Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Tucked away in a corner of The Wash is King’s Lynn, or Lynn as it is affectionately named by the locals. The King’s part of the name was conferred by Henry VIII; it used to be called Bishop’s Lynn, the bishop in question being the Bishop of Norwich, until Henry came along and dispossessed the Bishop. The town has enjoyed a prosperous past, as can be seen from the impressive architecture, from the 13th century Chapel of St Nicholas to the Jacobean and Georgian buildings of the Tuesday Market, which in fact holds a market on Fridays as well as Tuesdays, while on Saturdays a market is held in – you guessed it – the Saturday Market. The town has two guildhalls, the 15th century Holy Trinity Guildhall with its striking chequered flint pattern, and the National Trust owned St George's Guildhall, the largest ancient guildhall in England to have survived intact. The upper part of the latter guildhall is a theatre, where the earliest production is thought to have been staged in 1442, and where Shakespeare is believed to have performed.  King’s Lynn is linked to The Wash by the Great Ouse, with a busy port downstream.

Looking around at the gracious surroundings of the Tuesday Market, which includes the fetchingly pink grandeur of the Duke’s Head Hotel’s facade, it is hard to believe some of the things that went on there in previous centuries. In my Manningtree post (24th July) I wrote about the “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who went rampaging around East Anglia on a “seek and destroy” mission against presumed witches. Individual towns paid Hopkins to clear them of their witches, with King’s Lynn offering him £15 for his services. It was in the Tuesday Market that the victims of the town’s witchcraft hysteria were burnt at the stake. Added to this grisly spectacle was the gallows in the square where criminals were hanged. But perhaps the most horrific account of the brutal punishments meted out to wrongdoers in the square here involved a maidservant who was accused of poisoning her mistress. The unfortunate girl was plunged into a cauldron of boiling water, and according to local legend the girl’s chest burst open from the impact of the boiling water, causing her heart to shoot across to the opposite wall. There is a carved heart within a diamond-shaped frame above the door of an old brick building in the north-west corner of the square, which is meant to mark the spot where this gruesome event took place.

The town's colourful past is recounted in the Stories of Lynn museum next door to the Holy Trinity guildhall, and in the Lynn Museum on Market Street.  The Hanse House dates back to the days of the Hanseatic League and is nowadays used as a wedding venue.  The Greyfriars Art Space is a gallery and arts centre opposite the ruins of Greyfriars Tower, a former Franciscan friary.

For a calendar of events in King's Lynn, see here.

Map of the area.

'King's Lynn' photo (c) 2010, Nick Hubbard - license:

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Heacham has a long history dating back to before the Romans, with evidence of settlement going back as far as the Stone Age. Nowadays, apart from the glorious sunsets it enjoys as a result of its position on the Wash, its main appeal is floral. The poppyfields here are a spectacular sight at the height of the poppy season, when the fields around the village are aflame with red flowers. Heacham is also home to Norfolk Lavender where, as well as marvelling at the beautiful sea of purple blooms in the lavender season which extends from mid-June to the end of August, visitors can shop for lavender based products such as soaps, perfumes or lavender plants to enjoy in their own gardens.

Near Heacham, Snettisham is a pretty village with many fine examples of traditional Norfolk cottages made of carrstone, many of which are available to rent as holiday lets. The focal point of the village is the imposing spire of St Mary’s Church. During the 20th century, treasures from the village’s past were discovered in what has come to be known as the Snettisham Hoard, which included some beautiful examples of gold ‘torcs’ or neck rings. These relics of the Iron Age were found between 1948 and 1973, while in the mid-1980s a further hoard of Romano-British jewellery was found. These items are now on display in the Norwich Castle Museum and British Museum. The charming village sign depicts one of the torcs above a pair of seahorses either side of a boat and two local figures. Snettisham has its own RSPB bird reserve with walks available for viewing the huge numbers of birds from a number of different species. A few miles away from Snettisham is the royal house and estate of Sandringham; both the house and estate can be visited, and the Country Park is free of charge. During the Second World War, a German bomb fell in Snettisham, just 150 yards from the church, and an eyewitness from the village reported seeing a Zeppelin overhead just before the explosion. There was a theory that the bomb was intended for the King’s home at Sandringham but that the airmen missed their target by several miles; if that was true, it is just as well that the Royal Family had left for London, so were well out of harm’s way.

Map of the area.

'Norfolk Lavender' photo (c) 2010, Martin Pettitt - license:

Monday, 29 August 2011


Hunstanton, on the south shore of The Wash, is often affectionately referred to as “Sunny Hunny”. The resort has the pecularity of being an East Coast resort which enjoys wonderful sunsets due to its geographical position. In fact, there are two Hunstantons, the resort of Hunstanton St Edmond and the village of Old Hunstanton. Old Hunstanton has a lovely sandy beach begging to be walked along, which is popular with kite surfers. The sand here is put to good use every year in August when the annual RNLI Sandcastle Competition is held. Hunstanton is famous for its “striped cliffs” which get their striped appearance from layers of different types of rock: white chalk from the Upper Cretaceous era, red chalk from the Lower Cretaceous and grey/green Carstone. Fans of seals are well served by Hunstanton, in the form of boat trips out to the large seal colony on the nearby sand banks and the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary, which includes a seal hospital and rescue centre.

