Holly Cave highlights some choice locations for groups within the Eastern counties of Norfolk and Suffolk
The sheer space and openness of these East Anglian counties is palpable, with their low-lying, largely rural landscape spread for miles. The beaches fringing the curved Norfolk and Suffolk coastline are some of the best in the country – if not the world – but there is so much to see and do here beyond admiring the countryside. GTW has pulled out five of its favourite group destinations from each county to help inspire your next trip.
SUFFOLK’S TOP 5
The handsome Suffolk Coast and Heaths are a designate Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and just one glimpse will explain why. Two of Britain’s greatest painters – both Constable and Gainsborough – certainly found enough inspiration here to feed their artistic careers.
1. WOODBRIDGE TIDE MILL
The iconic Woodbridge Tide Mill has stood on the banks of the River Deben for over eight centuries and was the last commercially working tide mill in the country, originally closing in 1957.
Recently renovated and reopened, this characteristic attraction has a huge amount on offer.
You don’t have to be fascinated by milling heritage to appreciate the turning of the giant waterwheel and the exhibits that replicate traditional life at the mill. Visitors can bring their excitable kids here since the Dodgems Hire is always here to distract them as the adults see flour being produced the old-fashioned way at certain times of day and can also purchase some to take home. Groups are welcomed by prior arrangement throughout the year.
2. NORFOLK & SUFFOLK AVIATION MUSEUM
Located on the outskirts of Flixton, between Thetford and Lowestoft, the collection of over 60 aircrafts and the multitude of aviation-related artefacts at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum won’t disappoint. With exhibits largely located outside, it’s a great place to stroll around on a sunny day. Admission to the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum is free, though donations are appreciated and collection boxes are dotted around the site.
3. LANDGUARD FORT
Harwich Harbour, at the mouth of the river Orwell, has always been a safe haven for large ships between the River Thames and River Humber. The first fortifications in Felixstowe were built in 1543, during the reign of Henry VIII and have continued to change over the years. The pentagonshaped walls were first erected in 1744. English Heritage now manages the site.
Landguard Fort is open from March 29 until the end of October. Groups are advised to book in advance and can sign up for a range of packages and itineraries, including guided tours and talks tailored to particular interests. The entrance fee is £3 per person and coach parking is available.
4. ST. EDMUNDSBURY CATHEDRAL
Set in the centre of Bury St Edmunds and surrounded by the serene Abbey Gardens, this elegant building forms the centrepiece of the town. Building work started in the 1400s, but the tower and cloisters were added in the 21st century. The high domed ceiling of St Edmundsbury Cathedral is one of its most visually stunning aspects. Open daily, the cathedral welcomes groups of 10 to 80 and it’s requested that visits be booked in advance. General guided tours and special interest tours are available at £4 per person. The Stained Glass Tour takes in the beautiful Victorian windows, retelling stories from the Old and New Testaments, which is especially popular. Refreshments from the Pilgrims’ Kitchen can also be arranged in advance.
5. FRAMLINGTON CASTLE
Framlington Castle played an important role in the Tudor era, sheltering Mary Tudor and later acting as a Victorian sanctuary for the poor. Visitors can explore the Mere, discover the castle’s history, look around the castle’s outer courts and walk along the walls, which offer spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. An audio guide is included in the entrance fee.
There’s a 15% discount for groups of 11 or more, plus free entry for the coach driver and group leader. Although there’s no coach parking available on-site, there is space to drop off and pick up passengers close to the entrance. A kiosk serves drinks and snacks during the summer season, or you could bring a picnic to enjoy in the spacious gardens.
NORFOLK’S TOP 5
Many visitors travel to the rural county of Norfolk to visit the Broads. One of England’s 10 designated National Parks, these unique wetlands are home to more than 400 rare species. But there’s so much more to explore in the area.
Don’t leave without sipping some of Woodford Brewery’s excellent ales – Wherry gets our vote.
1. HOLKHAM HALL
This 18th century Palladian building is a stone’s throw from the glorious Holkham Nature Reserve and Beach and is a mustsee on the north Norfolk coast, where you’ll find a café, gift shop and range of events throughout the year.
Holkham features a special exhibition showcasing stunning and intimate photographs that portray the reality of living on a working estate.
Pre-booked groups of 20 people or more can enjoy a range of benefits including a 10% discount off admission prices, free entry for the group leader, as well as a complimentary refreshment voucher for the coach driver. Free coach parking is available close to the attractions. A twohour private guided tour can be arranged for groups of 12 or more.
2. WROXHAM BARNS
Groups can endure a fantastic shopping experience in these thoughtfully converted barns on the edge of the Broads. In addition to a range of boutiques selling local arts, crafts and produce, visitors rate the range of active workshops, plant centre and the on-site café.
The Fudge Shop is a particular favourite. There’s something for all kinds of groups here and even younger visitors will be easily entertained with the mini golf course, farm animals and funfair. The site is well prepared for coach groups and has excellent facilities and access for disabled visitors throughout. Admission and parking is free and all booked groups receive a complimentary refreshment voucher for the organiser and coach driver.
3. WILDLIFE SPOTTING
Norfolk’s north coast is renowned for its abundance of wildlife. The huge number of coastal paths, woodlands and nature reserves, such as the aforementioned Holkham, RSPB Titchwell and RSPB Snettisham, are ideal places to spot rare bird species, especially during the autumn and spring migrations. A boat trip to see the seals at Blakeney Point is also a popular experience.
Book one of Searles Seatours’ five excursions, travelling through the sandbanks of Hunstanton and into the Wash. Their popular Seal Island cruise passes by a colony of common seals in their natural habitat. They offer a 20% discount for groups of 10 or more, with coach parking available. Their Wash Monster boat – first used as a landing craft in the Vietnam War – has full wheelchair access. Pensthorpe Natural Park is an idyllic setting for both wildlife and the visitors that come to see it. Pensthorpe Natural Park was a filming location for the BBC’s Springwatch series from 2008 until 2010. Numerous nature trails weave through the wetlands, lakes and forest, and groups of more than 15 receive heavily discounted entry.
4. MID NORFOLK RAILWAY
The Mid Norfolk Railway runs through 11 miles of rural splendour, making it East Anglia’s longest heritage line. It links the charming market towns of Dereham and Wymondham. Discounted fares are available for pre-booked parties of 10 or more passengers. Groups can be accompanied by an experienced guide upon request and whole day trips can be designed to include refreshments and visits to attractions along the route.
Gooderstone Water Gardens makes a relaxing pit stop, as does Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse.
Free coach parking is available in Dereham Station’s large car park.
5. THE NELSON MUSEUM
It’s worth heading to Great Yarmouth to visit the Nelson Museum. Interactive galleries chart Nelson’s life from his Norfolk-based childhood to his famous battles and heroic death.
In the Below Decks Experience, you can imagine that you’re a sailor aboard the HMS Victory. It is recommended you allow a couple of hours for your visit. There are discounted rates for pre-booked groups. Coaches can park at the Beach Coach Station after dropping visitors off at South Quay, and drivers receive free entry.