It is fair to say that Great Yarmouth is one of the more unusually located racecourses the United Kingdom has to offer. Rather than being surrounded by countryside, which is so commonly the case, this particular racing venue finds itself right by the seaside, with the North Sea just yards away.
With the racecourse an extremely short walk from the golden sands of the Norfolk coastline, you will be hard-pressed to find another seaside town offering such a special attraction, nor, for that matter, a course that works so well alongside a visit to the coast.
There are lots of people that love horse racing but there are even more that love the seaside. For this reason, Great Yarmouth is bursting full of different places to stay, many of which sit alongside the coastline. Although the racecourse is not centrally located, several accommodation options are within walking distance. This means you can easily spend some time at the beach, drop off your things, then stroll down the track and enjoy the action.
Although there are no hotels on the doorstop of the racecourse, there are several you can reach in 25 minutes or less on foot. Located on North Drive, the road running alongside the beach, you have options such as the White Lodge, Gable End and the Kensington Hotel. A touch further inland, on the parallel road, there are other small hotels or B&Bs for example Dene House, the Ryecroft, Maluth Lodge and Sunny Dene. Although it is a little further from the sea, Barnard House is also worth mentioning as it is barely more than 10 minutes from the gates of the racecourse.
The Rest of Great Yarmouth
The true heart of Great Yarmouth is a little under two miles south of the racecourse. It is here, close to the Britannia Pier, where you will find the greatest concentration of hotels and B&Bs. There are simply too many to name individually as the choice is fantastic. If you are wanting to stay overnight on more of a budget, avoid arriving during school holidays as prices can shoot up. That said, Great Yarmouth is fairly affordable compared to some other seaside towns.
If you are not so bothered about staying close to the coastline, the Premier Inn Great Yarmouth West is a very convenient option. It saves you having to drive into the often-busy streets of Great Yarmouth and features free on-site parking. It is also ideal for anyone travelling by train too as it sits just down the road from the railway station and, of course with a Premier Inn you know exactly what to expect.
Norwich for a City Stay
The seaside is not for everyone, particularly if the sun fails to shine, so we wanted to quickly mention an alternative to staying in Great Yarmouth. The nearby city of Norwich is easily accessible by car or public transport and can provide you with a completely different kind of stay. A typical journey will take you 40-minutes and upon arrival you will have access to many sizeable hotels within the city centre including two Premier Inns and a Travelodge, as well as more upmarket options.
About the Racecourse
Great Yarmouth has an incredibly busy schedule of summer racing so you will find plenty of convenient opportunities to visit should you wish. Speaking of convenient, the racecourse is not particularly difficult to reach no matter if you are arriving by car or public transport. For the former, most visitors will head east across the A47, which loops around Norwich, before taking you almost to very centre of Great Yarmouth. You avoid facing the town-centre traffic though as after exiting the dual carriageway, you will head north for a mile and half to reach the racecourse.
Despite there being plenty of residential homes surrounding the racecourse, there is no shortage of parking just north of the stands. There is no cost for this either with parking free of charge at all meetings. If you arrive into Great Yarmouth by train, the trip is walkable but at 30 minutes long, you might decide it is a little too far. This is no problem though as there are extremely frequent bus journeys that will collect nearby and drop you off just five minutes from the racecourse gates. To get to the rail station in the first place, you just need to get yourself to Norwich. This is the only significant stop that serves Great Yarmouth directly and there are usually two trains every hour.
The course at Great Yarmouth is extremely long but very narrow. There is a one-mile straight track, which, around two furlongs in, connects to a squashed oval featuring two very tight bends on either side. It is worth mentioning that the course’s straight track used to have some ups and downs but it was resurfaced in 2015 and made almost perfectly flat.
This extensive work has really improved the reputation of Great Yarmouth as it is now a brilliant galloping track that allows horses to pick up some real speed. Any horses here will spend most, if not all their time running in a straight line and conditions underfoot are often optimal for races run at a really good pace. Due to the quality of the track, you do find that some very promising runners feature here early on their career before going on to bigger things.
