Genius pear and chocolate jam from Fakenham Market

Pear and chocolate jam from Country Market stall at Fakenham Market
Pear and chocolate jam from Country Market stall at Fakenham Market

Pear and chocolate make excellent bedfellows, but it takes a rare talent to manifest this combination in a jar of jam. We found this one at the Country Market stall at Fakenham’s regular Thursday market.

When I first bought a jar a few months ago, one of the ladies on the stall confided there was a friendly competition among their group of producers to develop the most unusual flavours. This is reflected in their diverse selection of jams, chutneys, sauces and cakes. They have all the classics you’d expect, but often surprise with something new and delicious, like this pear and chocolate.

It is exceedingly good spread thickly on homemade scones, baked to my mum’s recipe.

After polishing off the first jar in short order, we didn’t see it on the stand for a while, so Michelle put in a special request, which they were kind enough to fulfill.

The label lists the producer as ‘K Cuttle’. Your best bet is to stop by their stall on Thursday morning during the market.

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First swim at Cley and first of the Cromer Crab

First swim of the year at Cley; colder than it looked
First swim of the year at Cley; colder than it looked

When we moved to the coast last year I imagined swimming in the sea every day. Naively, I thought I’d simply make sure I went in daily, such that a consecutive day would never be that much colder than the previous one. I presumed I’d just gradually become acclimatised if I could stick to this routine.

The particularly bleak spell of Arctic winds and snow from the North East put an end to such plans and the last time I went in was a couple of weeks before Christmas.

I’ve been watching the weather every day since, waiting for a day like yesterday, when the winds were light and from the South and the sun was shining. The water is at its coldest at this time of year, having lost all of its temperature over the long winter, so the key thing is to ensure that, upon emerging from the sea, there’s not a freezing wind chilling you to the bone before you can get dry.

Even with the sun shining, blue sky and a gentle breeze at Cley Beach, I though it best to warm up with a run and a quick bike ride and to pack a big towel and some warm clothes. Suitably invigorated by the exercise, I took the plunge. The water was burningly cold, but I wanted this to be more than a splash and dash affair: if I could swim in these temperatures, then it would only get better for the rest of the year. I managed just a few minutes, time for some frenzied front crawl westwards, and back east again to my start point.

There’s no denying this a masochistic pleasure. At this time of year it is more about the feeling of leaving the water and getting warm than it is about the joy of swimming itself. However, it reminded me how lucky we are to live close enough to swim in the sea daily and the glowing feeling of total refreshment it brings.

Wrapped in a big woolly sweater and windproof jacket, I lay back on the beach, basking in the sun, watching birds and vapour trails making patterns in the deep pool of the sky. The only sounds were of the waves gently churning at the shoreline and, further down the beach, the crab boats getting ready to go out for the first time this year.

Crab boats going out for the first time this year at Cley Beach
Crab boats going out for the first time this year at Cley Beach

The weather, it seems, had been holding them back too. Usually they would have been out earlier in the year, but these two little boats, probably about 16 foot, were venturing out for the first time yesterday.

They launch from tractor and trailer off the shelving shingle beach, loaded with pots for the crab, going out around low tide and returning on the high tide. You can buy direct if you’re there when they come back in.

‘Cromer crab’ is renowned, coming from the waters near a chalky reef that stretches for several miles along the coast. Apparently this unique habitat imparts a particularly delicious taste. The season is just starting and will last until autumn, with oysters and lobster coming a bit later.

I usually buy mine from the little shed in someone’s back garden: look for the sign on the A149 coast road as you drive through Blakeney.

Finding a proper pub at the Earle Arms, Heydon

Earle Arms at Heydon, Norfolk
Earle Arms at Heydon, Norfolk

There is only one road to Heydon and it ends at the gates of Heydon Hall. This is not a place you idly pass through on your way to somewhere else. It is a destination, both in place and time: travel down that quiet lane and you’ll find yourself not only in the village, but in a bygone era whose faint echoes are seldom heard in the wider world.

Heydon Hall in Norfolk
Heydon Hall in Norfolk

Heydon is arranged around the lawn of the village green. There is a church, tea rooms, an excellent wood-fired bakery called Husk (which supplies the Art Cafe, among others), a few cottages, the Hall and the Earle Arms.

