Holkham Sands on Holkham Bay in Norfolk is one of Britain's loveliest and most pristine beaches. Backed by a pine forest, dunes and a nature reserve, Holkham is reported to be one of the best stretches of unspoiled coastline in England. Even if you've never been to Britain, chances are, you've seen this beach. It was featured in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love when a lone Gwyneth Paltrow crossed its vast sands, standing in for the Virginia colony, as the final credits rolled.
The beach is part privately owned by the Holkham Estate, the home of the Earls of Leicester, and part-owned by the Crown Estate. Historically, except for one short hiccup of time, the owners have been sympathetic to nudists (or naturists as they are called in the UK). The nude beach, on the western side of the Holkham Bay, is official and well signposted.
Restoration of a Naturist Tradition
After years of peaceful nude bathing and sunbathing at Holkham Bay, what the British politely call "anti-social behavior" (in other words open-air sex in the dunes) created so many complaints that the owners briefly banned nudity at this popular spot. It took a concerted campaign by the British Naturists organization to convince the powers that be to lift the ban. It's now permitted at the western end of the beach. But if you are planning some nude swimming, make sure you brush up on Britain's nudity laws and on nude beach etiquette.
What to Expect
Three to four miles long and up to a half mile wide, this soft sand beach on the North Norfolk coast is big enough for everyone. There's a stretch of pine forest to walk in and shells to collect along the sands. But the landowners prefer that visitors stay off the dunes which are a nature reserve.
It's just sand and water. There are no facilities so bring refreshments. The car park of the clothed beach has toilets, showers, a cafe, and an ice cream stand.
The walk from the car park takes 20 to 30 minutes. The water can be cold and the beach very breezy - so bring a windbreak.
Take the A149 to the village of Wells-next-the-Sea. Lady Ann's Drive, which leads to the beach parking, is opposite the entrance to Holkham Hall.
A Little Something Extra
Put some clothes on to see the Hall. While you are in the area it would be a shame not to stop off and see Holkham Hall, in the middle of the 25,000 acre Holkham estate. It's open from noon to 4 pm, Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays between March 20 and October 31.
It's a most unusual house to visit because most of the time it's a family home - for the current earl and two other families. The family stress that it's not a museum and encourage visitors to walk on the carpets and enjoy close up views of the statues and treasures.
The same family has occupied the hall since its creation in 1750 so, as you can imagine, there are generations of artworks, furniture, and collections to see. Some of the highlights include:
- The Old Kitchen with its huge copper and pewter batterie de cuisine - that's pots and pans to the uninitiated.
- The Statue Gallery with its collection of 1st to 3rd-century Roman sculptures
- The Green State Bedroom - A mind-blowing ornate room where kings and queens have been guests over the centuries
There's also a farming exhibition, a walled garden, and a children's woodland playground that is open every day, as well as boat and kayak rentals on the estate lake and cycle hire.
The Hall and the facilities of the estate are about a mile from the beach and about two miles from the nude beach. So, if the wind picks up or you tire of the sun, pop on a respectable cover-up and visit this beautiful Palladian house.