A charming Georgian town
Holt is a pretty market town located on the north west point of the Holt-Cromer ridge. It’s 23 miles north of Norwich, 35 miles east of King’s Lynn and 9.5 miles west of Cromer.
The town has its own unique character and charm. It’s very popular with tourists and locals alike. Photographers, hikers, cyclists, tourists, families and artists are drawn to the town because there’s so much to see and do.
Visitors enjoy browsing the shops, art galleries, bookshops, antique emporiums and exclusive boutiques. There’s the annual summer arts festival in July and the town’s Christmas Lights from late November. Holt has something for everyone to enjoy.
Holt is an historical town that dates back to Roman times with Peacock Lane forming part of an ancient Roman road starting from the coastal town of Salthouse. Roman remains have been unearthed in the north of the town. The name Holt has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘wood’.
This elegant town is included in William The Conqueror’s Doomsday Book of 1086; the entry describes Holt as a market town with a port (referring to nearby Cley-next-the-Sea). Back then, Holt had several watermills and was described as ‘a thriving town’. It remains so, to this day.
Since the year 1080 onwards local traders from all over this part of Norfolk flocked to the market place in the centre of Holt to trade with one another.
The market was an important part of the lives of the town’s residents until the 1960’s when the market was no longer thriving and unfortunately closed down. Recently, there have been calls to resurrect the market; indeed there have been several surveys and plans to do this but none have been successful yet.
The Great Fire
On 1st May 1708 the town suffered a devastating fire. Sadly the fire destroyed the majority of the town in barely 3 hours. The fire started at ‘Shirehall Plain’ and rapidly spread throughout the entire market town, engulfing the timber houses.
The fire was very fast and extremely violent, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Sympathy for the town’s folk of Holt was spread far and wide across the country, with many people from all over the land offering help and donations to rebuild the devastated town.
The hard working people of Holt rebuilt their town with stone, flint and brick. Many stylish Georgian buildings were constructed to replace the medieval ones. The church of St Andrew’s which was very badly damaged in the fire (it’s thatched chancel was totally destroyed) was repaired in sympathy to its original Norman design.
Holt has had an eventful past and visitors to the town can see a variety of different types of architecture as a result. There are grand Georgian buildings. The town’s charming back lanes and yards are mostly from the Victorian era. They offer visitors the opportunity to discover unusual quaint shops and offices that are nestled away from the high street.
Holt has lots of ‘hidden gems’ to catch your eye! Today’s popular opinion is that if the fire had not destroyed the town, then Holt would probably look similar to Lavenham in Suffolk.
The Holt Owl Trail
The Holt Owl Trail is designed to take you on a tour of Holt’s historic Georgian town centre. To assist you on your way, just find any of the 24 numbered pavement plaques and follow the orientation of the Owl featuring on each plaque.
The main trail can be completed comfortably in 45 minutes and is suitable for all ages. There are also a number of ‘looped trails’ that lead off the main trail, revealing some of Holt’s hidden secrets.
A free Holt Owl Trail Guide accompanies the trail and can be found in most shops and the Holt Tourist Information Centre.
The Trail can also be found online at www.holtowltrail.co.uk
Plaque No. 1 is located at Feathers Yard, but you can join the trail anywhere! Information boards with a street map can also be found leading from the Albert Street Car Park and the pedestrian pathway from Budgens Car Park.
Gresham’s School has been an important part of life in Holt for hundreds of years. The school’s grounds are vast; they spread out and dominate much of the town.
The school has buildings close to the market place and several playing fields near the centre of town. The main school buildings, with additional sports fields, are located only a small distance away up the Cromer Road.
The school was founded in 1555 by Sir John Gresham who was the uncle of Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the London Stock Exchange. Back then, the school was exclusively for boys. In 1900 it converted from a grammar school to a fee-paying school and in 1971 Gresham’s changed to a co-educational school.
Famous pupils include Benjamin Britten, Sir James Dyson, W H Auden (the school’s theatre is named after him) and more recently, the actress, Olivia Colman (‘Peep Show,’ ‘Twenty Twelve’ and ‘Broadchurch).
Holt has it’s very own department store offering high quality goods and first class customer service. Bakers & Larners was founded in 1900 and today offers lots of different departments including home, kitchen, beauty, clothing, sport and gifts.
The food hall at Bakers & Larners has many delights; you can browse the aisles for wonderful food and wines from all over the world, with lots of quirky and unusual products you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It’s the perfect place to stock up on treats before the start of a holiday.
The town of Holt is a fun place to visit with lots of exciting places to discover and enjoy. One of the most popular places to go to is Byfords.
