Tree houses hidden in deep forests, house sized yurts, converted courthouses and seaside lookouts; the UK has some of the most gorgeous and unique accommodation you can find anywhere in the world.
So when I was asked by TravelSupermaket if I fancied spending the evening in one of their more unusual hotels I jumped at the chance. Aiming to whisk the beautiful Kasha away for an early Valentine’s Day staycation, I booked a room at the Cley Windmill, a historic converted mill tower located in Cley next the Sea along the striking Norfolk Coast. This charming B&B was just voted by the Telegraph as the most romantic hotel in Norfolk and commended by Rough Guides as one of the best places to stay in Great Britain.
We arrived after night had fallen, spotting the windmill in the distance lit up on the night sky like the sparkling light of a Christmas Tree.
The Windmill and Room
This quiet retreat has been luring city dwellers with its rural seaside charms since 1983 and – fun fact – past residents even include the pop singer James Blunt and his family. The history of this stunning windmill dates back to the 1700s, but the tower itself was completed in the early 19th century, when the five story tower mill used to be an important part of village life.
We had the absolute pleasure to be staying in the Miller’s Room, where you might well be able to guess the previous miller once hung his hat. With wood panelled walls, en-suite bathroom and its own private entrance we knew we had made the right choice straight away.
Immediately warm and inviting, the charms of the room lie in the small details, like the pretty painted alcoves, wooden armchairs, quaint vanity mirror and dressing table.
There are some nice touches too like the homemade gingerbread cookies and the mini fridge stocked full of beer, champagne and soft drinks. For maximum cosiness, the heated towel rack means you leave the shower feeling snug as a bug in a rug. Needless to say, in such peaceful surrounds we slept like babies every night the moment our heads hit the pillow.
After spending the weekend here, it’s easy to see the owners don’t want you to simply view Cley Windmill as a hotel, this is your home from home for the weekend, or the week. Free Wi-Fi, plenty of parking and a team of young friendly staff members means everything is taken care of.
To make things as easy as possible, you needn’t even leave for dinner. The regularly changing dinner menu is created with locally sourced produce and promptly served at 7.30pm each evening, with pre-dinner drinks available via an honesty bar in the snug sitting room. After your meal you can even retire to the sitting room for brandy, port or after dinner nibbles.
For breakfast, you certainly won’t go hungry. While they offer a selection of classic breakfast dishes like porridge and salmon and eggs, the Full English Breakfast is the star of the menu. For something a little different however, you can also pre-order smoked haddock or kippers courtesy of the Cley Smokehouse around the corner, although I do find fish for breakfast a little unusual.
If you’re just aching to put your feet up the cosy sitting room is open for use all day and comes complete with board games and books.
Over winter this feels especially homely when the wind is raging outside. For those seeking the best view of the surrounding landscape, you can also head up the balcony walkway (see below) where you’ll be treated to an uninterrupted view of the Cley Bird Sanctuary, the saltmarshes and the sea in the distance.
The Surrounding Area
The awe-inspiring natural scenery is what draws people to this underrated part of England. Besides being birdwatcher’s paradise the North Norfolk Coast is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with some of the cleanest beaches in the UK. The nearby Blakeney National Nature Reserve is also a protected National Heritage Site.
With a car, or even by bike, you can see a lot here in a very little time. Many of the prettiest seaside villages are only a stones throw away from each other making Cley next the Sea the perfect destination for weekends away. Here were some of our favourite spots:
Seaside Charm in Cley:
One pub, one deli and one windmill. If you wanted to get away from it all, you’ve come to the right place. For fish lovers, there is a famous Cley Smokehouse selling all manner of lovingly smoked fish to tuck into. For a posh pub grub, The George is excellent if a little pricey(£13.99 for bangers and mash). Ultimately you get what you pay for in Norfolk, and the excellent quality of the dishes here more than makes up for the price. Meanwhile, nature wanderers can explore the nearby pebble beach by foot and walk along the stunning coastline.
Pubs and History in Blakeney:
This is the largest town near the accommodation at a mere five-minute drive from Cley; but I use the word large generously. The whole town has around three main roads, a few hotels, a smattering of pubs and that all important Spa for those after groceries. Make sure to swing by Blakeney Guildhall, this English Heritage property was once home to a wealthy merchant. The ruin is free to enter and contains some of the building’s original arches which are quite beautiful. Another essential stop is the excellent Blakeney Delicatessen. The local cheeses, beers and famous sausage rolls on sale here make for excellent gifts or treats.
Seal Watching in Morston:
If there is one thing you absolutely have to do in Norfolk, it should be going on a seal trip. You can see notices for seal tours in Blakeney, but the actual tour departs from Morston. We went with Beans Boat Trips, a family run tour group with a great sense of humour. You’ll be guided onto a boat and sped along to Blakeney Point where, with any luck, you’ll spot some common and grey seals relaxing on the beach.
Beach Life in Holkam:
For sandy beach bliss head to Holkam, where an unspoiled stretch of sand awaits you. Voted best British Beach in 2014 by UK Travel Writers, this seemingly endless beach was used as the back drop to many famous TV shows and movies including Shakespeare in Love with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Coffee Drinking in Holt:
This pretty inland town is ideal to visit as part of a day driving around the country. While it was quiet when we visited on Sunday, but despite that there were a number of excellent restaurants, cafes and pubs that deserve thorough inspection.
A simply stunning guesthouse, Cley Windmill is the most beautiful place I have ever stayed. The surrounding nature, things to do and slow pace of life offer the perfect respite from city life. I’m not surprised so many people have decided to tie the knot here, considering the awe inspiring landscape all around. For me, Cley will always retain a special place in my heart. The sleepy town, charming locals and location right next to the sea make for a truly enchanting experience. If you need to get away from everything and everyone, it’s a joy to know that places like this exist.