There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy in Norfolk and Suffolk - where else can you find medieval live action gaming, Cold War tanks, magicians, Dad’s Army, a Mississippi-style paddleboat, and an Anglo-Saxon tomb? Let Angela Youngman be your guide.
The counties of Norfolk and Suffolk contain some surprising destinations for groups. Large towns and cities such as Norwich, Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds have their own distinctive characters, and there are many pretty villages, countless historic houses, castles, nature reserves, a stunning coastline and the capital of the horse racing industry to visit. On the coast are popular resorts such as Hunstanton, Southwold, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. The little Norfolk village of Thursford is the setting for a Christmas music and dance spectacular attracting groups from all over the country (call 01328 878 477 www.thursford.com).
NEWMARKET – HOME OF HORSE RACING
Newmarket is celebrating 350 years of racing heritage, for this is where horse racing first began. Discover Newmarket operates various guided tours enabling groups to explore the area and go behind the scenes at racing stables. To book a tour, call 0344 748 9200 or. www.discovernewmarket.co.uk
In the autumn, the National Horseracing Museum is moving to Palace House in Newmarket, the location of the new National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art. The centre will have a new museum that celebrates the history and science of horseracing, a national gallery of British sporting art and thoroughbred horses. For more information call 01638 667333 (ex 2) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.nhrm.co.uk
Seafood is a speciality along the entire coastline. Every May, the Crab & Lobster Festival in Cromer and Sheringham celebrates its signature dish, Cromer Crab, while fresh oysters can be found at Pinneys of Orford (a 10 minute drive from Snape). There are numerous top artisan cheesemakers such as Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay with its handmade Baron Bigod cheese; Suffolk Gold and Suffolk Blue from Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses at Creeting St Mary, not far from Stowmarket; Ferndale Norfolk Cheeses in North Norfolk near Holt and Mrs Temple’s cheeses, made in Wighton near Wells-next-the-Sea. At Bircham Windmill near Snettisham, visitors can see sheep being milked and cheese being made.
Tour the Greene King Brewery, Bury St Edmunds or the Adnams Brewery in Southwold, and even try your hand at making gin.
Greene King Brewery group tours are £12 per person, which includes beer tasting. Call 01284 714 297 or visit www.greenekingshop.co.uk
For further information on Adnams Brewery Tours, call the group booking line, 01502 727 295 or visit www.tours.adnams.co.uk
There are many vineyards such as Shawsgate, Framlingham, offering tours: email email@example.com for more details, or visit www.shawsgate.co.uk likewise whisky at St George’s Distillery, Roudham - discounts available, pre-booking advised. For more details, visit www.englishwhisky.co.uk
HISTORY & HERITAGE
The medieval Framlingham Castle, Suffolk, was where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen and has superb wall walks. There’s a 15 per cent discount for groups of 11 or more, and free entry for coach drivers and tour leaders. Call 01728 724 922 for more information. www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/framlingham-castle
Sandringham House is the Queen’s Norfolk home. Many of the ground floor rooms used by the Royal Family are open to the public and remain relatively unchanged since Edwardian times. The gardens are spectacular, with a beautiful lake surrounded by flowering shrubs and conifers. The museum contains a unique collection of objects many of which were given to the Queen during state visits overseas. There are discounts for groups of 20 or more on house and gardens tickets. Call 01485 545 408 or email firstname.lastname@example.org www.sandringhamestate.co.uk
Not far away is the Georgian splendour of Holkham Hall, home of the Coke family whose ancestor Coke of Norfolk revolutionized agriculture. An obelisk in the grounds tells the story of Coke’s activities. Visitors can discover a plethora of antiquities and paintings in rooms including the great Marble hall and the Parrot room, chapel and old kitchen. At Christmas there are candlelit tours of festively decorated rooms, while in summer, the grounds come alive with outdoor theatre and country events.
Among the great historic houses of the region are Blickling Hall, Felbrigg Hall, Oxburgh Hall and Ickworth House. Each has its own distinctive characteristics; the Jacobean splendour of Blickling is surrounded by stunning gardens and lakes, while Felbrigg is much more Victorian in style. Picturesque Oxburgh Hall is believed to have been the lodgings of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1487. It holds the spectacular tapestries created by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment here. Ickworth is pure Italianate splendour amid an evergreen landscape. Distinguished by a great Rotunda, it contains a display of fans together with one of the most spectacular collections of silver within the National Trust. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
DON’T TELL HIM, PIKE!
