The pandemic has sparked a resurgence in the demand for staycations and for good reason! The UK has lots to offer from stunning scenery, to fabulous food to seriously stylish places to stay. 91 contributor Karen Barlow recently stayed at Spinks Nest Cottage, not far from Holt, a town filled with independent stores and cafes and lots to explore in this area of Norfolk. Karen tells us more about her stay and where to visit locally…
When our two children were younger, one of our favourite holiday destinations was North Norfolk, so when I received an invite to stay at Spinks Nest Cottage, nestled in the village of Hunworth, just a few miles from the market town of Holt, I was thrilled to have the chance to revisit this stunning part of the country.
Norfolk is the county of big blue skies, with uninterrupted views for miles, due to its flat landscape. It’s the perfect mix of rural and coastal towns and villages and can often feel as though time has slowed down, due to its lack of motorway connections. You really do get the feeling that you’ve escaped the rat race, even if just for a few days.
Spinks Nest Cottage is owned by Ana, who originates from Barcelona, and her husband Alan. The couple, who live in the cottage next door, have sensitively restored and renovated the property, using lots of wood panelling and a muted heritage colour palette. Evidently inspired by the countryside around them, Ana has chosen prints and patterns for the the walls and fabrics featuring flora and fauna, butterflies and bees. She has been sensitive to the building’s traditional, country house style, furnishing and styling with vintage and antique finds, sourced both locally or from online antiques dealers.
The cottage is in a conservation area so the front of the building has remained as it was originally built, with it’s beautiful flint walls, a vernacular of Norfolk architecture. As you enter via the rear of the property down a short lane, you are welcomed into the kitchen and dining area, which is beautifully clad throughout in timber wainscoting, with a clever space saving nook for eating and contemplating your day through the traditional cottage window.
The bathroom, leads off the kitchen and to maximise the small, original footprint of the cottage, Ana & Alan have created a fantastic Moorish style, polished concrete shower and sunken bath area, which is stepped down below ground level. The juxtaposition of the traditional English country design, with this rather exotic bath, works beautifully together. A perfect place to light candles and let the stresses of modern day life float away.
The lounge and the bedroom are slightly elevated, accessed by three steps up, which creates the sense of separation from the other areas. As well as a wood burning stove, with a good supply of logs for guests, there is a drinks cabinet with complimentary gin and lots of books and maps for exploring the surrounding area.
The bedroom is cocooned from view by traditional William Morris-style fabric drapes and again, in a genius space saving solution, the bed is raised in a cabin style on wooden storage drawers, with a fruit pickers ladder for hanging items of clothing on.
This small, but perfectly designed and well-equipped bolthole is the perfect place for a complete escape from modern life or a romantic break for two. We stayed in January which was a lovely time of the year to go for a relaxing couple of days after a hectic Christmas. The cosy cottage really lends itself to a winter break, although in the warmer months, you are of course only a short drive to the coast for a perfect summer holiday by the sea!
Photography of Spinks Nest: Haarkon
Things to do nearby
Coastal walks to blow the cobwebs away
Just a short drive from Spinks Nest cottage is Blakeney marshes and quay. This tranquil village and quay is a well known area for catching local crab and pleasure cruises for seal watching. From the quay there is a coastal path which leads to the village of Cley next the sea, 4 miles away. If you’re planning on doing this walk, which is rich in wildlife and fantastic for bird watching, I would grab a coffee and a cake from the Two Magpies Bakery on the quay.
Further along the coast is Wells-next-the-Sea, a quaint seaside holiday town. If you park in town and walk down Staithe Street, where most of the local shops are, you’ll arrive at the quay. From there, you can walk along a raised coastal path, which leads to the beautiful beach at Wells, flanked by candy coloured beach huts, backed by pine trees. When we used to camp here with our children, we would often ride through the pine woods to the stunning Holcombe beach – if you have your bike with you, I’d highly recommend that ride. Emerging from the shade of the pine woods, into the sunshine and straight onto the wide and far stretching sand of Holcombe, is something to behold.
The lovely Georgian town of Holt is only a short distance from Spinks Nest and is home to Norfolk Natural Living, a family run business who have three shops on Shirehall Plain Holt, almost all next to each other. The Perfumery and wellbeing pharmacy has been designed to look like an antique apothecary store and is beautifully decorated in William Morris wallpaper with dried flowers draped from the ceilings. All of the products within the store are hand made, by the family, locally in Norfolk, and all of the fragrances are unisex. The staff are so friendly and knowledgeable and it’s an absolute delight to step inside.
Next door but one is the family’s plant & garden store, where as well as plants and dried flower wreaths, all manner of gardening and potting shed paraphernalia is sold. Balls of string, utilitarian gardening jackets, pots and planters, hand creams and lotions, are all available.
Next to the plant shop is the utility store. This large bright and airy shop, sells all manner of cleaning utensils and products, from beautifully made wooden-handled brushes, to organic cotton towels, as well as a selection of interiors books and greeting cards.
Three miles from Holt is Bayfield Hall Antiques and Interiors, an absolute must visit destination, if you love the interior style of Spinks Nest Cottage. Bayfield Hall is an elegant 18th century country house and the antiques shop is located within the stable block, which you arrive at as you drive up to the estate. Seven dealers are currently selling from within the stables and you will be spoilt for choice by the selection of country house furniture, art and textiles available, all very competitively priced, with a constant turnover of stock.
If you drive from Bayfield Hall towards Wells-next-the-Sea, you will drive through the village of Stiffkey and yes that is where paint company, Farrow and Ball, got the name for their blue paint colour. Here you’ll find Stiffkey Stores.
Around 15 years ago when we used to camp at Stiffkey, the stores were literally for stocking up on grocery supplies, milk and maybe a newspaper. How things have changed. This local shop has now become a lifestyle & general store, encompassing a coffee shop, flowers & plants, goods for children and the home and everything in-between. It’s a beautiful one stop shop for everything stylish and covetable and then coffee and cake after.
After visiting Stiffkey, take the short drive to Wells-next-the-Sea to visit lifestyle store Ocotillo on Staithes Road which is the main street in Wells. This lovely new lifestyle store focuses on a four way colour palette which changes seasonally and encompasses textiles, ceramics and homewares. During our visit the palette was a beautiful subtle mix of saffron, sage, wash (a soft terracotta colour) and neutral. The store is flanked by another shop which sells a huge range of ceramics in every colour and style imaginable.
If you have time, I would also suggest a visit to the city of Norwich, which has some beautiful historic architecture as well as some not quite as beautiful brutalist architecture, which may be much admired by the modernists reading this. The walk up Elm Hill into the city is stunning, Elm Hill is one of the most historic parts of Norwich with, a cobbled lane with buildings dating back as far as the Tudor time and is an Instagrammers dream for capturing some beautiful street scenes.
I really liked Norwich and there are many different areas of the city to explore, with some interesting independent shops and cafes, a great covered market, selling world street food and some excellent vintage clothes shops and retro and antique furniture shops around St Augustus Street, Magdalen Street and Pottergate. If you have time during your trip to North Norfolk, go to Norwich and explore the many nooks and crannies of this handsome city.
Additional photography by: Karen Barlow