In 1953 Hunstanton was the victim of flooding caused by a combination of winds, atmospheric pressure and high tides. The damage and loss of life was enough to prompt a visit from the young Queen Elizabeth. Later, the Queen was to award a 22-year-old airman called Reis L. Leming with the George medal after the young hero had saved no less than 27 lives during the floods. Leming received a hero’s welcome on returning home from duty to receive the medal. Among the victims of the flooding were eight US airmen stationed in the area. Another tragic event associated with Hunstanton was the wrecking of the trawler Sheraton in 1947.  The trawler was used as a patrol vessel in World War II and its remains can still be seen on the beach below the cliffs.

Map of the area.

'100402 025704 LC Old Hunstanton Cliffs.jpg' photo (c) 2010, Martin Godfrey - license:

Sunday, 28 August 2011


Moving along the coast towards Holme-Next-The-Sea, we come to Titchwell Marsh, an area of salt and freshwater marshes and reed beds rich in bird life such as water rails, reed warblers and bearded tits. There are hides available for viewing the birds and an information centre.

By the time we reach Holme-Next-The-Sea, we are on the outer reaches of The Wash, that curious square ‘nick’ on the east coast of Britain. In the late 1990s this remote corner of the North Norfolk coast got into the news headlines when a circle of wooden posts was found, together with the upturned stump of an oak tree in the middle, on the beach at Holme, having been exposed following heavy winter storms. The county Archaeological Unit identfied the find as dating from the Bronze Age, from around 2,000 BC, which is roughly the same age as Stonehenge, hence the nickname which was given to it: Seahenge. The find was thought to be the best preserved example in Europe. Normally, the timbers in such sites crumble away, but here the waterlogged ground led to them being preserved. The oak stump in the middle is thought to have been used as some kind of altar. Theories about the purpose of the circle range from it having some sort of astronomical significance to being a place of ‘excarnation’, where bodies were laid out after death to hasten the process of decomposition.

of the area.

'Bittern 3' photo (c) 2010, Andy  Vernon - license:

Saturday, 27 August 2011


The history of this piece of the North Norfolk coast dates back to at least Roman times, when there was a fort between what are now Brancaster and Brancaster Staithe called Branodunum. The fort formed part of the “Saxon shore” fortification system and was built to protect approaches to the Wash. In fact, there is a school of thought that there was a timber fortification here which predated the Roman fort in the days of Boudicca. One attribute which is left over from Roman times is the importance of seafood to the local economy. Both oysters and mussels are cultivated in the area. Hungry visitors have the option of buying seafood baguettes from a wooden hut by the harbour, or alternatively paying a visit to the excellent White Horse pub where a feast of local seafood is accompanied by wonderful views over the marshes. In 2008 the National Trust helped to open a brand new fishing quay at Brancaster Staithe for local fishermen to unload their daily catch. Walks can be taken alongside the marshes where there are plenty of opportunities for birdwatching. During the winter months, bird enthusiasts are treated to the sight of endless skeins of pink-footed geese flying inland to feed or heading out to sea to roost. In summer the skies over the marshes are alive with swallows, marsh harriers and other birds looking for food over the reedbeds. The tidal inlets among the salt marshes at Brancaster are the perfect spot for messing about in boats.  This tranquil environment is run by the National Trust, which has information on its website about what to see in the area.

of the area.

'Brancaster Staithe 2010' photo (c) 2010, Alex Kloten - license:

Friday, 26 August 2011


This part of Norfolk is home to a cluster of Burnhams. We have already touched upon Burham Thorpe, birthplace of Horatio Nelson, but there are several more including the swanky Burnham Market a short way inland and, on the coast, the intriguingly named Burnham Overy Staithe (the word 'staithe' means 'landing place' or 'platform of timber'. Nelson cut his nautical teeth here, learning to row and sail a dinghy two years before joining the Navy, which he did at the tender age of twelve. Another seafaring person of note associated with the village was Richard Woodget, Captain of the famous Cutty Sark, who lived there towards the end of his life. Burnham was a port serving the local area from around 1400 when the first wooden quays were built until the arrival of the railways in the 1800s. There is a lane in the village called Gong Lane, so named because a gong was sounded at the top of this lane to signal the arrival of a ship. The port also serviced trade with other countries across the North Sea, with Dutch and French among the languages to be heard on the quayside. Now there are salt marshes and channels between the village and the open sea which are only navigable by small vessels. When the tide is right there is a ferry available for visits to the nature reserve on Scolt Head Island where birds and seals can be observed as well as botanical specimens such as matted sea lavender. There are significant numbers of breeding terns here as well as wintering wildfowl and waders such as shelduck, wigeon, teal and curlew.

Webcam view from Burnham Overy Boathouse.

Map of the area.

'Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk' photo (c) 2007, Martin P - license:

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Such is the drama and beauty of the beach at what is known as Holkham Gap that it has featured in two major Hollywood films. Several scenes in The Eagle Has Landed starring Michael Caine were filmed on the beach and in the pinewoods, and the closing scenes of Shakespeare in Love were also filmed on the beach here. The beach also made a guest appearance in The Avengers, and it is this beach on which members of the girl band All Saints are intermittently glimpsed during their video of Pure Shores, the song which headlined in the film of the book The Beach starring Leonardo di Caprio. This is the kind of beach which just begs to be strolled along, with its vast golden sands lapped by the invigorating waves of the North Sea.  The beach and surrounding area form the Holkham National Nature Reserve.

