Thursday, 26 March 2009

"Very flat, Norfolk." Noel Coward - Private Lives, 1930.

Cromer, perching on the North East corner of Norfolk, is a quiet little seaside town. At least it was when we were there - it is littered with B&B's and guest houses and is surrounded by caravan parks, so I'm guessing that it is mobbed in the Summer. We found a pleasant little site which is a contender for two awards on our "Survey Of Caravan Sites Of The World (part one - England)." First up, it scored highly in the "Cheapest Site" award. At £5.50 a night (including electric), it's the cheapest we've found for a long while. Secondly, it made a strong bid for the "Slowest Tap" trophy. If the weather had been warmer, the water coming out of the tap might have evaporated as fast as the tank was filling. Still, at that price, we couldn't complain.

It turns out that Mr. Coward was wrong. Cromer itself sits at the Eastern end of the glacial tide-mark known (rather prosaically) as the Cromer Ridge. The highest point on the ridge, Beacon Hill, lies a couple of miles to the West and reaches a lofty 330 feet above sea level. It doesn't sound like much, but it's the highest point in the whole of the four counties of East Anglia. The Ridge, slouching its way down to the coast, and being composed of sand, gravel and chalk, is doing it's best to stand against the sea, but it is fighting a losing battle. All along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, we would see the efforts of the Environment Agency to protect these fragile shores.

The local architecture is dominated by flint. As common as muck in these chalky lands, every building bearing the general description of "old" is basically a pile of flint lumps stuck together with lime mortar. All the village churches of Norfolk are built this way and the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Cromer is no different, except it is the tallest church tower in the county. Cromer also boasts a proper British pier, complete with the Pavilion Theatre and a lifeboat station stuck on the end. The lifeboat deserves a particular mention.

In the lifeboat station, there is a bronze bust of the local hero, Henry Blogg, "the greatest of the lifeboatmen." He was, by day, a crab fisherman who also ran a beach hut/deck chair hire business. When needed, though, he was the Cox of the Cromer lifeboat from 1909 to 1947. When he retired (at the age of 71), he and his crew had launched 387 times and saved 873 lives. He won the RNLI Gold Medal three times and the Silver medal four times as well as being awarded the British Empire Medal and the George Cross. The man was a true hero. And he couldn't even swim. I have an unbounded admiration for the crews of the nation's lifeboats. They are all volunteers, and the service relies wholly on charitable donations. I can think of no finer example of human altruism. Have a look at the RNLI website and please donate if you can.

Back Eastward along the coast, lies the little village of Wells-next-the-Sea. This is something of a misnomer, since land reclamation and silting up of an estuary means that the sea is now about a mile away. We went there for the same reason we have visited many places - it registers on the "Have We Heard Of It?" scale. Wells is the sort of place which appears in loads of lifestyle magazines, and we had high hopes. The village itself did a very good job of dashing those hopes. It all became clear, however, when we took the long trip down to the beach. The attraction is instantly obvious. A long line of beach huts (about 300 of them) nestles at the foot of a pine tree-clad ridge, right at the edge of the beach. The high tide reaches almost to the foot of the hut steps, and on a sunny summer day, it would be glorious (and horribly, horribly busy)

A little further along the coast sits the village of Cley-next-the-Sea. Again, the sea has done a bunk, leaving a pretty little village, with a narrow main road with treacherous bends, and a rather attractive windmill. Norfolk is dotted with windmills in various states of use or repair. The one in Cley is actually a B&B, and you can stay in a round room in the tower if you like.

The beach at Cley is a pebbled affair, but is the root of a shingle spit stretching about ten miles to Blakeney Point, a large bird reserve and seal breeding ground. The spit is managed as a sea defence, but it wouldn't take much effort for the sea to breach it.

It did, however, provide us with one of those sunsets that the vast, open sky of Norfolk does so well.



iks said...

Hi just read the Marie Claire article and a really odd request! where did you buy your bedsheets and are they purple or black, we've been looking for some like that for ages!

Pete said...


It is a pattern called Oxygen and is black with silver embroidery.

We bought it in a department store in Dorchester, but here's the link from the packaging...

I hope that concludes your search!

Best wishes,


Isla said...