It has become a regular event for my daughters and me to take a short break together each year. This year, as Hannah is working in Russia, Kate and I decided we would continue the tradition without her, although we would both miss her. As usual Kate took on the responsibility of finding the best place for the best price. Eventually she found a cabin in Thorpe Woods in Norfolk part of the Forest Holidays Group. The first week of December is very quiet and therefore cheaper but we knew we would be taking a risk with the wonderful British weather and that I would probably have to spend hours ‘dropping in’ blue skies to any photographs taken.
When I arrived in Romford to pick Kate up, the boot and most of the back seat were already full of camera gear, suitcases, food and extra towels for the hot tub. I was therefore slightly concerned when I saw Gareth and Kate staggering across the road both laden with huge bags. It was just as well there was only two of us this time, as the back seat suddenly disappeared completely as bag after bag was squashed in.
It was chilly and miserable with that drizzly type of rain that makes you very wet and very cold. Kate was looking forward to the hot tub and the log fire. I have to admit I was not that enthusiastic about either, I didn’t fancy even a short time in a costume in the current weather conditions or the thought of clambering out in the cold when soaking wet. I also know how long log fires take to get going and I haven’t the patience, preferring the gas remote control versions.
We were pleasantly surprised on arrival to discover that our cabin was very private and backed directly on to the forest. It looked brand new inside and with the necessary two bathrooms and bedrooms and under floor heating it was just perfect. A very pleasant, but talkative young man came and explained how to use the heating, the oven and the hot tub. Neither of us really listened to what he said as the directions got lost in his tales about nude women in hot tubs. Once he left, we went and bought some logs and Kate set about lighting the fire.
It wasn’t long before it was very dark. The trees behind the cabin looked quite ominous but the hot tub began to look a lot more inviting. We had to wait for it to warm up as it had been completely drained and cleaned before we arrived. Kate prepared a stew and we both began to relax. The cabin was very well equipped but as many parts of Norfolk are still using dial up for their internet connection, the WIFI was very hit and miss, mainly miss. There was no phone signal at all.
Having enjoyed the delicious stew and determined not to provide any more tales of nudity for our talkative young man, we changed into our costumes and braced ourselves. Getting into the hot tub was not easy. It was so cold and the decking was wet. Carrying champagne, towels and dressing gowns was for me, the equivalent of walking a tight rope. Once in, however, it was totally wonderful. The warm swirling water, the champagne and the increasingly beautiful forest soothed both the body and soul. We stayed in that hot tub drinking champagne for five hours. The only drawback being that we became very prune like and tipsy! I don’t remember getting out.
Kate was very hung over in the morning but she cooked breakfast and we had a long leisurely think about where to go in the very damp conditions. Settling for Norwich Castle we set off in the rain. The castle is probably Norfolk’s most famous landmark. It houses a variety of exhibits and we moved seamlessly from stuffed animals, to Boudica, the Egyptians and the Medieval world. Kate challenged me to take a picture of a falling coin she had thrown into the very deep well. If you look carefully enough you can just see it’s trail, as it bounced to the bottom. I took some more photographs to remind us of the day.
We woke the next day to strong winds and even more rain. Undeterred and stoically British we set off for the seaside. Cromer is a very pretty seaside town and on arrival we made our way to the bicycle hire shop. Kate had the romantic vision of cycling on the cliff top and looking out over the sea. I had visions of being blown off the bike into the sea! Having set her heart on an electric bike Kate was disappointed to discover that a day’s notice was needed to charge them, so that was one romantic idea out of the window. We found a ‘normal’ bike hire shop and asked the gentleman where it was best to cycle and could we cycle along the cliff top. He laughed and said, “What in this weather? You would be blown into the sea.” Not giving in yet, Kate asked where else we could cycle. Looking straight at me, he smiled, saying it would be okay to cycle in town as long as we didn’t mind the fumes and battling the road with the many four by fours!
