The one place a gay man can enjoy crabs
Who said you need to go abroad for sex, sea and suntans? There’s nothing like a gasp of the North Sea for clearing the mind, calming the soul and indulging in a bit of carnality.
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Not only does Norfolk’s curved coast catch some of the best British sun rays, but the sea’s strength is perfect for amateur surfing and the men there are just dreamy (think Jamie Campbell-Bower in a Mr. Whippy van or a bearded Toby Stephens casting lobster nets out into the high tide). If the men of Norfolk brought a naked calendar out they’d soon be wealthier than Monaco.
Known for its chunky crab claws, wild poppies and beautifying sea water, Cromer became a fashionable bolthole for wealthy Victorians. Today, now only three hours by train from London, Cromer still serves as a fab little getaway with its quirky independent shops, free lifeboat museum, charred Victorian grandeur and pry-free hotel proprietors.
One can enjoy fireside pints, dramatic coastal walks, deep second-hand book rummages and proper fish and chips whilst working on that novel you always meant to write, sketching the turrets of forgotten seaside villas, or maybe just staring at decorators' bare arms. I spent an evening with a bottle of wine, wrapped up in a blanket with sunglasses on, simply looking out to sea (you have to check out the Marine Traffic website - it's addictive)
WHERE TO STAY:
The Red Lion - Cromer’s oldest hotel The Red Lion is right on the sea front offering inspired panoramic views. Internet is free, the breakfasts are hearty and the minibar has an honesty box. The Red Lion doubles up as a classy little pub so there’s a twinkly ambience of clinking wine glasses and soothing chit chat each night (which is a comfort amidst the otherwise horrifying silence that settles across Cromer at 8pm). The Red Lion also gave me my own backdoor key “in case I come in late for whatever reason” – Quite frankly the stuff of dreams.
Virginia Court Hotel - If you’re not fussed about a sea view then try the Virginia Hotel. It’s run by a lovely gay couple who moved up from Brighton a few years ago and they've done wonders with the decor and food. They’re already fully booked for Christmas!
Hotel De Paris - Its late Victorian dome looms over the front of the pier and there’s a gay literary heritage: Oscar Wilde once stayed there, and in his wake as ever - Stephen Fry was once a waiter there. Unfortunately it is difficult to stay at the Hotel De Paris as they’ve signed a handcuff deal with a coach tour company or something. For this same reason the place is sadly rammed with pensioners. Look through the restaurant windows and see their faces touching their soup.
WHERE TO EAT:
Williams - The best restaurant in Cromer. The service is both refined and smartly timed, the staff are charming and gay-friendly, and above all – the food is fantastic. I enjoyed a spicy seared beef salad to start (which was exquisite) followed-up by a gorgeous hot steak pie with an impeccable pile of horseradish mash and side salad. It hit the spot so perfectly I was saddened to discover I couldn't manage a dessert.
Park Chippy - In central Cromer they have "Mary Jane’s" which is okay but inexplicably no better than your average suburban London chippy. The service somehow manages to be inattentive, low-energy and rushed. For the best fish and chips walk 20 minutes inland to “Park Chippy”. It's a hit with the locals but be warned - they close between 1.30 and 4.30 (you’re in Norfolk etc.)
Le Moon - The best Chinese restaurant in Cromer (around the corner from the petrol station near the end of the Esplanade). The décor is a tad depressing but their homemade prawn toast is killa good. A really tasty Chinese meal which was very reasonably priced.
WHAT TO DO: Jack’s Gay Times Cromer Tick List
Go onnn, print it orff!
1. Walk along the pier (buy yourself a £2 crab-fishing line, or sit and write postcards to pseudo-relations)
2. Raid second-hand bookshops (I found a signed Hollinghurst for 60p and "The Way It Was With Me" by Gerald Hamilton for only £2!)
3. Walk to Runton (Remember to check the tides timetable or else face wading shoulder-deep through vicious waves for two miles)
4. Go on Grindr (It’s such a lottery, but put it this way - if there's a nice boy, he's yours)
5. Play on the 2p machines (Warning: Addictive, set yourself a maximum allowance of five pounds. Wash hands afterwards)
6. Walk to the Lighthouse (Watch out for flying golf balls, kites and flying crabs enroute)
7. Pretend you're in a detective movie and stalk people along cobbled streets at night. (Leave valuables in your hotel room)
8. Eat a crab (depends on the time of year, prawn cocktail crisps are an acceptable substitute)
9. Go for a swim. (Swim in the North Sea each day you will look 20 when you’re 50 I swear. Watch out for dead seals)
10. Visit the lifeboat museum and the Cromer museum (and fantasise about marrying a fisherman)
Pictured above: Cromer’s gay scene. Blurred photograph by Jack Cullen. Cheap train tickets to Cromer.