This weekend was Richard’s birthday and so on Friday we packed the kids into the car and drove to Norfolk in search of some urban respite. It didn’t start well. Our hotel, which shall remain nameless, was hugely disappointing. Shabby, dated and badly implementing an environmental agenda, we had a pretty rubbish meal followed by a sleep in a cold, dark room. We complained and gratefully accepted the hotel’s offer to release us from the required two night stay and departed after a breakfast that was so good it almost redeemed itself. Almost.
We visited Sandringham, one of the Queen’s holiday homes. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love nothing more than a visit to country house but I hated this one. It’s basically like a really big granny house, which of course is exactly what it is. It’s fusty and musty and packed with horrible china figurines, guns, bronze horses and, err, pictures of the Queen. It’s nowhere near as resplendent as one might imagine for the summer home of our monarch. It’s half museum, half home, and does neither particularly well. I ended up feeling little sorry for the Queen as perhaps she’d rather spend her holidays at a nice Mr and Mrs Smith hotel. I realised that I’m always disappointed by houses that aren’t either managed by the National Trust or owned by posh hoteliers. A house like this needs either luxury or authenticity and Sandringham has neither.
The grounds were however utterly delightful, and we had a stroll about followed by a slice of cake in the tea shop and left pretty sharpish after that.
After Sandingham we drove along the famed coast road through pretty villages and country lanes dotted with fantastic looking pubs, none of which we tried, to my huge disappointment. We stopped for a blustery walk along the beach at Wells-Next-The-Sea and the sea was so far out we couldn’t even see it. We had ice cream at the lovely beach café and Evan found an enormous deckchair. I liked it there very much indeed.
After our walk we were tired and cold and, as we now had no hotel to stay in, we started the long, four hour drive back home. We stopped for an early dinner at Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk and I felt a huge surge of relief on walking through the door. It is a stunningly lovely hotel with excellent service. We had a fantastic meal and, after some serious cajoling I managed to persuade the manager to shuffle some bookings around and give us two adjoining rooms so that we could stay the night. We were given an unspeakably favourable rate and we all went to bed feeling very happy.
The next morning we had birthday presents and cuddles in bed for Richard and ate a delicious breakfast. We congratulated ourselves that despite a few bad experiences the day before, we were ending our weekend on a high. But unfortunately there was worse to come. We stupidly decided to go for a little walk from the hotel before heading home. It started well, a pretty village green with a duck pond, fields of cow parsley, a heathery heath and an animal that Evan described as ‘one of those goat lamb things’ (known as a horse to the rest of us). But this was followed by a painful two miles trek along a riverbank infested with five foot high nettles and thistles. We got stung or pricked approximately every six seconds. Two and a half grumpy hours after we’d set off, we reached the A11 and a Little Chef. Never, ever have I been so glad to see civilisation.
The kids and I settled down to a surprisingly good lunch and made Richard walk back to the hotel alone to get the car, along a busy main road with no pavement. We all declared it the Worst Walk in the World and vowed never to walk straight from a hotel again. After our refreshment we headed home through heavy traffic on one of the most miserable approaches to the metropolis. Our weekend thankfully ended on a good note with a joyful dinner in Pizza East in Kentish Town where we breathed a collective sigh of relief that our jaunt was over and we were back in the known quantity of North London.