East of England special: Family Friendly Seals And Saurians

Creature comforts on the coast
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The Independent Travel

The 250 miles of coastline between Leigh-on-Sea in Essex to Hunstanton in west Norfolk offer plenty to keep everyone happy. Since East Anglia is renowned for the variety of its wildlife, it is not surprising that a number of activities should take birds and sea creatures as their starting point. These include the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth (01493 330631; www.sealife.co.uk), one of a network of such centres across Europe; Sea-Life Adventure in Southend (01702 442200; sealifeadventure.co.uk); and the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary (01485 533576; w ww.sealsanctuary.co.uk).

The latter is an underwater world of exotic marine life, including fish as large as the children looking at them. Attached is a marine hospital, which cares for sick or new-born creatures that are not yet able to live in the main sanctuary. There is a strong emphasis on conservation - on what visitors can do to help preserve species that are under threat.

Another gem is Pensthorpe, just outside Fakenham (01328 851465; www.pensthorpe.com). With 500 acres of woodland, meadows, lakes and gardens, and an astonishing array of birdlife, it has one of the largest collections of wildfowl in Europe. Some of these are kept in aviaries which visitors can walk through, but most are in their natural surroundings.

There's also plenty in the region for the younger members of the family. The Dinosaur Adventure Park at Lenwade (01603 876310; www.dinosaurpark.co.uk) has a play area with a Climb-a-Saurus, a huge model dinosaur inside which are ladders and climbing frames; the way out is down a slide cut out of its tail. But the highlight is the Dinosaur Trail, for which children are given a passport that they can stamp as they find the different dinosaurs along the path.

Another attraction is the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway (01328 711630; www.wellswalsinghamrailway.co.uk). This narrow gauge railway runs between Wells and Walsingham, with a shiny blue steam engine pulling carriages that are scaled down in size to suit the small tracks. For a different type of journey, everyone can enjoy the train that takes passengers the 2,369 yards (1.34 miles) down the longest pier in the world, at Southend (01702 215620; www.southendpier.co.uk).

There is a charge for the pier train, but it is possible to have fun without spending money. Southend puts on a free firework display on the seafront every Saturday night from September to November. Elsewhere in the region there are vast, sandy beaches like Holkham and Brancaster where families can have fun for hours. And crabbing is very popular, especially in places like Blakeney. All you need is a length of string and some kind of bait: morsels of bacon or fish are the most popular. Start practising now, and you could be ready to take part in the British Open Crabbing Championships next August; they are held every year in Walberswick.

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