Monday, 20 June 2011

A 20-Mile North Norfolk Bird And Pub Crawl From Hunstanton To Stiffkey

View Hunstanton-Stiffkey in a larger map

Tried and tested on Saturday.
Required: A designated driver or a Coasthopper bus timetable.
Preferable: Fully Ventilated Drinking Trousers

Start: Hunstanton Beach
Begin the day with a stroll along the beach to look for nesting Fulmars. They're easy to find as soon as you reach the strikingly cream and orange cliffs. They're an awesome, big-nosed sight as they glide to and from the cliff face, their legs often dangling comically as they come in to land.

First Pub: The Ancient Mariner, Old Hunstanton
Nothing to fear here. The suitably-named Camra Beer Guide entrant is about a mile east along the beach from the Fulmars. Apart from the Adnams Suffolk Bitter, the hotel pub's best feature is the decked and lawned beer garden which gives great views of the windsurfers on the Wash.

Second Pub: The Lighthouse Inn, Thornham
A great patio garden with distant sea views to enjoy with the Wherry and guest ales is the highlight of this place a few miles along the coast road. Rated with slightly more detail on this earlier posting.

Next Bird Stop: RSPB Titchwell Marsh
Spotted Redshank at Titchwell
A five-star reserve with a high chance of spotting some of the most iconic Norfolk birds: Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Bearded Tit, Bittern and all the wetland specialities. A fabulous new hide half-way along the 1km path to the beach takes you right into the heart of the lagoons.

Third Pub: The Jolly Sailors, Brancaster
Jolly as sailors in Brancaster
Another short drive is rewarded with a refreshing pint of Brancaster Bitter and/or Oystercatcher brewed on the premises. It's got a spacious, grassy, swallow-blessed beer garden and a play area which attracts a nicely mixed crowd of rugby-types in pink weekend shirts and Jeremy Kyle-style parents urging Ryan and Kianna to "put it down, NOW!"

Fourth Pub: The White Horse, Brancaster Staithe
A couple of miles further east on the left is this posher pub with rooms. The bar serves Woodforde's Wherry and Adnams but the best bit is the terrace at the back with sensational views over the marshes to the distant sea, complete with Little Egrets, Redshanks and Oystercatchers.
The food is also excellent and very modern-British - my battered fish came with nine thick-cut chips stacked in a Jenga-style tower on the plate. Novel.

Time to press onwards to Wells-next-the-Sea but if you can't wait six more miles try the Victoria at Holkham on the way. It's a lovely hotel which recently tied itself to Adnams, so you know exactly what you'll be drinking. Nip into the Holkham Hall grounds up the hill to enjoy the House Martins, Swifts and Swallows hunting over the lake.

Next Stop: The Albatros, Wells
Big sky from the deck of the Albatros on Saturday
Not a pub but a moored, Dutch sailing boat with an S mysteriously missing from its name and very steep wooden steps down to a galley serving Woodforde's Wherry and Nelson's Revenge straight out of the barrel. Make it back up the stairs without spilling it and enjoy the view across the marshes with the option of a wide range of pancakes to soak it all up. Spinach, boiled egg and cheese is among the tastier options for £8. Standard lemon and sugar is half that.

At this point I recommend a detour to the De-Lish deli across the road on Staithe Street. Stock up on some of the tastiest cured meats and spiced fruits and chocolates this side of Ibiza.

Final Stop: The Red Lion, Stiffkey
A few miles further east and another difficult-to-drive-past landmark on the coast road. More Woodforde's choices and a cosy patio garden between the pub and the newish rooms for holiday rent. Very good value food if you fancy it.

And now you'd better call it day and head home for a well-earned snooze. Don't forget your binoculars.

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