CLAPPING and cheering may be banned but there is no stopping the squeals of laughter and gasps of surprise.
My children Lily, eight, and five-year-old Clark are wide-eyed at Great Yarmouth’s Hippodrome Circus as trapeze artists risk life and limb and synchronised swimmers turn the main stage into a pool.
The pandemic has even inspired hilarious new characters Covid Colin and a Joe Wicks spoof from the show’s star Jonny Mac.
At 117 years old, the Norfolk seafront building is one of the world’s last remaining permanent circus venues.
Elephants and lions used to bathe in the North Sea before performing alongside legends including wrestler Big Daddy. And in World War Two it was used as a shooting range.
It is now run by Peter Jay, a former pop star who toured with The Beatles and Rolling Stones, and his wife Christine and sons Jack and Ben.
Since the pandemic, they have started filming the shows, which feature spectacular effects including indoor fireworks, and it is planned to release them as pay-per-view online.
The kids and I are in Great Yarmouth for a three-night break at the newly-renovated Richardson’s holiday park, where a six-bed caravan costs £455 in peak summer.
Crocodiles and pythons
There are the obvious pandemic safety measures, but the site still has plenty to offer guests, with go-karts, swimming, live entertainment and two restaurants.
Boss Justin Etteridge says: “We have seen bookings steadily growing and are positive this will continue.
“With the park being closed at the start of the season, it has given us the opportunity to review and look for future growth areas, such as opening up our winter-warmer breaks from November.”
Our comfortable and fun base, which also includes a high-ropes course, is perfect for exploring all that Great Yarmouth has to offer.
And many of the seaside town’s attractions are adapting well to the new normal.
Farmer Richard Hirst has added a drive-through cinema to his maize maze at Hirsty’s Family Fun Park (£7.50 adults, £10 children).
Despite only being allowed 40 per cent of the visitors he would usually welcome, it has helped Richard all but make up his losses for the year.
Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach theme park has entertained crowds for 111 years.
To become Covid-safe, it has reduced visitors from 3,000 per day to 1,000. It has also split the day into two three-hour sessions, with an hour interval for staff to deep-clean the site. The slots start at 10.30am and 2.30pm and cost £12 per person — and with fewer people, there are shorter queues, too.
Merrivale Model Village (£6.99 per person) has new one-way systems, while Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens (£14.50 adults, £10.50 under-16s), which features tigers, leopards, crocodiles and pythons, has brought in extra cleaning and pre-booked ticket systems.
Zoological director Scott Bird said: “Three months of closure has had an impact on any business and obviously with our animals, costs could only be reduced so much. But with the government support measures, we got through the lockdown period and reopened.”
Not everyone, though, thinks the Government is offering seaside businesses the right support. Lorna Bevan is landlady of The Lacon Arms in nearby Hemsby, and the pub has been busy with families looking to tuck into beautiful local seafood or delicious burgers sourced from nearby farms.
But Lorna thinks the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out discount scheme has been badly timed.
She said: “We didn’t need that offer at this time. We want it in September/October time to lure more visitors here out of season.”
But whenever you go, with the circus, rollercoasters and best fish and chips around, Great Yarmouth has it all.
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