The city of Nice seen from the surrounding hillside bathed in sunshine

Home Travel StoriesSandringham 2011 - By Ren Withnell

Sandringham 2011 - Hunstanton, Sandringham House and Snettisham Beach

The night proved comfortable and quiet, surprising for a campsite. There's usually someone snoring in the distance, some child screaming like it's being murdered and wild animals making scary noises from a horror movie. The new airbed's great but it was a little too soft so I put some more pressure in during the night with a few puffs of breath. I didn't even need to get up for a widdle during the night. That was the night. The dawn, at about 0530, woke up the bloody wood pigeons which meant they were all whoo-whooooo-whooing and disturbing what had been an otherwise perfect night. Damn those blooming birds. I just lie there and rest a while, I'm too lazy to even reach the half-metre to my tank bag to get my earplugs. At 0630 I get up and take a walk to the toilets to relieve myself and wash for the day.

the inside of the sleeping area in my tent, complete with sleeping bag and air bed
Inside the sleeping area of my tent, nothing but luxury and comfort for me!

SL's tent seems firmly shut but IW's asleep in the car. I figure he's either not reached the tent or his back has been giving him grief. I return to my tent and spend another hour reading George Orwell's "Down and Out in London and Paris." I should read more often on these trips, it's a simple and easy way of passing the time, I get bored very easily. By 0800 I'm itching to be up so I get out the tent and start making a nuisance of myself. IW is half awake in the car so I join him and learn he did make it to his tent but had given up and slept a little in the car. We listen to Radio 2 and discuss music. A little later I give SL a shout and a grunt of disapproval comes from within Beaver Creek.

It's wet this morning. It's not soaking and the rain is very light yet as I get in and out of the tent I'm leaving quite a bit of dirt, mud and water in the porch area. To keep the sleeping area clean I only reach in for whatever I need. SL and IW spend a while getting ready and as time passes the rain gets a little harder. The hardcore biker in me says I should ride today, I'm not afraid of rain, I'm well 'ard and I got waterproofs. I'm not as well 'ard as I'd like to think though and the idea of maybe taking the car seems somewhat appealing. There's no disagreement from SL so we hop into IW's motor and head out to see what's what and to get breakfast.

Having already seen how small Dersingham, Ingoldisthorpe and Snettisham are the only place that is sure to have breakfast is the nearby town of Hunstanton. We leave the site and head north as the rain changes from heavy to bloody heavy. As the windscreen wipers splash across the screen I think for once I've made the right choice to leave the bike today. Leaden grey skies drop water onto wet fields and woodlands as we follow the A149 into Hunstanton. At the edge of Hunstanton we spot a Tesco's and that's sure to have a café.

SL's never had a meal in a supermarket before! As we join a queue of soaking shoppers I espouse the benefits of dining at such establishments. The food is basic but not too expensive, you can buy any food you need for later in the day and if you want anything else then you're in the best place. That and clean toilets all make supermarket dining an acceptable if not very adventurous way of sustaining oneself. We dine on a light English breakfast with tea and all agree it's not too bad at all. Still the rain falls outside.

After we take a walk around the shop. IW buys a mug so he can share in our tea making facilities, they both buy airbeds similar to mine, we get some milk that we hope is not off like last night's milk and I get a pack of doughnuts, because I feel like spoiling myself. Outside I give IW and SL a doughnut each, SL pulls his face! What kind of a man does not like doughnuts? There's something not right about someone who doesn't like doughnuts. We get back into the car and head into Hunstanton.

It's a horrible grey dreary place, Hunstanton. It's beside the sea and complete with beach, crap beach shops and cafés. A large bland brick building dominates the centre along with a run down Bingo Hall and a Sea Life centre. Grey concrete sea defenses stand above plain sandy beaches and a short lighthouse stands on top of cliffs further north. It's not very nice at all. Then I stop and have a think. Are my feelings towards this place fair? It's a grey day and pouring with rain, the few people about are bedraggled and soaked, most of the shops are shut and I'm sure I'm not seeing Hunstanton at it's best. I try hard to imagine what my feelings would be if the sun were out, pretty girls were walking about in summer dresses and the beach was warm. No, I'm not being fair on Hunstanton, I'm sure in the sun it's as good as any other small seaside town, but today it's downright miserable.

iw in a rain jacket and shorts on a concrete sea defence in the wind and rain at hunstanton
IW on the sea defences at Hunstanton Beach.  It really is that grim, but you've got to admire the shorts with the rain jacket.

