Saturday 7th Sept
Got to Dersingham at around half four. Fairly uneventful journey, shocking weather at first had happily cleared up by the time we got to Norfolk. Found and disarmed the keysafe (why are those things so bastard difficult to open? You need about six hands even after you've put the code in. Push these, slide that, while simultaneously pulling it all off. Then retrieve keys from bushes).
Cottage very nice, although very low doorways throughout which we weren't entirely prepared for. Even I had to duck. Managed to walk through ground floor without knocking myself out, only to trip up the unexpected step into the kitchen. Smooth.
Our first action was to locate and chuck outside the two air fresheners choking the place up with a chemically stifling fug. And writing this it occurs to me we never remembered to put them back in again when we left. Oops.
Big garden at the back, with all sorts of fruit trees and vegetables. We eyed the corn on the cob but decided the owners (in the cottage opposite) had probably counted them...still nicked the only two ripe figs though.
Shared access at the back for the other cottages in the row, combined with a path of loose pea-gravel meant the week was accompanied by the constant sound of footsteps crunching past. (Mostly, it has to be said, belonging to one chap with a flat cap and a scowl who would march back and forth about eight times in a row. Possibly some kind of Nazi prison camp guard in a previous life). This was discovered in somewhat alarming fashion on the first morning, when I was standing in the kitchen doorway in my dressing gown, only to be forced to leap indoors at the unexpected approach of said interloper.
Sunday 8th Sept
Started the day with a fry-up. In fact, we started every day this week with a fry-up. If you listen very carefully, you can hear my arteries weeping.
We headed out to Castle Rising (or as it says on the bookmark I bought, Castle Rising Castle, which seems a bit redundant but there we are), as it was just down the road. An impressive building with a lot of staircases and galleries still standing, it was lived in by Queen Isabella after assisting in the murder of her husband, Edward II.
From there we drove up the coast via Snettisham (no we're not paying £5 to park at your beach, bugger off) as far as Hunstanton. We'd been passing a surprising number of motorbikes, mopeds, tricycles and the like, and on the cliff here we discovered some kind of rally they'd been coming from - hundreds of them!
Hunstanton itself didn't seem to have a lot to offer, the coast road through town blocked any view of the sea* with grotty caravan parks and empty-looking fairgrounds, so we headed home and aquiel9 cooked roast duck for dinner.
*The coast-road in Norfolk as a whole rarely affords any view of the actual coast, being for the most part just far enough inland to be too far away.
Monday 9th Sept
Woken this morning by the gentle sounds of an industrial lawnmower growling somewhere outside my window. For an hour. Relief when it finally stopped was short lived, when the culprit appeared in our back garden (requiring the second hurried slam of the stable-door so far this week) and proceeded to cause a similar racket all through breakfast. To be followed by a strange woman (presumably the owner) also appearing in the garden and wandering all through it. As secluded and private gardens go, this one appears to have gone.
First stop today was Walsingham Abbey, once one of the country's most important pilgrimage sites. Not much of it remains other than an impressive window arch and part of the crypt and refectory, but the grounds are lovely and there were swallows skimming over the lawns in the sunshine.
From Walsingham we headed up to the coast and along to Cromer, for a very nice crab sandwich and tea in a cafe. There was some kind of RAF procession due to take place, but not for a couple of hours, so we moved on to Overstrand, where we stopped and looked back along the coast to watch the Spitfire display over Cromer pier.
Saw another curious aircraft on the drive back, some kind of VTOL jet by the looks of it. Seems to be a lot of airforce action in Norfolk, and a lot of bases and airfields.
Duck risotto for supper, and watched the first two Tremors films (worked our way through all four by the end of the week).
Tuesday 10th Sept
Rain. Luckily today was really the only day that it really pissed it down from start to finish, for the most part the weather held out nicely. We went to Norwich for the day, on the grounds things would be more indoor-based. Were intending to visit Strangers Hall, a reconstructed merchant's house and museum, but due to a small oversight in not reading the leaflet properly, it turned out not to be open on Tuesdays.
