Belton House. Biggest adventure playground ever. Seriously. You start at one end with the seesaw which pumps water for a splash pad, and go past the treehouse and rope bridges, and cross over the miniature railway, and discover the giant glockenspiel and spinning wheel, and hop over some stepping stones, and it still goes on. We gave up and had lunch without ever finding the end, and went off to draw pictures in the beautiful gardens instead.
And that was only a short stop on the way to the real holiday in Norfolk. We were headed to a little house in Heacham, just a few minutes from the beach. It was a bit cool and breezy that first evening, but you've got to paddle and dig, haven't you?
The sun set beautifully over the sea, and we tucked Toby and Theo up into their bunk bed - which according to them, was the best bit of the whole holiday.
The next day we got a perfect beach day. We drove to Wells-next-the-Sea, where the sea was so far away that it was more like being in a desert, trudging through endless waves of dry sifting sand. The boys spent the day excavating tracks and tunnels, endlessly absorbed. Gradually the tide turned, filling up the river channel and spreading swiftly across the flat banks. The buoys re-floated and some seals came swimming in to bask on the shore.
Tuesday dawned grey but initially dry, so we took the boys out on their bikes along the sea wall. Halfway back the air picked itself up and hurled itself at us, in a hammer-blow of wind and driving rain. We staggered back to the cottage with our hoods flapping around our faces, soaked to the skin. Once we realised it wasn't easing up, we scurried to the car and sloshed our way along country lanes to the intriguing experience of the Thursford Collection. Ostensibly it's a steam engine museum, but when you walk in to the large dark hall, lit by sparkling trees and innumerable glints of polished brass on the restored engines, surrounded by the glorious facades of of a dozen enormous fairground organs, it feels more as if you have entered some surreal Victorian experience.
The organs come to life one by one, playing their mechanical tunes in turn, but the star of the show is the Mighty Wurlitzer on the platform. Robert Wolfe has been playing it here since 1981, and his performance was well worth the entry fee all by itself. His hands and feet simply danced over the three keyboards and foot pedals, flipping levers, pushing buttons, and creating an endless flow of astounding music.
On our final day the wind still blew but the sun shone. We walked along the beach by the bi-coloured chalk cliff at Hunstanton - white above, orangey-red below - leaping rock pools, exploring an old wreck, and gathering shells. In the town was a memorial to victims of a flood in 1953. I'd never heard of that January night when the cold North Sea came sweeping in, killing hundreds around the UK and over a thousand in the low-lying Netherlands. The local hero was a US airman stationed in Hunstanton, a 22-year-old named Reis Leming. He went out into the freezing water again and again to rescue stranded people and was awarded the George Medal for his bravery.
Inspired, impressed, and covered with sand, we headed home.