The other thing which Holkham is notable for is the majestic Holkham Hall, set back from the sea beyond the little village of Holkham. This Palladian mansion was built for the Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, who had visions of an Italian villa. The paintings on display in the house are a veritable ‘hall of fame’ of classic painters: Van Dyck, Rubens, Gainsborough. The house also features some fine tapestries. In a former stable block is the Bygones Museum with displays of antique farm machinery and implements, cars and domestic items. Coke carried out experiments in various aspects of farming, and was responsible for revolutionising agricultural practices. The parkland surrounding the Hall was partly landscaped by Capability Brown and includes a monument to Thomas Coke. The grounds include a walled garden, woods and a deer park.

Map of the area.

'Heading home' photo (c) 2009, rayand - license:

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


For fans of British naval hero Horatio Nelson, this part of Norfolk is a treasurehouse of memories of the great man. He was born a short distance inland at Burnham Thorpe, but later in his life, while Nelson was away at sea, his wife Fanny rented a cottage on the large green known as The Buttlands in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and Nelson was a frequent visitor to The Crown Hotel situated at the side of the green. The hotel is still open for business now for anyone wanting to follow in Nelson’s footsteps.

As with Cley Next The Sea, the name Wells-Next-The-Sea – which derives from the many spring wells around the town - is a bit of a misnomer, since this former port, one of the most important in the region in the 16th century, is now a good mile from open water due to the silting up of the harbour, although there is still a proper quayside.  One of the buildings dominating the waterfront is the Granary, which now offers luxury holiday accommodation with harbour views. To the west of the town is a long, sandy beach backed by pine woods and adorned by jolly beach huts which can be reached on foot or, alternatively, by means of a miniature steam train. Another attraction for train ride enthusiasts is the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, of which the Wells terminus is on the Stiffkey road. There is a boating lake on reclaimed marshland behind the sea wall. Meanwhile, for those wanting a taste of South America in Norfolk there is an Alpaca Trekking attraction.

view of the harbour.

of the area.

'Wells-next-the-Sea Harbour' photo (c) 2006, David Merrett - license:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Between Blakeney and Wells Next The Sea are two coastal villages called Morston and Stiffkey. Morston’s salt marsh is run by the National Trust and parts of it can be walked on, but care needs to be taken because of the risk of being stranded by rising tides. The poet Edwin Brock summed up this environment nicely in the opening to his poem called Morston Marshes: “Into this muddy coastline/the North Sea seeps silently/twice a day/under the kestrel’s weather eye.” The creek at Morston Quay is an alternative departure point to Blakeney for the seal trips going out to Blakeney Point. The cottages in the village are in the typical style of the region, built with grey flint trimmed with red brick, and looming above them on a raised piece of land is the impressive All Saints Church.

More flint and brick cottages can be found at neighbouring Stiffkey, which is also flanked by salt marshes, source of a local delicacy, the “Stewkey Blue” cockle (Stewkey is the archaic pronunciation of Stiffkey). The village boasts a church within a church: the round tower that constitutes the remains of an older church, St Marys, occupying the churchyard of the more recent St John the Baptist. Stiffkey Old Hall dates from the 16th century and was built by Sir Francis Bacon’s brother, Nathaniel. The hall is privately owned. Exiting the village towards Wells Next The Sea there is a hill known as Warborough Hill, which is thought to be the remains of an Iron Age barrow.

In the 1930s the rector of Stiffkey, Harold Davidson, was defrocked as a result of immorality charges, having a predilection for young girls. He turned to the world of seaside entertainment, taking part in a series of bizarre spectacles, the last of which, in Skegness, involved holding forth in a lion’s cage in the company of Freddie the lion and Toto the lioness. After accidentally stepping on Toto’s tail, Freddie lashed out and mauled Davidson, who subsequently died from his injuries.  They don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Map of the area.

'Big Sky at Stiffkey' photo (c) 2009, Johnnie Shannon - license:

Monday, 22 August 2011


One of the most endearing sights to be enjoyed at many locations around the British coast is that of the colonies of seals whose big eyes and curious manner melt the hearts of wildlife enthusiasts everywhere. They are most often to be found lounging around on groups of rocks or small islands just offshore, or poking their heads out of the water to check out who’s looking in on them. The seals of Blakeney, however, drape themselves over the sands on a spit of land known as Blakeney Point, far enough out for them to do their breeding, along with the nesting birds who also occupy the Point. Visitors who wish to view the seals at close quarters face a choice: either a lengthy walk which entails negotiating the many dykes in the area, or a trip out to the Point on one of the many boats which go out there from Blakeney. There are wildfowl to be seen back in the village also. The day we were there we were treated to the comical sight of a parade of geese playing “follow my leader”, turning in unison to the left or the right.

The village itself is delightful to wander round, with some nice shops and pubs serving up the area’s delicious seafood, and many alluring cottages available for holiday lets. Blakeney Guildhall, run by English Heritage, and which is free to visit, is the remains of a house which was owned by a rich Blakeney merchant, with an impressive 15th century vaulted undercroft. This dates from an earlier time when Blakeney was a seaport, but like Cley Next The Sea, the harbour was silted up by the early 20th century, and only small boats can now sail right up to the village. Blakeney’s impressive church, St Nicholas, has an unusual appearance due to the fact that it has two towers, one bigger one at one end, and at the other end a “baby tower” rising out of the chancel which used to have a beacon to guide mariners.

Map of the area.