Went to Norwich Castle instead, which incorporates a museum (I always feel you can't beat the obligatory stuffed animal gallery of a county museum. Play 'Spot the Great Auk'. Trust me, they always have one. No wonder they're extinct). What else did it offer? An entire gallery of teapots. Unexpected Nazi memorabilia. Roman cock amulets (and not chickens, oh no).
Had lunch in The Lamb, where a cat was avoiding the torrential rain by curling up by a gas heater under the outside canopy. Had a very nice lasagne, if slightly lacking in what you might term actual pasta layers, and aquiel9 had the pulled pork burger (stop sniggering at the back there).
Went to the cathedral next, complete with treasury and cloisters (Dear Cathedral Shop, as a connoisseur, £2.50 for a bookmark is too much, please reconsider your choices), then home through the rain to eat two types of pizza and watch the Great British Bake Off.
Wednesday 11th Sept
First stop today was Grimes Graves, a field of Neolithic flint mines. You can go down one of them, descending a 30ft ladder into the shaft, to peer through the low tunnels and galleries branching off into the dark. Very quiet, cold and atmospheric, and with bits of tunnel you can scramble through on hands and knees (to come out covered in chalk dust, as it turns out).
We continued to Thetford, mostly because it was only seven miles away and we both needed the loo. Turns out this was the tribal centre of the Iceni (Boudicca's tribe) and the massive Iron age earthworks of the old hill fort still surround the later mound of the Norman castle. (Note to self, when ascending/descending incredibly steep earthworks, try to wear something other than slippery soled shoes. Suffice to say, I came down faster than I went up.)
Had a mooch round Thetford Priory, extensive ruins that are all the more remarkable for being free to enter. There seemed to be quite a few places like this that were free to look round, (which brought a nice balance to the ones that were bastard expensive). We had the place to ourselves, too.
Back to Kings Lynn, which was the closest big town to where we were staying. Went to the museum to see the preserved remains of Seahenge. The rest of the exhibits were mostly local civic and naval things (complete with an annoying number of first person accounts with 'this is fictitious' at the bottom, mixed with actual diary entries/letters).
We had a look at the custom house/wharf area, then spent an increasingly fatiguing time trying to locate the promised 'medieval town' hidden within the seventies shopping mall monstrosity that makes up most of the centre. At one point the sign helpfully pointed directly through a row of shops. Still, I'm sure River Island wouldn't mind if we just barged through and out their back doors? (We gave up in the end. I'm still not entirely convinced it exists).
Went home for tea and cake (aquiel9 had made a lemon drizzle cake and congress tarts to bring away with us), and then I made beef stew for dinner.
Thursday 12th Sept
Beautiful weather today, and we headed for two places we'd never heard of previously, but had discovered on a postcard the day before. Who says these trips aren't meticulously planned? Also, they were both free entry. Bonus.
First stop was Baconthorpe Castle, "a moated and fortified 15th century manor house" according to the English Heritage site. Pretty ruins, pretty lake, and we weren't at all distracted by the quandary of whether it's acceptable to have a sneaky wee in the moat of a scheduled ancient monument (We didn't. Primarily because there were too many other people around).
Next was Binham Priory, about 8 miles away, extensive ruins of the Benedictine priory and an impressive church still in use (also with very welcome public loos and a less welcome man who kept following us round asking us if we wanted a cup of tea). In the monks' cemetery to the rear, apparently one of the Abbots was buried in chains after going mad through over-study. Which just goes to show it doesn't pay to work too hard. Or to piss off a load of monks.
We drove west along the coast(ish) road looking for somewhere for lunch (as it turns out passing and dismissing the place we were actually looking for without recognising it, primarily because the signboard was a less than inviting picture of a horse's arse).
