Everyone has got at least one place in the world that means something special to them. Jamie and I have been lucky enough to visit so many amazing countries and interesting cities that it’s almost hard for us to choose our place. Sri Lanka or Canada? Rome or Melbourne? New Zealand or the Maldives? All stunning places that hold incredibly happy memories for us, and all places we are keen to revisit. But in actual fact our favourite place is nowhere quite as exotic as any of these places. For us, that little slice of heaven is in Norfolk.
Why? Well before we had the dogs we used to just pack up our things on a Friday night after work and go on spontaneous little road trips there, either in luxury hotels or little boutique BnB’s with gastro pubs attached. Once we had the dogs we kept going, only this time we stayed in trendy, dog friendly AirBnB places, opting for fish and chips on the beach. It’s somewhere that can be reached fairly quickly from Essex and as it’s quite a large area of the UK, there’s plenty of little towns to visit and beaches for the dogs to run wild.
The week after we lost Beatrice we booked another stay in Norfolk. Our family had to go back home for various reasons and so Jamie booked us a weekend away for a change of scenery. At the time I couldn’t think of anything worse, but it was really important to Jamie, so off we went. Neither of our heads were really in gear mind you as for a two night trip we pretty much took everything we owned and then some. Last September I remember was glorious sunshine but all I could think was how cold a sea breeze can be – so I ended up packing for a midwinter trip to the Alps. We took the dog beds, toys, bowls, blankets, food, winter clothes, wellies, trainers, thick coats, books, laptops the whole kit and caboodle.
I must admit that even with the dogs we are quite particular about where we stay – some may read that as snobby and that’s fine! The way we see it though is that if we’re going for a mini-holiday somewhere, we want it to really feel like a treat. So when we eventually pulled up to the Stockman’s cottage in Foulsham some 4 hours later and after driving past the entrance several times, it ticked all the boxes.
In case anyone is interested our deal breakers are typically a secure garden, a log-burner or open fire, a decent shower and/or bath, it has to be quite stylish and ideally someplace where the hosts provide personalised touches – mainly food parcels, I’ll be honest it’s always about food).
This trip was only seven days after giving birth to Beatrice and we were both still utterly broken. We must have looked like zombies (very well-prepared zombies I might add) turning up at the cottage. We had nothing left to give and were just exhausted from a week of dealing with heartbreak and just raw grief. By this time it was late afternoon and the sun was about to set, so after checking in we made the obvious decision to go to Wells-next-the-Sea for fish and chips. For anyone who hasn’t been to Norfolk you should know a big part of a trip there is eating proper, decent fish and chips every day! We walked along the harbour with all the other hundreds of dog owners, and for some reason just knowing that no-one around here knew that our daughter had died and that we were incredibly upset and so fragile was really refreshing. A lady with a spaniel of some sort stopped us to talk to us about our dogs (all crazy dog people love talking about their dogs) and for a short period of time I just felt normal. It was the first time since Beatrice died that we spoke to someone without having to explain everything. For that conversation it almost was like life had for a second, gone back to how it was before for us.
After settling down for the evening, obviously all the emotions just flooded back. The thing with grief is that it is absolutely exhausting. It’s exhausting to be upset all the time and it’s equally exhausting to try and hold it all together and not be upset, but when you’re exhausted and low on energy, you end up being more upset. It’s a really awful cycle that you end up in. Again if we didn’t have the dogs who needed us to get up and feed and walk them, I don’t know what we would have done. They seriously were, and still are, our lifeline.
So the next day after bucket loads of tea we got dressed and took the dogs to the beach. Wells-next-the-Sea again. There are different beaches in Norfolk, but this one is so long and so wide, it’s perfect for our dogs. That’s code for our dogs are nutters and need a lot of space as once they get wet, they turn into actual gremlins. And when I say gremlins I mean they run as fast as they can destroying anything and anyone who gets in their way! Seeing them go crazy on the beach though, running with other dogs, swimming in the sea, fighting over sticks, digging holes in the sand and then just lying flat out on the beach with happy exhaustion gives you such a good feeling. Their eyes go all twinkly, their tongues loll out and their hair goes all crimped from the seawater. And it was at this time in that moment seeing the pooches like that, that my heart inflated and I felt joy again. Honestly it was like a light had been switched on again. I knew it wouldn’t last, but it gave me hope. It made me see that eventually, in time, we would both be happy again. It was such a powerful moment for me. As was just feeling that sea breeze cold in my face and feeling the expanse of the beach and the sea. It was calming, upsetting, peaceful, overwhelming, joyful and full of sorrow all at once.
We went back to the cottage that evening (probably after more fish and chips) and decided that we wanted everyone to try and just feel love for Beatrice, not sadness. It was exactly one week since she was born and everyone was messaging us to tell us how they were thinking of us and we just asked them to remember Beatrice by all the positive things she had taught us about life and ourselves in such a short space of time. For the first time since leaving the hospital we were feeling strong and thinking positively. We were still heartbroken, but we were also proud parents who just wanted everyone to love our daughter the same way we did.
For that reason Norfolk is always a place that we will hold close to our hearts. And when we need time to ourselves away from the world that is where we will return to. Norfolk is our little slice of heaven.