Norfolk

Blakeney Point, Norfolk: Seal Watching!

So, the deal with Blakeney Point is that it is a 3-mile long spit of sand and shingle in North Norfolk that protrudes into the sea.  The tip of it attracts both common and grey seals, which have pups at different times of the year, thereby maximising your chance of seeing cute baby seals that haven’t yet descended into the corpulent lethargy of adulthood.  The best way to see the seals is via one of the four boating companies that operate out of Morston Quay, though it’s advisable to book at least a day in advance, and collect your tickets on the day.  Blakeney Point is owned by the National Trust, which means there’s a £3 parking fee on top of the £10 per head boat ticket, so bring cash!

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We chose Temples Seal Trips (I was keen on Beans, after seeing Chris Packham featured on their website, but they were booked up), but they’re all the same price and offer similar trips, so I don’t think it really makes much difference who you pick.  Basically, you board the boat (ours had a 50-person capacity), which slowly putters to the end of the Point, and the boat circles around a few times so that everyone can get a good view of the seals.  Then, you have your choice of heading right back to shore, or getting out for half an hour on Blakeney Point for a look around.  We opted to disembark on the Point, as I was enticed by the adorable blue lifeboat house (circa 1898) that has been turned into a visitor’s centre (the information inside is mostly on the local flora and fauna).  There’s not much else on Blakeney Point, aside from some toilets (good news for the weak-bladdered among us) and a few huts owned by locals, but it’s fairly picturesque, offers coastal walking trails (if you have more time than we did), and the beach was quite pleasant.  The high point of the trip was probably spying Galton Blackiston (semi-famous chef) hauling his dinghy onto the shore, though obviously he’s no Chris Packham.  Still, it was a nice little outing, and something neat to do if you’re in the area (I suppose it isn’t every day you get to see seals in their natural habitat).  Now, I’ll shut up and leave you to enjoy the rest of the pictures. 🙂

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Great Yarmouth, Norfolk: The Nelson Museum and the “Golden Mile”

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Although I’m more of a Wellington girl myself (a thin, aloof aristocrat beats out a short, sickly seaman.  Sorry, Horatio), the Nelson Museum still seemed worthy of consideration, especially as I was already in Great Yarmouth.  Appropriately enough, the museum is housed in a Georgian merchant’s house that overlooks the sea, much as Nelson probably gazed out over the horizon as a child.  Admission to this compact, volunteer-run collection is a mere £3.50.  The main gallery takes up the ground floor of the house, and is devoted to Nelson’s life-story, mainly accompanied by portraits and some commemorative china, although there were a few interactive things, like ropes for knot-tying practice, and paper and pens for trying out signing your name with your non-dominant hand (in case you ever lose an arm in battle!).  I may suck at tying knots, but my left-handed signature was surprisingly good, perhaps because it looks so crap in the first place.  It’s not hard to replicate a scribble.

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In the back, there was a re-creation of the bedchamber at Merton Place, Nelson’s Wimbledon residence that he shared with his mistress, Lady Hamilton.  I honestly had no idea that Nelson had lived in Wimbledon, even though I’ve pored over a copy of Wimbledon’s Cultural Heritage map, and was momentarily excited about the prospect of somewhere new to visit, but after looking it up, discovered Merton Place has been converted into council estates, so I guess I can cross that one off the list.  Anyway, the walls were full of quotes describing Nelson, most of them unflattering (Wellington himself wasn’t especially keen), but then again, I suppose he was more a “man of the people” than anything.  The first floor held the temporary exhibition space, currently on Nelson’s ships, with a painting and description of each.  It was actually more interesting than I’m making it sound, since Nelson anecdote was included for each one.  Some Nelson memorabilia sat in a case at the end, including a miniature replica of his coffin, similar to the one that can be found in a diorama at the back of the Painted Hall in Greenwich (I seem to be doing quite a lot of maritimey things lately for some reason).

