North Norfolk has been cropping up more regularly in destination columns over the past few years, especially when ‘staycation’ became the buzzword of whatever that dark year was. Famed for its vast beaches, big skys, flint-built villages and pubs aplenty, it is no wonder why. I have always had a love/hate relationship with the place. Once I had ‘flown the nest’ and left for uni my parents decided Norfolk seemed like a good place to relocate to now they were child free and could spend their time doing things that child free parents do – country show committees, owning far too many chickens, an attempt at side saddle etc etc. Furious at being plucked from the safe bosom of the home counties where I had spent my adolescence, the thought of long summer holidays mooching around fields, miles away from any friends quite frankly, sucked. Thank god for lascivious gamekeeper’s is all I have to say. Once the university years were over I remained firmly rooted in London, refusing to leave the warmth of my smog blanket for such harsh easterly winds unless absolutely necessary. Fast forward ten years and as the gods would have it, I have ended up residing in Suffolk, the irony is not lost on me and despite Mummy Dearest being a mere forty minutes away, just over the border, there has been something stopping me from taking the trip, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it… until now.
I have been hearing murmurings of The Harper for the last year or so. I appear to have found myself in the socio economic group where midweek mini breaks and weekend staycations are par for the course; a quick reset in an environment loaded with food, wine and outdoor pursuits so we are free to fling around the hashtag #it’sallaboutbalance on social media. My instagram saved folder is full of such places that I absolutely must frequent. I hoard them to discuss with my gal pals over a chilled glass of Gris as I once did with football cards and Yazoo strawberry milk. So you can imagine my excitement when the stars finally aligned and The Harper visit was coming to fruition.
Driving across the border from Suffolk (its flatter, slightly more industrial and grizzly counterpart) something strange happened: instead of that sinking feeling I was half expecting, my fresh eyes that were here out of choice rather than duty could understand what my parents fell in love with all those years ago. Norfolk is bloody beautiful. Turning off the A47 – the last of the main roads that connects the outpost villages to some sort of semblance of civilization, I was back on the familiar single track lanes that had filled me with adrenaline in my early twenties. Reaching the passing places and allowing the sugar beet lorries to pass, getting stuck behind a tractor and accepting this is my fate now, might die here, might not, fields of pigs everywhere and if you get really lucky, a loose piglet causing absolute havoc. And the expanse, the sheer expanse of skies and fields with nothing but a lone barn breaking the two – there really is something special about this county and before even stepping foot in the hotel, my soul was beginning to feel rested. It is not very often that the journey somewhere sets you up perfectly for the next couple of days ahead but lo and behold, taking in the views, the quaint villages andthe working farms, by the time google maps had informed me I had arrived, I was blissed out and ready to relax.
Stepping into The Harper you are greeted with the warmest of welcomes and feel that you have been here a million times before, there is a warmth exuding from both the building and the front of house team that swaddles you. It is hard not to notice the level of detail and finishing touches that are just about everywhere like a basket full of clean dog towels, an empty one next to it ready for the dirty. Shoe racks loaded with wellies for those ready to take in the North Norfolk Coastal path. Local art and curated trinkets begging to be taken home with you. There is a feel of a members club but without the high price tag or fear of being asked to close your laptop.
Checking into my room I was greeted by a huge four poster bed, you know, one of those that you absolutely want to jump on but every adult fiber in your body is pleading with your inner child to keep it together. My room had a juliette balcony looking over the enclosed courtyard, a mini bar loaded with Edmunds cocktails – a fantastic local supplier – a gorgeous huge desk complete with Angle Poise boasting the exact set up for any discerning writer to smash out their next column and above it, a HUGE TV preloaded with every streaming service known to mankind. Should I sit and write the thousand word article on Mother’s Day my editor is waiting for, or indulge in a The Walking Dead marathon? Tough call.
I believe it’s always a good sign when you also can’t decide if you want to explore the hotel or stay in your STUNNING room and pretend this is actually your home, but thankfully the decision was made for me as I had a very important meeting with a facialist.
The Harper houses a small, intimate spa area, again another characteristic that lulls you into thinking this hotel is actually a very nice home. As you are collected from your room by your therapist, whisked across the courtyard – given the exact right amount of time to not feel too self conscious in your robe but just enough to clock that delicious looking cocktail someone is drinking and make a mental note to order one later – taken into a perfectly tranquil treatment room (which can be set up for two), every last stress seeps from your body and you know, this is going to be good. And it did not disappoint, with a treatment menu created by Irene Forte skincare – lauded as the ‘New Natural’, a therapist who had the hands of an angel and zero pot bellied buddhas or whale music, I left relaxed, rejuvenated and most importantly GLOWING. The spa also includes an indoor pool looking out onto the courtyard and bathed in natural light, a jacuzzi and a sauna. The spa area needs to be pre-booked at reception – you are allocated a slot with your guest – this is an overhang from the dreaded C word but worked so well they decided to keep the system. A private spa with your nearest and dearest without any worry of who you will be sitting in a jacuzzi with, yes please. Given the size of the hotel (32 rooms) availability is good, you just need to be organised and the organisation pays off when you feel like the Queen you truly are doing backstroke without cannoning into another guest, or if you are my way inclined, setting up a private photo shoot, each to their own. Insider tip – try and book an early morning slot, the way the sun shines in is absolutely stunning and we all know it’s all about the lighting.