After a brief walk around and wander to the beach, we head back to the car. It's barely lunchtime and the rain is now here to stay. There's not much to do around here on such a day so we decide we'll head back to Sandringham and see where the Queen likes to spend her winters, Sandringham house. I'm not a fan of the "Country House" thing but there's not much else to do. The entrance to the house is barely a mile from the campsite and finding it is not difficult at all. We park on a dirty gravel car park that is surprisingly busy and splash through growing puddles towards the visitor centre.

 The wooden visitor centre contains the usual tourist tat shop and a café. Inside the large and mostly empty café we drink tea whilst dripping on the floor. Outside a tractor waits with a trailer full of seats, over the seats is a metal frame covered in a clear plastic sheet. I'd read that there was "An open top tour of the estate"...this is a triumph of marketing over substance. In this weather the "Open Top Tour" is protected by the plastic sheeting yet is still proving unpopular and the seats remain empty. Under the eaves of the building drenched cyclists check their gears and old ladies shuffle towards the warmth and light of the shop.

the visitor centre at sandringham house, showing a windowed cafe, smart tidy trees and a shop in the rain
The visitor centre at Sandringham House.  The image does not show the torrential rain.

At the entrance to the house and the grounds we join a handful of people queuing to enter. As the rain pours ever harder we all get ever wetter and anyone with an umbrella becomes a very popular person. It costs £11 to gain entrance! Still, as long as it's not raining in the house I guess it's a worthwhile investment. It seems the walk from the entrance to the house is a fair distance, maybe 5 or 10 minutes walk. There is an electric buggy to transport those too frail to make the journey, today they are transporting everyone who asks, but there are limited spaces on the buggy.

A lady, older than us but with jet black hair, slim figure, elegant style and a sparkle in her eye still, hands her umbrella to IW as she's taking the buggy. We gratefully accept this welcome relief from the deluge and thank her with gusto. We promise to return it when we get to the house, her name is Constance, fantastic! We walk along a gravel track as the buggy comes and goes by us and the house comes into view. The house is a long affair built in brick and not that "impressive". Oh it's certainly a lot nicer than anywhere I'm likely to live yet compared to the palaces and castles I imagine the Queen can choose from, this is a downmarket retreat.

Sandringham house, a long 3 storey brick built house with chimneys, many windows and manicured lawns
Sandringham House.  It's nice but not very impressive.  Glad I don't have to cut the grass every Sunday morning.

At the house we wait at the entrance to return Constance's umbrella. As IW returns the item she smiles and assures us it's no trouble. The house is not that impressive inside either. As I enter the house I get my phone out to take some pictures, I am informed by a suited lady that no photography is allowed. Dammit. The public is afforded access to 7 or 8 rooms which are corded off to prevent the hoards or soaking and bedraggled tourists from dripping onto the nice displays and furniture. Each room has a guide who will happily talk to the more curious visitor about the history of each room and it's contents. There's all the usual things you'd expect, four poster beds, grand paintings of distant relatives or naval heroes, weapons on the walls and furniture that’s just furniture to me yet some folks seem most impressed by an old chair or cupboard. I'm obviously a philistine.

It takes all of 10 minutes to go around the house. A short walk takes us to the ballroom where there's a display celebrating Prince Philips' 90th birthday. I saw a program about him a few weeks back and was pleasantly surprised to warm to him and his brusque yet modest manner. There are a handful of interesting letters from his service in the second world war, other than that it's glass cabinets, models and information sheets all round. I wonder if someone will ever think of a more original way of bringing the past to life?

