Very rarely do I visit a hotel and want to stay in it. I’m one of those tourists who tends to arrive in a new place, dump my bags, pick up a bottle of water and a map, and head on out.
But at the Beechwood Hotel in North Walsham, Norfolk, all my guest and I wanted to do was stay in.
The weather was glorious, a balmy summer’s weekend of the type we are often promised but rarely receive in England. The surroundings, from the small market town of North Walsham (where Nelson was born) in which it sits to the vast swathes of rivers, fields, reeds and marshlands that make up the famous Norfolk Broads, just as stunning.
The hotel is a fantastic base to explore the shallow waterways and sparkling landscape, and the nearby Heritage coast and the quaint seaside villages of Wells and Sheringham are well worth investigating if you have transport.
But there was something special about Beechwood, and it captivated us. Twenty years ago Don and Lindsay took over the B&B, and today it has counted Eric Clapton, The Who and other superstars as guests, as well been voted fourth best in the country by TripAdvisor, and win AA rosettes.
One reason for the hotel’s reputation is the food. Dining at the Beechwood is testament to the importance of good ingredients managed in such a good way.
Each evening the head chef Steven Norgate and his team prepare a ‘ten mile dinner,’ sourcing, where possible, all foods from within that radius.
Famous Cromer crab, Morston mussels and Sheringham lobster supplied by William Davie, sit along side sausages from Tavern’s Tasty Meats in Swafield and seasonal produce from North Walsham Farmer’s Market.
Tomato and cream cheese crostini, juicy olives, and salmon and poppy seed puffs whet our appetite, before the pre-starter of tomato and courgette soup with bacon and thyme foam. Fresh melon and seared Scottish scallops on sweet potato purée with crispy pancetta, with a pea shoot salad and lemon dressing were the delicate and tempting starters we chose, and for main my friend went for a medium rare Phil Roofe’s fillet of beef on fondant potato with curly kale, roast salsify, anna potatoes, carrot purée and red wine jus, which she stated was ‘the best meal I have had in a long long time.’
I chose a very simple breast of organic chicken, boiled potatoes, fresh minted peas, rocket, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, and if ever proof was needed that quality ingredients need little adornment, this was it. It was a joy to eat such good food, and the whole menu is accompanied by a wine list selected by Lindsay.
Earlier in the day we had wondered why our hosts at the nearby Davenports Magical Kingdom had been drooling with jealousy when we told them we were heading back to the Beechwood for dinner – now we understood why.
A small garden is filled with the heady scent of summer smells, and it was out here that another famous person used to spend summers. During the 1930s, author Agatha Christie used to spend her summer holidays at the venue, which was owned by two doctors (the McLeods) whom Agatha had met on her travels in Mesopotamia.
The hotel was bequeathed the author’s pestle and mortar and eight leather-bound books, which are still on site today, as are numerous tomes to peruse in the ‘Agatha Christie Lounge’ where we sunk back in the leather chairs with coffee and chocolate after dinner.
On ambling back up the stairs, we find a turned over quilt, a fresh set of tea, and a softly lit bedroom. The grand four poster beds had us both in princess mode, even when we arrived at 3pm.
Come later, the deep fluffy pillows and warm duvets enveloped us in a good night’s sleep; especially after a luxurious soak in the freestanding slipper baths as our Molton Brown bubble filled up. The rooms are spacious, with big televisions, lounge spaces, mahogany desks and big armchairs in which to nestle.
North Walsham itself is a sleepy little town. Flemish weavers came and settled here in the 13th and 14th centuries, and since then the community has centred around the market cross.
Filled with little lanes, tea shops, and the fabulous church of St. Nicholas it’s a wonderful place to wander. But make sure you don’t spend too much time away from joys of The Beechwood.
by Francesca Baker, travel writer
North Walsham is only twenty minutes away from Norwich on the Abellio Greater Anglia train service, and is easily accessible by car.
Where to find out more
On all Sundays from February – June inclusive in October and November, on Short Breaks commenced on either Friday or Sunday, of a minimum of 2 nights, complimentary Sunday night accommodation and breakfast is available for a third night provided guests book a table in the restaurant for dinner. http://www.beechwood-hotel.co.uk/index.htm