Beyond the Golden Mile in Norfolk

From Banksy and Danny Boyle to seals and centuries of history, discover a different side to Great Yarmouth


Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. The beach, Wellington Pier and Winter Gardens, with cranes at the Outer Harbour development in the background.

Strolling along the seafront in Gorleston, a shelter on the promenade might not be the first place you’d expect to find an original Banksy. One of several painted by the guerrilla artist during a summer “spraycation” on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, the claw is poised to grab those seated immediately beneath — and after a few controversial local “additions”, the work has been restored to its original state, now viewable through a protective screen.

Checking in to our hotel, The Pier, we’d already spotted an eye-catching poster for romantic comedy Yesterday, signed by its director Danny Boyle, thanking hotel and staff for “being a wonderful friend to us all” after shooting key scenes for the movie here.

Just 30 minutes into a Great Yarmouth break, it was clear that there is more to the area — a popular seaside escape for some 200 years — than the Pleasure Beach and the chance to pick up fish and chips or doughnuts at one of the surrounding profusion of restaurants and takeaways.

Nor is it purely a family getaway. While you’ll find plenty to entertain if you’re visiting with kids, there’s enough to satisfy couples contemplating a trip too.

Location-wise, Gorleston-on-Sea makes a good base. Around 20 minutes by car from the main Great Yarmouth drag, it’s blissfully free of the daytime parking restrictions/charges you’ll encounter at the latter, while the hotel combines super friendly staff, a quiet neighbourhood and generously sized rooms, with plenty of cupboard space, comfy chairs and a desk.

Our pleasing coastal view was only marginally interrupted by a flight of emergency steps, and nautical artwork abounds, while the cosy Art Deco-style restaurant and bar is popular with guests and regulars; the outdoor tables have more views out to the water.

Fortified by a hearty breakfast (there are buffet and menu options), we set off in search of another Banksy, at Merrivale Model Village; a (suitably) tiny thatched stable featuring a rodent and the phrase “Go Big Or Go Home” scrawled on the side was found here last August.

Tantalisingly, rather than Banksy was here, it was a case of “Was Banksy here?” with the piece nowhere to be seen. We subsequently learned that the artwork was given a museum showing before being sold by the Merrivale owners to offset losses incurred during the pandemic.

That disappointment aside, the village was a joy. Kids will love it but we weren’t the only couples delighting in the attention to detail and the raft of double entendres, a few of which are probably unsuitable for repetition in a family newspaper. Among the tamer examples, you’ll get the picture if I say the funeral parlour glories in the title of Rig A Mortis (proprietor Mr D Spatch).

There’s everything from a cricket game in progress to an airport and “MASA” base and, to bring matters up to date, even some eco protesters. Other exhibits spring to life at the press of a button, including a series of mini fairground attractions, while the examples of pantomime misfortune (a garage door slamming down on a broken down car) easily raise a cross-generational smile.

The Pleasure Beach itself is only a short stroll away, where I can vouch for the stress-relieving virtues of the dodgems, having queued three times for the crash course. Close by sits the Hippodrome, with a rich history dating back to 1903 and which bills itself as “Britain’s last remaining total circus building”.

In recent times, the venue has played host to events as diverse as a Berlin Symphony Orchestra concert and a taping of the BBC’s Question Time.

But the seasonal shows are the main attraction; for 2022, these include a Pirate-themed spring extravaganza and a summer spectacular where the local cast will be joined by some of the world’s top circus performers.

Visit during summer and there are also plans for nightly firework displays from the beach during peak season, with further pyrotechnics planned elsewhere, as part of a partnership with Out There Arts. The Great Yarmouth Art Festival will also run in July, with hip-hop and capoeira displays, concerts, recitals and plays, plus a heritage fair, carnival parade and street performances.

Also set to return again for this summer is the 50 metre tall Great Yarmouth Observation wheel, new last year, and the best place to soak up the Golden Mile and beyond, with views out for up to 10 miles.

There’s more to discover beyond the beachfront attractions too: five minutes back from the sea, the Time & Tide Museum tells the story of Great Yarmouth from its Ice Age origins to the present day, as well as its fishing history. Housing the UK’s best preserved Victorian herring curing works, visitors can still explore the original smokehouses, where the aroma of the smoked fish still lingers.

Venture further towards South Quay, and you can explore The Elizabethan House, a 16th century building with links to Oliver Cromwell — it’s possible that the fate of Charles I was decided here. The town’s heritage trail also begins here for another view of Yarmouth away from the bright lights of the beachfront.

Beyond the chippies, there are plenty of places to eat. A short walk from our hotel, Gambas focuses on locally sourced ingredients, with fish specials on the menu alongside puddings to abandon the diet for, all washed down with some creatively presented cocktails.

For something more traditional, there’s a certain bygone elegance at Garrods at the Furzedown Hotel, perhaps reflecting the fact it has been in the same family for around 60 years. You’ll find fish here too, with salmon and sea bass on the menu, both with a modern twist.

From the Furzedown, it’s easy to wander over to The Waterways, a seven-acre park filled with Venetian-style waterways, ornamental gardens and boating lake, which is also a haven for wildlife. For those who love animals, Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, home to its own impressive collection of animals, is only a short drive from Yarmouth.

And you can also spot the local wildlife amid the rugged surrounds of Winterton-on-Sea, one of the best places in Norfolk to spy the county’s seals — in summer you can sometimes watch them sunbathing, as well as swimming here and at nearby Horsey.

Visiting out of season, we were able to enjoy the expanse of unspoilt beach and sand dunes in almost splendid isolation. Linked to the Norfolk Coast Path, there are paths criss-crossing the dunes too, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is a haven for birds and natterjack toads.

The Norfolk Broads are on the doorstep too, with boats to hire by the hour and day (or longer). With our SatNav rapidly losing accuracy on the narrow, twisting local roads around Winterton-on-Sea, we had ended up parking a five-minute saunter from the sands, but close to the village tea room and post office, Poppy’s, where the cream cakes were as memorable as the coastal scenery.

One final serendipitous find in a weekend of discoveries.

Getting There

Double rooms at The Pier Hotel cost from £100.

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