Marcus Seaman and Amelia Nicholson returned to their Norfolk roots to rescue the near-derelict drinking haunt of their youth and turn the handsome brick-and-flint Georgian building into a polished yet relaxed 21st-century version of a coaching inn. Stripped-wood and stone-flagged floors, exposed brick walls and inglenook fireplaces, comfortable leather chairs and scrubbed tables give the feel of a country inn; candelabras, velvet curtains, deep-hued walls and potted plants give an understated elegance. Bedrooms – astonishingly created out of livestock sheds – are similarly stylishly rustic, with antiques jostling modern art and bold colours. Linger over drinks in the snug or jolly bar – with its vast polished-copper bar-top – or under the pergola in the garden while planning tomorrow’s day-trip: perhaps coastal walks, seal-spotting trips or seaside-y Cromer. Then fuel up on punchy, fuss-free, rather good food with a focus on great quality and locally sourced meat and fish.
- Bold and individual bedrooms with a well-judged, uncluttered mix of antiques and re-purposed pieces, plus spoiling bathrooms
- Imaginative planting, a covered patio – with vine-wrapped tree – and pretty pergola make for a restful and scenic garden
- Genuinely warm and inviting welcome, with a real sense of being a temporary part of the local scene
- Variety of places to drink and eat including a cosy snug, lively fire-warmed bar and elegant garden room
- It’s Norfolk, so the surrounds are rather flat
- It is a popular eating and drinking destination amongst locals, so can be lively, especially at weekends
- No (quiet) sitting-room apart from a couple of fireside sofas in the snug and bar
- Note that there's a reduced food offering on Mondays & Tuesdays
Best time to go
For wildlife-watchers, spring and summer provide both common seal pup and bird-spotting opportunities with winter best for grey seal pups, and over-wintering flocks.
Our top tips
- Pub with rooms
- 6 rooms
- Restaurant (reduced service on Mon-Tue)
- All ages welcome (BYO cot)
- Closed: 24th-26th Dec
- Spa Treatments
- Beach Nearby
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Car recommended
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Electric car charger
Six bedrooms, a few steps from the main building and grouped around a courtyard garden, have been created out of re-built brick-and-flint livestock sheds. Airy and stylishly rustic, with rugs on polished-wood floors, high beams and exposed brickwork, they have clever details – Amelia was a theatre director – yet the overall look is relaxed rather than contrived. Antiques and flea-market finds mix with recycled pieces, velvet headboards with lush pot-plants, interesting artworks with vintage lampshades. You might find an old stone shelf supporting a Roberts radio, modern metalwork tops on salvaged table-legs, an industrial lamp beside a ‘60s sofa.
Sliding oak doors open to big, underfloor-heated bathrooms, some with bright floral walls, others with copper bath-tubs beneath windows. Some have freestanding baths in the rooms; all have small patios, eco-friendly toiletries, home-made sloe gin and biscuits.
We liked Hunny (the vernacular pronunciation of local village, Hunstanton) with its blowsy-rose shower walls, and cosy Beeler with its garden-views-from-the bed.
- Central heating
At the time of writing, lunch and dinner are served from Wednesday through Sunday (finishing early at 6pm on Sundays), with a reduced offering on Monday and Tuesday (a set menu dinner at 6.30pm, bar only open 5-10pm). Bookings are essential.
In keeping with the inn’s laidback feel, you can eat in the bar, snug, (very pretty) covered patio, green room or garden room. We liked the latter, with its large arched windows overlooking the gardens, wall of books and quirky stuffed fish.
Food is punchy and generous country-pub cooking with Norfolk sourcing at its core – great quality meat from local estates, fish from the north coast – and a confident, fuss-free style. Amongst classics such as steaks and slow-roast belly pork, French chef Hervé likes to throw in the odd zesty European and Caribbean twist: perhaps plaice in coconut milk with roasted beetroot, hot smoked salmon on salade niçoise, or lamb with garlic beans and sweet potato. And, oh golly, you must leave room for pudding: enormous and spoiling, especially the fresh fruit crumbles with crème anglaise.
Breakfast is a continental spread on Mon-Tue mornings, or a wider range on Wed-Sun mornings, including almost any combination of cooked items you fancy. Plus excellent coffee, freshly squeezed juice and newspapers.
- There are some hiking and cycling routes from the pub, but for wider horizons and breezy walks, head to the north Norfolk coast and pick up the Coast Path; try Cley-next-the-Sea or Brancaster Staith as starting points (35km/22m)
- While there, take a seal-watching trip from Blakeney where the National Trust-run nature reserve has England’s largest colony of Grey and Common seals; also good for spotting terns, oyster-catchers and ringed plovers
- Holkham Hall, near Wells-next-the-Sea (27km), is a grand, Palladian-style stately home (the Earls of Leicester) with must-sees including the Marble Hall, tapestries and Grand Master paintings
- Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse will fascinate old and young with its traditional farm, early 20th-century village shops and rural Norfolk museum (5km)
- Set aside half-a-day to browse the independent shops – interiors, delis, outdoor clothing – of Georgian and well-heeled Holt (24km) rounded off with lunch or tea and cakes at Byford’s
- There are no fewer than nine golf courses within a half-hour drive
- Back at The Bell, you can pre-book life drawing classes, whether over a weekend or a 3-hour session
Activities on site or nearby include:
Children and babies are welcome, with space for an extra bed (chargeable) or a cot (bring your own) in some rooms. A family needing two or more extra beds will have to book two rooms.
Babies (0-1 years), Teens (over 12)
Family friendly accommodation:
Troose is the best for families, with space for an extra bed and a travel cot. Hindol can take an extra bed or travel cot for a family of three. Hunny and Windum have space for a travel cot.
Families Should Know:
You will have to bring your own travel cot.
- Airport: 2 hours (Stansted); 45 mins (Norwich)
- Shops: 5 minutes (North Elmham)
The Brisley Bell is in the village of Brisley, in the heart of rural Norfolk, between the small towns of Dereham and Fakenham.
It's approximately 2.5-3 hours from London, and about the same due east from Birmingham; Norwich Airport is 45 minutes. If you want to hire a car, see our recommendations.
Norwich station, 40 mins' drive away, is on the Greater Anglia line from London Liverpool Street (about 2 hours' journey); and on the East Midlands Railway from Birmingham (about 4 hours). Downham Market station is also 40 minutes away.
Norwich Airport connects to selected UK and international destinations including Amsterdam. Otherwise London Stansted (under 2 hours' drive) is probably your best bet, or London Luton (2 and 1/4 hours).
Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.
- Norwich 30.0 km NWI
- Norwich 140.0 km STN
- Beach 26.0 km
- Shops 2.0 km
- Restaurant 2.0 km