'Blakeney Point Seals' photo (c) 2009, Duncan Harris - license:

Sunday, 21 August 2011


By the time we reach Cley Next The Sea, we are heading into wildlife watching heaven, something this stretch of Norfolk coast is well known for. Cley used to be a port but, unlike other places along the east coast where whole chunks of coast have been lost to the sea, here the sea has receded, leaving the former harbour village stranded. The resulting extra bit of land is Cley Marsh, an expanse of reeds surrounding brackish and freshwater lagoons. This NWT Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is a haven for breeding birds such as bearded tits and bitterns. Wildfowl enthusiasts should head here in winter, when this area is teeming with such species. There is a visitor centre on the approach to the village offering plenty of parking for those who want to set off walking.

The village itself has a handful of shops, including a smokehouse where smoked edibles can be bought. The church of St Margarets was the largest church in the area in medieval times, and used to overlook the harbour back when Cley was a port, but now overlooks the village green. Cley also has its own windmill, lending a jaunty Dutch appearance to the village skyline, and for those thinking of tying the knot it is possible to hire the windmill for weddings. The windmill also offers holiday accommodation.

Map of the area.

'Cley next the Sea' photo (c) 2008, Marco Chiesa - license:

Saturday, 20 August 2011


A couple of years ago, we spent a delightful long weekend staying in a beautiful little fisherman’s cottage in Sheringham. The only thing that marred our stay was a particularly zealous traffic warden who, on a Sunday morning when we were a bit slow in getting out to the car park behind the cottage to fetch a ticket from the machine, pounced on our car the minute the witching hour of 8 o’clock in the morning came round. I had just washed by hair, and I witnessed this cruel act from the back window of the cottage, so Sheringham was treated to the unedifying sight of me rushing out, wet-haired, to plead in vain with the traffic warden.

But uniformed jobsworths aside, we found Sheringham to be a quaint, bijou little resort. No pier, no sweeping promenade with regimented flower beds and cacophanous amusement arcades, just a small seafront overlooked by two of its excellent traditional pubs, and a shopping street leading up to the station.  There is a small Lifeboat Museum on the sea front. Sheringham prides itself on its relatively large proportion of independent shops, and when we were there a bitter war was being waged against Tesco, who for over a decade had been threatening to build a new store in the town. A quick check online reveals that Tesco has finally got its way and managed to get permission to open a branch in Sheringham. I do hope it will not have too detrimental an effect on Sheringham’s local shops.

Driving out of Sheringham away from the sea, one is confronted with an unexpected phenomenon: a quite substantial hill, almost unheard of in Norfolk. This road leads up to the magnificent Sheringham Park, a National Trust estate with gardens and landscaped parkland designed by Humphrey Repton, offering stunning views over the coast. Back in town, another major draw is the North Norfolk Railway, affectionately known as The Poppy Line, which has steam trains chugging between Sheringham and the attractive, upmarket town of Holt, a 10-and-a-half mile round trip. The trip makes for a very pleasant Sunday outing, taking the train from Sheringham, alighting at Holt for a leisurely Sunday lunch, then making the return trip back to Sheringham, as we did during our stay.  To the east of the town is the Beeston Priory at Beeston Regis, with a Maze and Gardens, while to the west is the Sheringham Golf Club.

Map of the area.

'Sheringham beach huts' photo (c) 2009, Rev Stan - license:

Friday, 19 August 2011


Previously on the Norfolk coast, we've had the Winterton-On-Sea black lark, the Happisburgh vulture and the Ostend whale, but West Runton goes one better with an elephant. Sadly, not a real live elephant, but a fossilized one, and though it is known as the “West Runton Elephant”, it was actually a steppe mammoth, whose skeleton was unearthed in the cliffs of West Runton in 1990. The significance of this find cannot be underestimated, being the largest almost complete elephant skeleton known to exist, as well as being the oldest found in the United Kingdom. The find came about on the day after a stormy night in December 1990, when a local couple enjoying a stroll along the beach got more than they bargained for when they discovered a large bone sticking out of the cliff, having been exposed by the previous night’s storm. A succession of major excavations followed allowing the retrieval of most of the skeleton. Unfortunately, it is not possible to view the skeleton in its entirety due to the sheer size and weight of the remains. However, a selection of the bones are on display in Cromer Museum, and the lower jaw can be seen at the Castle Museum in Norwich. The cliffs where the discovery was made form part of the Cromer Ridge, which was formed from the melting of ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age. Continuing the four-legged theme, another attraction to be found in West Runton is the Norfolk Shire Horse Centre, which houses a collection of different equine breeds, including some foals, as well as examples of the machinery which was used with working horses in the past.

Map of the area.

'West Runton view' photo (c) 2010, Tim Regan - license:

Thursday, 18 August 2011


By the time we get to Cromer, we are entering the stretch of coast known as the North Norfolk Coast, one of those prized parts of the British coastline beloved by second home owners, Norfolk being near enough to London to act as a magnet for weekenders up from the “big smoke”. In fact, the area proved a magnet for the well-heeled as long ago as the turn of the last century, when the area around Overstrand on the coast just before Cromer, was nicknamed Poppyland by the journalist Clement Scott, whose romantic descriptions of the area drew the rich and famous, including Winston Churchill’s father, leading to Overstrand becoming known as the Village of Millionaires. This transformation of the area into the playground of the rich is visible all over North Norfolk with the rash of smart, upmarket cafes and restaurants, shops and galleries.