The entrance to the pub overlooks the green. Push open the heavy, old door and you step into a wood panelled hallway, with doors leading left and right to the ‘Number 1’ and ‘Number 2’ rooms. Number 2 is laid with white table cloths and cutlery for dinner, while Number 1 is a cosy bar, with a few wooden tables and a glowing old iron woodburner.

My Mum and I took a table close to the fire in Number 1. Each had a silver candelabra, with white candles and old wax.

Bar lounge at the Earle Arms, Heydon in Norfolk
Bar lounge at the Earle Arms, Heydon in Norfolk

There was no sign of any staff for a while, but eventually a lady appeared behind the bar and poured me lime cordial from a heavy crystal decanter. We ordered sandwiches and a plate of ham, egg and chips.

The room looked unchanged from the early part of the 20th century. Taxidermy stares back at you from the walls and the small corner bar, made of wood, is nothing like the giant metal runway strips with illuminated beer pumps you see in most pubs these days. As we waited for our food, the same lady returned and spread a white cotton table cloth for us.

She came back some time later with our food. My Mum proclaimed her tuna sandwich very good, while my ham, egg and chips was superb. The ham, served cold, was in thick, homecooked slices, topped with two eggs and a large portion of freshly fried chips.

The influence of the Heydon estate has preserved the village as an elegant example of rural Norfolk life, cira. 1920. However, there is no cliched feeling of a period theme park about this place and, on the several occasions we’ve visited, we seemed to be the only non-locals present. It is simply a beautiful, quiet village.

As for the Earle Arms, it goes down in my book as a ‘proper pub’. Simple, fresh cooked food, a welcoming fire and a comfortable and cosy atmosphere which compels you to spend time there. I would like to visit again: either on my bike, which seems like the way to reach somewhere like Heydon, or at night, when I can imagine how wonderful their dining room must look, with the glassware and silver reflecting the light of of all those candelabras.

Google Maps link.

Huckleberries for cake in Cromer

Huckleberries Cafe in Cromer
Huckleberries Cafe in Cromer

I arrived in Cromer at the end of a windswept adventure on my bike. There’s nothing like riding into a gale of a headwind to inspire a desire for tea and cake.

Despite living on the Norfolk coast for nearly a year now, this was my first visit to Cromer, so I pedalled around looking for the tell-tale signs of a good cafe. External appearance only tells you so much. I found myself peering through windows and looking for stacks of homemade cakes under glass domes or an enthusiastic barrista enjoying their art.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has actually visited Cromer that such establishments are thin on the ground. I, however, had arrived innocent of this state of affairs. There were no shortage of options for fish and chips or ice cream in a cone, but I was beginning to despair my dream of a moist, dense cake and steaming mug of herbal tea would remain elusive.

It was on my last circuit through town, heading for the train station, that I spotted the pale green exterior of Huckleberries (@hucks_coffee) on Church Street. A discerning consumer of cake just knows when somewhere is going to be a cut above the average, and Huckleberries did not disappoint.

There was a friendly welcome from the staff and plenty of well spaced seating in the relaxed interior of wood floors and pale colours. I sat upstairs, where there was a mix of tourists and locals reading the papers, but there is also more seating downstairs.

Ginger & lemon cake, granola bar & tea in a tea cosy at Huckleberries in Cromer
Ginger & lemon cake, granola bar & tea in a tea cosy at Huckleberries in Cromer

All of the cakes are baked on the premises and range from scones and fruit loaves to Bakewells and chocolate fudge cake. I opted for the ginger and lemon, a pot of Roobois tea and a granola bar, for a grand total of £4.85.

The cake was exceptional. Strong, spicy ginger, a dense and rich texture, topped with tangy lemon icing infused with lemon zest. The granola bar was also good: clearly homemade, moister than I was expecting and welcome after the miles on the bike.

The feature, however, which convinced me this is a cafe trying to go the extra mile was the knitted tea cosy and little shortbread biscuit left as a treat on the saucer. It is the little things that count and, as far as I could see, Huckleberries is the only place for the cake connoisseur in Cromer.

Google Maps link.

A deliciously different cake by Rhubarb & Custard

Orange & Almond Tart by Rhubard & Custard Puddings
Orange & Almond Tart by Rhubard & Custard Puddings

The Blakeney Farmers’ Market & Craft Fair returned today and it was another good showing. Hosted on the 2nd Saturday of each month, it has about 20 stalls, which impress with quality, locally produced food and craft at reasonable prices.

