Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Norfolk by Northwest

I should spend a moment explaining the absence of posts recently. We've been in Norfolk and Suffolk.

There, that should do it.

Seriously, though, apart from a couple of large towns (like Norwich and, er, Norwich), there is beggar all wireless internet coverage. Take, for instance, pages 126 and 127 of our road atlas. They cover nearly 450 square miles of Suffolk, and not one inch of it was covered by our internet signal. I know - we drove around most of it.

Anyway, grump over. Back to the journey...

Driving from Cambridge to Sandringham, the road passes through an area which is charmingly called The Fens. This part of the world is flat. Very flat. The skies are huge and the soil is a rich, loamy jet black.

Much of the journey travels alongside the rivers and drainage ditches that are everywhere around here. The disconcerting thing, however, is that the water level in the rivers is about ten feet above road level - vast areas of the land are only a pumping station away from being lakes. The whole of the Fens (about a million acres spanning four counties) sits uncomfortably close to sea level. It wouldn't take much of a rise in sea level to lose the lot.

One of the reasons for staying at the Sandringham campsite on the Sandringham Estate, was to be close to Sandringham House (You see, sometimes we think about these thinks). I thought that my Mum would never forgive us if we came all this way and didn’t pop in to see where the Queen goes for her hols. Sadly, like much of the rest of the tourism universe, it was closed until April.

Sorry Mum.

Still, there were plenty of other things to see in the area. The nearest big town is King’s Lynn. We popped along one day, hoping to see something a bit special, since King’s Lynn is dripping with history. We were disappointed.

At first I was perplexed as to why a town would create a perfectly ugly new shopping centre (which is suffering during the recession – there are plenty of brand new shops lying empty) and call it the Vancouver Quarter. I was lucky enough to spend some time in British Columbia during a work trip some years ago, and the difference between Vancouver Island and a strikingly awkward new shopping centre are immeasurable. The town was a thorough let-down. But not to be put off, and certain that we’d missed something (anything would do!), we returned a couple of days later and parked at the other end of town. It was MUCH better from that end.

Away from the centre, we spent a happy hour dawdling our way around the old cobbled streets and along the waterfront. It was there that we stumbled across a statue of the local hero, Captain George Vancouver,

an 18th century explorer who mapped much of the North American Pacific coast (his maps were so accurate, they were still in use in the early 20th century!). Such was his legacy that a city, an island and a shopping centre bear his name. It’s probably worth pointing out that the current shopping centre replaced a much worse 1960’s one.

Nearby squats another monument to the Great and Good of local history. Sunk into the ground, it bears plaques naming heroes of yore, including Samuel Cresswell (the first naval officer to traverse the Northwest Passage), John Smith (the founder of Virginia and New England and who was saved from execution by Pocahontas), Friar Nicholas (who allegedly popped over to Iceland and then went on to discover the Americas) and Admiral Lord Nelson. The memorial also doubles up as a meeting place for the local youth who pay homage to their past by leaving sacrificial burger wrappers.

There are plenty of good points to the town (it wasn’t all bad).
There is the very fine two-towered St. Margaret’s Church (one tower bears a clock, the other a handy tide indicator) and the splendid Guildhall, along with plenty of cobbled lanes with leaning houses. We left the town at dusk, leaving the empty streets and an eerily deserted funfair. Somehow, that fitted.

A couple of miles North of King’s Lynn sits Castle Rising Castle, a very fine 12th century keep which, despite missing a roof and several floors, is actually remarkably intact, and a splendid place to while away an hour or two.

Further North sits the curious coastal resort of Hunstanton. Perhaps a cold, grey afternoon isn’t the best time to appreciate a sea-side town, but I’m not sure it would have been any better if we’d seen it in glorious sunshine. I’m certain we must have missed something, but the highlight seemed to be the self-proclaimed “Britain’s Largest Joke Shop.” I can only conclude that the good people of Hunstanton are experimenting with comedic principles because
a: it wasn’t very big, and
b: it wasn’t funny.
Hunstanton’s other claim-to-fame is that it is the only East coast seaside resort in England where the sun can be seen to set over the sea. The sad thing is that the sea here is only The Wash, and beyond that lies Lincolnshire which, let's be honest, is just a waste of a good sunset.

Meanwhile, our new bird feeder was doing excellent trade with the local wildlife. Not that the birds got much of a look-in.

It was either a whole gang of squirrels who worked in shifts, or just one particularly persistent little pest – one morning I went out every ten minutes for an hour to chase him off, but he (or the next shift) kept coming back. Pesky beasts.

We took a day-trip to Birmingham one day. Not the obvious place to visit from Norfolk, but it was the National Boat, Caravan and Outdoor Show. We wanted to have a look at a few gadgets and gizmos, but mostly we wanted to see the new European Airstream 422 Bambi. It’s soooooo cute! We’re going to have to get one for the bunnies. Is there a way to tow a trailer behind a trailer? I’ll have to look into that one… The show also hosted a very desirable aluminium canoe, a rather attractive aluminium sports car and even an aluminium narrow boat. Shiny!

When it was time to move on, we decided to take the scenic route to Cromer in North East Norfolk, rather than the much more sensible and direct road. This was a mistake. The road was narrow, winding and decidedly (for Norfolk) lumpy. At one point, in the village of Cley-Next-The-Sea, the road narrowed perilously, to the extent that only a cyclist could comfortably negotiate the road (if they tucked their elbows in!). Luckily, a 12 ton truck pulled out in front of us and with a pioneering spirit, barged all on-comers out of the way while we followed along in its wake.

And so we arrived in Cromer...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoying the updates again!

Hope you enjoy Cromer. I've never been and want to go. Mainly it's to do with the Victoria Wood sketch where she recounts getting the Shuttle from Manchester and the stewardess announcing: 'Welcome Aboard. As our flying time is only half an hour our inflight movie will be a silent film of me on the beach at Cromer!'.

Ever since then, I've wanted to go to Cromer to make a silent film of me on the beach...

See you next week.