Every now and then we want to open the perfect pub – preferably on the coast, with help-yourself sloe gin, heart-and-hearth-warming hospitality and characterful, historic architecture. The Chequers Inn beat us to it. Rooms make the most of the building’s birthday (1499), with nooks and crannies a-go-go; crackling fires, freestanding bath tubs, winsome views and blissful king-size beds complete the rural idyll. It would be rude and remiss not to mention the totally brilliant chef, who captures the taste of Norfolk in the restaurant. Got a dog? Bring them too. (You’ll be in the dog-house forever, otherwise.)
Get this when you book through us:
Espa bath products and a goodie bag starring treats from the hotel's kitchen. GoldSmiths also get a G&T each on arrival
Double rooms from £120.00, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast (pastries or porridge, plus kippers, a full English or eggs Benedict).
Gin-lovers, rejoice: each room has a diminutive decanter of berry-bright sloe gin and two matching glasses; there’s also a stash of home-made cookies. (You won’t be charged a jot for dipping into either).
At the hotel
Garden, two Pavilions for alfresco private dining, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, cafetière with fresh coffee, free bottled water, Espa bath products, hairdryer.
Our favourite rooms
The Better and Best rooms live up to their name: they each have an enticing standalone bath tub and a cosy sitting area designed for snuggly days and nights. For added romance, book one of the characterful rooms tucked away in the eaves; pretend you’re an off-duty scullery maid or kitchen boy (with added mod cons and the master’s gin decanter).
Bring trousers and skirts with forgiving waistlines; you’ll want to make the most of the excellent food and drink on offer here. Add a waxed jacket and Wellington boots to perfect that rural-roamer look.
The building shows its birthday (1499, if you don’t mind) with characterful nooks and crannies a-plenty; don’t expect identikit rooms or lashings of space.
Fido can stay in some rooms £10 a night; request when booking. They’ll get treats and an on-loan dog blanket) and the hotel’s location on the north Norfolk Coast equates to canine heaven: salt marshes, sand dunes and cliffs, oh my… See more pet-friendly hotels in Norfolk.
Little Smiths are very welcome. The restaurant has a children’s menu and highchairs; a travel cot (free) and an extra bed (£25 a night, for little Smiths aged 3–14) can be added to some rooms. (Just pipe up when you’re booking.)
By the fire for maximum toastiness; ensconced in one of the snug back corners for maximum privacy. If you’re after an alfresco meal, book one of the cedar-wood Pavilions, which seat 10–14 bottoms and have a a heating lamp and roll-down blinds.
Country casual (Barbour and Burberry, ahoy).
The restaurant is in a bright, laid-back room with a pub-like atmosphere. The kitchen is helmed by head chef Jordan Bayes, formally of fellow Smith stay Tuddenham Mill. His menu tours the fields and waters of the Norfolk’s Royal Coast, with most of the produce coming from local suppliers. Meats from the Holkham Estate grace the kitchen’s Josper grill, and ingredients like Norfolk lavender add a local finish to the cocktails. Try the Thornham oysters to start, then follow with dishes like flame-grilled Holkham venison with Wherry beer and chilli, house-smoked duck with bay leaf and onions, and charred mackerel with mead and honey.
The spick and span, traditional pub-style bar boasts all the requisite cosiness and British bonhomie, plus a robust selection of local ales, artisanal Norfolk gin and other liquid lures. Settle in.
Breakfast is served until 10am, lunch is available until 2.30pm and dinner is dished up until 9pm (9.30pm, on Fridays and Saturdays).
Order from the full menu during the restaurant’s opening hours (little Smiths can pick from the kids’ menu). Thirsts will be quenched at all hours.
The hotel is sitting pretty in the tiny village of Thornham (home to around 400 residents), on the north Norfolk Coast, an area rich in natural beauty and historic gravitas.
Norwich Airport is 40 kilometres away from the hotel (an hour’s drive). International travellers can pick from London Heathrow or London Gatwick, which are both around three hours away by car.
The closest station is King’s Lynn, around 40 minutes away by car. Services connect London King’s Cross to King’s Lynn in less than two hours.
The Chequers Inn is perched on the High Street in Thornham village, next to All Saints’ Church. Take the A149 coastal road; you’ll find the hotel between Hunstanton and Brancaster. King’s Lynn is the closest town, 20 minutes away. The hotel has on-site parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
Settle in with a book and a glass of wine by the fire; refuse to move for at least two hours (unless it’s for more wine/pizza). Pootle around pretty Thornham village, shop for antiques at the Burnhams (Burnham Market, Burnham Overy Staithe and Burnham Thorpe), go for a brisk walk through Holme Dunes, admire your near neighbour, All Saints’ Church, or stomp around historic Walsingham Abbey. Find out what the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been up to at Sandringham. Reward all your exploring by cantering through a selection of Norfolk tapas at the restaurant, or hibernate in your room and enjoy the latest boxset on the smart TV (add a tot of sloe gin from your decanter if you’re thirsty). Walkers are spoiled for choice: work up an appetite for a pub lunch by strolling down through Thornham to the iconic Coal Barn out on the marshes – and stop for a drink at the Lifeboat Inn (sister to the Chequers Inn), on the way. There are lovely beach walks to be had at Holkham or Brancaster. At Holkham, you can park on Lady Anne’s Drive and walk for miles along the beach in either direction. Don’t miss the lovely North Norfolk Heritage Coastal Path. This long-distance walking route leads from Holme-next-the-Sea to Cromer – a 44-mile stretch encompassing sandy dunes, saltwater marshes and cliffs renowned for their fossils. For longer inland hikes, explore the numerous woodland walks on the Sandringham estate, Wolferton Cliffs, Shouldham Warren and Dersingham Bog. If you’re with your pooch, they will love all of the above (getting them to agree to come home will be less lovely). Take a trip by boat to see the seals at Blakeney Point, discover seabirds at Titchwell or discover how farming has changed dramatically at Holkham Hall.
