Let’s visit… King’s Lynn
In the first of a new series of Let’s Visit… articles, I will head to most of Norfolk’s major towns (gulp) and spend the day looking around for hidden treasures to write and tell you about.
First up, the port town of King’s Lynn in North Norfolk, which I visited on a rather grey and gloomy summer’s day.
The low down:
A mish-mash of downbeat 1960s retail outlets and quaint cobbled streets with warehouses sitting proudly on the waterfront, King’s Lynn is a mixed bag of trash and treasure. A large, well-facilitated town, KL (do the locals call it that?) boasts a theatre, a pool, museums and plenty of historic buildings. Trains from the station reach London in 90 minutes (those from the geographically-nearer city of Norwich take two hours), while the Champagne Coast is just a 25-minute drive away (seagulls swarming above almost constantly).
If you want to avoid the traffic heading right into the centre of town, do as I did and turn left towards the Quay, where a little cut through on foot will take you into the centre in a jiffy. There is both short term and long term parking here (short term: first hour free, £1 per hour afterwards).
Pop into Marriott’s Warehouse right near where you’ve parked and grab a Cappuccino to go. If the weather is nice, you can sit on the wooden benches outside, overlooking the port. The metal fish-themed piece of art is worth the visit alone.
The high street is cobbled, meaning it’s safe for young children to toddle around reign-free while you participate in some retail therapy. Chains dominant this central area, with budget brands located mainly in dowdy retail centres (Wimpy’s still exists?!). The altogether posher Vancouver Quarter has the lions share of big high-street names, including Argos, New Look, Sainsburys and Superdrug, while more upmarket chains like Marks & Spencer and Debenhams are found on the high street itself.
The best part of this area is the little market stalls dotted around, selling flowers, fresh fish and fruit and veg, including the veg de jour, samphire (on Tuesdays).
For more independent outlets, head off the central artery to Norfolk Street, Tower Street and St James’ Street for more specialist shops usually run by the owner, including East Coast Music (for rare vinyl), Flower Corner and Coady’s Music (for musical instruments).
Fancy trawling through an antiques emporium? Of course you do. The Old Granary sits on a narrow, cobbled backstreet and, while calling it an emporium is a bit of stretch, an hour rummaging through its vintage wares will dilute the ‘chain fever’ nicely.
Still on the high street when hunger strikes? Chicken Coop is a diamond in the rough with its historic building, cool signage and tasty menu of organic rotisserie chicken served in portions of quarter, half or whole.
If you can wait to eat, head to the pretty Market Square for more salubrious lunch options, including Prezzo (while I wouldn’t normally promote a pizza giant, the outdoor seating area overlooking the square has an almost European feel about it and makes for a very pleasant lunch) and Market Bistro, a family-run restaurant with a menu of seasonal, local fayre alongside a good wine list (they even bake their own bread).
If the weather is nice (which it wasn’t on my visit), ditch the centre and nip down one of the quaint cobbled side streets until you hit the docks, the home of several restaurants with watery views. The Riverside Restaurant is a great find, with several layers of outdoor seating including a large garden and a deck all facing the port.
Boat lovers should seek out the OASC ferry bar instead, serving food and drink on the move and offering something a little different to visitors.
Staying on Market Square, pop into The Maid’s Head for a late afternoon tipple – an historic pub serving locally-produced Bullards’ Pure Ales. Easily the most beautiful building for a drink is The Lattice House, but, in a horrible twist of fate, this beauty is now run by Wetherspoon’s (ouch) but is worth a pint if you can overlook this fact.
For proper country pubs, nearby villages are the best bet – try Roydon for The Three Horseshoes, Snettisham for The Rose & Crown and Watlington for The Angel.
Despite an abundance of plain concrete buildings in King’s Lynn (apparently thrown up after a major flood damaged some of the more historic versions), the town still has its fair share of beauties, with churches, homes and even solicitors offices worthy of a photograph. Here are just some that I managed to snap:
Culture plays a big role here with three theatres, an independent playhouse and a modern art gallery for starters.
The Corn Exchange is a grand building on Market Square which hosts a range of popular musicals, while The Arts Centre on the back streets puts on locally-produced am dram from The King’s Lynn Players. The Westacre Theatre, meanwhile, is an old building with an eco-style extension providing sufficient space to put on theatre productions, art exhibitions and movies, plus a riverside café.
Contemporary pieces can be seen at new gallery GroundWork, which was commissioned to bring modern art to this historic town in the form of sculpture, film, curated art and commissioned pieces. It opened to the public on 16 July.
Being portside has its advantages, too, with regular ferries taking passengers to West Lynn, an extension to King’s Lynn with its primary school and range of services.
Nothing makes you feel like you’re at the seaside more than staying in a blue and white building, and the Duke’s Head Hotel is just that. A splash of colour on Market Place (which is in the Old Town btw), the property was built by local architect Henry Bell in 1689 and has welcomed Sir Robert Walpole and Princess Victoria as guests since. The property has 78 rooms, two restaurants – afternoon tea here is legendary – and a bar.
For something smaller and more intimate, try the Bank House Hotel opposite the docks, a grade II listed building with 12 individually-decorated bedrooms, wood floors and open fires. Modern brasserie food is served in the restaurant – try the popular Sunday carvery.
While inadvertently off the beaten track (I think they call it lost), I spotted this tiny, traditional barbers shop with its proper turning red and white sign and wet shaves on the menu.
Don’t leave without trying the King’s Lynn brown shrimp which can be found on the menu of traditional pubs and restaurants, or head to a fish stall on the market and home some home to eat with a squeeze of lemon and large slide of bread and butter.