As the summertime crowds descend on the sandy beaches of the North Norfolk coast, you'll need to head inland in search of rural peace. You'll find it soon enough: within minutes of driving south from the busy quayside of Wells-next-the-Sea, you're deep in sprawling countryside – meadows, farmland, Norfolk flint cottages and converted barns.
Pass the coaches of religious pilgrims visiting the shrine at Our Lady of Walsingham and you reach Barsham Barns, a collection of five 19th-century farm buildings converted to luxury accommodation. Local architect Anthony Hudson and his interior-designer wife Jenny Dale have themes for each of the barns, sleeping from four to 14 – Moroccan, Scandinavian, English cottage, contemporary – but all are open plan with a minimum of clutter.
The owners also host creative writing courses with the novelist Raffaella Barker, and she's back on 16 September for a five-day writers' retreat. Inspiration of a different sort is on offer when bread-maker Carl Shavitz brings his Artisan Bread School to the barns on 27 September for a five-day course.
Little Barsham, where I stayed, is the smallest. Exposed flint walls bring a rustic feel to the high-ceilinged open-plan sitting/dining room, with French doors framing views of fields and All Saints parish church beyond. Big deep sofas face the fireplace and flat-screen TV. Both en-suite bedrooms are in soothing shades of duck-egg blue, one with a four-poster bed; the other with twin beds that can be made into one.
The kitchen is small but has everything you'll need to make proper meals, as well as a dishwasher. (The washing machine is in the cloakroom by the barn entrance.) There's a CD player, as well as games, plus wood for the fire if nights turn chilly. About the only thing that's missing is a stand-up shower in the bathrooms, both of which have hand-held showers.
The barn is flanked by two private gardens, the smaller of which holds the barbecue (which comes stocked with coals) and catches the evening sun. The larger one has wide open spaces for children to run around in. All of the barns have access to an on-site spa with Jacuzzi and steam room, as well as a games room.
All five barns are in two large farm buildings facing each other, but tall garden fences and ample car parking give a sense of privacy. There are two further barns in Haveringland near Norwich, set within the grounds of an 18th-century farmhouse, Quaker's Hall, and converted in a similar style to Barsham.
Out and about
There are long stretches of sandy beach at Holkham, Wells, Brancaster and Hunstanton, with pebbly versions at Cley-next-the-Sea and Sheringham. Birdwatchers head for the nature reserves at Cley, Blakeney and Morston, from where you can catch boats to watch seals basking on the sands at Blakeney Point (01263 740505; beansboatrips.co.uk).
Holt – whose annual arts and music festival runs from today until Saturday – is about 14 miles east of Barsham, full of independent boutiques, antiques shops and delis, as is Burnham Market to the west. Hire bicycles to explore the vast estate at Holkham Hall (01328 710227; holkham.co.uk; car park £2.50; bike hire £14/day), the Palladian home of the Earl of Leicester. Starting Wednesday, the hall will be putting on weekly theatrical productions and is hosting the Holkham Country Fair this weekend. In Wells, the annual summer carnival kicks off on Friday, with its popular Pirate Festival coming in September.
The food and drink
A welcome hamper of coffee, tea, milk, sugar and cake is provided, along with fresh flowers. The farm shop in Little Walsingham, less than three miles away, is the nearest place to stock up on provisions, most of it regional and organic (01328 821877; walsinghamfarmshop.co.uk).
Pick up fresh crab, whelks and crayfish from seafood shacks on the quaysides of Blakeney and Wells-next-the-Sea, or stop for great fish and chips at French's (01328 710396; frenchs.co.uk). There's also a huge selection at Gurney's Fish Shop in Burnham Market (01328 738967; gurneysfishshop.co.uk), Cley Smokehouse in Cley-next-the-Sea (01263 740282; cleysmokehouse.com) and the North Norfolk Fish Company in Holt (01263 711913; northnorfolkfish.co.uk).
With so many second homes in the area, it's not difficult to find upmarket delis selling homemade hotpots and pasta bakes from about £6.99, especially from Humble Pie in Burnham Market (01328 738581; humble-pie.com) and Bakers & Larners in Holt (01263 712323; bakersandlarners.co.uk).
For the freshest fruit and vegetables, pick your own seasonal produce at Wiveton Hall (01263 740515; wivetonhall.co.uk; £4.25/kg) before having afternoon tea in its farm café. For a seafood feast in elegant surroundings, order a fish platter for two at the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market (01328 738777; thehoste.com) for £22.
Barsham Barns, Lower Farm Barns, North Barsham, Norfolk (01328 821744; barshambarns.co.uk). Three-night stays in Little Barsham start at £445. No pets allowed.