Given that the seaside is a casual and relaxed place to be, the same sentiment applies at much of Great Yarmouth racecourse. For most areas of the venue, you can wear whatever is comfortable, and this might simply be shorts and a t-shirt for a particularly warm meeting. No matter how warm things get though, shirts must stay on at all times.
Some rules are enforced for anyone in the Premier Enclosure and hospitality areas, however. The requirements are by no means strict but smart casual is expected at a minimum. Smart jeans and tailored shorts are perfectly acceptable but beachwear, sportswear, ripped denim or casual shorts are not. No special requirements apply on Ladies Day and even though many will attend donning an extravagant hat, headwear is by no means compulsory.
There are three large grandstands at Great Yarmouth racecourse, which can help provide some shade from the sunshine. The two located further down the home straight, lacking any sort of special title, are the ones you will access with a Grandstand & Paddock ticket. If purchasing in advance, entry here costs £18 per adult. Sitting in front of the two grandstands is a huge patch of grass and many people choose to set up for a picnic in this space. Spectators are welcome to bring in their own food and drink but beverages must be non-alcoholic. A Grandstand & Paddock ticket also gives access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure.
The other stand at Great Yarmouth is the much more modern Lord Nelson Grandstand, reserved for those who have a Premier Enclosure ticket. Inside the Premier Enclosure, you will find various restaurants, bars and hospitality suites. As standard, a ticket purchased in advance here will cost £25. If you do want a three-course meal in the Trafalgar Restaurant though, along with your admission, you will be looking at £80 a head for most meetings. If you would prefer to sit outside though, Premier ticket holders also have access to a spacious lawn equipped with garden furniture.
With 23 fixtures taking place between April and October, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy some live horse racing under the sunlight at Great Yarmouth. Attendances are generally healthy, especially in the height of summer, but there are a couple of particular highlights worth singling out. First of all, Ladies Night in July is always a big occasion as so many in attendance come wearing their finest attire. This includes a wide array of hats and there is no such thing as too extravagant on this particular evening.
The biggest meeting at Great Yarmouth Racecourse is, however, the three days of the Eastern Festival, which is held midweek in September. A lengthy celebration of racing, this meeting is home to Yarmouth’s highest class race, the John Musker Fillies’ Stakes, on day two. It was an event that produced a real shock in 2012 as a 125/1 outsider finished five lengths ahead of the rest. The festival ends with a bang as there is yet another day dedicated for the Ladies, only this time in the afternoon rather than the evening. As with Ladies Night, it is the perfect excuse to get dressed up in a stylish but relaxed environment.
Evidence of horse racing taking place at Great Yarmouth dates back all the way to 1715. This was made possible as the Great Yarmouth Corporation leased a group of innkeepers some land, which could be used for racing purposes. This original course was located close to where the Nelson’s Monument now lives in South Denes. Its coastal spot helped maximise interest, as did the fact early meetings coincided with the annual September Fair.
Started Off with Pig & Donkey Races
To begin with, Great Yarmouth was not an incredibly serious racing venue, as they had events such as pursuit of the pig (featuring a soaped tail) and donkey races. By the early 19th century though, things had become more formal and there were now three days of live thoroughbred racing, one in August and a two-day meeting the following month. Just the three days of racing remined in place for some time as it was not until 1866 that additional fixtures started to be added.
The Move from South Denes to North Denes
Racing continued as normal in South Denes until 1906 but, at this point, the course was hit with a double blow. Not only did the lease for the land expire but the grandstand was destroyed during a fire. Given that local fisherman were also looking to acquire more space in the South Denes area, it seemed a very good time to relocate. A suitable site was found around three miles up the coast, in North Denes – the place the course current lives.
A pair of recently constructed steel framed grandstands were transported across the city and relocated at the new site, which officially opened over 100 years ago, back in September 1920. At this time, the course was under the control of the local authority but it eventually became part of Northern Racing and then the Arena Racing Company (ARC). By being in private hands, the course could afford upgrades the council would not have been able to provide, such as the Lord Nelson Grandstand in 2004. Additional improvements have followed and this continued progress has enabled Great Yarmouth to increase the amount of racedays it offers.