If towns were colours or patterns, Holt would be duck egg blue with a strip of bunting neatly hung along the top (union jack pattern optional). A beautiful Georgian town – where Norfolk flint buildings are seemingly ubiquitous – Holt is filled with cobbled alleyways, independent shops, delis and galleries. Let’s dive in…
There isn’t any free parking in the town, but Budgen’s supermarket will refund the first £1 if you spend £5 in store – pay £1 for the first hour and 70p for each subsequent hour at the parking metre. It’s smack bang in the middle of town, too.
It’s an obvious demographic when a town has 18 coffee shops and just three pubs, but good coffee at least is guaranteed. If, like me, you’ve driven for nearly an hour and are desperate for a caffeine injection (and a wee!), head straight Appleyard and find The Barn, a licensed café and bistro with a lovely outdoor courtyard, perfect for watching the world go by on a sunny day.
If you can wait, the High Street has plenty more choice, including The Black Apollo, which brews finely-crafted coffee, and a branch of The Wells Deli. There are more dotted around the back streets, too, including Horatio Mugs and the Gluten Free Coffee Shop & Deli – both taking cups of Joe very seriously.
Norwich has The Lanes; Holt has The Yards, a series cobbled alleyways stuffed with independent shops and cafes. Each Yard has its own personality and story to tell. Sandwiched between Budgen’s and the High Street, Appleyard was named after the original apple tree that still grows in the middle of the site. Stephen Fry officially opened it the yard in 2005; it now houses a hairdressers, a bookshop, a kitchen shop and The King’s Head bistro.
Don’t leave Holt without wandering down the ridiculously cute Hopper’s Yard, with its ice-cream stall, mix of quirky shops and one of the best tea rooms in Norfolk, Folly’s (check out the beautiful garden which, on my visit, had crochet blankets strewn the back of chairs should you get chilly). Feathers Yard is also worth checking out – try Nelle for Danish clothes and shoes. Other Yards seem to be dedicated to vintage and antique stores – check out Owl Town who apparently ‘give two hoots’ about their customers (I like it).
What Roys is to Wroxham, Bakers & Larners is to Holt, a department store selling clothes, homewares (and in particular cookware), food and wines, clothing and gifts, while the Joules/Gun Hill duo seems to be a North Norfolk female/male thang – you won’t find one without the other… (got something to tell us Jules Oliver?).
With so many coffee shops and Yards in a small town, Holt has little room for traditional sights, but don’t panic: the coast is just six miles away – the combination of beach and town making a perfect day out. The sand and shingle of Sheringham Beach is the nearest at just six miles; famous Wells-next-the-Sea – with its broad expanse of soft sand and stripy wooden huts – can be reached in nine, while award-winning Holkham Beach, with its rustic charm, is just 10 miles away.
For a glimpse of a bygone era, board the North Norfolk Railway steam train for a 10-mile round trip through Norfolk’s coastal countryside. To the south are wooded hills and the Norfolk beauty spots of Kelling Heath and Sheringham Park; to the north, the sea. In spring and early summer spot primroses, bluebells and the yellow gorse along the route; later in the year fields are dotted with poppies and mauve heather.
Just a short walk from the town is Holt Country Park, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that has had many personalities in its time including a racing course, a heath, farmland, forestry and a woodland garden. It has now been developed into a tranquil woodland dominated with Scots Pine and native broadleaves. Its rich ground flora supports an abundant display of wildlife including Goldcrests, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Emperor Dragonflies and Deer.
Located in the heart of Gresham’s Senior School grounds, the Auden Theatre offers a versatile space for both school shows and professional performances in a modern and purpose-built facility. Hosting a diverse and expansive programme of productions throughout the year, it is also one of the main venues for the Holt Festival held every July.
Sprout Hills is a nature reserve that’s perfect for a green evening stroll. Just yards from the High Street, this little area has streams, ponds, marsh orchids and wild mint.
Special mention must be made to afternoon tea in Holt with two places to talk about: The Folly Tearoom – a beautiful café and courtyard garden with the most delectable cakes and afternoon teas – and The Owl Tea Room and Bake Shop.
The bars, pubs and restaurants in town all wear several hats – all of those mentioned mentioned below are pubs-cum-restaurants-cum-boutique-hotels.
Byfords is a Holt institution – a café, deli, pub, restaurant, ice-cream parlour and boutique hotel in one. You’d think an establishment trying to excel at so many things would fail, but on the contrary: Byfords has become a by-word for panache and flair. Don’t leave without snooping around the amazing deli.
Matured, charcoal-grilled steaks is the piece de la resistance at The King’s Head, which also has a handful of striking rooms, while slightly off the main drag, The Lawns has a lovely beer garden, several enviable awards for its food and charming rooms in purpose-built blocks.
Back on Market Place, The Feathers Hotel is renowned for its fine dining (at Plume Restaurant), its bar of open fires and real ales, its 14 cosy – yet contemporary – rooms and its function room, The Gresham Suite.
The town’s Christmas lights: classy white fairy lights are strung up all over the town between November and January, making it a magical time to visit.
If you are visiting during the height of summer, book ahead for restaurants, including Sunday roasts.