On a very brisk day in November my family and I were on a mission to get out to the seaside, but more than that a surprise visit to see our eldest son who at the time was living in university accommodation in Norwich.
Great Yarmouth in Norfolk bestride the mouth of the River Yare, twenty miles (30 km) east of Norwich is usually bustling with families along the sea front and promenade, but during the winter months it is a quiet place to wander and explore with hardly a soul in sight along the beach. It first became a ‘seaside destination’ in the Victorian era as many towns along the coast did at that time.
Great Yarmouth has been a seaside resort since 1760. On a very cold winter’s day with a bracing wind blowing up and rain clouds threatening it was not so popular, but the beach is still worth a visit during the winter for the tranquillity and long stretch of open beach.
It is a soft sandy beach, with just a scattering of shingle and pebbles here and there, which means it is perfect for bare foot walking, and the stones make good materials for making beach art.
We were all wrapped up well for the beach knowing full well it would be colder still as the chill air blew up from the sea. Hats gloves and warm socks inside our boots. Yes, we came prepared.
I watched as the waves crashed and receded and dragged the pebbles and loose sand back into the sea with it on each salty fresh wave while the tide took the flotsam back into the sea with it as it went out.
Personally, I love these kinds of seaside moments, I find it fun to walk in the wind and explore an almost empty beach. In the Victorian era Great Yarmouth was a hive of activity with the construction of the new Winter Gardens, the people flocked to experience this beautiful new creation.
Originally erected in Torquay, the building of an iron and glass construction was transported and reassembled in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in 1904, apparently without a single pane of glass breaking. Quite a feat of construction management.
During our visit, the grade ll listed seafront building was not looking its best to say the least but I still found it fascinating and captivating to the eye.
The building was officially closed in 2008 due to safety concerns and in 2018 it was listed as one of the top ten most endangered Edwardian and Victorian buildings.
The winter gardens hosted some very elaborate parties and events in the Victorian period, it was the place to be seen in the affluent, high society circles. Inside the Winter Gardens there were a whole plethora of plants and greenery, it looked like a paradise inside a glass panelled palace.
There is a major £16 million transformation being planned for the Winter Gardens which is wonderful news. The work is due to start in 2023 and be completed in 2026 ready for opening to the public once more.
There will be a large mezzanine floor, climbing plants and palm trees with hanging flowers trailing down. This project will breathe life back into the building and protect the heritage and history of the area. There will be new job opportunities and training positions opened through this project.
The family trip to Great Yarmouth was indeed a last-minute decision as are most of the day trips we take. A previous surprise trip saw us turning up spontaneously in Cromer, Norfolk where we met up with our eldest son previously.
This was quite a similar story, only this time we arrived at his university accommodation completely unannounced and after a phone text conversation to discern if he was indeed awake, we tapped on his ground floor room window and told him to get some warm layers on because we were taking him to Yarmouth for the day.
Yarmouth has been a destination for family fun for over a hundred years for many reasons. The opening of the rail line on 30th April 1844 opened more opportunity for visitors to visit the area and therefore more business ventures were created making more fun places to entertain and accommodate the holiday makers.
The earliest railway in Norfolk was the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway and it would have carried more than passengers on this line. Commodities such as coal, cotton, brick, stone, fish, and iron which would have previously been arriving by sea could be sent by rail line with the opening of the new rail line.
Parking is available along the main promenade road and along some of the side roads, some spots are free to park.
There are residents permits on some of the side roads, so I advise you to check before parking. You will find car parks to use quite easily too, there are plenty to choose from all along the beach parade using post code and address of S Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth NR30 3JP and a free car park at Pier Gardens, Quay Rd, Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth NR31
We found a parking space quite easily especially since it was a quiet winter’s day on the Norfolk coast and the weather very cold and windy, I imagine it might put some visitors off.
Great Yarmouth’s fishing industry was big up until the 20th century, mainly for herring, has almost completely diminished. North Sea oil from the 1960s saw an oil-rig supply industry and now offshore natural gas rigs. The offshore wind power and other renewables are now becoming increasingly more popular.
Activities in Yarmouth
We all did our own thing, on our visit to Yarmouth such as drawing in the sand, throwing skimmers across the water, and counting to see who could skim the most waves, something we always try our hand at.
A couple of games of dobby were had and some fun and games striking a pose while jumping in the air for photos too, all plenty of fun and kept us warm in the process.
Great Yarmouth is a place where family fun has been around for many years, the usual seasonal fun of the seaside comes from the beachfront and the many arcades there. Bars and restaurants are varied through the town including an American style diner.
There were still a few arcades open in the winter and that opportunity was made the most of too, as we wandered through town to find a place to stop for lunch. To our surprise there were plenty of shops offering bargains galore and ice-cream still for sale.
The family were by this time working up an appetite so the hunt was on for somewhere to sit down and eat where we could warm up and chat over lunch.
Great Yarmouth is also host for the annual Skamouth festival of Ska Music which attracts some great music artists and fans who enjoy a whole weekend of good music, dance, and camaraderie.
Our time together was beginning to get shorter and of course being winter, the daylight was drawing in so after a good hearty meal and a catch up together we decided that it was right to start layering up again for a walk back to the car.
We still needed to drive back to Norwich and drop off our eldest son Jono at his accommodation before the long drive home.
I really enjoyed the family fun and the chance to catch up, the very brisk walk along the beach was bracing and a pleasure.
I found the Victorian architecture interesting there and the amazing Winter Gardens would have looked stunning back when it was in its prime.
The tourist industry had a big boost to attract visitors when the railway opened in 1844 and the following year the Wellington pier opened and the Britannia pier in 1858.
The tourist trade began to thrive increasingly, as holiday makers began to bring more income than many other industries. It was good to see the original architecture and history on our visit.
Great Yarmouth in winter was indeed a fantastic location for a spontaneous family get together and a wonderful place to meet up for dinner and warm up after a beach walk, some amazing memories were created on our Norfolk coast adventure.
For a historic site to visit in the area take a look at The Roman Saxon Shore Fort of Burgh Castle, Norfolk
You may also like to read about Southwold and The Popular Pier, Suffolk from further up the coast.