As you drive into Great Yarmouth from the west, one of the first things you see is an Asda selling petrol which – at the time of writing – is £1.28 a litre, about 5p cheaper than I can get it back home. And that sums up Great Yarmouth: it’s cheap and cheerful.
The town is one of our traditional seaside towns but if you think you will be limited to just a beach, a pier and seaside front guesthouses and B&B’s you’re in for a surprise.
But let’s start with the beach. It’s wide and predominantly sandy although small pebbles cut though the lush sand, the sort of sand that is comforting to the foot, compared to that sort of sand that seems sharp and jagged. And there is a pier with the Britannia Theatre at the end of it where top rated comics like Jimmy Carr and Sarah Millican perform. The only things that slightly spoil the view of the North Sea are the thirty wind farm pylons. They seem more menacing than the waves pummelling the beach. As you’d expect there are a range of pastimes along the beach front to occupy your time when you aren’t sun bathing or sampling the cold waters (do they ever warm up?) of the North Sea.
There is a Sea Life Centre, three crazy golf courses and an imaginative model village on the sea facing side while across the road are what you might expect; arcades and fish and chip shops, take-aways and souvenir sellers. Yesterday’s World, an attraction containing over 150,000 memories of our past is to be found here as well as the nine acre pleasure beach with more amusements than you can shake a stick at… You’ll also find the tourist office here on the main beach front road but there are local brochures to be found both at the railway station and inside Asda as well. At any of them collect a brochure called “What’s on in Greater Yarmouth.” It should contain money-off coupons that will help save quite a bit particularly if you have children. North of the pier is a boating lake and sand dunes.
In the town itself, there are pedestrianised shopping areas as well as a large centre called Market Gates. But a traditional market exists as well where chips, hamburgers and hot dogs can be bought at keen prices. A portion of chips, for example, will cost you less than £1. The market has clothes, meats and fish, DVD’s and electronic games – in fact what you’d expect from a market. But the food prices are the cheapest I have seen in a while.
If you prefer to come by train then the only way is via Norwich and then it’s about a 30 minute connecting ride on the Wherryline. Don’t get excited. It’s just a fancy name from a two carriage chugging connection, not a steam train or anything exotic. If you do drive, then there is quite a lot of parking in the town but how that disappears in the peak of summer I cannot tell you. Watch out for parking prices at the car parks than are next to the beaches. They are quite pricey compared with those in town.
Great Yarmouth will be forever linked with a local lad, a certain Horatio Nelson and there is a part of the town called the South Quay where you will find the Nelson Museum. It doesn’t just cover his Norfolk childhood, but his later life as well. Head further south along the beach and you’ll find the Nelson monument. In the same area you will also find the Row Houses which date back to the 17th century. One of them is called the Old Merchant’s House, which is not that easily spotted.
The directions point you through a small housing estate and, at the end of a block, you are greeted by a piece of modern public sculpture that looks like a body-less collection of spider legs and there, behind that and a wall, is the house! The oldest house in the town is thought to be the Tollhouse, a small building near the library that has a street level window into the cells of this gaol.
The old port authority building is here as well just as if we need reminding that the town was an important port. Opposite South Quay you can still see cargo vessels at anchor as they unload or refill their holds before sailing on another voyage. The interest of the building is that one wall is exposed so you can see the remains of an upright – along with more usual horizontal ones – wooden joists (?) sandwiched in the mortar.
But the town is geared to all tastes not just those seeking beaches and heritage. It has a race track that is used from Easter until the end of October and, just up the coast there are thrice-weekly greyhound meetings. There is roller skating within the town as well as a leisure centre with a wave machine.
If you had travelled by train then you would notice as you walk towards the town, a sign outlining three walks that could take you as far as Norwich.
These will take you through some of the most interesting bird watching areas. You couldn’t have helped notice – if you travelled by train – that you pass wetlands. This RSPB area is a haven for wildlife and one reason why you may see people in Great Yarmouth that you might not think of as beach devotees.
All of this is within a few miles of the city centre. Think of Great Yarmouth as your base and you have many more opportunities to see the sights of east and north Norfolk. Somerleyton Hall and Gardens is just eight miles away and two Roman relics – Caister and Burgh Castle are just three miles away. There are rail preservation societies a bit further afield and then there are the Broads as well. It all goes to show that Great Yarmouth – either as a holiday destination – or as a base for exploring this part of Norfolk ticks both boxes easily.
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