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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if ..

The Boxing Day swim is one of those events which started as a one-off novelty event and has very quickly become a tradition.  And creating traditions around Christmas time is something which takes place in each family, in each county across the country.

A member of one Norfolk family said that it became a Christmas Day tradition for them to go to different parts of the Norfolk coast and count seals.  Whether this started as an excuse not to cook the Christmas lunch, or there just weren’t that many sheep around, who knows.  But for this particular family, Christmas would not be Christmas without going out in all weathers to count the seals.

For one more well known family Norfolk and in particular, Sandringham simply is Christmas and tradition takes on a whole new significance.  The timetable of events is itself a deep-rooted tradition, from the positioning of presents under the tree on Christmas Eve, to the time the Queen retires (midnight) to the length of the sermon on Christmas Day (mustn’t exceed 12 minutes otherwise royal attention may wander)

Xmas at Sandringham

The family knows exactly what’s happening and when it’s happening because it’s tradition, right down to the 5 changes of clothes needed each day.  It’s just outsiders who find it confusing. Poor Diana was not made aware that royal tradition dictated presents should be cheap and jokey.  A cashmere sweater and a silver ornament  later, no one was amused, whereas rumour has it that the Queen was completely charmed by Harry’s gift of a shower cap with the words ‘Ain’t Life a Bitch’ emblazoned on it.

Here in Norfolk we have a broad base from which to build your own Christmas traditions.  You could start off with a trip to Thursford, which is Christmas sparkle, glamour, song and nostalgia all rolled into one unique show.  Many come from miles away year after year to kick start their own festive period.


Or how about a trip to see Santa arriving by boat in Wells harbour, or go to see him on the North Norfolk Railway?  Mince pies and sherry (latter for parents only obviously), excited faces looking out of the carriages as the steam train chugs gently through the Norfolk winter landscape, with Father Christmas waiting at Weybourne Station.  Then there’s Christmas lights in almost every village, the Christmas Market at Burnham Deepdale, candlelight tours at Holkham Hall, and so it goes on – such things are the stuff of many family Christmas memories and traditions, and why Norfolk is such a great place to be at this time of year.

wells christmas

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Hidden Gems of Norfolk

Even people who have lived all their lives in North Norfolk come across places they didn’t even know existed.  So what hope does your average visitor have of getting to know this large and varied county?  Especially when the natives tend to play things pretty close to their chests.

To try and help our Kett visitors, we’ve chosen five places which don’t shout about their existence, but which are true Norfolk gems:


Wolterton Hall
Hidden away in rural North Norfolk, Wolterton Hall is a grand country house a little frayed around the edges, which speaks to you of past glories and grandeur.  Visitors can park near the house and walk around the surrounding fields and parkland (designed by Thomas Ripley), with the best view being from the far side of the lake looking toward the house. Once you have wallowed in Wolterton’s decayed splendour, lunch at the nearby Saracen’s Head is recommended. Also owned by the same family, Mannington Hall Garden is also well worth a visit.

radar museum
The RAF Air Defence Museum
From the Second World War right through the Cold War, this station at Neatishead in Norfolk played a vital role in the secret Air Defence of this country, and even today its role is ‘to provide radar, ground-to-air radio and data links coverage as part of the UK Air Surveillance and Controls System’.  The museum uses a combination of a guided tour and a large number of themed rooms and many of the exhibits are ‘hands-on’.  Visitors can join in and experience life as a Fighter Controller or sit in the cockpit of a Jaguar aircraft.  People who have been describe it as ‘a surprise waiting to be discovered’, and have praised the knowledge and enthusiasm of the volunteers.


earle arms

Earle Arms, Heydon
Heydon is one of the most attractive (and privately owned) villages in North Norfolk, and its chocolate-box good looks mean it has been used as a back drop for both TV and film. The pub, the Earle Arms, overlooking the green, is right in the middle of the village and has a reputation for its seafood (‘pier-fresh’), local beer and friendly service.  Look out for the host of racing prints and memorabilia.


walled garden houghton

Walled Garden at Houghton
Houghton Hall in itself is a treasure, but whatever you do don’t forget to visit its Walled Garden.  Originally the kitchen garden for the house, the 5 acre area was mostly fallow and neglected, until in 1996 it underwent a programme of redesign and regeneration, with such success that in 2007  it was named Historic Houses Association and Christie’s Garden of the Year.  Different areas include an Italian garden with pleached lime trees, a 120 yard double herbaceous borders, a rose garden with 150 varieties, parterre of box hedging and much more.  Don’t miss the Waterflame fountain!

bircham mill

Bircham Mill
Norfolk is famous for its windmills and Bircham Mill is one of the best, looking now as it would have done over 100 years ago.  You can climb ladders right to the top for a breaktaking view of the sea, make your own bread in the bakery, meet their sheeps and watch the milk being made into cheese, pet the animals and then enjoy delicious cakes and pies at the café.   A great way for young and old to spend an hour or two absorbing a piece of Norfolk heritage.

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Wings over Burnham Overy

Usually visitors who come to our beautiful county, choose to explore its attractions by car, on foot, by boat or by bicycle.  Murray Taylor, who stayed at a Kett cottage in Burnham Overy has come up with an alternative way to see the countryside – through video goggles whilst flying a radio controlled quadcoptor.

Using a transmitted video feed from the aircraft to the ground and the video goggles, Murray flys the quadcoptor (fitted with an onboard GoPro 2 camera) as if he was sitting at the control panel of a plane, and has succeeded in getting some stunning footage from Burnham Overy Staithe right out to the sea entrance, quite literally from a bird’s eye view.   He says it sums up the way he remembers this part of the world – lucky man to have (and make) such great memories!