Then there's a museum. At least in the museum I can take photographs. Again the word museum is a triumph of marketing over substance. In reality it's the Queen's garage, laid out nicely, with a couple of rooms for old plates or the heads of dead animals. The old cars are fascinating, all cranking handles, brass lamps and wooden frames right through to MGBs and Rolls Royces galore. The room full of animal heads is plain creepy and harks back to a less enlightened time, completely unnecessary. As for the plates, well I'm a philistine, the only good plate is one with a nice slice of cake on it.

iw holding the cranking handle of an old car at the museum
I wonder if it's treason to start the Queen's old car without explicit permission.  IW's going to end up in the tower at this rate.

There's yet another cafe next to the museum. This one has perfect plates as these plates have cakes on them. The cups are good too as they have tea in them. I eat a large slice of Victoria Sponge and sip my tea in a posh manner as a small group of ageing black grandmas come in to dine. It's so funny to hear them talking, mocking each other like my friends do, complaining of the rain and their cold bones and occasionally throwing in the odd profanity with a knowing smile. They seems to be having fun, just at a slower pace.

On the way back to the car IW impresses SL with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things tree. This one is the whoknowswhatsium impressivious, that's a greenious leafivictus and so on and so on. We stop at one large and broad tree with a trunk as wide as I am tall and IW tells SL and I to punch it. SL seems to know about this but to me it seems like a sure way to a break my knuckles. I tap it gently at first to find that the bark which looks hard is in fact fibrous and spongy, quite like a punchbag covered in horsehair. I give it a harder whack just to be sure. Looking closer at the trunk it seems many others have done much the same as I. How odd.

We head back to the campsite. The shop on the campsite is currently shut, but it should open in about quarter of an hour. We go back to the tents. The porch to my tent is now an indoor swimming pool. I am prepared however and everything that needs to be dry is either up off the floor or in the sleeping area which luckily is still bone dry. SL however is bailing out his tent whilst IW and I watch from the comfort of the dry car. It seems that Beaver Creek is wet on the inside today. Still with the addition of the new airbed things should be a bit comfier in there.

At the shop a smiling face greets us. The woman running the shop listens at first as we talk about what to buy, what they've got and what we could do later. She laughs to herself as we talk, even when we're not saying anything funny. We comment on the weather and she tells us it's due to improve around 1500. It turns out it's our accents that tickle her! We buy chocolates and sweets then SL buys a torch as IW and I leave. SL leaves a few moments after us and tells us she thinks our accents are fantastic and hilarious. I don't have an accent, I speak best given English. How very dare she! Nah then, wur's me stove, I's gonna mek us a brew if I cun find us wer cups.

I make the brew and this time the milk's just fine. It's still not even tea time and the day is still young, but I'm not so I chill out for a while in the tent. We all take some time out, there's only so much mocking and mickey taking a grown man can stand. I read little more and snooze, not into deep sleep but enough to refresh and rejuvenate my somewhat dampened spirit. When we emerge an hour later the rain...has stopped. The lady in the shop was right, between the clouds the occasional patch of blue sky comes through and there's hope in the world again.

With the improving weather SL and I decide to take the bikes out. IW's coming with us in the car, back to Hunstanton for another look. It feels good to get out onto the drying road and ride the bike. At one point SL gets ahead and has to wait while I catch up. When I do he sets off like a scalded cat and pulls a rather impressive wheelie, though I'm not entirely sure he means to. We ride down now familiar roads but the transformation in the sun turns the grey dreary route into a lush bright green route. The same applies to Hunstanton, although I can't yet say it's the most beautiful place I've visited. We have another brew in another café but there really is nothing much to see or do here. Out in The Wash wind turbines turn in the distance and large grey clouds still loom threateningly on the horizon. As I get back on the bike in the rather bland car park next to the bland amusement arcade I don't think I'll be rushing to Hunstanton any time soon.

