Exploring Norfolk’s winter wonderland

Blickling National Trust

As autumn passes the baton to winter, we find ourselves slowing down, and shorter days and less sunlight means winter blues and even depression can strike. Colder weather keeps us indoors where there’s plenty of technology to entertain us, but too much screen time can leave us feeling stressed. We’re less connected to the natural world, yet research by The Wildlife Trusts and the University of Essex shows that spending time in nature is good for our health.

Contact with nature reduces anxiety and stress and improves mood, self-esteem, and attention and concentration. Exposure to nature also increases immunity and can help reduce symptoms of ADHD in children. Such is the importance of nature to wellbeing that Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, describes nature as ‘Vitamin N’.

Winter can be the ideal time for a nature walk and Norfolk the ideal place!

While this tranquil county may lack hill-top vistas, Norfolk’s wide-open landscapes with moody skies and sublime sunsets can still take your breath away. And the flatter terrain means people of all ages can enjoy our countryside. With so many nature reserves and coastal and public footpaths, there’s surely a walk for every day of the year. Why not take a walk a day as your New Year’s resolution!

Nature can calm the mind. When we take notice of trees, flowers and wildlife, we live in the moment and leave our worries at home. After a wet autumn, woodlands are filled with fascinating fungi, and the low light at this time of year shows nature at its finest. See squirrels stashing acorns to last them through to spring. See a charm of goldfinches feasting on teasels and waders and wildfowl huddling on mudflats along windswept shores. Early risers can see pink-footed geese leave the Wash in their thousands to head inland for a sugar beet feast. What a sight!

As autumn strips to winter, songbirds are revealed once more, singing out the day from leafless branches. See jackdaws, crows and rooks heading to their roosts, gathering noisily in their thousands if you’re lucky. Then, when the sun goes down, see trees make bold shapes against the night sky. Remember to listen out for tawny owls!

Winter may be chilly, but it sets us up for a traveller’s rest. What better way to end a winter walk than by sharing stories, photos and food in one of Norfolk’s pubs, restaurants or hotels. By the coast, in the countryside or in the city, with seafaring history, village charm or modern chic, you’ll find a place for every taste.

Wherever you are in Norfolk, there are coastal and countryside paths, nature reserves, beaches, woodland and country estates to explore. Which wonderland walks will you choose this winter?

Marriotts Way

The Marriotts Way public path follows the old train track running 25 miles from the pretty market town of Aylsham to the cathedral city of Norwich. Trees, hedgerows and wildflowers line the path on both sides. In winter you can see rabbits, squirrels, deer, songbirds, pheasants and birds of prey.

Titchwell Marsh (RSPB)

On the northwest coast, Titchwell Marsh nature reserve has woodland, freshwater lagoon, tidal marsh and sandy beach. Shelter in cosy hides to watch avocet’s feeding in the shallows or marsh harriers soaring in the distance. Children can see birds up close on seed feeders by the visitor centre.

Snettisham (RSPB)

Snettisham reserve on the Wash isn’t for the faint-hearted, which means you may have the place to yourself. Mudflats stretch as far as the eye can see in this wild, windswept haven for nature. At high tide see thousands of waders close to the shore and at sunrise see thousands of pink-footed geese take to the wing.

Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)

In the floodplains of the River Yare, this peaceful wetland reserve, with trails through woodland, reedbeds, meadowland and waterways, gives you the chance to get away from it all. See deer, otters, woodland birds, marsh harriers, bitterns, wildfowl and waders.

Cley Marshes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

You’ll be spoilt for choice with waders, wildfowl and birds of prey. You won’t only find an ideal habitat of reedbeds, saltmarsh, lagoons and beach but also a fabulous visitor centre that showcases Norfolk’s nature artists. You can walk to Cley windmill too. Make a day of it!

Holme Dunes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

This far corner of North West Norfolk is worth exploring. The boardwalk takes you along the coast through dunes with views across tidal creeks and countryside. You might see Chris Packham’s favourite grebe – the punky Slavonian grebe. On a sunny day, cross your fingers for a shower and rainbow across a dramatic Norfolk sky.

Blickling Estate (National Trust)

The Blickling Estate is a treasure for nature. Walk around the lake edged with golden reeds and bullrushes, and through the beech wood, at its best in autumn and winter. You might even see a barn owl. Head up to the Great Wood for a fungi hunt – how many can you capture on camera?

Sheringham Park (National Trust)

Sheringham Park has it all – landscaped gardens, woodland, farmland and even clifftop walks. Climb the lookout for magnificent views to the coast then stop at the stone bridge to watch the steam train pass by. You may even see Eurasian curlew feeding on winter stubble or hear their soulful call.

Norfolk Coastal Path

There’s nothing like a coastal walk in winter to blow away the cobwebs. At Winterton and Horsey on the east coast, you can see seals with pups if you take care not to disturb them. On the north coast, Cromer’s cliffs and pier are always a treat. From Blakeney’s pretty harbour, walk to Morston Quay. Don’t miss the stunning beaches at Holkham and Burnham Overy Staithe and the glorious sunsets at Hunstanton cliffs on the west coast.

First published in the 2019 winter edition of Eat Out Norfolk mini-guide to eating out in Norfolk. Whether you choose the coast, the countryside or the fine city of Norwich for your ramble, there’s an eatery to welcome you – walking boots, rosy-cheeked children, thirsty dogs and all! Check out the Eat Out Norfolk online guide here. Cheers!