Cromer is known for its crab, to the extent that when crab features on the menus of Norfolk pubs and restaurants it is invariably listed not just as ‘crab’, but as ‘Cromer crab’. Cromer started off as a fishing village, in fact it was predated by another one with a different name, Shibden, but this one was swallowed up by the sea. Cromer’s history as a resort dates back to 1779, when the first bathing machine appeared on the beach there, prompting visits from rich banking families from Norwich. The resorts’s development continued apace in the 19th century, helped along by its sandy beach and bracing, elevated clifftop location. Many resorts pride themselves on their sunrises or sunsets, but Cromer can boast both sunrises and sunsets due to its unique position on the coast, where it starts to curve round to the west. The town is dominated by the church of St Peter and St Paul, which has tallest church tower in Norfolk, standing at 160 feet, and built in the 14th century. All of this history is on display in the Cromer Museum. The resort has a pier complete with a Pavilion Theatre which puts on shows during the holiday season.

Cromer has the distinction of having been the base of the man considered to be the "greatest of the lifeboatmen".  Henry Blogg earned this description by being the most the most decorated lifeboatman in RNLI history, with 387 rescues under his belt resulting in the saving of a whopping 873 lives.  He died in 1954, but his memory lives on in the form of the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum, a small museum with exhibits honouring the great man.

For a list of events in Cromer see here.

Map of the area.

'Cromer Norfolk, April 2010' photo (c) 2010, Martin Pettitt - license:

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


This stretch of the Norfolk coast seems to have a habit of attracting visits from unexpected specimens of wildlife. We had a rare Russian lark at Winterton, a vulture terrorising Happisburgh, and with the little village of Ostend (Norfolk that is, not Belgium) we get a whale. In June 2002 a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale became stranded alive on the beach at Ostend. Sadly, the ensuing rescue attempt failed to save the whale and it died during the night. Moving up the coast from Ostend, there are two small seaside villages – Walcott, with a history dating back to Roman times, and Bacton, with its pretty cottages, the ruined Bromholm Priory and church of St Andrews – before we come to Paston.

Paston is a small village with a big legacy, courtesy of the eponymous family which dominated this corner of Norfolk in the decades following the Black Death. The fortunes of the Paston family were transformed thanks to their ability to take advantage of the chaos caused by the Black Death and the Wars of the Roses, meaning that within just two generations the family rose through the ranks from peasantry to aristocracy. How they achieved this is revealed in what has come to be known as the Paston Letters, dating from the period 1422-1509 and consisting of private correspondence by members of the family plus state papers and other important documents. The letters reveal not only the family fortunes, but insights into the historic events of that time. The family’s leap up the social ladder began when the peasant Clement Paston gave his son William the chance to study law; William managed to make a name for himself in his profession and to marry well, thus gaining influence and land. Later descendents found themselves moving in royal circles. One could say that the story of the rise and rise of the Paston family makes interesting reading with all of the current wringing of hands about the lack of social mobility in 21st century Britain.

Just to the north of Paston, towards the small seaside village of Mundesley, is Stow Mill, a flour mill built by the Gaze family in the 1920s, and now open to visitors as a tourist attraction.

Map of the area.

'Stow Windmill, Paston, Norfolk. Apr 1992' photo (c) 2010, Felix O - license:

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Moving inland slightly from Winterton-On-Sea, the quaint sight of the Horsey Windpump hoves into view, briefly making the visitor disoriented, thinking this is Holland. It is possible to go inside this windpump, owned by the National Trust, and there is a cafe on site serving drinks and snacks, plus the nearby Horsey Mere, an offshoot of the Norfolk Broads. Back on the coast, there are a series of coastal villages leading up to Happisburgh: Waxham with the longest thatched barn in Norfolk; Sea Palling, with its beautiful, unspoilt beach; and Eccles On Sea, which succumbed to the sea in 1895, fragments of its church still littering the beach.

The church in the coastal village of Happisburgh has a tower tall enough to act as a warning to mariners out at sea, alerting them to the presence of the sandbanks nearby. The other major feature on the skyline of the village is the red-and-white striped lighthouse, built in 1790 and the oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia. The lighthouse is independently run courtesy of voluntary contributions, having been saved by the local community. The village website includes a fascinating account of the air raids and other incidents which occurred during the Second World War, including an attack by a Messerschmitt which damaged a Manor and killed two people. In June 2001, the village suffered an unwanted airborne visit of a different kind: a rogue vulture which had escaped from a zoo fifty miles away. The Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture swooped down on the village without warning and took up residence in the church tower. However, the bird soon moved on and proceeded to terrorise a pensioner in Suffolk.  Meanwhile, back in the present, fans of birds of prey can visit the owls at the Happisburgh Owls tourist attraction.

Map of the area.

'Happisburgh Lighthouse' photo (c) 2007, Sean - license:

Monday, 15 August 2011


Heading north from Caister-on-Sea we pass a trio of small seaside settlements: California, so named because some gold coins were found on the beach there around the time of the Gold Rush in its more famous namesake; the resort of Scratby; and Hemsby with its holiday parks. Adjacent to Hemsby is Winterton-On-Sea, whose quaint village sign depicts a couple of traditional boats, recalling its past importance as a fishing village. Another part of the local economy in the 1800s was the salvage carried out by the ‘beachmen’, who would compete with their rivals from other nearby villages to reach stricken vessels and retrieve their cargo. Winterton’s church is yet another example along this stretch of coast of a church in a small place with big pretensions, its impressive tower measuring over 130 feet high, making it one of the tallest in Norfolk.

In 2008 the sand dunes on Winterton’s beach were besieged by birdwatchers, some travelling from far and wide, after it was reported that there had been a sighting of a rare black lark, a native of Russia and Kazakhstan. It was only the third recorded visit to Britain by this bird, and the event was described as a “shot in the arm” for local birdwatchers. The bird made a good choice for its visit, because the dunes at Winterton are classed as a National Nature Reserve, and play host to large numbers of breeding and over-wintering birds. There is also some interest here for amphibian enthusiasts, with natterjack toads and smooth and crested newts using the shallow pools behind the main ridge.