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“Life Below Decks” is the museum’s child-orientated section.  Pushing in the ship’s biscuit (hmmm, that sounds a bit dirty, have I invented a new euphemism?) triggered a recording of a long, long conversation between two sailors, culminating in a naval battle.  I had to duck outside before the cannon effects started going off; they were loud!  They had a few touchy-feely boxes in here, some with disturbing things hidden inside, and a small below-decks area to explore.

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The back garden was surprisingly spacious, and offered yet more activities.  Here was where you could try out some games popular on ship, such as giant-sized dominoes, skittles, and a Ring-Around-the-Nelson rope throwing game, which I am demonstrating above.  Back indoors, the gift shop was offering an unbelievably low price on postcards, so I now own quite an impressive range of Nelson cards.  The museum was not terribly large, but I think that was reflected in the price, and the volunteers were certainly very friendly.  I think I’d like to see more biographical information on Nelson; even though that was the main focus of the museum, it still felt like it was lacking something somehow, like I could never really get my head around the man.  Or perhaps that was the result of his supposedly complex personality, and I just needed more background on naval practices and sailing?  Either way, I think it was good, but not great.  3/5

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The “Golden Mile” is the term used to describe the long strip of funfairs, arcades, restaurants, and adventure golf courses bordering the seafront, and I can never resist the tacky, yet alluring blend of the weird and wonderful that is the British seaside, so of course, we had to explore it.  Besides that, Great Yarmouth is the Pleasure Beach that the Buckets visit in Keeping up Appearances, as I mentioned in my last post, so I had to walk in Hyacinth’s footsteps.  The Ghost Train was the only ride we partook of, and I’m not one for swimming, especially on a slightly chilly day, so most of the time was spent wandering around and eating.

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I love a good arcade, and the ones at the Pleasure Beach were decent, offering a mix of old and new games (though sadly, no Galaga, which is my favourite game and the one I’m most skilled at).  The disturbing clown machines shown above were eerily ubiquitous, and I had to keep an eye on them so the clowns couldn’t eat my soul when I wasn’t paying attention.  However, I let my guard down to play the early 90s Simpsons arcade game which I remembered fondly from my youth.  I’m not any better at it now than I was back then.

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Further along the beach, we espied the Merrivale Penny Arcade, whereupon we foolishly exchanged a pound for 15 antique pennies so we could use the coin-operated machines.  After the Under the Pier Show in Southwold, they were bound to be unsatisfying, but these ones were real duds.  Some hilariously so, like the “haunted house” where a lame plastic ghost dangled precariously from a chain in the background, and some were just crap, like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Victorian peep show.

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And of course, one of the delights of the seaside is eating yourself stupid on greasy food, so I was happy to oblige, managing to down a portion of cheesy chips, an extraordinarily oil-laden doughnut, a stick of rock, a strawberry swirl Mr Whippy (two-flavour Mr Whippy thrills me more than is warranted by the actual taste, but damned if I don’t miss good old American twist, where the chocolate side actually tastes of chocolate), and a Slush Puppy that was advertised as mix-your-own, but which the surly vendor insisted on mixing for me, and she skimped on the cherry.  At least there was plenty of blue!

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Although I don’t see how “Mr. Wobbles” on the right there would not scar children for life, Great Yarmouth was otherwise a pretty good seaside.  Lots to do, and plenty quirky, but not so crowded that you couldn’t actually enjoy yourself, which is my main gripe with Brighton (well that, and the horrible rocky beach. I do like a sandy beach).  Of course, it’s all terribly cheesy and overpriced, but I think that’s kind of the point.

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In closing, I leave you with two seafood huts, which didn’t have punny names (though on retrospect, I suppose Rod’s does, sort of), but at least gave it a go with their taglines.  Due to my insistence at getting chips from the chippy with the best name, we ended up at “Frydays,” which I thought was a bit of a poor effort, but it was the only place that even attempted a pun (besides, they had cheesy chips!). Step up your pun game, Yarmouth!

