Not many racecourses have a royal seal of approval but Fakenham is one of them. The Prince of Wales has been a patron of this racing venue since 2000 and you will subsequently find a stand here named in his honour. It is the only place to see National Hunt (jumps) racing in Norfolk as the only other course in the county, Great Yarmouth, hosts flat racing.
Norfolk certain gets its fair share of tourists throughout the year but Fakenham is far from a thriving hub of visitors. There is not a great deal to do in the market town and this is reflected in the lack of accommodation options within the town. Do not despair though if you do want to turn your trip to the racecourse into something longer though as there are conveniently located hotels in the nearby area.
Should you wish to stay overnight within Fakenham, there is really only one option, the Rampant Horse Inn. Although primarily a pub, it does feature three twin rooms and a one-bedroom self-catering apartment. Note that if staying here on a Saturday night, you may well have to deal with loud music playing until 2am.
It may be of interest to some to know that Fakenham Racecourse has its very own caravan and camping site, which is open every day of the year. The site is next door to the racecourse itself so it can be a perfect place to pitch up should you want to enjoy some live racing. It can end up being a very affordable way of staying nearby too and the site itself comes highly regarded by visitors thanks to the quality of its facilities.
Although the accommodation selection within Fakenham is in short supply, you do not have to go too far to find some well-rated hotels. In Great Ryburgh, less than four miles away, you have both the Melody House B&B and the Blue Boar Inn. To the north, in Walsingham, you have the Black Lion Hotel, which is close to a pair of other alternatives, the Meadow View Guest House and the Holly Lodge. All these options mentioned are at most 15 minutes away from the racecourse by car.
At the very edge of this limit, you can also find the King Head’s Hotel, around nine miles south in North Elmham. Although it is not a ‘budget’ option per se, you may find it is the cheapest option close to Fakenham.
Norwich Offers Best Choice
Although we have covered a number of different B&Bs and hotels by this stage, to enjoy an even bigger collection you will want to head to Norwich. Around 50 minutes away by car, Norwich has more places to stay than all the nearby villages combined. As well as more luxurious options that will seek to pamper you, it is possible to stay within Norwich without breaking the bank. You will find several of the well-known budget chains here, including Travelodge, Holiday Inn and Premier Inn.
About the Racecourse
With Norfolk able to boast wonderful beaches, picturesque parks, coastal walks and historic buildings, having two racecourses only adds to its appeal. Although Fakenham would rightly be considered a ‘small’ racecourse, it does attract a decent number of visitors to each meeting. Typically, you can expect to see in the region of 3,500 to 4,000 rock up for a typical fixture here so there will be a decent atmosphere without being overly crowded.
If you want to be one of the ones making the journey to Fakenham, you will need to know how to get there. The course itself is about a mile south of the town on the B1146 and the AA yellow signs will direct you there on race days. You can use a sat nav to get you close but they can end up taking you to the wrong car park if you are not careful. If approaching from the Pudding Norton (south-west) side you want to use the postcode NR21 7NA but if coming through the town centre, use NR21 7NY instead. Ample free parking will be available upon arrival across all meetings.
Anyone relying on public transport may find options limited when trying to get to Fakenham. The town has no train station and is only served by a limited number of bus routes. There is a service that departs to/from Norwich every hour although the 30-mile journey will take you an hour and a half. There is also a semi-frequent service going to/from King’s Lynn. Both services will drop you off at Oak Street, which is a 15-minute walk from the racecourse.
Fakenham’s course is very distinctive in shape. Rather than being round/oval like most, it is virtually square. It is not a particularly large square either so the course features four very tight turns and a small run-in following the last bend. In fact, it is widely considered to be the tightest jumps course the UK has to offer.
Not well suited to horses that prefer a long-striding gallop, it is your more agile horses that tend to do best here, particularly those that are efficient over the fences. The other aspect of Fakenham’s course worth mentioning is that underfoot conditions can be more testing than the official going suggests. Stamina can be a key attribute on such days particular as races do not tend to be steadily run here.
