The north Norfolk Coast and the Fens; a distant land for us southerners, cut off by sprawling London. Tackling the M25 demands consideration; “the biggest parking lot in Europe “ the garage said, All went well on our outward journey but we hit the Friday rush hour coming back Miles of cars edging along… .and stopping.
Was it worth it? Oh yes. The light, the skies, the flatness, the space. Great flat fields of dark earth interlaced with ditches, sluices and rivers spanned with lifting bridges. Holland? No, but there were some gable ended houses reminiscent of the Low Countries.
In the 18th century this was a wealthy and prosperous part of England trading produce with Europe and beyond. Now, with its wide sandy beaches, it has one of the biggest inflows of tourists in the country. The whole coastline has changed over the years due to the sea shifting sand and pebbles. Swathes of mud and sand have been deposited along the shore forming wide salt marshes in front of some of the coastal villages Once thriving ports, they can be approached now from the sea only by narrow creeks which have to wait for the tide to be navigable. The creeks’ muddy banks glitter in the light, and wind through dark marshes: the sun sets behind them, flaming red through streaks of cloud. Great for walkers, sea birds and twitchers and vast sandy beaches for children (consult the 1” ordnance survey map before booking) with tippling waves when the wind is from the southwest and long lines of sand dunes to shelter behind.
For the not-so-young. Delicious fresh crab in restaurants and from kiosks on village staithes: harbour quays and “hards” to park the car, view the fishermen, yacht tenders and their occupants coming and going, and contemplate the view and life. The pretty little villages all seem to nestle into the landscape. (warning, don’t go to Cromer unless you are prepared to walk and the A 149 has bottlenecks) Travelling around, there is Lord Nelson’s birthplace at Burnham Thorpe and a pub well worth finding in the village, as was a working water mill in the area.
Specific pluses: Boat trips to see the seals on Blakeney Point and visiting Holkam Hall, a very grand stately home and estate, privately owned and opened to the public. An ancestor was instrumental in changing the way farms were managed to much increase their productivity. Also Houghton Hall, built for Lord Walpole, our first prime minister, now staging an exhibition of Lord Walpole’s original art collection with the paintings replaced in their original positions on the walls.
The coast turns south along the side of the Wash. How could King John think he could cross it with his army? We pass Sandringham and arrive in King’s Lynn on the Great Ouse River. The old town is beautiful, full of fine old merchants’ houses and enticing alleyways opening onto courtyard gardens, just where one might want to live – until you catch sight of a waist high benchmark on the wall saying this is the height of the 1953 flood. Could it happen again with a high tide and east wind? All along the river quayside there are high solid iron barriers and gates waiting to fill any gaps in the walls and protect the towns’ citizens. The lighthouse where the artist Peter Scott lived and painted the wild geese flying over the marshes, stands high on the sea wall among the salt marshes, with the bird ponds below.
These are just a few of the interesting and beautiful places that abound in the area, where the wind on a stormy day still blows the mysterious north sea spume up the shingle beach.
Recommended: “A Rough Guide to Norfolk and Suffolk “ and 1” to mile Ordnance Survey map.