Fans of Dad’s Army will find many familiar sights throughout Norfolk and Suffolk. The region provided a backdrop for several famous scenes,, and Weybourne Railway Station on the North Norfolk steam railway (www.nnrailway.co.uk) was the site of ‘The Royal Train’. The Dad’s Army Museum at Thetford commemorates the fact that the town became Walmington-on-Sea and can be seen in iconic episodes such as ‘Man of the Hour,’ ‘Time on my Hands’ in which a German pilot dangles from the clock tower. The Museum contains extensive memorabilia, props from the latest film, plus the original ‘J Jones Family Butcher’ van. A statue of Captain Mainwaring now stands proudly in the town centre. Guided walking tours around the film locations can be arranged. For more information visit www.dadsarmythetford.org.uk
During the Second World War the area was dubbed ‘Little America’ as it was home to numerous American air force bases. Reminders of this era still remain, with many memorial museums. Typical of these are the 389th BG Memorial Exhibition and Museum at Hethel (www.museumsnorfolk.org.uk) near Norwich containing extensive wall paintings created by airforce personnel and The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Dickleburgh which houses ornately decorated flying jackets. Find out about the men who were stationed here, their lives and how they interacted with the local communities. Entry is free and talks and film presentations can be arranged. Call 01379 740 708. www.100bgmus.org.uk
The Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum, at Flixton, near Bungay, is housed on one of the old airfields. In addition to the memorials to the airmen of WW2, it contains a variety of historic aircraft such as the airborne lifeboat, autogyros created by Ken Wallis, gliders, Canberras and a Sea Harrier. Displays highlight the many functions of aviation including archeology, air sea rescue, decoy sites and bomber command. Admission is free, and surrounding the museum are some pleasant nature walks. Call 01986 896 644 or email email@example.com www.aviationmuseum.net
At Parham near Framlingham in Suffolk is the location for a unique WW2 museum – the Museum of the British Resistance Organisation. Until quite recently, very few people knew that there had even been a potential British Resistance movement. It was one of the best kept secrets of WW2 and involved selected members of the community especially the Home Guard. The museum explains how they were trained to operate behind enemy lines if the Nazi’s had invaded. Admission is free; for more details, including opening hours, visit www.parhamairfieldmuseum.co.uk
Artefacts from much later wars are on display at the Norfolk Tank Museum, near Long Stratton. It houses a collection of Cold War tanks and battle vehicles, together with more than a hundred years of small arms weaponry. This is one of the few places where you can climb inside a Challenger tank and discover just what it would have been like for the soldiers who used them. Visitors can also ride in a battle vehicle around an assault course. (Tank experiences run between May and October.) Call 01508 532 650. www.norfolktankmuseum.co.uk
MAGIC AND THE MISSISSIPPI
Davenport’s Magic Kingdom is based in the Norfolk town of North Walsham. Here you can watch magic shows, talk to magicians and discover the history of magical items from the 16th century to the modern day. Run by a fourth generation magician, it is the home of the Davenport collection with a full size reproduction of Houdini’s Chinese water torture tank, and stories of countless famous magicians.
Visitors can solve puzzles, watch magical scenes in slot machines and discover what it is like to appear to be levitated! Call 01692 405 254. www.davenportsmagickingdom.co.uk or.
For a calmer experience, explore the gentle surroundings of the Norfolk Broads (a network of rivers and lakes) by taking a ride on a Mississippi style paddle boat from the village of Horning, passing windmills, reed beds and thatched houses. Jazz cruises with the Lumiere Rouge Ragtime band are held during the high season. The boat can be hired for private functions and celebrations and has a licensed bar. Call 01692 630 262. www.southern-comfort.co.uk
Groups wanting to explore the Broads on self-guided tours can hire day boats from Herbert Woods (www.herbertwoods.co.uk) or try a guided canoe trail with The Canoe Man who takes groups out on Swallows & Amazon adventure days, Otter spotting and Bittern spotting canoe trails. www.thecanoeman.com
WATERWAYS AND WILDLIFE
Several companies including Beans Boat Trips and Temples Seal Trips offer boat trips to see the seals off the Norfolk coast where there are extensive populations of Common and Grey seals all year round. They can be seen swimming and resting on the sand banks. Many of the boat trips include a visit to Blakeney Point nature reserve, home to large flocks of terns in the summer. Discounts for groups vary depending on the time of the year and group size. Guided tours of the nature reserve can be arranged. Visit www.beansboattrips.co.uk or www.sealtrips.co.uk
Near Fakenham, the Pensthorpe Natural Park was voted Norfolk’s best large attraction for both 2014 and 2015. It has much to offer a variety of interests. Visitors can enjoy long walks around the lakes and woods, with a new wetland walk due to open later this year.
The formal Millennium garden is said to be at its best during the summer and autumn, while The Wave Garden has a more relaxed woodland style with sculptures and rolling yew hedging.
Pensthorpe has many trails and activities for children, plus a large outdoor playground and the Hootz House indoor play centre. Groups can book guided walks with a warden or gardener, as well as trips on the Pensthorpe Explorer (a seasonal attraction taking visitors out into the far reaches of the estate). Call 01328 851 465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Head to the outskirts of Woodbridge to discover the secrets of Sutton Hoo. This awe-inspiring Anglo-Saxon burial site contained the Sutton Hoo helmet and many other treasures now housed in the British Museum. Replicas can be seen at Sutton Hoo, together with a changing exhibition of some of the original treasures. Visitors can walk around the remains of the burial mounds, and explore further down towards the river from where it is believed the Anglo-Saxons carried the boat that was buried here. The exhibition hall tells the story of the excavation and often has special activities available. Groups can book a guided tour of the mounds or an exhibition talk. Call 01394 389 700.
A different type of thrill is to be found in Thetford Forest where Ironheads have set up a unique, medieval/fantasy live action war game on a dedicated gaming field. Dress up in medieval style surcoats and take part in knight and archery combat. Learn to fight with swords, attacking your partner with the aim of removing the ‘horns’ on specially created helmets! Spar with Sir Ironhead, and discover the perils of the pillory. Try your skills at archery and fire specially tipped safety arrows from recurve (bent back) Snakebows while dodging the arrows from the opposing team. This is an innovative, unusual activity for all types of groups, including schools, and for corporate events. www.ironheads.co.uk
THE FAST LANE
Fast forward to the modern day and experience what it is like to drive a high-speed race car at the Lotus track at Hethel, near Norwich. These days are an incredible experience as groups are taken round the factory to discover the Lotus heritage and see how Lotus sports cars are individually hand crafted. Then there’s the opportunity to take the wheel of a sports car, accompanied by a professional racing driver, and drive a few laps of the track. Call 01953 608 547 or email email@example.com