Holkham Beach at low tide is a breathtaking sight. Twenty million square feet of smooth, pristine sand stretches away into the far distance. The idea of this beach ever being crowded is laughable – there’s insufficient parking anywhere close by for a start!
Holkham Beach is part of the Holkham Estate, a thriving 25,000 acre agricultural estate which includes the exquisite Palladian Hall, Pinewoods holiday park at Wells, the Victoria Inn and the internationally important Holkham National Nature Reserve.
The beach is located at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, just off the A149 coast road at the junction with the entrance to the estate and hall grounds. Pay and Display car parking is provided along either side of the road.
At the end of Lady Anne’s Drive is The Lookout, a new RIBA award-winning visitor centre and café. It offers spectacular views over the nature reserve and provides information, refreshments and accessible facilities for the 800,000 annual visitors to the Holkham National Nature Reserve and Beach.
Inland from the beach, the Holkham National Nature Reserve stretches from the Scolt Head Island Nature Reserve at Burnham Norton all the way past Wells to the National Trust Nature Reserve at Blakeney, covering about 3,706 hectares. The central section of the reserve, from Wells to Holkham Bay, is crisscrossed by paths allowing access through the pine woodland. From the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, next to the Lookout, you can head either east or west to explore the saltmarsh, pinewoods and grazing marshes, or go straight ahead onto the foreshore, beach and dunes.
A few words on terminology as it can be confusing. Holkham Bay covers the concave stretch of coast extending from Burnham Overy Staithe to Wells-next-the-Sea. Holkham Gap is the v-shaped area of beach, mud-flats and heath directly at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive. Holkham Meals is the area behind the dunes – now planted with Corsican pines – also known as Holkham Pines, or simply the pinewoods.
The Norfolk Coast Path runs along the beach from Burnham Overy Staithe to the west to Wells-next-the-Sea in the east. To the west the path passes through the dunes in front of Holkham Pines, to the east it dips inland and runs behind them.
One of the notable features of Holkham Beach is that it is Horse Friendly. Horse boxes can be parked at the south end of Lady Anne’s Drive, and there is an equine access path which runs to the west of the pedestrian walkway and avoids the wooden boardwalk and steps onto the beach.
For more than 30 years the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment have been attending annual training camp at Bodney, near Swaffham, and undertake regular ride-outs onto Holkham Beach. Activities include formation drills, riding without saddles to improve balance and going out for a swim. Taking place in late June or early July, hundreds of well-wishers turn up to watch the spectacle.
Due to the massive scale of Holkham Beach at low tide, there’s plenty of space for horses to be exercised without conflicting with other beach users. Watching horses being ridden along the water’s edge and splashing through the shallows adds another remarkable and picturesque aspect to a visit here.
Holkham Beach is dog friendly, although at certain times of year some areas of beach and dune may be cordoned off to protect nesting birds. The Holkham website provides a Coastal Code with information for dog walkers and horse riders.
With it’s scenic magnificence it’s no surprise that Holkham Beach has featured in several movies including “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Eagle Has Landed”, and TV series including “The Avengers” and “Kingdom”.
If you’re feeling particularly liberated, there’s a long-established nudist beach some way to the west of Holkham Gap. Despite a short-lived ban in 2013 due to inappropriate behaviour by some beach users, this signposted area between the dunes and the sea is still available to naturists. Nudity is not permitted in the dunes or the pinewoods however, and considering the course nature of the dune grasses and the sharpness of the pine needles, this is probably for the best.
Holkham Beach is a bucket and spade beach, ideal for building sandcastles and playing beach games, with room to pitch camp, spread out, have a picnic and while away the day. The shallow beach is vast at low tide, but check tide times as the tide does come in quickly. It’s a great beach for dog walkers, horse owners and nature lovers, and of course, it’s stunningly beautiful.
Without any exaggeration, Holkham Beach is truly one of the best beaches in the country.
Parking for Holkham Beach is along either side of Lady Anne’s Drive in Holkham village, just off the A149, opposite The Victoria Inn.
April to September the car park is open 6am to 9pm.
October to March the car park is open 6am to 6pm.
Overnight parking is not allowed.
Up to 1 hour £2.00
Up to 2 hours £3.50
Up to 4 hours £6.00
Over 4 hours and all day £8.00*
7 days £30.00
*Purchase of an all day ticket costing £8.00 allows free parking on the same day in Holkham Park (saving of £3.00)
More info: www.holkham.co.uk
The Lookout is a new, award-winning visitor centre located at the beach end of Lady Anne’s Drive offering spectacular views over the nature reserve, and providing information about the habitats and wildlife.
The Lookout Café offers light refreshments and ice creams.
The toilets include an accessible lavatory and baby changing facilities.
At the entrance to Lady Anne’s Drive on the A149 coast road you’ll find The Victoria Inn, a hotel and restaurant.
Dogs can be walked on Holkham Beach throughout the year with no restrictions, however when walking through the pinewoods at the entrance dogs should be kept on leads.
The Holkham Estate provide information on walking your dog on the beach as part of their Coastal Code.
No lifeguard service at any time of year.