Travel: All I want is a room somewhere . . .: The perfect bed and breakfast eluded Naomi Coleman. She began to think it might not exist. Then, quite by chance, she found something even better

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
A good bed and breakfast is hard to find. I have ventured along the narrowest country lanes to the most obscure villages, convinced I would stumble upon the place, only to find, not oak beams and thatch, but yet another modern box.

I have searched through guidebooks and brochures, decided 'That's the one]', only to be greeted on arrival with a 'no vacancy' sign. I have quizzed the proprietors of the chosen establishments, convinced they should be able to point me towards olde-worlde comfort, and landed up sharing a dining- room with an electronic organ, or warming myself by a log-effect fire in the lounge.

We were driving through Norfolk on a crisp, sunny winter's day, having just had one of our disappointments, and were becoming resigned to the fact that the ideal bed and breakfast does not exist. We turned off the Norwich to Cromer road into a winding lane, looking for a country pub. And thus, by chance, on the edge of the village of Erpingham, we found the Ark.

From the outside, the charming flintstone cottage looked absolutely perfect. But we were cautious - we had been fooled before. Sure enough, it was not what we expected. The Ark is not so much a bed and breakfast as a restaurant with rooms.

Mike and Sheila Kidd have opened their home to guests, who are encouraged to make the most of the relaxed hospitality. Fresh flowers and outstretched cats welcome you to the pretty flagstone hall. An open fire burns in the dining-room, which looks out through french windows to a large garden, the source of much of the food that is served.

The heart of the Ark is the kitchen, alive with the aroma of herbs and spices. Ripples of heat rise from the Aga, in which bread is baked, and on top of which sauces bubble away in copper pots. This is the domain of Sheila and her daughter Becky, who prepare the food while Mike attends to the guests. It is rare to eat anything here which is not home-grown or home-made.

Dinner at the Ark starts early, with an aperitif in the small bar and a look at the menu. Sheila is an instinctive cook who creates unusual combinations of flavours. Farfalle with mascarpone and walnuts, or avocado with cashew-nut curd cheese and tomato vinaigrette to start; spiced lamb and flageolet casserole, or salmon in pastry with ginger to follow.

The puddings are delicious: old English ratafia trifle, orange terrine with mint and loganberry coulis, or good old apple pudding - sweet burnt slices of apple in a light, doughy cushion.

The wine list ranges from Norfolk punch to some fine clarets. Happy in the knowledge that bed is only a a few steps away, you can round off the evening with a drink from Mike's dresser.

There are three guest bedrooms, two with en-suite bathrooms, each festooned with peacock feathers and dried flowers. One bedroom has big windows leading on to a small garden and another, the attic room, has a huge French iron bed.

It is typical of the hospitable Kidds that they impose no deadline for breakfast: guests can eat at their leisure from a huge spread of home-made curds and jams, thick farm yoghurt and muesli, freshly squeezed juices and traditional cooked fare.

There is no shortage of places to visit from the Ark. The stately homes of the Walpole family, Wolterton and Mannington, are only a few miles down the road, and both have gardens and parks open to the public. Blickling Hall, owned by the National Trust, is also worth a visit - a 17th-century red-brick manor with beautiful gardens, tearooms and parkland with a lake and good walks.

Next to Blickling is the Buckinghamshire Arms, a delightful pub with a selection of good food. On Sundays there is a variety of roasts, including a vegetarian Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy.

The nearby coastline has some of the longest beaches in England, including the spectacular Holkham Bay. Nearby is Blakeney Point, where you can walk along the spit or take a boat to visit the seal colony.

My mission is over, at least as far as Norfolk is concerned. I think, finally, I have found the place.

The Ark, The Street, Erpingham, Norfolk (0263 761535), just off the A140 from Aylsham. Mike and Sheila Kidd are away until the end of March; Becky Kidd is in charge meanwhile.

Open for dinner from 7pm, Wednesday to Saturday in winter (but it is worth ringing to see whether the kitchen is open to cook for B & B guests on other days), Tuesday to Saturday (summer). Last orders 9pm. From pounds 15.75 per person for two courses, from pounds 20.25 for four courses.

Open for Sunday lunch from 12.30pm at pounds 11.75 per person (three courses plus coffee).

Dinner plus bed and breakfast from pounds 80 per night for two people; open all week. Reductions in low season and for mid-week breaks.

(Photograph omitted)