Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th October 2007.
Oh dear, what a shame, the super-rich can't come here. Well they could, but they wouldn't want to - not many of them - because Cley Mill, which just happens to be one of the most memorable and enchanting places to stay in Britain (in my opinion) is a humble, utterly unpretentious guesthouse. Mega money brings plenty of treats denied to the rest of us, but not this one.
Cley Windmill was recently nearly lost to the public as a magical place to stay when it was put up for sale (it was owned for many years by the parents of singer/songwriter James Blunt).
Luckily for us, the successful purchaser, Julian Godlee, a GP from Hertfordshire whose heart and roots lie on the north Norfolk coast, was the only bidder who wanted to retain the windmill as a guesthouse, rather than convert it into a - probably second - private home. Now it's time to revisit (any excuse) and check out the new regime.
It's a glorious afternoon as I amble into Cley, with its distinctive flint-walled houses and its promise of the sea. Before I'd even arrived at the mill, I'd bought a wedding present in the local pottery, samphire, smoked fish, local cheese and honey in the Cley Smokery, and goose eggs in the excellent deli and grocery.
At the historic mill I found that everything was mercifully the same, only better. Built at the beginning of the 18th century as a flour mill, its sails, cap and wooden galleries are restored and intact. It stands in a superb position, commanding huge views over the salt marshes to Blakeney Point and the sea, while at the same time sitting comfortably beside the old quay on the edge of the village.
Imagine staying in a real windmill. There's a sense of adventure that Cley Mill can induce in even the world-weariest. Thoughts of Swallows and Amazons or the Famous Five crowd in as you climb higher and higher, finally mounting the ladder to the lookout on the fourth floor. Here the good doctor has fashioned a marvellous new room, with four-poster, accessed by vertical ladder from the bedroom below (the two are let together, to couples or a family).
There are six bedrooms in the mill itself and three in cottages across the courtyard. All are now redecorated and are fresh, pretty and simple, with bathrooms ingeniously fitted into challenging nooks and crannies.
On the ground floor is the circular, warmly welcoming sitting room, with honesty bar. Guests gather before dinner, served (at separate tables) promptly at 7.30: two local chefs provide excellent home cooking. Breakfasts are hearty, from the porridge onwards. Picnic lunches can be ordered to take to the beach or on bird-watching expeditions.
In the afternoon, I walk across the marshes, famed for its waders and sea birds, to Cley Beach, a great shingle shelf banked up above the sea where the air is filled with the happy sounds of families at play. The rickety beach café doubles as a rambling second-hand bookshop…where else but Cley, I wonder? After dinner I climb to the gallery to watch a spectacular sunset. I'm due to leave early next morning, but when it comes, I cancel everything and stay another day.
Cley-next-the-Sea, Holt, Norfolk NR25 7RP (01263 740209; www.cleymill.co.uk). Doubles from £72 to £110 per night, including breakfast.