One particular find was Rhubarb & Custard, run by Bridget Bennet (the web-site doesn’t seem to be up and running yet, but they’re on Twitter @rhubardpuds and hopefully she’ll be back at the market next month). They had a delicious Apple & Maple Icing Pudding, but we chose the Orange & Almond Tart. Beautifully presented in a wooden tray, the tart has a great texture, with granular chunks of almond, complimented by a moist layer of zesty orange jam and a pastry base. It is rare to find a genuinely different kind of cake which surprises with its form and taste. This was one of those and a splendid discovery.

Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market

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Yesterday saw a gloriously sunny day for the monthly Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market in North Creake. Now, we have been to Creake Abbey before, and aside from the English Heritage Abbey ruins, there is a fabulous cluster of shops and cafes; but more on that later.

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As far as local produce is concerned we have been spoiled for choice since moving up here. It is a bastion of artisans and the market was well curated. We could have walked away with a lot more than we did. Good sense had to kick in at some point, but not before we made a number of choice selections.

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First stall we came to was our first purchase and that is a good start! WOW muffins,  or Without Wheat Muffins, were offering free samples and were so good we bought a box of 9 ‘muffinettes’ despite having no food intolerances between us. We brought them down to visit some friends today and they were praised highly.

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Jamoroc Spices were our next hit. Run by a husband and wife team from Jamaica and Morocco this stall featured a full range of spices (complete with fab little containers), sauces and dips. We went all out and got a mild and hot sauce for ourselves and another as a gift.

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Next came another of my favourites. We have come across the Marsh Pig range before, which is stocked at our local, The Blakeney Delicatessen. But there is such a wide range of flavours and I can’t seem to resist the free samples. I always end up buying some.

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The last highlight of our day was the English Spirit Distillery. Despite having only just passed noon the free samples were flowing. This little distillery based in Dullingham, Cambs (a few streets away from our last home no less!) has turned out something special. We walked away with The Old Salt Rum, blown away by its banana and caramel notes. This was used later that evening in some very rich hot chocolate and couldn’t have been nicer.

A couple of venison burgers, and a shoulder of lamb later we decided we had to leave the premises. It was a lovely day and in lovely settings. I’m sure the sun helped a bit too but highly enjoyable and very recommended. The market is the first Saturday of each month barring January. Check it out.

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Kayaking the dawn in Blakeney Harbour

Kayaking Blakeney Harbour at dawn
Kayaking Blakeney Harbour at dawn

I almost didn’t make it. There’s something so tempting about staying under the covers when your alarm goes off at 05:30. However, the red and orange sky glow I could see through the gap in the curtains persuaded me out of bed, down the driveway still covered in frost and onto the quay just in time for high tide.

Pre-sunrise in Blakeney Harbour, looking east from the Cut towards Cley
Pre-sunrise in Blakeney Harbour, looking east from the Cut towards Cley

The great beauty of living so close to the water is being able to seize moments like this: dawn and high tide coinciding on a perfectly still and clear Sunday morning.

There was not a soul around – even the hardy sailors of the Blakeney Sailing Club were not yet abroad – and not a ripple on the water as the kayak glided down the Cut. Only the birds noticed the passing of the boat, calling to the dawn and skimming low over the water.

I paddled out to where the narrow channel meets the wide waters of the harbour and let the boat drift, taking photos, and turning just in time to watch the sun rise with surprising speed over towards Cley.

Sunrise in Blakeney Harbour, looking east down the Cley Channel
Sunrise in Blakeney Harbour, looking east down the Cley Channel
Birds at dawn in Blakeney Harbour
Birds at dawn in Blakeney Harbour
Boats at dawn in Blakeney Harbour, light on the Manor Hotel
Boats at dawn in Blakeney Harbour, light on the Manor Hotel

Spring

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Ask and yea shall receive! Four, count them, four days of sun! Never mind the 20mi/hr winds and the brief snowfall yesterday morning, because there have been four gloriously sunny days.This week has been a balm for the winter weary soul. And to celebrate I thought I would post some pics of the courtyard garden bulbs that I planted over the course of several years stretching to meet the sun. New beginnings and spring! Image

Last year’s lupin ready for another run.

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New Hellebore this year.

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The herb garden beginings

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Clematis

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grape hyacinth

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spring croci

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mini irises

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last season’s pinks starting anew

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parrot tulips