As our daughters’ paddle boards glide gently past a holiday home belonging to singer Ed Sheeran, my wife and I feel our decision to take a short break in Great Yarmouth has been vindicated.
It certainly wasn’t the most popular option with our three teenage girls, who — lucky blighters that they are — generally prefer splashing around a Mediterranean shoreline to the lure of the British seaside.
Yet, this being the year that it is, we needed to look closer to home. So, when a friend suggested Great Yarmouth I was intrigued — even if we weren’t sure exactly where it was.
People on the sandy beach at Gorleston-on-Sea, not far from Great Yarmouth
Don’t get me wrong: I had a rough idea, aware that the ancient port town was in Nelson’s county of Norfolk.
A longstanding working port, it’s also been a holiday destination for hundreds of years, popularised by an annual Bass Breweries knees-up for 9,000 staff.
And perhaps by showing they could organise the proverbial booze-up, the hoteliers, publicans and amusement ride owners unknowingly laid the foundation for modern Great Yarmouth — a town which, unlike some of its more chi chi Norfolk cousins, manages to retain the cheeky aura of a resort that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Saddle up: Donkey rides on the beach at Great Yarmouth, near the town’s pier
Yesterday, the feelgood film by writers Richard Curtis and Jack Barth, and director Danny Boyle, were filmed in Great Yarmouth. Pictured is the town’s quay
Still, the stakes are high. We visit just after lockdown has been lifted, amid a riot of teen angst over cancelled exams and overseas lacrosse trips. There’s some parental angst, too.
We needn’t have worried: staff at the Andover House Hotel, our base and a centrally located little haven yards from the seafront, have clearly thought about how to reassure guests, and are on hand for any queries.
It proves to be a great choice — although those with mobility issues should note there is no lift. An early morning walk down the promenade is in order on our first day — and this puts us in the exploring mood.
Later, a ten-minute drive delivers us to Gorleston-on-Sea, a relatively unspoiled resort with a white sandy beach that could grace any exotic postcard.
Views of the pretty town of Garleston-on-Sea as beach-goers fly kites on a summer’s day
Even better, I am able to impress the girls with the revelation that Yesterday, the recent feelgood film by Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle, was filmed here, and buy them a drink at the nearby Pier hotel, whose rooftop also features in the film.
It lays the groundwork nicely for our next expedition, an outing on a paddle board at Oulton Broad, a mile west of Lowestoft over the border in Suffolk.
The girls are novices, but a fabulous 90-minute induction at Boardin’ Skool with Adam — who has managed to combine a lecturing career and a dabble in standup comedy with his new life — proves the perfect introduction.
My wife and I, knowing our limits, opt to ride shotgun in a kayak instead. Do the girls fall off? They do. But that is all part of the fun — and they do manage to stay upright long enough to have a good gawp at Ed’s impressive waterside pad.
Another short drive away at St Olaves we hire a day boat on the River Waveney from Bridge Stores. With hindsight, an hour isn’t quite enough to sample the soothing delights of a gentle glide through its clear channels, although on the plus side, it leaves little time for mutiny from the crew. We also still manage to work up enough of an appetite to be delighted by the sight of the Bell Inn, a hostelry that backs onto the river and whose massive beer garden allows those still nervous about the virus to relax over a slap-up meal including fish platters and scampi.
A family enjoy the rides at the amusement arcade at Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach
Make no mistake: there’s plenty of fun to be had on land in the area, too, from Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach (cheesy but good, clean, socially distanced amusements) to donkey rides, to Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, which houses a fascinating collection of not-often-seen creatures, including some of the rarest leopards in the world.
The highlight for the Simester family is the reticulated python (the longest species of snake in the world).
Overall, there are options galore to keep this family of five happily occupied, no mean feat with teenage daughters.
That’s not to say it’s for everyone: if you’re the type of person who likes quaint bookshops and boutique stores, Great Yarmouth is unlikely to be on your bucket-and-spade list.
But for those who are partial to a slice of old fashioned, unpretentious, seaside nostalgia it has everything you need.
So look up Great Yarmouth on the map — and try it for yourself.