“ Address: Cley-next-the-Sea / Holt / Norfolk / NR25 7RP / England / Tel: +44 (0)1263 740209 „
Cley Windmill (pronounced Cl-eye) claims to be the most visited guest house in the UK. This is quite a claim to make but I believe it can be tested out by trying to find a slot in their bookings to stay. If you have a special date, it is advisable to book one or two years in advance! The website states that the mill achieves 99% occupancy in August and 84% for the rest of the year; supposedly the highest occupancy rate in the country.
The windmill offers evening meals, bed and breakfast and wedding packages. I was invited to a wedding which included a night's accommodation in the windmill itself. Perhaps indicative of the hectic booking schedule, the wedding I attended took place on a Wednesday afternoon and the wedding party guests were the only ones in the buildings.
History of Cley Windmill
Cley Windmill is a well-known landmark on the north Norfolk coastline. It dates from the early 18th century. It looks over the salt marshes to the bird sanctuary, the sea and to Blakeny Point - which is a place to see seals. The mill stands slightly proud of the flint-walled village so enjoys amazing views.
The windmill has also been immortalized in celluloid: it was used in the 1949 film, 'The Conspirator' (starring Liz Taylor), it has been used in various Ruth Rendell mysteries and also was once used, with sails turning, as a BBC continuity link (but I can't recall this).
How to get the Cley Windmill
Cley Windmill is situated in Cley-next-to-the-Sea, North Norfolk, between Sheringham and Wells-next-to-the-Sea. It is fairly simple to get there by car but not so by public transport.
Have a look at the image of Cley Windmill. At the very, very, top of the mill is a tiny balcony. Just below that are two floors with windows. These three floors comprised the accommodation my partner and I stayed in.
We had to climb a fairly steep ladder to gain access to the circular bedroom through a trapdoor. Once in the room, there was another climb up a ladder to the circular bathroom on the floor above and from there, another ladder to the very top of the windmill. Clearly, the room we stayed in is not suitable for those with mobility issues but the windmill does have other ground floor rooms that are more accessible; the eldest member of the wedding party was well into her nineties and was accommodated comfortably. However, the chance to climb to the very top of the windmill was too exciting for many of the wedding guests and quite a few people in their seventies came up the ladders and through our room to get to the top balcony.
The mill has nine cosy, comfortable double rooms situated either in the windmill, the stables or the boathouses and sleeps up to 20 people. I should know because I took a tour of them, greeting many of the family members and checking out their rooms. There are even rooms where guests can self-cater. I liked the look of all of them - although the firm favourite was still my own tower top room. I must add here, that my partner and I were asked to sign a form before we entered the room. This was to waive away our rights to take legal action should we have an accident like falling through a trapdoor! It clearly said that we would not climb the ladder whilst under the influence. We said that it was a certainty that we would be doing just that very thing because we were at a wedding. The owner nodded knowingly and asked us to sign anyway.
Truly, my heart had a leap of joy when I first poked my head through the trapdoor into the bedroom. There was a white four poster bed complete with crisp white linen, four little windows facing out to four different directions, some lovely furniture and a massive tray of teas/coffees/hot chocolates plus kettle, that I took in immediately. Curiously, behind a woven screen, there was a toilet and small sink. I understood eventually, that a trip up the ladders to the upstairs toilet in the dead of night would have been a bad idea - especially after a boozy night of celebrations, so the toilet was there for the sake of convenience - but could be easily concealed. There was a small tv on a side table complete with earphones that you could use to watch the tv silently. I would call the décor both sumptuous and cosy.
The next excited scramble led to the spacious, thickly carpeted bathroom on the floor above with large shower and smart, white porcelain ware. Thick white towels adorned the antique towel rail. From here, I continued up the next ladder and opened the little door which led out to the windmill top and the little white balcony out there. From this point, the views over the salt marshes and the little picturesque village were fine indeed. I have a deep desire in me to look out at space which is uncluttered with human mess; I like to see vast expanses of sky and greenery. This view provided both, the marshes dissected at times by tiny river ways, reflecting the sky and dotted with little wooden boats.
The next morning, as dawn was breaking, I clambered up to the windmill top to enjoy the experience on my own. As I stood there, silently, having one of those 'magnificent nature' moments, there was a soft flutter of feathers and I glanced to my side to see that a sparrow hawk had landed inches away from me on the roof. For several seconds we observed each other before the bird flew off. It was a simple but amazing event; I was in the right place at the right time.
The white four poster bed and its plump pillows, duvet and white linen were mega comfortable and I slept soundly. In fact, if I was pushed, I'd have to say the bed was more comfortable than my own bed at home. There was a double duvet but the cotton cover was for a king-size bed. This enabled the base of the duvet cover to be tucked in loosely which stopped our feet poking out and getting chilly. Since I have stayed at the windmill, I have gone and bought a white king-size duvet cover for my own bed to recreate the effect; I'd recommend it.