See why the Duck Inn keeps adding to its groaning awards cabinet by dropping in for lunch or dinner. The restaurant is on Burnham Road, in Stanhoe; its adventurous dishes sensibly champion Norfolk produce (cod cheeks with vanilla, chorizo, cockles, leeks and caviar, for example) and the county’s mega-capable farmers and suppliers. The Globe Inn at the Buttlands, Wells-next-the-Sea is another local hero, thanks to its ravishing restaurant. Crowd-pleasing seasonal dishes include a starter of pressed confit duck and chicken liver with black pepper-poached pear and chardonnay gel, and a toothsome risotto starring garden peas, broad beans and wild mushrooms, with pea purée, mascarpone, white wine and Parmesan bruschetta. Lip-smackingly good.
Pause for cream- and jam-slathered scones at Creake Abbey’s café in North Creake.
Norfolk, to me, has always meant grey expansive skies and muddy stretches of sea, embellished by farmers in chequered shirts and burred consonants. When it comes to coastlines, I am used to the sharply-cut Cornish cliffs, or the seemingly never-ending archipelago outside my native Stockholm. But the prospect of shaking up my prejudices in such a charming hideaway as the Chequers Inn, in the pretty coastal village of Thornham, proved too hard to resist, so Mr Smith and I packed the Hunter wellies, tea flasks and Springer Spaniel in the car and set off.
On arrival at the 15th-century inn, there was blazing sunshine, so our Hunters were hardly necessary. The Chequers Inn lies along the main road snaking from Hunstanton in the east to Cromer in the west, edging along the coast of Norfolk’s northern hump. On the map, the area we were heading to appeared cheeringly green, with wide strokes of yellow promising spacious beaches. Having done some research we knew this part of Norfolk provides long stretches of sand for water-loving dogs to frolic on, even in peak season from May to September.
The kind staff, who call you ‘my luverly’ even if you’re old enough to be their mother, installed us in Aspen: one of just 11 rooms, all named after native trees. If I thought Norfolk was grey, my suspicions were confirmed in the room – but in a wholly positive way. Gentle shades of silver and calm greys sparkled in the sunlight streaming in from the ceiling windows – it made a great first impression, as did the immaculate white cloud of a bed (though a quick shot of complimentary sloe gin might have heightened our senses a bit). For a dog-friendly hotel, located a brisk walk from some of the muddiest marshes in England, the thick sink-into carpet is indeed a brave, but beautiful, choice.
A few minutes’ drive west we found the giant beach of Brancaster, where the dog went nuts and we were informed by the car-park attendant that we would have to pay extra to skinny-dip, as ’us luverly young people tend to do’. Mr Smith, in his 53rd year, looked like he just might, after that comment.
Dinner was booked at the hotel, after a generous local G&T in the courtyard. Head chef Shayne Wood focuses on local ingredients adding twists that suit townies heading here for minibreaks. We started with some experimental Norfolk Tapas – the black-pudding bon-bons with mango salsa and crispy North Sea squid came out tops. For a Monday in low season, the restaurant had plenty of guests, with some settling into the snugs in the adjoining hotel pub. Following dreamy dishes of seared calve’s liver, Moroccan-spiced local lamb and a bowl of home-made ice cream for two, we retreated to our hideaway under the eaves, hoping the beach-wary dog hadn’t discovered that our pristine bed was comfier than hers.
Next day was earmarked for beach walks, crab-sandwich hunting and general exploration. The local bus seemed reliable and frequent, but having a set of wheels here makes life easier. At Old Hunstanton Beach we jumped over groynes and gabions, avoided a dead seal and felt generally wild and free in a way that is impossible on manicured playas in the Med or Caribbean. With wind-blown hair and a mounting salty appetite, the giant baguette stuffed with local crab served by the lady in the Crab Hut on Harbour Way, was beyond good.
I always find that a few changes of scenery make a weekend feel longer, so after a wet and wild walk, we drove to Burnham Market, a village so kempt and picturesque it could be sponsored by Farrow & Ball, and stepped into the Tuscan Farm Shop. A perfect cappuccino and pistachio cannoli later, the geographical distance between Italy and Norfolk was erased, and our moods full of Tuscan sunshine.
A short walk from the hotel, along the ancient lanes with stone-covered cottages, is the sister pub to the Chequers Inn: the Lifeboat Inn. As the wind was now whipping in straight from the North Sea, just a few 100 yards away through the salt marsh, we parked ourselves by the open fire, feet up on the fender seat, and enjoyed that post-open-air feeling. There might be 50 or more shades of grey to Norfolk, but my feelings about the place are black and white: it’s genuine, tasty and gloriously wild.