Map of the area.

'Rambling folk @ Winterton, Norfolk' photo (c) 2007, Tim Parkinson - license:

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Caister-On-Sea is still within the boundaries of Great Yarmouth, but it has plenty of interest in its own right. The town’s history goes back to Roman times when there was a need for a port to handle trade between Norfolk and the German Rhineland. There are traces of the old port still visible today in the Roman Town with its Fort, run by English Heritage, where such features as a defensive wall and the south gateway have been excavated. Meanwhile, to the west of the town is the ruined 15th century Caister Castle, which was built by Sir John Fastolf, the leader of the English archers at Agincourt. The grounds of the castle include a Motor Museum.

The village of Caister-on-Sea has a memorial to the nine people who lost their lives during a lifeboat tragedy in 1901 during what came to be known as the Great Storm, which caused havoc along the east coast. The conditions were so bad that the crew of the lifeboat in question, the Beauchamp, had to make several attempts to even get the lifeboat afloat after it had been alerted to come to the aid of a stricken vessel. Once afloat, the lifeboat was forced onto the beach by the heavy seas, where it capsized, trapping the crew underneath. Valiant attempts were made to pull crew members clear, but only three were saved. Caister’s popularity as a seaside resort lies in its position on what is known as the Golden Mile, which includes Caister’s Georgian Beach.

of the area.

'IMG_5539_060817x' photo (c) 2006, Paul Reynolds - license:

Saturday, 13 August 2011


Charles Dickens, who we last met holed up in the Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich, rears his much-travelled head again in Great Yarmouth. He visited the town in 1848, and one of his most famous works, David Copperfield, which came out the following year, includes scenes featuring Great Yarmouth. A particularly dramatic scene has the villainous character Steerforth losing his life in a shipwreck. David’s nursemaid, Peggotty, lived in the town in a home smelling strongly of fish due to the fact that her brother dealt in lobsters, crabs and crawfish, and a heap of these creatures in the outhouse was charmingly described as “in a state of wonderful conglomeration with one another”. In fact, it was the huge herring shoals in the North Sea which mainly contributed to the prosperity of the Port of Yarmouth. In medieval times the Free Herring Fair was held every year, lasting for 40 days from Michaelmas and attracting merchants from all over Western Europe and Scandinavia.

Great Yarmouth is to the north of the mouth of the River Yare, which bends round to the south, hemmed in by a narrow spit of land. Today’s Great Yarmouth is Norfolk’s largest town as well as being the most popular seaside resort in East Anglia. Visitors are drawn not only by the extensive sandy beaches with their two piers, but also by the proximity of the Norfolk Broads just inland. There are still signs of the old Yarmouth, including sections of the medieval town walls and merchant’s houses on the quaysides. There is a museum of local history in the 13th-century Tollhouse, a museum of 19th century home life in the Elizabethan House and the Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life. Another landmark, the 44m high Nelson’s Monument, is topped by a statue of Britannia.  Another popular attraction is the Sea Life aquarium.

Live streaming webcams of the seafront.

Map of the area.

'Great Yarmouth' photo (c) 2009, stephen jones - license:


Gorleston-on-Sea, commonly referred to as Gorleston, is a resort at the mouth of the River Yare, from where it gazes across at its immediate neighbour, Great Yarmouth. Gorleston used to be an important herring port, but during Edwardian times it made the transition from fishing port to seaside resort, which is probably why one of the beaches is called “Edwardian Beach”. As well as the Blue Flag sandy beaches, visitors have at their disposal a “yacht pond”, bowling greens and tennis courts, while the river provides a route inland to the Norfolk Broads with their attendant boating activities.  The big event of the year is the Gorleston Clifftop Festival, which takes place in late July.

Map of the area.

File:Old lighthouse - - 851161.jpg
Photo by Keith Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 August 2011


And so we come to Norfolk. Norfolk is renowned as being one of the flattest parts of the United Kingdom, and when I first visited the county I found it hard to get used to the pancake-flat landscape, having grown up with the rugged ups and downs and ocean-battered majestic cliffs of West Cornwall. However, I soon grew to appreciate the wide horizons and big skies, with the skeins of geese making their way to the many parts of the county frequented by our feathered friends. Not to mention the gently meandering waterways, including the famous Broads, of the county’s interior. The first settlement of any size after crossing the border from Suffolk is Hopton-On-Sea.

I must confess I had never heard of Hopton-On-Sea before starting this blog, so I wasn’t expecting to find much to say about it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out it has the distinction of hosting the World Indoor Bowls Championship, an event which is held each year at the swanky Potters Leisure Resort, which describes itself as “the UK’s First Five Star Holiday Village”. The Resort is ideally equipped to host the Championship, having 14 indoor rinks, as well as 7 outdoor rinks, the indoor rinks being ranked among the best in the world. The next Championship starts on 14 January 2012. This small seaside town used to be in Suffolk until 1974 but now falls within the Great Yarmouth district of Norfolk. As well as the traditional seaside attractions such as amusement arcades and sandy beaches, it has a church called St Margaret’s with stained glass by William Morris and Burne-Jones. The original church burned down in 1865, but a new church in the Victorian neo-Norman style was built the following year.

Map of the area.

