Norfolk Adventures – Binham Priory.

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Even though we live in Norfolk and love exploring, last week I realised just how much more of the county we have left to discover.

To celebrate a special birthday, my mother-in-law brought three members of her family from the West Midlands to stay in a fantastic converted barn she rented in the village of Bale, which is about nine miles from the town of Fakenham.

There was even room for Mark, Freya and I and so we used the barn as our base and set about showing them some of the county’s highlights – and, my goodness, did we pack a lot in.

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Our bit was behind the hedge on the left.

With four generations to cater for I didn’t expect everyone to be happy all of the time but, actually, everything we did had elements that we all enjoyed.

We visited two stately homes, a wildlife sanctuary, the beach, a zoo and, the piece de resistance, my MIL walked alpacas along the coast as her birthday present from Mark and I. IMG_2428

However, it was as we were driving to and from the different places that I realised how much there is still to explore – especially when Mark decided to take little detours off the beaten track (yes, we were lost).

There were some proper “wow” moments, including driving through a picture-perfect village, turning a corner and coming across Binham Priory, looking glorious against the blue sky. Even Freya was impressed (although she thought it was an enchanted castle).

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I had heard of the ruined Benedictine priory before but I didn’t know exactly where it was. While we didn’t have time to stop then, I knew we would be back – and in fact we went back three different times.

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A potted history.

The priory was founded in the late 11th century – a massive undertaking by a nephew of William the Conqueror, Peter de Valognes and his wife Albreda. It took about 150 years to build so obviously they never got to see it finished. I imagine it must have been an impressive sight, rising up out of the countryside, once it was completed.

While it’s a tranquil place now, it has experienced its fair share of drama, including a siege in 1212 (see the links at the end of this post for a detailed history). It also suffered from:

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It was closed in 1539 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was sold to Thomas Paston who started demolishing it. Stone from the monastery was reused in many local houses. Apparently, Thomas Paston’s nephew, Edward, started building a new house on the site but a workman was killed by falling masonry and the rest of the men refused to continue.

Today the nave of the much larger priory church has become the Church of St. Mary and the Holy Cross and is still used as a place of worship.

Missing Fiddler.

According to myth there is a tunnel running from the priory to Little Walsingham, which is said to have been the site of a strange disappearance. Apparently, one day a fiddler decided to explore the tunnel with his dog, as you do. Villagers could apparently hear his music as he ventured forth…until it suddenly stopped. His little dog came running out but no one dared enter the tunnel to look for him. He was never seen again. The place where the music stopped is now known as Fiddler’s Hill.

I wandered about on my own as the sun set and I have to say I felt perfectly content. It wasn’t eerie at all, just rather inspiring.

More info.

I did a short video of our approach to Binham Priory. It doesn’t really do it justice but you’ll get the idea (I’m sat in the back with Freya to get the best view).

There are some great sites with more info about the priory, including opening times.

Binham Priory.

Norfolk Archaeological Trust.

English Heritage.

Myths and Legends.

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My Sunday Photo – March 19th, 2017.

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To celebrate Freya’s return to health we went on a little after school/work trip to get a hot chocolate this week – with a quick detour to capture this beautiful sunset on the way.

From Mousehold Heath you get stunning views over Norwich (here’s a daylight one from last year) but it was the uninterrupted sky that I was interested in.

I always feel really exhilarated being outside at sunset and Freya enjoyed the adventure too (I should point out she’s facing me in the photo and not looking into the sun, which she knows is dangerous).

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Mark was happy too!

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Why not check out what other people have been taking photographs of for My Sunday Photo this week by clicking the camera below.
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Things To Do In Norfolk: Seal Watch At Horsey Gap.

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“Now can I make a sandcastle?” Freya asked, as if standing mere feet away from a colony of wild seals was something she did everyday.

While her reaction was a tad anticlimactic, Mark and I were awed by the sight of so many seals, flopped on the windswept beach before us.

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Originally from the Midlands, seeing seals, and the sea in general, was a rare treat for him growing up – and even though I spent much of my childhood by the water, it has never lost its magic, particularly when a shiny head bobs up amid the waves.

When we were first dating I took him on a trip to Wells, in North Norfolk, where we went on a boat trip to see the seals (grey and common) at Blakeney Point, which was amazing.

We’ve seen one or two in the sea during our trips to the beach over the summer but when a friend posted on Facebook about his recent visit to Horsey Gap, which is within the Broads National Park, I knew we had to go.

While Sunday dawned dark and drizzly, by midday the sun was out and the sky a brilliant blue and so, after Freya’s nap, we packed a picnic tea and hit the road.

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Horsey is about a 45 minute drive from Norwich and just down the road from our favourite beach at Waxham. I can’t believe we haven’t been there before – it just goes to show how much more of our adopted home-county there is still to explore.

In the summer it looks like it would be a lovely unspoilt sandy beach to while away a few hours in the sunshine (with no facilities to speak of, just like Waxham) but in winter it becomes home to a colony of grey seals.

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Apparently about half the world’s grey seal population is found in Britain. While they spend most of their time in the water they come ashore for the breeding season. You can find out more here.

Even when we arrived at about 4ish with the sun already starting to set, the car park, which is owned by the National Trust, was still really full. We managed to find a spot, pay the parking fee and were soon following the big white sign that read SEALS.

It’s quite a walk for a three-year-old (and the mum who has to carry her) but absolutely worth the one and a bit miles. The path was dotted with large puddles after heavy rain recently and while it was great fun, if you happened to be in your pink wellies, it is not particularly pushchair (or wheelchair) friendly.

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We started off sticking to the path but Mark spotted a second world war pill box he wanted to explore and so we continued walking up in the dunes and then did the final bit on the beach.

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It was easy to see where the seals were by the small crowd of people standing watching them. We were quite frankly amazed by how close some people were.

Apparently during the main pupping season, from November until March, when there are normally hundreds of seals on the beach, they are much more protected.

Many thousands of people (I’ve seen figures of 30,000 and even up to 60,000 reported) make the trip to see them in the winter months and, as I understand it from talking to people who have been there, the beach is cordoned off with special viewing platforms available for visitors during that time. This helps to prevent the seals being disturbed but also protect the public, as seals move faster than you think, especially when protecting a pup, and can bite.

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It is easy to understand why people come. Grey seals have long, almost dog-like faces, with gorgeous dark, rather sad eyes. I couldn’t resist taking about 50,000 photos of the adults so I can only imagine how many I would have snapped if there had been furry white pups too.

On Sunday I would say there were between 40 and 50 seals where we were and they were more curious than anything, from what I could tell.

We walked back to the car just as the sun was dipping over the horizon and I had some more fun with my camera while Freya, now sandcastled-out, enjoyed some more puddle time.

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Oh, there were cows too!

Top tip: Wrap up warm. It’s windy on top of the dunes and you want to be able to enjoy the experience for as long as possible.

Want to see the seal pups? Check out our return visit here.

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