As the bikes were now firmly off the agenda we decided to walk along the cliff top up to the lighthouse. As we set off, the rain eased but the wind remained fierce. Wishing I had bought a hat I tied my hood up around my soon to be frozen, ears. The view from the cliff is stunning, even with grey skies. The final walk up the steep, slippery and muddy hill, to the lighthouse, against the wind, was very tiring but the sudden appearance of the stark white building, set against an increasingly black sky, made all the effort worth it. It was a spectacular sight. The rain fell hard as we made our way down to The Red Lion, which now looked even more inviting. Their fat chips were delicious and the welcome very warm!
The wind blew and the rain fell diagonally across the pier, as we made our way to the shelter. Everything looked totally grey. Looking out from that shelter we could see the waves getting bigger and the new metal sea defences being hammered into the sand, by an army of men in high vis jackets, were soon breached. We walked back to the car cold, wet and so looking forward to another night in that hot tub!
Before we got into that wonderful tub that evening, we embarked on a night walk with the ranger. We were hoping to see Night Jars, deer, mice, hedgehogs etc. through the special night binoculars provided. The ranger explained that the Night Jars had already migrated but we were bound to see something. We set off in the cold damp darkness following the ranger and periodically staring into the dark trees around us. Having walked for one and a half hours, picking our way through hidden tree stumps, the only thing Kate glimpsed was a deer, I missed it altogether. By the time I got back to the cabin my legs ached with the cold and my stomach yearned for food. It had been an interesting but very tiring day and the hot tub beckoned! However, after I got into that warm swirling water I realised I had not yet taken any pictures of the dark forest behind our cabin. It was a moody view from that hot tub. A view I wanted to capture somehow. I got out in the cold and fiddled with the settings on my camera. As I took the picture my hands shook. When I looked at what I had taken I quite liked the fact that it wasn’t just an ordinary photograph. It looked kind of abstract and impressionist, so much more interesting and creative I thought, so I took several more, this time deliberately moving the camera to try to capture the essence of eeriness without a structure. Let me know what you think!
No visit to Norfolk is complete without a boat ride on the broads. One thing you learn very quickly when holidaying in December is that most of the tourist attractions are shut. We made our way to a hire boat company we had found on the internet but despite it saying it was open all year on the website, it was in fact closed. We asked a waitress in the local hotel in Wroxham, where we could hire a boat and she directed us to the only boat hire company still open. When we finally found them they were surprised to see us saying ,” To get one customer on a day like today is unusual but to get two is a bonus!” We were given instructions on how to drive the boat and were kitted out with lifejackets. We set off to the village of Horning. The last time I had sat and watched the boats in Wroxham, some four summers before, the river was like the M25. There were boats everywhere, hooting and shunting each other, it was mayhem. As we made our way to Wroxham Broad there was not another boat in sight and apart from the chug, chug of our motor, it was eerily quiet. There were few signs Autumn had been a recent visitor. The river banks were grey and lifeless, apart from just one small section where I captured red, yellow and orange in my lens. Kate steered the boat into the public mooring in Horning and we made our way into a small coffee shop. Sitting on an array of coloured cushions and drinking tea from china cups in this tiny cafe, was a joy. The walls were covered in knick knacks and small shelves carried a variety of quality gifts. We both had homemade pasties. Kate had the Moroccan variety whilst I sampled the Horning special. They were delicious. As we made our way back to Wroxham after a rather delicate manoeuvre away from the mooring, and, just as I was beginning to think I would only have two photographs to remind me of the day, we saw several large birds just sitting in a tree. They were cormorants, watching and waiting for fish. I have never seen a group of them just sitting in a tree before, so we stopped the boat and I tried to capture them in my lens.
Despite the weather, we both really enjoyed our stay in Norfolk. The people are very friendly and welcoming and go out of their way to ensure you have a good time, but the highlight for us both was that fabulous hot tub and our last view of the Wroxham Broad and the cormorants waiting to fish.