Great Yarmouth, Norfolk: Time and Tide Museum

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Holy authentic smells, Batman!  Now, I’ve been to a LOT of places with “authentic smells” but I suspect the Time and Tide Museum is the first to have authentic “authentic smells,” if you know what I mean. This is because the museum is housed in a Victorian herring curing works, and the smoky aroma of kippers still hangs in the air and between the cracks of the cobblestone floor.  Odours aren’t the only attraction of the Time and Tide Museum, however.

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Great Yarmouth was best known to me as the place where that seaside episode of Keeping up Appearances was filmed (and you better believe I rode that laff-in-the-dark ride, magnificently unchanged after 20-odd years), but among the less nerdy, it is famed for its herring, although the industry has almost completely disappeared in recent years.  The Time and Tide Museum strives to tell the story of the herring industry, and its role in the growth of Great Yarmouth.  (Thus, it is now the second fishing heritage centre I’ve been to, though I’ve still not seen Grimsby).  The museum is located a few blocks away from the seaside, with only a small sign alerting you to its presence down an alleyway.  Admission is £5.20, and was collected by a friendly woman at the front desk who seemed quite proud of this local museum, and rightly so.

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The adventure begins with a stroll down “Kittywitches Row,” so named for the supposed witch and her “demon cats” who once lived there.  The re-created street was mainly made up of shops and their waxen proprietors, although there were a few cats lurking around for the eagle-eyed to spot.  Crossing through a small garden full of model ships, we then entered the former processing works, and the fishy scents that lingered therein.  The main display was devoted to the fishing industry, whilst the dark rooms branching out from the main hall explained the curing process.  Watching a video about smoked herrings in an old processing room whilst our noses were gently caressed with that familiar sooty smell was a multi-sensory experience on par with “Wonka-vision.” (And sans the creepy Oompa Loompas, even better!)  It was in this section of the museum that I learned the difference between bloaters and kippers (length of smoking time); I’ve no doubt I’ll have need of that knowledge someday, perhaps in a pub quiz?

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Heading upstairs past the wooden herring, former mascot of the “Bloater Depot” chippy, dangling from the wall, (Quick question, who in their right mind would rename a chippy called Bloater Depot?  And also, what’s the best chippy name you’ve ever seen?  My current favourite is “Chip-in-Dales” which I spotted a few weeks ago in Otley.  Genius) we came upon a local history gallery.  I enjoyed the life-size cutout of Robert Hales, the “Norfolk Giant” who was 7’8″, and the cabinet of curiosities, which was a relic from Great Yarmouth’s first museum, (which sounded like a veritable wonderland of oddities, all of which were for sale)!

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At the end of the hall, we first walked down the narrow, sobering section on lifeboats and the many lives lost aboard fishing vessels, and then headed into the room on seaside amusements, complete with myriad entertainments, which ranged from an early 10p moving pictures machine to a mechanical miniaturised pier that played “Rule Brittania!” (though only the chorus.  I’ve still no idea how the verses go).  In addition to these rooms, there was the obligatory wartime gallery, which actually had some interesting information on the zeppelin attacks in WWI, and a replica 1940s bedroom.

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After another section with a few more remaining curiosities, we reached the special exhibition at the end; a collection of artwork by Alfred Wallis (not Alfred Wallace, naturalist, as we initially thought before seeing the spelling).  As this Alfred Wallis was a fisherman, his paintings were all maritime themed, which isn’t really my thing.  They did have some Donald McGill-style saucy postcards in the first shop, so bonus points for that!  (That reminds me, I should probably write about my trip to the Donald McGill Museum one of these days…)

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I adored the authentic smells and Kittywitches Row, and the herring processing section was nicely informative, but the local history parts were a little hit or miss.  Nonetheless, for a local museum mainly about fishing, it was a good effort, and I’d recommend it if you need a break from the splendid tackiness of Great Yarmouth Pier (more on that in the next post).  3.5/5