Click on the link below to see an excerpt, which was shot at low tide, early in the morning:

Another still from Murray’s amazing footage:


And the kit used to make the film:




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The Real Norfolk?


The news that the footprints of a million year old family have been found in Happisburgh, will come as no surprise to its residents.  Everybody knows the area is just perfect for a family holiday, and now it turns out even prehistoric man and his dependents sank their toes into the white sands of Happisburgh.

Often in the news for disappearing into the sea rather than its beauty, which remains constant, Happisburgh is nonetheless one of the many highlights in the North East Norfolk area.  Forget your smart sophistication, your home from London home, take a good strong dose of authentic, traditional, unpretentious Norfolk.  Here’s just five things not be be missed:

The Beach at Winterton-on-Sea
Mile upon mile of white sand and dunes, and inspiration for one writer, Simon Scarrow who said of Winterton ‘there is something in the air at Winterton that refreshes the spirit, excites the senses and calms the mind’.  Children will just love it too.

Horsey Mere and Mill
Whether it’s walking round the mere, watching the community of seals on the beach or marvelling at the views from the top of the wind pump, you can’t fail to appreciate the wild, ancient beauty of the area.  A trip here can be complemented by a pub lunch at the Nelson Head, or at the café at the recently refurbished Waxham Barn, one of the largest existing mediaeval tithe barns, rivalled only by one at Paston a few miles down the road.

Sea Palling
Getting blasé now, but yet another wonderful (dog friendly) beach of endless white sand – even the dunes have been designated areas of outstanding beauty.  The sea is made up of shallow bays formed by man-made reefs just off the coast, which makes it safe for bathing and paddling, and whilst you’re doing that, look out for the odd seal or jet skier.

One for children of all ages, this “curious treehouse adventure” located in Horning is probably one of the most original of theme parks.  Literally a world away from the ubiquitous plastic toys and rides, entrance to this 50 acres of adventure is over rivers by rope bridges, swings, zipwires and slides to treehouses, a maze, and yurts all protected by the trees’ thick canopy.  Just like the area in which it lies, it’s completely unique.

The Old Vicarage, East Ruston
Described as a modern garden on a grand scale, the garden at the East Ruston Vicarage is a combination of great design and unusual planting, including many tropical species.  The varied ‘rooms’ in the garden range from more traditioinal borders, to Mediterranean planting (palm trees aplenty) to a desert wash (350 tonnes of different sized flint needed here).   There is also a no-nonsense vegetable garden, a cutting garden, woodland walks, wildflower meadows, a walled garden and a spectacular corn field, brimming with field poppies, cornflowers and corn marigold.  For garden lovers it’s a real must-see.

And what’s even more perfect is that Kett have 26 properties from which to enjoy this largely undiscovered area.


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And the award goes to..


With the Hollywood film awards season in full swing, and the weather being such that a Sunday afternoon on the sofa with a good film is the activity of choice, our thoughts turn to our own home-grown film star, Norfolk itself.

Our beautiful county is no stranger to Hollywood. Gywneth Paltrow has walked barefoot across the beach at Holkham (Shakespeare in Love), Alan Bates has strolled with intent over the fields at Melton Constable (The Go-Between), and Keira Knightley has drifted through Holkham Hall (The Duchess). Eddie Redmayne, David Tennant and Romola Garai made it to Little Walsingham and Walsingham Abbey for Glorious 1939 (2009), and look what happened to their careers.  Although probably reluctant to admit it, Steve Coogan’s most successful career move, Alan Partridge, would not be the same without his Norfolk backdrop.

Generally Norfolk remains unfazed and unspoilt in the face of such attention, accepting it as fitting appreciation of its beauty and star quality. But sometimes, you wonder what convoluted thought process occurred to bring Norfolk to mind as a location. Here are few examples of what film people (as opposed to the rest of us) see when they look at the Norfolk countryside:

The good people of Winterton probably had no idea that their town could be a dead ringer for Cape Cod, but that’s exactly what happened when Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave shot the 1977 film ‘Julia’ there. Furthermore, it went on to win an Oscar. Not bad for Norfolk.

Burnham Deepdale
An attractive, yet definitely North Norfolk coastal village, a rather bemused Burnham Deepdale was transformed into a North Korean paddy field for the Bond film, Die Another Day.

The Broads
Another film crew in need of an authentic-looking eastern paddy field, the makers of Full Metal Jacket decided the best location for an American helicoptor to shoot at and generally cause mayhem in was the quiet and peaceful Norfolk Broads.

Castle Rising
In the 1985 ‘Out of Africa’, the cast really did take a few steps away from the Dark Continent, when it was deemed that Castle Rising was simply Denmark in disguise.

King’s Lynn
Quiet and unassuming King’s Lynn became vibrant and violent eighteenth century New York for the film Revolution. The film flopped, but King’s Lynn continues to go from strength to strength.

But perhaps the most outrageous Norfolk location leap of faith occurs in the 1994 TV film ‘Love on a Branch Line’ starring Leslie Phillips and Maria Aitkin, when our beloved Weybourne Station and North Norfolk Railway play the title ‘branch line’ role in the fictional town of Arcady, in SUFFOLK.

As a footnote to its film career, the county hasn’t been totally left untouched by the media. Back in the late eighties/early nineties when Anneke Rice charged round the country in a helicoptor doing good deeds, wearing lycra and a smile, she was told Happisburgh lighthouse was in dire need of a repaint.  Nothing daunted, and with much drama she completed the task, only for the residents to discover she had used the wrong paint.  The whole thing had to be done again,  without a shred of lycra or a helicoptor or a smile in sight.

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