One niggle about the room was the fly exterminator in the bathroom. This was on continuously and if the hatch of the bathroom was left up, I could occasionally hear the sound of a fly being electrocuted whilst I lay in bed; I found this slightly disturbing. The dead fly was found, with one or two others, lying on the bathroom carpet in the morning (slightly gross). However, I cannot write this without clarifying the fly issue - the windmill is a very old building and I believe that there is a bit of a problem with flies coming through the ancient roof- so clearly, the owners have had to think of a solution. Having about 10 bluebottles buzzing around the toilet would also have been unpleasant.
The windmill also has a huge circular sitting room (this is where the wedding took place) with antique furniture, comfy sofas and an open fire. There is also a dining room (which is not huge). Halfway up the windmill is a gallery which is open to guests to go out onto and gaze out across the marshes. The windmill also has a large walled garden with benches and apple trees (perfect for wedding photos).
Eating at Cley Windmill
Cley Windmill is open for people to just come for dinner. The idea is that diners arrive at around 6.45pm and enjoy the windmill and the views until dinner at 7.30pm. A three course dinner costs £27.50 per person (children 9 - 14yrs - £18 - you must ask for details if children are younger). The meal consists of a set menu and the owners claim that they can accommodate different dietary preferences. However, they were not able to provide vegan food as part of the wedding meal that I attended - so I think I can safely say that their claims did not stretch to vegan food. All was not lost though as the food issues had been negotiated beforehand and the owners were open to some vegan food being bought in from a supplier! I thought that this was a little disappointing. How hard is it to make vegan food? Vegan cookbooks are not exactly a rarity these days. I can comment that all other guests seemed to be happily tucking into their nosh and there were no moans from those omnivores.
The breakfast was served at 9am. The first part was a buffet breakfast and a cooked breakfast followed (vegan options limited). The food at this was also of decent quality. There was a very slow toasting machine in the dining room which guests operated. This was a fairly frustrating experience with some people dominating it for their toast quota. I think the mill should invest in a decent machine!
The windmill has a full wedding licence - so is an informal but memorable place to get hitched. The older members of the wedding party particularly commented that having the ceremony in such a comfortable setting was a bonus - no chilly church! It seems that many others agree - with bookings happening about two years in advance. After the ceremony that I was present at, we had champagne afterwards and photos in the grounds (a lovely September day). Also, we had photos on the gallery. There was then a lull in the activities (I had a cup of tea in my room) and then we all had dinner. After this we gathered in the sitting room. This started out as a quite sedate affair, but after an hour or so we were dancing holes in the carpet (including the ninety year old!).
One night's bed and breakfast will set you back around £120 on a week day and £155 on a weekend for the room. The big problem I have with this pricing is the time you are actually allowed to have your room. Rooms are ready from 2pm on the day of your stay but must be vacated by 10.30am the next morning! This was much too short a time to have the room for. I found that I was rushing around after breakfast trying to pack and sort things. It felt like they had fed you and then they wanted you out. The rushed exit spoilt the stay for me a little. I wondered whether the owners did the cleaning themselves and it took them from 10.30am - 2pm to clean all the rooms. If they employed someone to help with this load then guests would not have to rush.
The windmill is a quirky place to stay and there is a high demand to stay there. I suppose this means that the owners get to call the shots because of the popularity of the place - and if they want everyone out by 10.30am then they can get it with no comeback; the place is booked solid. I would really have liked more time to relax in my room in the morning. It was such a lovely room and such a treat but being bustled out spoiled it.
The other members of the wedding party and I went for a walk to the sea after we has checked out. It was around a two mile walk and when we returned to the mill to get in our cars and return home, someone requested some coffee but the owners were unwilling to make any so we didn't get any. They had been so obliging to us before but were quite clear that there was no more good service. This was quite hard on the old people in our party.
A self catering week long stay at the mill costs between £385 - £530. A three day stay costing £245.
The windmill also has a giftshop which sells mugs, paintings, chocolates etc.
I loved my stay at Cley Windmill and had a fantastic time despite the electrocuted bluebottles and the too early chucking out time. It was a real treat to stay there and I would love to do so again - but I won't be attempting a booking. I just would not pay £120 a night for such a short stay. Many people will however, and I can see why - the place is unique and quirky - especially the room at the top of the windmill. Where else can you feel like a real life Rapunzel?
The bride and groom of our party were extremely happy with their nuptials; they felt the day was special - being married in such a beautiful place. It is not hard to work out what the event cost them - adding up the prices of the rooms and the meals - all rooms being occupied.
Cley windmill has a website: www. Cleywindmill.co.uk.