Feeling refreshed, it was time to head to The Bar. A low lit, intimate area providing nooks and corners for whispered flirtations or huge velvet sofas for group congregations. The Harper is full of areas varying from cosy to cavernous, just waiting to get lost in. It is worth noting that The Harper is only accessible for residents and so it never feels too busy even when at capacity, the ratio of space to guests is well thought out and exudes an air of luxury. The Bar is the perfect setting to take in a cocktail before heading upstairs to Stanleys, the onsite restaurant that boasts ‘fine dining without the flippery’. The menu champions local, seasonal produce and of course seafood. With a section dedicated to dishes cooked on the Josper – a charcoal oven – and a wine list suitable for the gods, I knew this evening was going to end in a swollen belly and a fuzzy head and I was absolutely ready for it. Smoked crevettes with a wild garlic aioli that were so unbelievably delicious, I ordered them again the next day – I never do this! A Norfolk Estate 20oz ribeye (to share… begrudgingly), parmesan & truffle beef dripping chips, bearnaise – need I go on? You know those pigs I was talking about earlier? I was one of them, in s**t. I finished with waffles topped with Baron Bigod, local honey and truffle which I categorically did not need but absolutely lapped up. The jeans were undone. I have no regrets.
It was time to retire to Ivys… yes, yet another area of sheer indulgence, luxury, taste and places to get lost in. A vaulted loft area comprising of seating pockets surrounding coffee tables laden the most beautifully curated books showcasing the works of Hockney, Hirst and cataloguing the best stage outfits of Mick Jagger and David Bowie – you don’t have to be an art collector to appreciate the works laid out in front of you. If book flicking isn’t your thing, there are towers of board games, libraries of paper backs and most importantly a self-serve wine machine that allows you to insert your room key and sample the most popular wines on the list without the need of a waiter meaning, you can keep sipping into the small hours. This is also a fantastic way to try wines that may be out of your price bracket or your comfort zone. They truly have thought of everything.
The next morning, loaded up on the most decadent of breakfasts, it was time to blow those wine-tinged cobwebs away and head for a coastal walk – a mere five minute drive and we were in Cley, a village famed for its views and iconic windmill. I can’t quite be sure if it was orchestrated or luck but we stumbled upon a man gathering reeds to make thatch and a woman painting a watercolour, all with the backdrop of the windmill and the sea and it was honestly the most Norfolk thing I have ever seen. I digress, taking in the expanse of the marshes as we traversed to Blakeney – this is a bird watcher’s paradise and, at the right time of year, the perfect spot to see the seals – tours are available – landing in Blakeney, it would be rude not to visit Two Magpies, a bakery making waves in the Norfolk and Suffolk food scene. A quick pit stop, a stroke of a dog and on we mooched to Morston – a typical Norfolk coastal village, very instagrammable, very quaint and the perfect spot for a pub lunch before heading back to The Harper. With a few hours to spare until the last supper and the sun well and truly on our side, a bottle of rose in the courtyard seemed the right thing to do. It was at this point where you could have confused this North Norfolk bolt hole for a Tuscan terrace – sitting under the olive tree, basking in the sun, sipping chilled wine. This is the stuff that repairs the overworked and overstressed.
Our final night saw us return to Stanleys before slipping away to The Den, yet another area we were yet to discover. Exposed brick walls, huge leather sofas, a pool table, a mere short corridor from the all important bar but if that was too much, one of the trusty wine dispensers has also been housed here. This is the place you while away the hours, new friendships are forged, new pool champions are made, relationships are strengthened and headaches may or may not be birthed – but they are totally worth it.
I don’t think I have ever been so sad to leave a place as I was The Harper, to the point I cancelled a day of meetings and worked from the courtyard for a further six hours. What they have done there is truly magic and the perfect escape to reset, recharge, detox and then subsequently retox – please note, the retox element is not mandatory.
What you need to know :
- Rooms start at £190
- The hotel is dog friendly but no pups in the restaurant
- It is pretty isolated so driving is a must
- Residents only so service is on point and no overcrowding
- Food is available all day and can be eaten anywhere within the grounds.
You can find out more about The Harper here.