on the West Runton Mammoth, discovered near Cromer. The largest elephant skeleton ever found in the UK had been lying there for 700,000 years.
The children followed a treasure trail around the museum. They used information on boards to answer questions about prehistoric animals. This kept them happily occupied, and I could have spent longer in the special exhibition on local photographer Olive Edis. The first official female war correspondent had led a fascinating life. But we’d arrived at the museum at the end of the day, and only had an hour before the place shut and our special £1.50 twilight tickets expired.
Cromer Museum is open from April to October, from 10am-4pm during the week, and from 12-4pm at the weekend. A family ticket for two adults and children is £14.45. Address: Cromer Museum, East Cottages, Tucker Street, Cromer, NR27 9HB
Amazona zoo Cromer
We didn’t visit Amazona Zoo on our day trip, but the Cromer Zoo website says it’s “home to over 200 animals from tropical South America, including jaguars, monkeys, peccaries, otters, owls, macaws, parrots, capuchins, spiders, snakes, flamingos, rheas, guinea pigs, iguanas, caimans, pumas and tapirs.”
Address: Amazona Zoo, Hall Road, Cromer United Kingdom, NR27 9JG. Cromer Zoo prices: £11.50 per adult, £8.50 per child, or £35.00 for a family ticket (two adults, two children).
Food and drink in Cromer
Crab is a big speciality of Cromer. You’ll see it popping up in menus all over town, from crab fritters and crab linguine to good old plain dressed crab. As with any British coastal town, fish and chips is on sale in countless places to eat in Cromer. No. 1 Fish and Chips Cromer is perhaps the premium establishment, with a commanding position overlooking the sea, just above the pier. No 1 Cromer is run under the culinary expertise of Michelin Star chef Galton Blackiston.
You’ll find tea and coffee shops around every corner in Cromer. And it wouldn’t be a trip to the Great British seaside without trying an ice cream or two. We found some delicious gelato (the espresso flavour was out of this world), and soft scoop in rainbow shades, at Windows Ice Cream on Jetty Cliff.
Days out in Norfolk near Cromer
You can see more ideas for days out in Norfolk, and neighbouring Suffolk, in this feature.
We only spent one day in the north Norfolk town. I’m sure there are many things to do in Cromer we haven’t covered here. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments below.
You can find out more about what to do in Cromer, and more days out in Norfolk, on the Visit Norfolk website.
Have you been on many days out in Norfolk? Could you suggest any more things to do in Cromer?
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