'Hopton beach, Norfolk' photo (c) 2007, Martin P - license:


We hear much about the bravery of lifeboat men who risk their lives in horrendous conditions in order to save the lives of the crew and passengers of stricken vessels, and quite rightly so. However, a special mention should be reserved for a fishing smack from Lowestoft called Wildflower which, on the night of 30 January 1895, went to the aid of a steamship called the Elbe which got into trouble in the North Sea on its way from Bremerhaven to New York following a collision with another steamship called the Crathie, which was making its way from Aberdeen to Rotterdam. There were 354 passengers on board, and just 20 of them managed to break free from the Elbe in a lifeboat, but due to the dire state of the sea on that night this also got into difficulties. It was thanks to the Wildflower that these 20 people were not added to the list of fatalities; after five hours in raging seas, the lifeboat was found by the Wildflower, having failed to raise the alarm with flares, and thanks in part to the expertise of the Elbe crew who were among the survivors their lives were spared. The captain of the Wildflower, William Wright, declared that these poor people would not have lasted another hour in those conditions.

Lowestoft is a popular family resort which is blessed with some of the best beaches on the Suffolk coast. It also has the distinction of being the most easterly town in Britain, with Ness Point the most easterly point in the country. The town is in two parts, divided by a narrow strip of water called Lake Lothing, which connects to Oulton Broad, the most southerly of the famous Broads of East Anglia. Lowestoft made a living for itself in the 19th century from the herring catch, largely thanks to the trawling ground on the Dogger Bank. Its main role as a port today lies in supplying off-shore oil and gas operations. The North Sea is peppered with the rigs used by these operations, as I found out sailing back from Norway last year. There is an old part of town which managed to survive the severe damage visited on Lowestoft during the Second World War, and this is characterised by a series of parallel lanes called ‘scores’. Visitors to the town can learn all about its seafaring past at the Lowestoft Maritime Museum, this being complemented by the nearby Royal Naval Patrol Service Museum and the Lowestoft War Memorial Museum, which tell the story of Lowestoft’s wartime experiences.

An impressive Edwardian glass building, East Point Pavilion, houses the town’s tourist office as well as a restaurant offering excellent views of the South Beach. There is a webcam at the Pavilion showing live images of the seafront.  The Lowestoft Lighthouse, which like the one in Southwold is on land rather than out at sea, is to be found at the north end of town.  There are a couple of family amusement parks, an arts centre and a theatre to add to the town's attractions.

For events in Lowestoft see here.

Map of the area.

'Lowestoft' photo (c) 2008, Spiterman - license:

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Covehithe is another example of a town which, like Dunwich to the south, has fallen prey to coastal erosion. It was a prosperous little town in the Middle Ages, but erosion had set in by the 17th century, and its large church of St Andrew was all but pulled down, with only the tower remaining, standing neglected above the ruins of the original church. The locals were unable to maintain such a large structure, so in 1672 they built a smaller thatched chapel inside the original church’s roofless nave. It is possible to walk along the cliffs near Covehithe, but it is not a walk for the faint-hearted, with the coast eroding at the rate of 9 metres a year, as evidenced from the number of fallen trees whose debris litters the beach. If you follow the path to the north, you come to the Benacre National Nature Reserve at Benacre Ness, where a varied habitat of heath, dunes, broads and woodland provide shelter for breeding birds.

A short distance further up the coast is the small resort of Kessingland, popular with families not least because of the Africa Alive! wildlife park which features among its attractions. But it is not just pleasure-seekers who flock to the town: it is also frequented by archaeologists who come for the Palaeolithic and Neolithic implements which have been found there, not to mention the remains of an ancient forest on the seabed. Kessingland’s heritage includes yet another impressive church: St Edmund’s with its 300-foot tower. Tall church towers are a common sight along this stretch of coast, the reason being that they were built to act as beacons for ships out at sea.

Map of the area.

'Covehithe' photo (c) 2005, Tom Fogg - license:

Monday, 8 August 2011


My favourite type of British seaside resort is one that is not too big, not too small, one that offers a traditional atmosphere, with plenty of history and character along with the beach, pier and so forth. Places like Lyme Regis, Whitstable – and Southwold, which manages to do the traditional seaside thing in the best possible taste, whether it is the smart pier with its pleasant boardwalk cafe and its quirky Under The Pier Show, or the delightful beach huts arranged in multi-coloured rows (a quick check online reveals one for sale at £50,000). Southwold even has its own lighthouse, unusually situated right in the town, towering proudly over everything. Another building which dominates the skyline is the fascinating church, with its typical Suffolk flint and stone ‘flushwork’. The church is dedicated to St Edmund, King and Martyr, the 9th century East Anglian king who was killed by the invading Danes for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The church has many interesting features, including the figure called “Southwold Jack”, a representation of a soldier from the Wars of the Roses, with his stubbly beard and bloodshot eyes, armed with a sword and a battle axe.

Southwold’s entry in the Domesday Book included a reference to the large numbers of herrings sent every year to the monks of Bury St Edmunds. There is a creek to the north of the town called Buss Creek, named after the ‘busses’ or herring boats. The scariest episode in Southwold’s history came in 1659 when most of it was destroyed by fire. But the town rose like a phoenix from the ashes, this time in a decidedly Dutch style of architecture. As if the fire were not enough trauma, 13 years later in 1672 there was a fierce battle in Sole Bay just off Southwold between the English and French on one side and the Dutch on the other, leading to around 2,500 English casualties and the destruction of the English flagship. The battle is recalled in the pub sign outside the Sole Bay Inn.

