T: 01263 740008 / www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/cley
This gleaming piece of modernist sustainable design sits on one of the UK’s oldest nature reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes Visitor Centre reopened in 2007 as this eco-friendly powerhouse – and I’m putting it here in ‘Good Eats’ as the cafe is a great way to experience it!
Cley Marshes is a mecca for birdwatchers because it’s one of the best places in the country to view huge numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, plus the rare bittern and marsh harrier. But you don’t have to be an ornothologist to enjoy a visit here – the North Norfolk coast is rugged and expansive so you can experience exhilerating walks along a truly wild and natural beaches. And when you’ve come back from the beach (or a stroll through the official Cley Marshes Nature Reserve – entry fee applies if you’re not a Wildlife Trust member), head to the visitor centre’s cafe.
The menu is basic (don’t expect large lunches, this is meant as a bird-watcher’s pit-stop) but there’s plenty of fresh and wholesome choices in the sandwiches, jacket potatoes and cakes. There are often daily specials involving soups, quiches, ‘Norfolk ploughmans’, locally made pork pies and sausage rolls (grab the onion marmalade ones if you can), and local crab sandwiches or salads (which is what we chose on our visit – nothing like eating seafood minutes from where it was caught). Coffee is good, as is the hot chocolate if you’re visiting on a cold day.
The great thing about the cafe is the building which was awarded Best Sustainable Development by Emirates Glass LEAF Awards for its innovative use of sustainable technology. The centre has a stunning sedum-covered green roof to attract butterflies, ease water drainage and blend into the landscape. Power by a wind turbine, solar panels and ground source heat pump, the centre has also been built to minimise energy wastage.
Enjoying a coffee and a fresh crab sandwich indoors you can sit along the cafe-wide window and gaze out across the windswept marshes and endless skies of Norfolk. Visitors can also take turns to use the binoculars provided (most visitors have their own high-tech pairs!) and watch the comings and goings of various birdlife. If you need help, the extensive bookshop (and gift shop) behind you will have a wildlife book for you.
Recommended for… Bird-watchers and nature-lovers (but also anyone who appreciates the wild, natural surroundings of the Norfolk coast)
Be aware that… The menu is small and only meant for quick snacks and light lunches (it closes at 4.30pm, or 3.30pm in winter).
- Award-winning sustainable building
- Energy use and waste is minimise
- Recycling, reusing wherever possible
- Small wildlife garden to the rear, and green roof attract wildlife
- Locally-sourced and produced food
- Wheelchair accessible
- ‘Wildlife Detective’ bumbags available for kids for free
- Proceeds from the cafe (and gift shop) go to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation charity