The official line is that Fakenham Racecourse does not have a dress code. Their recommendation, however, is that racegoers opt for casual attire that is fit for the weather as things can get cold and/or wet. For this reason, ladies are advised to be careful about their shoe choice as heels can end up stuck in the mud.
In the Members Enclosure or other hospitality areas, a suit or jacket for the gents is customary but neither are absolutely essential. The only other recommendation is that on Ladies Day, all racegoers should make an effort to impress. Ladies typically come donning smart dresses while you will find most gents wearing a suit and tie.
Fakenham Racecourse offers three different ticket types and three different stands. The cheapest of the ticketing options, the Course Enclosure, costs £12.50 in advance or £15 on the gate. Located at the far end of the parade ring, it is home to a relatively tiny, wheelchair friendly viewing area. It is a bit of a stretch to call it a stand due to its small size but it does provide some shelter from the elements.
To access the main grandstand, you will need to upgrade to a Grandstand and Paddock ticket, something that can be purchased for £17.50 in advance of £20 on the gate. As well as access to the entire parade ring and several bookmakers, there is also a large covered stand overlooking the track just short of the finishing post. Although it is very much a no thrills stand, it provides shelter within an excellent area of the course, close to all the major amenities.
The final, and best stand at Fakenham is the Princes of Wales Stand. Built in 2002 at a cost of £1m, this two-tier stand brings an element of comfort to Fakenham that you will not find elsewhere. The sleek-looking structure, equipped with a balcony, is only open to members or those who purchase a day members ticket. Such a ticket costs £22.50 if purchased in advance or £25 on the day. With it, you will have access to the entire ground floor but to go into the Firth Restaurant, on the first floor, you must make a reservation.
Fakenham Racecourse hosts 12 meetings per year between October and May. Tactically, they have scheduled Ladies Day to be their season finale as the sun is often out for this late-May fixture. The accompanying warm weather often allows both the ladies and gents to wear some of their snazziest clothes and many relish the opportunity to impress.
The pair of bank holiday meetings tend to attract a bumper crowd too. First up, is the New Year’s Day meeting, which can have a celebratory feel for those not suffering too much from the night before. Around three months later you have the Easter Monday race day which again benefits from many people being off work. Neither of these fixtures features any high-class racing though as Fakenham solely hosts lower-standard contests.
The West Norfolk Hunt was responsible for bringing racing to Fakenham. They initially ran a meeting at East Winch, near King’s Lynn, starting in 1884 but due to unsuitable ground, they began looking for a more appropriate site. Thanks to its lighter soil, Fakenham was selected as the new venue with the first meeting taking place here in 1905. Given that there was little in the way of existing transport links at the time, the fact that 37 horses took part showed how much local support there was for this event.
1905: First Meeting
This inaugural fixture took place on Easter Monday and for many years, excluding breaks caused by war, this was the sole meeting on the calendar. It was a fixture that contained only steeplechases for two years but a reduction in numbers triggered the introduction of a new hurdles event in 1926.
It was only in 1947 that Fakenham added a second meeting to its schedule with this coming on what was then known as the Whitsun Bank Holiday (now the Spring Bank Holiday). This extra fixture proved to be hugely popular among owners/trainers with 208 entries being made for just six races.
1953: Grandstand Built
With around double the amount of people attending Fakenham Racecourse back then, plans were put in place to build a brand-new grandstand. The grandstand, which remains today, was completed in 1953 along with the enlargement of the paddock. Finances took a turn for the worse over the next decade but the creation of Fakenham Racecourse Ltd helped ease problems. Not only were they able to qualify for Levy Board support but they leased part of the course so a sports centre could be built.
A Royal History
The new company also sought to increase ticket sales and they did so by increasing from two annual meetings to five in 1965. It was not too long after that Queen Elizabeth attended Fakenham, doing so in 1981 and then again in 2000. Unfortunately for her, during the latter meeting, the day’s racing was called off due to rain but she still enjoyed a spot of lunch at the course. For almost fifty years the Queen had been a patron of the course but she handed this over to the Prince of Wales on 1st January, 2000. It is because of this that Fakenham’s biggest single investment, the newest £1m stand, was named after him.