A Golden Mile of pristine sands, amusements and attractions stretches ahead of me, glittering in the late evening light. In the distance, on a watery horizon, large turbines are rotating – furiously harnessing wind whipping across the North Sea.
It’s hard to imagine one of England’s treasured seaside towns could be powering so much innovation – but Great Yarmouth is full of surprises, I discover on a weekend away.
Located in Norfolk, where the sea meets the famous Broads, the resort town is undergoing a transformation when I arrive: a former Debenhams store has been converted into amusingly named gallery and arts space, Primeyarc (originalprojects.co.uk); the Grade II-listed Empire Cinema is being revamped; and there’s a buzz of street food, craft ales, artisan coffee and live music all over.
Fortunately, however, some past glories remain intact. On a trip to the seafront arcades – stopping briefly for a photo with Knight Rider’s KITT parked up on Marine Parade, I make some great finds. First and foremost, I’m stunned to discover a two pence piece still holds any value. I hopefully push the copper coin into one of the many machines at Leisureland, where garish lights and piercing bleeps send me on a trip to the neon streets of Tokyo But the entertainment here is distinctly British.
I find more fun and games at Merrivale Model Village (merrivalemodelvillage.co.uk; £9.99), a meticulously crafted town of animated scenes, containing everything from a busy nightclub to an energetic crowd at a music festival – everything we’ve been unable to enjoy during the pandemic. Other attractions include beautifully tended gardens, crazy golf and, best of all, an old penny arcade with vintage amusement machines still able to emit much mirth.
Another opportunity to travel back in time presents itself when I ride the wooden roller coaster at the Pleasure Beach (pleasure-beach.co.uk; £13.50), an historic amusement park first opened in 1909. The ride has been operating in Great Yarmouth since 1932 and is an absolute joy, with just the right amount of scary. The Sky Drop, on the other hand, is more than I can handle these days.
A recent addition is the Great Yarmouth Giant Wheel – or the Yarmouth Eye as it’s become better known (greatyarmouthwheel.com; £8). The 50-metre Ferris wheel offers fabulous views over the town, inland and out to sea, perfectly representing the faces of Great Yarmouth past and present.
Where to stay
Sixteen years ago, Andover House was transformed into a beautiful hotel – and most staff have been there since day one. Such longevity reveals how well a place is managed, and I can thoroughly recommend a stay in this picturesque Victorian house, set on a beautiful tree-lined avenue, 100m from the seafront. Doubles from £79 with breakfast. Visit andoverhouse.co.uk.
What to eat?
A significant Portuguese community provide many fine restaurants and much warmth in the area. Try Coffee Ventura II on 154 King Street, run by a charming couple from Lisbon, Juan and Luisa Ventura in the centre of town, or Galante Cafe (46 St George’s Road), serving seafood dishes, such as octopus and sea bass. Afterwards, head to the Mariner’s Tavern (facebook.com/marinerstavern) for a selection of fantastic local ales and ciders, at probably the best and friendliest pub in town.
What else to do further afield?
Driving out of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk’s beauty – sometimes remote and with a touch of the end of the world – really takes hold and penetrates. Gorgeous stretches of golden sand lie north and south at Winterton-on-Sea and Gorleston-on-Sea – which featured in Danny Boyle’s 2019 Beatles-inspired film, Yesterday.
For food, try the wonderful Reedham Ferry Inn (reedhamferry.co.uk), run by the Archer family since 1949. Find it nestled beside the River Yare Reedham Ferry, surely one of the smallest ferries in the world, taking a maximum of two cars aboard each crossing.
And if you are fortunate enough to visit this part of the country, you have to go to the Broads. Hire a boat and enter a world of Swallows and Amazons.
How to plan your trip
For more information, go to visitgreatyarmouth.co.uk.