Here you’ll find a wonderful delicatessen, café, restaurant and B&B. It has a relaxed atmosphere and serves tasty locally sourced produce.
Their deli has a fine selection of olive oils, cheeses, meats, olives, plus there’s a large selection of ‘high quality’ frozen ready meals, frozen breads and pastries. There’s a salad bar with lots to choose from for a speedy take away lunch, fresh bread, pastries, cakes, coffees, teas and ice-creams too!
You can find Byfords in what is believed to be the oldest house in Holt (their cellar dates back to 15th Century). The building survived the Great Fire of 1708 and a subsequent fire in 1906. For over 100 years the building belonged to the Byford family – back then it was a hardware store and ironmongers.
And many more…
There’s no shortage of other great cafés and restaurants in town including The Kings Head, The Feathers, The Lawns, Number 28 (High Street), The Barn Café-Bistro (in the Appleyard), Horatio Mugs and The Owl Tea Rooms.
Holt Country Park
The Holt Country Park which is located just a short distance from town used to be a venue for horse racing, where members of the aristocracy competed against one for the ‘Town Plate.’
Now it’s a mixture of heath, farmland, forestry and tranquil woodland. The majority of the trees here are Scots Pine, Oak and Silver Birch.
This sustainable woodland is also a haven for wildlife where you’ll find a diverse mix of flora and fauna. If you’re lucky you may spot the deer which roam free. As the park’s only a short distance from the town centre it’s very popular with families.
The Holt Country Park is managed by the North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) and during the holidays there are often cultural and environmental events to enjoy. There are two car parks – a small fee applies in the main car park (off the Norwich Road), whilst there’s a free car park (but no facilities) on the other side of the park (Baconsthorpe Road).
The Holt Country Park has lots of different trails to follow (some are wide and suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs), a tall viewing platform, a visitor centre, children’s play park, picnic areas and toilets. For those of you that love a challenge, there are lots of orienteering posts to search for.
The Holt Lowes
Holt’s second green space, The Holt Lowes, is a strip of land which lies adjacent to the Holt Country Park (on the south side). The Lowes are mainly heathland and cover approximately 120 acres. Historically, the land was given over to the poor folk of the town where they were able to graze their cattle and fetch gorse and wood.
During ‘The Great War’, The Lowes were used for military training; today, it’s open to the public to enjoy. For wildlife, this area is vital and records going back to the 1700’s reflect this.
In 1954 the area was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); since the 1980’s The Lowes have been run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust who have carefully managed the site to prevent the encroachment of trees. Plants include the carnivorous Great Sundew (Drosera anglica) and Black Bog-rush (Schoenus nigricans). Many different species of dragonfly including the rare Keeled Skinner thrive here.
The last of Holt’s open spaces is ‘Spout Hills’ which is approximately 14 acres and can be found to the west of the town. It’s often overlooked but it’s definitely worth a visit, especially on a fine summer’s day. It’s a great spot for a picnic (you can easily stock up in town with some goodies first).
There are several footpaths which lead to Spout Hills and it’s only a few minutes walk away from the town centre. Just ask a local to point you in the right direction!
Many years ago Spout Hills supplied Holt with water. The old, disused reservoir still exists but the pumping station was dismantled during the 1950’s. During more recent times a committee has been working hard to try to conserve and restore the area so that we can enjoy it for many years to come. Work undertaken includes managing the woodlands (which have overgrown since the reservoir was decommissioned) and keeping the pastures clear, by removing scrub.
Each summer Holt hosts its own Summer Arts Festival that runs during the 3rd week of July (immediately after the schools break up for their summer holidays). It’s a popular event that attracts many visitors to the town and it showcases the strong artistic tradition the town and the surrounding area inspires.
Previously the Holt Festival has hosted performances and talks from Sir John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Michael Palin, Sandi Toksvig, Michael Buerk, Germaine Greer, Roy Hattersley and David Starkey. Musical artists have included The Stranglers, The Proclaimers, 10cc and Elkie Brooks.
Holt Christmas Lights
Late November is when the town of Holt switches on its Christmas Lights with a grand ‘switch on’ event. There are usually street performers. You can browse local shops and enjoy some hot food. A glass of mulled wine is never too far away. To celebrate the Christmas lights switch on there’s a flurry of fireworks marking the moment with a bang.
Holt is enchanting during this time of year as the Georgian town is decorated in beautiful, twinkling white Christmas lights. During December the majority of shops are open 7 days a week – even more time to enjoy the magic of Christmas and to buy your festive gifts!