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Wanderthirst: my off-grid Norfolk staycation helped me regain balance and slow down

For this month's Wanderthirst, Ellen decides to take a staycation at Fritton Lake with her fiancé to unplug from her hectic London life and some spend quality time together.

15 Jan

Illustration by Serina Kitazono

2021 was a big year for me. I got engaged and quit my corporate job. My partner finally got his driving license, which meant many travel possibilities opened up for us. For our two-year anniversary, we dreamed about going to Vietnam, my home country, or a relaxing European city, for which I could easily get a visa with my Vietnamese passport. But the surge of the Omicron variant made international trips anxiety-inducing. So we decided to make the most of my partner’s brand new driving license and have a UK staycation.

After what felt like an eternity of working from home in London, we wanted to be around nature to switch off both our minds and electronic devices. Initially, we thought about camping and being fully outdoors, but since I’m a massive homebody who is not a big fan of winter, we opted for something a bit cosier and less work. And as it was our anniversary, we wanted to treat ourselves. After some research, we booked a one-bed cabin at Fritton Lake in Norfolk for a long weekend. Excited to have a peaceful rest, we chose this area because it wasn’t too far and had both nature reserves and beaches.

It took us three hours to drive there from London on a freezing day in early December. We set off in the late afternoon, so for the last part of the journey, it was all dark. It was actually a bit scary as the roads were quite narrow and we had no idea what to expect. As we entered Fritton Lake, we were startled by an animal coming out of nowhere: a pig! Luckily, my partner was driving slowly. We stopped and waited for the pig to cross to the other side, giggling with each other. We then collected our key and drove to our cabin. Already, it felt like an adventure.

“Now, here I was, knowing I had the rest of my life to go on adventures with my favourite person”

The cabin looked Instagrammable with a chic, retro style. As we arrived quite late on Friday, we made the most of the space and stayed in for the rest of the night. We cooked dinner and watched Wheel of Time while snuggling on the sofa. At that moment, I felt grateful for my partner and the life we’re building together. I used to fantasise about taking trips with a boyfriend, but my past relationships never got to that point and, looking back, I wouldn’t want any of them to be my travel companion anyway. Now, here I was, knowing I had the rest of my life to go on adventures with my favourite person. It paid off to take time and find the right partner.

The next morning, we opened our curtains to the vast landscape of Fritton Lake. Interestingly, Fritton Lake is a rewilding project owned by Lord and Lady Somerleyton. The farmland around the lake is now being restored to self-management, and that was why we saw the pig and heard horse noises throughout the day. Though, as most of the trees had recently been planted, I felt a bit like we were in a desert area in parts of America. It was rainy in the morning, but by noon, the sun came out and brightened up the cabin in gorgeous warm lights. Cold morning air made me feel happy and energised.

We were probably the only people of colour there”

We went to a nearby gardening centre called Cherry Lane Southview to look for wood logs to make fire back at the cabin. We were probably the only people of colour there, but no one really looked at us and we felt welcomed. We chatted briefly with the cashier, asking about Norfork. She mentioned Great Yarmouth, and so we visited the Pleasure Beach, a popular destination for family holidays with many rides and attractions, although sadly closed for the winter season during our visit.

As we walked towards the sea, we saw a couple of people fishing despite the cold wind. Out of curiosity, we looked it up and found that Great Yarmouth was originally a major fishing port, dubbed “the most famous fishing port in the world” by a local fisherman, which I could not tell from the look of it now. The fishing industry in Great Yarmouth was very robust in the 1700s and 1800s, with generations of fishermen and hundreds of boats operating. But due to overfishing and quotas imposed by Europe, by the 1900s, fishing declined sharply and is now seen as ‘economically unimportant.’

Soon enough, the beach stroll led us to the Wellington Pier that has a large bowling alley and bars. About 15 minutes walk further north was the Britannia Pier, home to Britannia Theatre. The theatre has shows that range from classic plays like Shakespeare to modern comedies.

On the drive back to the cabin, we caught the beautiful sunset while listening to Daydreaming by Tenno, our favourite lo-fi song. I felt like we were in an indie music video. That evening was also the first time I started a wood-burning fire. Out in the open, surrounded by the stars of the night sky above, and without the distraction of phone screens, the experience almost made me reconsider my homebody ways.

We woke up the next day, feeling recharged and wishing we had stayed longer. The fire from last night had gone out; instead, I was greeted by the ‘fire’ from the sky – the beautiful sunrise that signified a new beginning for me. It was the break I needed after a few intense months of working for myself and two long-drawn years of dealing with the pandemic. The trip reminded me to slow down and catch my breath when I can. It also reassured me that I could always unplug and regain my balance by returning to nature when life gets too much. Most importantly, once again, through this experience, my fiance showed me what a loving, reliable and compatible partner he is for me. And I was grateful that we were in sync and enjoyed doing the same activities when travelling. We told each other that we would come back to Norfork in the summer when it’s all green and sunny but as a married couple this time.

Useful information

  • The trip was a great way to unplug from city life. If I were to go again, I would definitely go in the summer. That said, I enjoyed the quietness and tranquillity in the winter. Either way, I would stay longer at a more affordable Airbnb.
  • The Fritton Lake retreats are designed more for families or big groups than couples. They seem ideal for week-long summer stays with friends or kids and pets as they usually have many activities, including watersports, adventure plays, and instructor-led classes. If you go in a group and split the accommodation cost, it works out fairly reasonably. 
  • Norfolk, in general, is a versatile and refreshing holiday and short break destination. It’s suitable for both homebody and outdoorsy people. I’d recommend driving or renting a car, so you can go to different sites and do different activities.

Highlights

  • Great Yarmouth has nine sand beaches, amusement parks, and a circus. In summer, there are weekly firework displays. 
  • You can surf in Southwold, kitesurf at Lowestoft, or windsurf on Hickling Broad. You can also play golf and hire day boats.