16 July 2017, a mild Sunday in July. We had planned to do a National Trust property and have a picnic. It was a bit overcast, but still warm and humid, so a picnic did not seem too out of the question. Everyone was up early for once. The end of term excitement had meant we were all knackered and had an early night. This also meant we all woke up at the crack of dawn. After a few days in the garage, we now had the old Freelander back in action. A seized brake calliper and a broken ball joint (front drivers side for both) had been repaired and the car was driving like new again – thanks yet again to Doug and Kev at AVS garage. I put £40 worth of diesel in it and got a loaf of bread from the garage. We the made a few sandwiches (my egg mayo being the favourite of everyone), lobbed them in the cool box and set off bang on 9-30 in the morning.
As usual we had to get Ash from Leicester city centre. We met him at the nearby Lidl which is an ideal stop for cheap picnic food. Fully stocked up, we headed off to the National Trust property chosen by Ashley – Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse. This was about 55 miles away, almost directly east across the A47. It was a dull drive, made slightly more enjoyable by the fact the car worked much better. We didn’t get a drum roll every time we hit a pebble thanks to the new ball joint, and the car actually sped up when the accelerator was depressed now the front bake was not perpetually on (and squeaking). When we eventually got to Ramsey, we couldn’t see any Brown Signs (the colour of road signs used to show where places of interest are), and promptly drove straight past it. After a quick U Turn and a consultation with Google Maps, we backtracked and found it. Now, I am a big fan of the National Trust. We have been to over 16 of their properties in the last 18 months or so, but I can happily report that this was not what we had expected. This was, in part, down to both Ash and myself not reading the blurb in the book and just using the app to find somewhere within a reasonable distance. The Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse is essentially a very old wall with a gate in in and a couple of windows. That is it. Suitably dismayed, more at our own stupidity than anything else, we returned to the car and looked for somewhere else to go. Luckily for us there is a wealth of NT places in the East of England, and we set off for Houghton Mill & Waterclose Meadows which were a mere 10 miles or so down the road.
It was very easy to find, and they have a large car park which also backs onto a caravan and camping area. Once parked up we hit the picnic. Suitably fuelled up on egg sandwiches and Lidl viscounts we set off for the mill. This is the oldest working watermill in the country and, as luck would have it, they demonstrate the flour milling every Sunday. This is a very old, mostly wooden structure, that contains engineering elements which are over 300 years old. The original owner, a Quaker, reinvested the profits from the mill into the village, and was so well respected that the residents of the village purchased the mill from him when it came to the end of its working life. It was later acquired by the Youth Hostel Association and for a period of time was used as an active Youth Hostel. In the mid 1980’s they sold it on to the National Trust for a pound. Thanks to a heritage grant from the European Union, over a million pounds has been spent on renovation and maintenance, and now the mill is up and running and there for all to enjoy. The upper floor is very cramped, and has some old children’s games and some YHA history and artifacts. The rest of the mill is dedicated to its own history, and lessons on how to mill flour the traditional way. As usual, the NT staff were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We were also in time to see flour being milled. Incredible to see the cast iron and wooden cogs working in conjunction with the huge milling stones to grind the flour out. For all we have gained in technology, it almost seems we have lost the art of clever engineering. After an couple of hours exploring the Mill, it was time to move on.
In conversation with the NT volunteers at the mill, it transpired that the coast was not more than 60 miles away from where we were. A mere drop in the ocean, pardon the pun, in terms of driving. The weather looked like it was picking up, so we thought – why not? We worked out we would be there by 3 (or thereabouts), so set off feeling excited about the seaside. About 5 minutes into the drive, it began to rain. Light rain at first, then it blatted down. Undeterred, we ploughed on. This is the British summer, after all. The rain cleared up, eventually, and gave way to grey skies. Although it was a bit miserable, the temperature stayed up so we didn’t freeze as we reached Hunstanton, a coastal town in Norfolk. We parked up on the beach front in front of some closed down arcades and a bingo hall. We could hear the Bingo Caller shouting out the numbers, and for some reason they were piped through a PA system for the whole world to hear. The tide was out, the donkeys were on the beach, and with the recent rain having drenched everywhere, it was a fairly bleak scene. We went for a walk down the beach and did a bit of rock pool exploration around the giant zig-zag wooden wave breaks that ran down the beach at staggered intervals. It was unilaterally decided that we should seek sandier shores, and move down the Norfolk coast. Before we left, we purchased a bucket and spade for Erin, as tradition dictates.
As we drove through the coastal villages, we kept looking for side roads to the beach. We found on in Brancaster, but it just lead to a marina. The tide was so far out that most of the boats were resting on mud flats. We took a couple of photos, drove the car through some mud and sand, then carried on down the coast to Wells Next The Sea. A family favourite, and a place we have been to many times. When we first arrived we parked up down by the beach. Its a massive car park, with shops and facilities at the top end, including a Joules shop which is always dangerous when Erin is around. We went down to the beach and spent a couple of hours walking along the shore, catching crabs, making sandcastles and collecting shells. The sun had come out and was busy beating heat down onto everyone. It was idyllic. With the tide out you can walk for miles. The beach is very sandy at the top with a row of brightly coloured beach huts stretching out along the line between the beach and the forest. With time running out, we headed up into the town and parked by the harbour. We took a stroll up into town to find a cashpoint (ATM) before going back down to the waterfront for some fish and chips. We then had a quick blast in an arcade, wining many sweets from the 2p Push machines, and getting very filthy fingers in the process. As we bid farewell to Wells, the sun was going down offering some great photo opportunities. Take a look in our gallery for some of the ones we took.
We left just before half 9. As we travelled home, we watch the sun set over Norfolk. It was a deep, burning red sunset, that the camera could only hint at when we tried to capture it. We stopped briefly at a service station near Peterborough, and were back home around midnight. I dropped the girls off before having to make another trip into Leicester to drop Ashley off. I eventually hit the hay around half 1 and slept like a log! Total Miles: 310.8