Let's staycation in...Diss
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A quintessential market town, brimming with beautiful architecture and lots of gorgeous independent shops and restaurants, Diss in south Norfolk is packed with character and a joy to explore.
Not far from the Suffolk border, its mainline railway station makes it easy to get to and it's a perfect base from which to discover the beautiful Waveney Valley and the southern Broads.
Where to stay
Nestled in 17 acres of parkland, The Oaksmere country house just outside Eye makes a stunning rural retreat from which to explore south Norfolk and north Suffolk.
The Main House and Coach House have been transformed into 14 individually designed bedrooms.
In the Victorian wing, the spacious suites have whirlpool baths and with their low ceilings and exposed beams, the rooms in the Tudor wing are cosy and romantic.
The Coach House bedrooms, which overlook the Victorian kitchen garden, are perfect for families, and two of the ground floor rooms (one of which is also an accessible room) have private terraces, making them suitable for bringing along your canine companion.
Plus you’ll find modern luxuries including sumptuous Hypnos beds, Elemis toiletries, Nespresso coffee, electric blinds and Bluetooth audio.
The dining areas include a pub, private dining rooms, a terrace with a children’s play area which really comes into its own in the summer and an orangery-style restaurant where you can see the kitchen team at work.
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Much of the produce served at The Oaksmere has been grown in the kitchen garden and sourced from East Anglia – think pork from Blythburgh and locally landed seafood.
And there’s an on-site butchery, where steak, which has been locally reared, is prepared and hung for 28 days for the best flavour.
Where to eat
South Norfolk is a delicious destination for foodies, and there’s lots on the menu in and around Diss to tempt you.
For handmade pizza and locally sourced craft beer head to On the Hill in Market Hill.
Their dough is made with flour imported from Italy and it’s hand kneaded and cold fermented to give it more depth of flavour. A beer from the fantastic West Acre-based Duration Brewing is the perfect accompaniment – and they serve desserts by the gluten-free Mad Cat Bakery too.
Another Italian option is a drive out of town at the Old Kings Head at Brockdish.
When our editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis visited she declared the pizza “as good as any I’ve eaten in various places in Italy. Huge, packed to the rafters with toppings, and infused with smokiness from the wood fire.”
Produce from Norfolk and Suffolk is the star at Number 11 in St Nicholas Street.
And tucked away in a glass covered courtyard in Norfolk House Yard, the surroundings at Amandines Café Restaurant are just as gorgeous as its inventive vegetarian and vegan food. The ideal spot for a lazy lunch, it has a daily specials board alongside favourites such as soups, sarnies and homemade cakes and pastries.
Town favourite Weavers Wine Bar in Market Hill has the new team of Lindsey front of house and Josh in the kitchen, who are getting rave reviews from diners. Gluten free and vegan guests are catered for with their own menus.
And Singtong Thai is another long-established Diss favourite, with diners loving the laidback ambience and authentic flavours.
Where to shop
Diss is packed with delightful independent stores, from gift shops and boutiques to delicatessens.
Many of them are nestled in the historic yards – Cobbs Yard, Norfolk House Yard and Hales Yard – in the Heritage Triangle area of town.
At Fredricks Fine Foods in Norfolk House Yard, you’ll find some of Norfolk’s tastiest produce all under one roof, including Kofra coffee, Brick Pizza, Parravani’s ice cream, Marsh Pig charcuterie and gourmet Farmyard Frozen ready meals created by chef Andrew Jones.
The yard is also home to The Sweetie Shop, Natural Foodstore Cooperative, which sells ethically sourced, wholesome and fairly traded ingredients and Skincense gift shop.
Diss Iron Works in St Nicholas Street is a destination for inspiration to turn a house into a home – including range cookers, woodburners, cookware and oodles of other stylish stuff.
For one-off pieces for the home, furniture is upcycled and given a new lease of life at Hilary and Alice in Mere Street.
And there are more bright ideas to be found at Rooms With a View interior design in St Nicholas Street and Harriets Home and Garden in Tudor House Street.
Fashion lovers should head to boutiques including Flories in Market Place (their new spring collection is dropping now), Just a Label in St Nicholas Street and Lily and Rose Boutique in Victoria Road (look out for designs by Norfolk printmaker Bella Singleton).
For makers, Albright Crafts and Diss Wool Shop, both in St Nicholas Street, are a must for stocking up your stash.
And don’t miss Designermakers21, also in St Nicholas Street.
The town’s creative hub, it has studio and gallery spaces where talented artisans make and exhibit their work and is open Thursday-Saturday.
Things to do
Admire the Mere
The name Diss comes from the six-acre body of water known as the Mere at its heart. It is one of the deepest natural inland lakes in the country and Dic or Disce is the Saxon word for ‘ditch of standing water’.
There has been much speculation about its origins over the centuries – including that it was a flooded natural volcano crater.
However, there are no records of volcanic activity in Norfolk and the UK has not had active volcanoes for around 55 million years.
Another tale claims that it was created by a meteor which fell from the sky before burning away and leaving a hole which was filled with rain water.
But the most likely explanation is that it is a natural basin caused by the collapse of the chalk bedrock at the end of the Ice Age.
During the 19th century the Mere would freeze during the harsh winters and residents would wear fancy dress and carry Chinese lanterns as they walked on the ice – and in 1827 a cricket match was famously played on it.
Under the hammer
If you love antiquing, Diss is a treasure trove.
Housed in a 4,000 square foot warehouse, Diss Emporium is home to a host of traders specialising in vintage, collectables, architectural salvage, vinyl, books and more.
And in Market Place you’ll find the long-established Diss Antiques.
But if you fancy the buzz of the auction experience, TW Gaze holds its weekly antiques and interiors auction sale every Friday from 10am.
Or look out for its specialist sales of toys, jewellery and railwayana.
Catch a show
Diss Corn Hall was one of the last corn markets trading in the country – the last sale was held in 1998.
Now the Grade II listed building is the town’s cultural heart with a packed programme of theatre, live music, stand-up, film and much more.
Highlights of the spring/summer 2022 programme include comedian Mark Watson (February 26), spoken word star Luke Wright (March 18) and a trip back in time to the 90s with Shaparak Khorsandi (June 18).
In the area
Bressingham Steam and Gardens
Bressingham Steam and Gardens is a legacy of Alan Bloom’s two passions – railways and horticulture.
He bought Bressingham Hall and its land in the late 1940s and it began as his personal collection of steam engines.
There are currently four railway lines, The Gallopers merry go round and a recreation of Walmington-on-Sea, the fictional home of the beloved sitcom Dad’s Army, which was filmed in the area.
Perhaps the best-known of the gardens is Foggy Bottom, a garden of heathers, conifers and ornamental grasses created by Alan’s son, Adrian.
It reopens for the season on March 28.
For animal antics, you can’t beat a day out at Banham Zoo. It’s home to more than 2,000 residents, including amur tigers, giraffes, zebras, meerkats, snow leopards, lemurs, birds of prey, snakes and more.