Exercise and eating form the perfect partnership on a family cottage break in north Norfolk, Hannah Stephenson discovers

Tucking into freshly dressed crab in Cromer, it occurs to me that you could eat your way around north Norfolk.

From mussels in Morston and Stiffkey, shrimps in Sheringham and samphire – a kind of sea asparagus – found along the north Norfolk coast, to good old fish and chips or tooth-rotting sticks of rock in the kiss-me-quick seaside resort of Great Yarmouth, no culinary stone is left unturned.

But to work up an appetite – and work off the calories – for such gastronomic delights, I'm well aware of the need for some serious exercise on our travels.

Indeed, that isn’t difficult in Norfolk. Cycling routes abound, bracing coastal walks are an everyday occurrence and you’re spoiled for choice with nature trails through acres of protected wildlife reserves. It’s hard not to be active.

Making our base in a luxurious Victorian cottage in Overstrand, about a mile-and-a-half from the popular seaside town of Cromer, famous for its crab, it’s great to be just far enough out of town to miss the crowds but able to zip in by bike or walk the vast stretch of sand and pebble beach which links the two spots.

Overstrand, a pretty village which houses a church, a pub and a post office-cum-village shop, also boasts a beautiful beach, but for more seaside adventures we take a bracing walk along this wild stretch of coastline where the vast sky meets the North Sea.

Here, seabirds sun themselves on the wooden posts stretching out into the water, locals walk their dogs and, in summer, holidaymakers flock to the brightly coloured beach huts fringing the beach at Cromer for fun in the sun.

Venturing further, we put on our walking boots and head for the pristine salt marshes along Norfolk’s northern coast which are renowned for their striking beauty and abundant birdlife, past the Morston salt marshes, stopping for a bowl of steaming mussels at The Red Lion at Stiffkey.

Of course, no trip to Norfolk would be complete without a visit to the famous Norfolk Broads, a series of navigable rivers and broads (lakes) in yet another area of outstanding natural beauty, surrounded by reed beds and marshes.

We drive to Wroxham, the capital of the Broads, where we hire a day cruiser equipped for up to eight passengers complete with double hob, fridge, toilet, heater and, as we have gone for the luxury model, a radio. At a cost of around £90 a day in low season, it’s one to share between families if you can – but this is our best day.

A day on the Broads is like stepping back in time. It reminds me of an Enid Blyton adventure – mugs of hot chocolate, a sense of adventure on the water as the kids try their hand at driving the boat (under our supervision), and admiring the other crafts and luxury waterfront houses that we pass. There’s a surprise around every corner, whether it be a windmill, bridge or boat coming the other way. If there was ginger beer on board, we’d have lashings of it.

It may not yet be summer, but today the weather is fine enough to slide the roof open and enjoy the view al fresco. As we meander up the Ant River, we pass windmills and busy mooring places until we find a spot where amateurs can park their crafts with relative ease, before venturing to a local pub for lunch.

Our children William and Grace, aged 13 and 12, have terrific fun taking the wheel and steering us safely back to base at the end of the day.

Bird-watching is big on the Broads, but north Norfolk in general is an ornithologist’s dream.

Perched on the north Norfolk coast, the National Wildlife Trust’s Cley marshes is one of the UK's finest bird-watching havens, its pools attracting waterbirds in their thousands.

We venture a little further north to Blakeney, where boat trips take visitors to view the seals at Blakeney Point, yet it would be so easy to miss the huge variety of nature that is right on our doorstep.

At Blakeney’s little harbour, where boats are gently shored at low tide, we cast our crabbing lines off the harbour wall in the hope that the little crustaceans will grab hold of the netting bags long enough for us to haul them in.

Blakeney is a world away from the amusement arcades and candy stores of popular resorts like Great Yarmouth, with just a couple of pubs, a fishmonger’s and a small grocery store to serve the village.

Once we’ve had our fill of walks and wildlife, we venture back to Cromer, which grew up as a fishing village and became a popular holiday destination in the early 19th century, with some of the rich Norwich banking families making it their summer home.

The town was host to guests including the future King Edward VII, writer Arthur Conan Doyle and actress Lillie Langtry, who performed in the town in 1906.

With its famous pier, built in 1902, Cromer still offers a traditional End of Pier show at the Pavilion theatre through the summer months as well as other shows out of season.

Indeed, the pier is one of the main focal points, although much of the town’s history is evident if you venture further in. At Cromer Museum, we stand in a cosy fisherman’s cottage imagining what life might have been like 100 years ago. The museum has an impressive selection of fossils in its geology gallery, along with remnants of the huge creatures which roamed the landscape before humans existed.

As well as being famous for its crab, Cromer is also famous for its lifeboats, which have been running from Cromer for two centuries.

Stories of bravery abound in the Henry Blogg museum, named after the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboatman who, with his crew, helped to save 873 lives around the Cromer coast.

Venturing further into town we find Mary Jane’s, the best fish and chip shop in Cromer and take ours down to the seafront to scoff. The town itself is a mixture of old and new – the museum is next to the church and a stone’s throw from the mix of trinket, bric-a-brac and expensive gift shops as well as sweet and chocolate emporiums such as Digbys, where you can buy everything from a quarter of liquorice coins to a handful of chocolate gravel.

Other nearby seaside towns including Sheringham and Wells have similar seaside attractions, with two-penny arcades and candy stores on the front and touristy trinket shops further in.

But the beauty of Cromer really lies in its wide expanse of beach. On the glorious day that I walk the stretch from Overstrand, a man and his young son stand at the water’s edge throwing stones at a piece of driftwood being carried by the tide. Totally absorbed by the game, the landscape and the setting, this amusement is light years away from the nearby arcades and the pier.

We put on our walking boots once more and set off home along the beach front – as the sun sets slowly in East Anglia.

Travel facts

Hannah Stephenson, above with son William, stayed in Forsythia House, Overstrand, Norfolk, courtesy of Premier Cottages.

A week’s stay in Poppyland Holiday Cottages for up to four people costs from £345 to £795.

To book, visit premiercottages.co.uk or call 01263 577473.