Drove down to the mudflats at Brancaster Staithe, full of yachts and gulls, mirror-calm water and endless blue sky. I think this was the Norfolk I'd had in my head, nothing but marshes and reedbeds between you and the horizon.
But this wasn't getting us fed, and we moved on to the Lighthouse Inn, a Marco Pierre White establishment, and settled into the wood-panelled bar (everyone else had crowded into the conservatory, so we had it to ourselves) for a pint of Wherry bitter and some lunch.
aquiel9 had a rack of ribs, and I had roast quail with black pudding, mash and greens with a port and elderberry jus. Which was very nice, but sadly not very hot. In fact, barely tepid. (The ribs were extremely hot, so I suspect my plate had sat waiting for ages). I'd have complained (no, really, I actually would have this time, it was that bad) if it wasn't for the fact that (a) I was hungry and suspected it might disappear for another half an hour if I said anything and (b) not a single member of staff approached us again the whole time we were there. And we'd already paid.
We walked out to the local pub for supper this evening (there were in fact two, next to each other, but one looked particularly terrifying and we settled on The Feathers). I had lasagne (yes, again, shut up I like it. I shall have eventually tried the lasagne of every pub in the land.) and aquiel9 had fish and chips. It was - okay food, not brilliant, but at least seemingly homemade rather than just defrosted.
We were entertained for the evening by the local colour at the bar, being a man who was increasingly worse for wear and ripe of language who appeared to have brought along a rottweiler to enhance his image as a double-hard-bastard, only to discover he was the owner of the soppiest dog in the entire world. "Don't you dare - don't you dare!" he'd warn it, as the dog lolled on the floor in a happy daze of hope as plates of food wafted past it, occasionally sticking its head conversationally into the crotch of women coming to stand at the bar.
Friday 13th September
Having spent the entire week staying next to the Sandringham estate, we thought we'd better go and have a look. The Queen's Christmas retreat, you get to have a nose through the sitting room, parlour, dining room, saloon/ballroom - and that's about it. For an enormous house, the tour comes to a slightly abrupt end and you find yourself out in the garden again. Still, worth it for the epic amount of antique weaponry hung on the walls (could see off a zombie invasion from here, no problem) and to know that a house exists with more tasteless ornaments crammed into it than mine.
There's also a museum with various royal memorabilia, including things they've shot and stuffed, cars they've driven and things they've been ceremonially presented with that were too awful to be given room in the house (cross stitch Radio Times cover commemorating Charles & Di anyone? No? You surprise me.).
The grounds are nice, and we'd have explored more of them if we hadn't discovered that Sandringham church actually lies outside the estate boundary, and the gate we'd just gone through effectively meant we couldn't get back in again. The church was beautiful, with a silver lectern and altar and painted and carved angel roof, but we weren't allowed to take photos inside (or in the house) sadly.
We spent the rest of the afternoon reading in the cottage garden with tea and cake and then gin and tonic (slightly stubbornly even after the sun had gone in and it was getting nippy). Then it was time to think about packing for the journey home. Made chilli beef noodles for supper.
Saturday 14th September
We broke the journey back with a visit to Bletchley Park, where the first feature appeared to be a recreation of some cold war border checkpoint, as the queue moved at sub-glacial speed (beating the record set by Norwich castle as the slowest place to sell anyone a ticket so far).
Was surprised by the fact it's now surrounded by industrial estates, having imagined somewhere more countrified. Explored the house and the grounds (another surprise, other than the few rooms in the house itself, most of the decryption work was done in draughty old portakabins - not quite how I'd pictured it) and the museum exhibits (more Enigma machines than you can shake a stick at, plus one man's rather worryingly obsessive collection of Churchill memorabilia - with the one man in question sat in a chair outside. One wonders whether they just can't get him to leave).
(Alan Turing's office)
With a long drive ahead, we moved on after a couple of hours, getting back some time after 7pm in beautiful evening sunshine in contrast to the pouring rain we'd left in that morning.