The trip has killed some more time though and it's getting close to tea time. We follow signs for Snettisham Beach, which seems odd as Snettisham is the small town with the pub we went to last night, nowhere near the coast. Still, who are we to question the locals? The small road twists for a mile or two until we enter an open area with a chippy, very small arcade and a camping supplies shop. This is no shopping centre, merely services for the nearby caravan sites. A chippy meal seems like a good idea so we park up and walk to the chippy. Before we get there IW's checking his pockets and wondering where his wallet is. Panic. I help check the car and ask the usual stupid questions like "When did ya last see it?" All this is in vain so he heads back to the campsite, only a few miles away.

snettisham beach chip shop
Snettisham Beach Chippy.  As you can tell it's a classy kind of place.

While IW speeds off in panic to the campsite SL and I get chips and pies. It's not bad eating except the wind keeps on blowing my hair into my food. We talk of that sickening feeling of lost wallets and other valuable items, tell each other our respective stories of horror and hope IW is successful in his search. Time passes easily as we sit there on the bench outside the chippy. There's very little going on, the odd car comes by, occasionally stopping at the chippy, some kids play and the skies turn cloudy, then clear and warm, then cloudy again. IW seems to be taking quite some time, not good.

Eventually IW's silver Mondeo comes into the car park. He regales us with a tale of searching the campsite, asking at the office, then recalling the last time he had his wallet was at Sandringham House. He'd shot up to the house to arrive just in time to catch them closing. Someone had handed his wallet it at the office. How lucky is that! The wallet is complete and intact with all it's contents much to IW's relief. He's relieved, but I'm sure his head is spinning as he gets his chippy meal. Paranoid, I check my phone, my wallet, my keys and all my bike gear before we leave the car park.

The road we're on continues a short distance then ends at the coast. Snettisham Beach is quiet on this windy evening. There's a bloke walking his dog, a few parked cars on a gravel car park and ourselves, looking out across The Wash. Inland there's a handful of static caravans on a small site and lots of flat empty land filled with that long hardy grass that can live on salty dunes by the coast. Considering how flat it is, there's very little on the horizon. Out to sea a small container ship travels slowly by and the wind turbines can just be seen in the distance. It must be time to go back to the pub by now.

We return to the same pub as we went to last night, the Rose and Crown in Snettisham. This time we sit outside in the beer garden. A few kids are playing football on the grass whilst the parents and others sit in the warm evening air. It's still not sunny but it's warm enough and more importantly it's not raining, thankfully. We talk about the usual things like bikes, our journeys, our partners and our work. It's times like this where you learn about people. It's good to be talking in a normal friendly fashion and there's not so much mockery or one-upmanship that most blokes engage in. Both my companions are intelligent and I might not agree with all their thoughts but they're not bigoted or narrow minded.

iw and sl sat at a table in the beer garden snettisham
IW and SL in the beer garden.  Over to the right a nice lady's just bent over and given them an eyeful...

Back at the campsite the evening continues in the same vein. As we'd all driven or ridden only a small amount of alcohol was consumed at the pub so we'd stopped at the shop on the way back for tinnies. Of course I don't drink so I continued with tonic water as SL and IW climb into cheap lager. We sit in the car to talk as it's comfy and away from the midges. IW's getting bitten from time to time but I'm not suffering at all. Sandringham has a few midges but they are nowhere near as evil as the "wee beasties" of Scotland. I turn in a little earlier than the others, I'm tired and I want to read a little more. This time I make sure to put my ear plugs in, I do not want to hear those god forsaken wood pigeons at 0500 again.

Sandringham 2011 - The Ride South And Sandringham Campsite
Sandringham 2011 - Hunstanton, Sandringham House and Snettisham Beach
Sandringham 2011 - Heading Back Home

Reader's Comments

SL (LATCHY) said :-
YYYUUUCCKKK that doughnut was sickly sweet,it needed two brews without sugar to to wash it away!
01/01/2000 12:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
See what I mean folks? That kind of reaction to the beautiful doughnut is just not natural at all. And anyone who drinks tea without suger is downright weird too.
01/01/2000 12:00:00 UTC
JTS said :-
Why didn't you get a pic of the lady bent over rather than your mates...wasted opportunity
01/01/2000 12:00:00 UTC

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