The Norfolk coastline is famed for its bird life – especially at Snettisham, where an RSPB reserve overlooks the Wash. As well as resident birds, Norfolk is a popular rest stop for migratory species – mainly due to the way it juts out into the sea, making it a kind of avian service station for birds flying north to or south from Siberia.
The Norfolk coastline juts so far into the sea at this point that Snettisham actually faces west, making it one of the few places on Britain’s east coast where you can watch the sun set over the sea. The vast size of the Wash and the flatness of the landscape enhance this phenomenon and you often won’t see land beyond the sunset, even though Lincolnshire lies just 12 miles to the west.
Start with a visit to Castle Rising in King’s Lynn, one of the most important castles in 12th-century England. Queen Isabella was the most famous resident – she was banished here by her son Edward III following her part in the murder of her husband Edward II. The stone keep is particularly worth attention; it’s among the finest surviving examples in the country.
Continue along the coast to Snettisham, which was recently voted Norfolk’s friendliest village. You’ll meet plenty of local characters in the award-winning 14th-century Rose and Crown Inn, originally built to house craftsmen working on the local church. You can see the 52m (170ft)-high spire from miles around, and architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner thought the church under it “perhaps the most exciting decorated church in Norfolk”.
Continue past rows of carrstone houses to the village’s old-fashioned market place, where you’ll find a dozen shops, a lovely Elizabethan hall and a traditional village green. Snettisham breathes history: one of the British Museum’s prize collections was discovered here. Known as the Snettisham Hoard, this collection of Iron Age metal, jet and gold torcs was carefully buried more than 2,000 years ago.
Wildlife at Snettisham
Early April is also your last chance to see one of East of England’s most impressive winter spectacles at Snettisham RSPB Reserve – flocks of knots taking off in wheeling clouds at high tide. These waders were apparently named after King Canute – who famously showed he couldn’t hold back the tide – due to the way they stay on the shore until the rising tide covers their feet, dipping their beaks beneath exposed mud to feed when the tide is out, and returning inland when the sea washes in. Time your visit to coincide with sunset and a high spring tide for the most phenomenal displays.