Muddy stays: Cley Windmill
One of the best things about writing Muddy is the hotel stays – and boy are there some amazing places to bed down for the night in Norfolk, so many that it would be prudent to keep an overnight bag continually packed and by my front door (it’s a tough job…).
But it’s admittedly hard to prepare you for an overnight stay in a windmill. Will it be cold, dark… noisy? Will I see Windy Miller, be able buy flour or get vertigo? One question I didn’t have to ask myself was whether I would be able to find it – windmills tending to sit friendless in large fields. They’re tall too (23 feet in this case) which is always a bonus.
Cley Windmill, in North Norfolk’s beautiful village of Cley-next-the-Sea, is a five storey tower mill built in the 19th century, and converted into a beautiful place to stay – and eat.
Eight quaint bedrooms are the epitome of character and style with names like Miller’s Room, Wheat Chamber, Barley Bin and Boathouse indicative of the room’s historic purpose. Don’t worry: they aren’t dark or cold but warm and cosy, with a wonderful old meets new philosophy – hook up to the wi-fi while lying in your four-poster bed; look out onto fields of heather while showering in your stylish wet room. As for character, think wood cladding, exposed brickwork, open fires, vaulted wooden ceilings and antique furniture.
The best room in the house has to be the Wheel Room, accessed by steep step ladder and offering the best views around – be warned: you need to sign a waiver to say you are fit enough to ascend the steps, ultimately to alleviate the windmill of responsibility in the event of a fall – American culture creeping in a little here? (cynical, moi?).
My River Room is on the ground floor with double doors flinging out onto a private garden, far reaching views of the river and fields of heather making my heart coarse with joy – nature at its most beautiful. As with everything at Cley Windmill, the owners are all about conviviality, with rattan sofas and tables set up in the garden in prime viewing position, glass of vino in hand (simply read the menu in front of you, call the front desk and have your preferred tipple delivered). Like I said, convivial.
The room itself has windows at every conceivable spot for more of those splendid views, while the bathroom contains homemade lemon grass toiletries made especially for guests. Even the key is a large chunk of wood which I struggle to fit into my bag when I head for dinner.
One suggestion: head down to dinner early and have a pre-dinner tipple in the lounge, situated in the actual tower of the windmill and resplendent in games, DVDs and books as well as the star of the show, a bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream on an honesty bar system (Sherry is making a come back, don’t you know?).
Dinner isn’t just for windmill guests, but pre-booking is essential for 30 lucky diners who eat a set three courses by candlelight. Fully booked on the evening of my stay (and most evenings I’m lead to believe), I wander instead into Cley village which is so cute it could be on Miss Marple – stone clad houses revealing the best deli I’ve ever come across (homemade lavender bread anyone?), a smokehouse that would go down a storm in London’s chi-chi Stoke Newington and a mini art gallery. The local pub does me proud and I’m soon full of warm antipasto and cold white wine.
Whatever you do at this point, don’t go to sleep: the best is yet to come. Sitting in my room on the window seat (did I mention the window seats? Each window is positioned low enough to sit on; window sills adorned with long cushions for comfort while starring out), I watch the sky slowly turn from blue to pink to pitch, pitch black as one by one the stars appear, twinkling so bright I can make out the plough clearly. Then a shooting star fleets by and I consider selling my house and moving here. And then I fall into a deep, deep sleep.
Waking the next morning I feel like I haven’t slept that well in ages and, like all good sleeps, I’m famished. Luckily breakfast is included (something quite unusual these days) and cooked to order. Not really in the mood for freshly cooked kipper (there is something very odd about consuming fish for breakfast), I opt for the English breakfast and devour it like I’m on the 5:2 diet – everything organic and sourced locally, of course.
Walking paths to Cley beach are signposted all over the windmill so I follow it until I reach a shingle beach which is deserted bar one photographer who, when I ask him, is taking photographs of birds for National Geographic magazine. Well, I may not the first to discover this charming slice of heaven, but I’ll definitely be the last to sing its praises.
Cley Windmill, Cley-next-the-Sea, Holt, Norfolk NR25 7RP. Tel: 01263 740209. cleywindmill.co.uk