When it comes to travelling with my entourage of beautiful friends, I’m finished with hotels. I’m done with hanging around near a cheese plant in the lobby as the last stragglers check in. I’m tired of resorting to £6 cocktails in empty hotel bars, and of “let’s freshen up and meet downstairs in 15 minutes”.
Nope, for group weekends away, self-catering is the way to go. Pile the rental car high with crisps and gin near a town called Little Snoring. Gasp as you learn that there’s also somewhere called Great Snoring. And then carefully guide your convoy of Friend Fiestas along the rapidly narrowing country roads, before the hot tarmac turns to dirt, and then to crunchy gravel under tyre. Who has the email with the door code? Did anyone remember to buy limes? The kettle crisps are decanted. Bedrooms are claimed. Mikey’s somehow already made cocktails for everyone. Hey, look, they have a wood burner. It’s self-catering, baby, and it’s the only way to travel.
THE PLACE: Barsham Barns are a set of holiday cottages situated a short drive from the rugged North Norfolk coastline, a stretch of bay so powerfully emotive that ancient poetry will arrive unbidden to your brain as you track across its mile-wide sands. We stayed in the long and spacious Grey’s Court, a single-storey barn conversion that overlooks a meadow with some decent sheep, but there are six barns in total to choose from, each sleeping groups of between four and 14 people. The size and seclusion of each barn makes Barsham ideal for large gatherings, such as family reunions, murder mystery parties and stag and hen breaks.
Ours was dominated by a huge open-plan kitchen, with more than enough room for our two most competent friends to throw together a lavish meal with the few groceries we’d managed to squeeze into the booze-jammed boot. Longer than any one of our London flats are wide, the dining table allowed us some pretence of civility before all the wine brought that to an abrupt end. The hosts are shrewd enough to include things us city folk would never think to bring along with us, such as a rechargeable torch by the front door to allow us to safely venture into the pitch darkness of the Norfolk countryside. There’s a communal hot tub and a sauna, and a games room with a ping pong table, too. For fun!
THINGS TO DO: Just drive around and you’ll come across the most British sounding place names in the country, such as the enigmatic Bagthorpe and the delightful Wells-next-the-Sea. Head north to Holkham National Nature Reserve, a scenic access point to the seaside and England’s largest national nature reserve, stretching the length of the coastline from Snettisham in the west, to Trunch in the east. Having had our faces ablated by the salty gusts of the North Sea, we retreated inside to The Victoria Inn – a grand old home that looms over the moor grass like it’s auditioning for a Bronte novel – to warm up by the fireplace with a drink. There’s also a pub restaurant a half hour walk from the barns if you’d like to wind down there. It’s called The Barsham Arms. Bring the torch.
WHAT ABOUT ENORMOUS CHURCHES? Get your big church fix by popping into Ely Cathedral on the way back to London, whose origins date back to the year 672.