Let’s visit… Swaffham
The low down:
The more time I spend in the lovely market town of Swaffham the more it becomes apparent that people here do not sit on their laurels – the fruit and veg shop creates Luxury Fruit Baskets that get delivered all over the UK, the small hair salon down the alley near Iceland specialises in discreet hair replacement for cancer patients and the cutesy sewing shop will teach you how to sew. It’s this ‘do or die’ attitude that has pulled the town out of doldrums of the 90’s to become the vibrant hub it is today. That, and the fact that Swaffham was the location for the recent TV series Kingdom starring Stephen Fry. Shall we take a look around?
You know you are have come somewhere civilised when parking is not only super easy but free. Yes free! Park up for as long as you like, then walk straight through the Co-op to come out smack bang in the centre of town on Market Place. As starts go, not too shabby.
There are several great options for a morning caffeine kick in Swaffham, but my favourites are the pretty-as-a-picture Market Cross Café Bar and Cocoes Café. The former, at the top of Market Place, is visible from the Co-op and has outdoor seating overlooking the square and bandstand should the weather be nice (which it was on my visit). The cakes are to die for too. Cocoes Café and Deli won the Muddy Award this year for Best Café and is down an alleyway off the top of Market Place. Scour the shelves of beautiful cakes, juices and chutneys at the deli while waiting for your coffee to go.
Stay on Market Place for a large selection of diverse shops. There are chains, sure, but a good smattering of independents too. The Green Parrott is a health food store and clinic that opened in what must be Swaffham’s most beautiful building in 2001. The company works closely with suppliers to the ensure all produce, vitamins and food for special dietary needs is GM free; there is a superb range of vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free products as well.
Old and new sit happily side-by-side here with Starlings of Swaffham (the fruit and veg shop I mentioned earlier that sells fruit baskets all around the country) celebrating 56 years in business, while Poppi Interiors opened just two weeks’ ago selling fabrics and furnishings for the home.
There are a couple of Muddy Award finalists in the town too, namely The Swaffham and Fakenham Florist and Ceres Bookshop, where second-hand and new books go hand-in-hand with tea and cake – check out the charming garden. Tea and cake in a garden can also be enjoyed at the Antiques Emporium – a sprawling den of vintage finds located in the building, and grounds, of an old grammar school.
If you can tear yourself off Market Place, nip down Plowright Place for a bunting-lined alleyway filled with quaint independents in buildings displaying a fabulous amount of Norfolk stone.
Cocoes, the Antiques Emporium and Market Cross Café Bar will all do you proud for lunch, offering a fine selection of cakes, sandwiches, pies and chips between them.
Come evening, don’t miss the Strattons Hotel (another Muddy Award-winner this year) which serves modern British cuisine in a semi-basement area known as The Rustic. A menu of seasonal, local produce – with herbs picked from their own garden – includes dishes like Cromer crab tian, sweet cucumber pickle, celeriac remoulade, pink grapefruit & lime dressing to start; 24=hour slow cooked Scott’s Field belly pork, cider glazed turnips, Venetian potatoes & baby carrots for mains; and Baileys bread & butter pudding with hazelnut ice cream for dessert (excuse me while I go and make a round of cheese on toast!).
If you love seafood or a juicy steak, look no further than the Copper Horse, a fine dining restaurant and Champagne cocktail bar that opens at weekends as part of the King’s Arms Coaching Inn. Seated in the old stables, hundred year old brickwork and original wooden saddle racks give way to a copper-themed and theatre-style kitchen where the magic happens.
Stay at Copper Horse for drinks too, with its large menu of Champagne and cocktails which can be enjoyed in the courtyard garden at weekends. For real ales, wines and ciders, The Kings Arms Coaching Inn – in the same place – has an open fire, magazines and a 400-yeard-old cobbled floor that was unearthed during a major refurbishment project last year.
A town isn’t complete without a beautiful church and the St Peter and St Paul Church in Swaffham is a real beauty. One of Norfolk’s finest medieaval churches, it dates from 1454 and is largely Perpendicular in style. A working church, it hosts coffee mornings on Saturdays with home-made cake (seriously, how are the residents of Swaffham not as fat as houses) while stewards are on hand to show visitors round during the summer months.
Another example of old and new living in harmony is the town’s modern windmill. Join the 150,000 people that have already ascended 300 steps to the viewing platform for sweeping view of Swaffham and beyond.
Swaffham’s Windmill is located in The Green Britain Centre, an eco-centre that’s great for kids. Abseil down the windmill for charity (perhaps not the kids for this one), visit one of Britain’s largest solar energy trackers, watch a vehicle with no engine or fuel being driven, visit an organic garden filled with fruit and vegetables, shop at Ecotopia with a diverse range of eco-friendly products including Naked Wines and solar-powered battery packs, and eat in the café (another one!) with its separate children’s menu.
Swaffham’s Museum and Town Hall (even the town hall wears two hats) is celebrating the 800th Anniversary of its Saturday market with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the ‘Swaffham Market through Time and Image’ exhibition. Try out one of the new town trails, explore the Carter Connection to Ancient Egypt or visit the Tourist Information Centre and gift shop.
Fancy a game of golf? Swaffham has that too, just two miles outside the historic centre on Cley Road. Here amateurs and professional can play a round of 18 holes and visit a Pro Shop.
There is only one hotel in Swaffham but boy is it a goodie. Strattons is a luxury boutique hotel where art and design meet comfort. Each room is individual, sumptuous, eclectic, hip and funky as well as being practical, while the hotel’s revered restaurant (see above) and café (Cocoes – see above) offer guests a rounded experience in a gorgeous setting.
Butterflies and Hurricanes, a pop-up vintage shop selling upcycled gifts and accessories for ladies – all handmade in Norfolk.
Skip breakfast before arriving in Swaffham to take advantage of the ridiculous amount of establishments selling coffee and cake – from antique emporiums to bookshops and churches to windmills, they’re all at it – get those stretchy pants ready!