A bit tricky on the external stairs in winter but otherwise The Bell is all it ever was: warm, comfortable and offering its idiosyncratic breakfast and very good dinners.
Our first evening gave time for a short walk to Wiveton church, appropriately dedicated to Mary in her guardian-of-sailors role. There is no longer any sea between the church and Cley although the former estuary is clear to observe. Inside the church there are also two paintings of the haven in medieval times, when East Anglia was not only the source of fish (as it remains) but also trade with the near Continent. It is even said the stone used to complement flint in the local churches came originally as ballast in the merchant ships.
Then it was inside as dusk gathered to prepare for the usual good range of menu items and decent wines at reasonable prices. The choice included fish and chips (more than generous in quantity), hake, belly pork and partridge. A vegetarian option is available.
How idiosyncratic is the breakfast? Each room is provided with a fridge, with water, milk, orange juice, and (on the first night) prosecco; a range of coffee bags and teas is there, together with two kinds of muesli and a granola in individual packets. In the past there had been a cafetiere and ground coffee – to our minds preferable. The quirky bit is that a thermal bag is provided for leaving outside the room at bedtime. Around 8.30 the next morning another bag is delivered from a local bakery, with more milk, butter, a petit pain au chocolat and a croissant each. The empty one is taken away for next morning. As an alternative to waiting a £10 credit for use in the said bakery is offered.
Even keen birdwatchers – we like it but no more – may be tempted to linger awhile or, as the local road signs say: “Slow you down”. A short drive to Blakeney, the third of the villages that once shared the estuary, gives the option of a bus ride along the coast road to save driving and make use of a pass. This was once provided by Norfolk Council but is now franchised to two local companies so a change is necessary at some point. The car park is free, by the way.
We began at Wells and followed the harbour wall to the shore. Geese enjoy the football pitch although not the tapes fluttering across it. For us they were settled on sandbanks in the harbour since it was low tide. There were also plovers and of course gulls. Our aim was to see if the snow buntings and shore larks were still making use of the beach that is almost deserted in winter but no doubt thronged with people in summer. Birds, like bird watchers, know when to make best use of a beach and seem less troubled by the cold weather than we are. Dog walkers, one jogger and a few ornithologists were the only human presence.
Both snow bunting and shore lark were in their accustomed places. Someone kindly offered use of his telescope to see the buntings – no photographs, unfortunately. There was better luck with the shore larks, though.
The shore path enters woodland on the Holkham estate, where a smart new cafe and observation building has been built recently. This offers both refreshment and respite to silver walkers on a more than chilly day. An older hide is ten minutes’ walk further. On our way there a little grebe was busily diving each time my camera had it in focus. After several attempts I managed a not very distinctive image.
From the hide we saw several marsh harriers but the dusk was gathering so there was no photography in prospect. They are wonderful to see, however, rewarding wherever encountered.
It is a straight road from the cafe to the main road and a bus back to Blakeney. Chilled but happy we had crab and salad to look forward to, as good an end to a day as can be imagined.