For a list of events in Southwold follow this link.

Map of the area.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Such is the popularity of Walberswick, a village in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the opposite side of the River Blyth from Southwold, that it was recently reported that 107 of the 315 houses in the village, or 34%, are second homes, a phenomenon which is currently facing a backlash, intensified by the recession, from locals fed up with second home owners pushing up prices and putting the price of property out of reach of many local residents. The village was once a thriving port, trading in a variety of foodstuffs and timber, but nowadays the main source of income is tourism. The centrepiece of the village is the church of St Andrew, surrounded by the haunting ruins of an earlier construction, the size of which provides a clue to the earlier wealth enjoyed by this location. Until 2010, Walberswick’s big event of the year was the annual British Open Crabbing Championship, but this year, as a sign of the nannying times we live in, the event has been cancelled due to safety fears over the number of people wanting to take part, causing much gnashing of teeth on the part of crabbing devotees.

Further up the Blyth from Walberswick is the village of Blythburgh, which sits next to a tidal lagoon, Blythburgh Water, a haven for mud-loving birds. Like Walberswick, Blythburgh was once a thriving port. It even had its own mint and a jail. However, as has so often been the case, the silting up of the river led to the demise of the port’s activities. In another parallel with Walberswick, Blythburgh has an impressive church, the Church of the Holy Trinity, which can be seen from miles around. The church was desecrated by the men of Thomas Cromwell, an advocate of the English Reformation, who used the winged angels of the ceiling for target practice.

Map of the area.

'Walberswick Suffolk' photo (c) 2009, Martin Pettitt - license:

Saturday, 6 August 2011


And so we come to another victim of the erosion which is found in so many places on the south and east coasts of Britain. Dunwich paid the ultimate price for the wear and tear on this portion of coastline, having once been the capital of East Anglia: the harbour and most of the town were claimed by the sea, rendering what was left a shadow of its former self, so that it is now no more than a coastal village. It was a huge storm in 1286 which set the rot in motion, largely due to the fact that the River Blyth was diverted northwards. By 1677 the sea had reached the market place. In 2008, there were reports of a plan to reveal the submerged town, which has come to be known as the UK’s “Atlantis”, using hi-tech underwater cameras.

However, all this does not mean that Dunwich is not worth visiting. The haunting remains of Dunwich’s past are still on display, including the remnants of a leper chapel behind the Church of St James, and the ruins of a 13th-century friary on the clifftop. There is a local legend which suggests that the submerged church bells ring out storm warnings. There is a museum in the village which tells the fascinating history of the area from Roman times onwards. Dunwich Heath, looked after by the National Trust, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty whose inhabitants include several rare species of bird as well as adders.  At the north end of the village is another attraction for nature lovers in the form of the RSPB site Dingle Marshes.

Map of the area.

'Dunwich looking towards Southwold' photo (c) 2008, Verity Cridland - license:

Friday, 5 August 2011


One could not think of two greater contrasts than an ugly nuclear power station and a tranquil nature reserve, but there they are, practically next door to each other on the Suffolk coast. Sizewell is the second nuclear power station to raise its aesthetically-challenged head since we began our tour around the coast – the first was Bradwell (14 July, Essex). Like all such facilities, it has had its share of opposition over the years. In October 2002 Sizewell was invaded by 120 protesters, 40 of whom were described by the Telegraph as being “on top of a cooling tower”. Four Greenpeace activists were arrested, but the protesters were defiant, declaring that they were going to stay up there as long as possible; they had come prepared for a long fight, bringing tents and sleeping bags with them. By the middle of the decade, the country had witnessed the advent of the “climate change” protests, and in August 2007 Sizewell B was chosen as one of a number of venues for the protests, along with the BAA offices and the headquarters of BP. Earlier this year the ongoing protests against this and other nuclear plants received a boost in the wake of the worrying events following the Japan earthquake.

And now for something completely different. Minsmere, just a short hop up the coast from Sizewell, is an RSPB reserve which a few years ago was chosen as the venue for the phenomenally popular annual BBC TV event, Springwatch, in which the presenters pitch up for 3 weeks in beautiful surroundings and bring the viewers heartwarming, or sometimes heartbreaking, stories of the everyday struggles of the wildlife of the area, beaming into our homes images of fluffy baby birds in their nests begging to be fed, or of cute little fox cubs play-fighting, causing the entire nation to come over all dewy-eyed. The sightings section of the reserve’s website includes plenty of lesser-known species of bird as well as insects. The reserve includes a variety of habitats surrounding the mouth of the Minsmere River, including reed beds, artificial lagoons and islands, heath and woodlands.

Map of the area.

'Minsmere Suffolk' photo (c) 2010, Simon James - license:

Thursday, 4 August 2011


The seaside village of Thorpeness, a short distance to the north of Aldeburgh, has followed an unusual path to get to where it is now. It started off predictably enough as a fishing village, with the inevitable attendant smuggling activity. However, the village changed forever when the Scottish barrister and railway designer Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie bought a large stretch of coast to the north and south of Thorpeness and set about turning the village into a private holiday retreat for the use of friends’ and colleagues’ families. As well as the holiday homes which were built to accommodate these lucky people, in a range of Jacobean and Tudor styles, the village acquired a golf course and a country club with tennis courts. However, there was a blot on the landscape in the form of a water tower, built in 1923 to receive water pumped from Thorpeness Windmill, but never one to be daunted by such an inconvenience, Ogilvie set about disguising it as a house which, due to its height of 70 feet, can be seen from miles around and has come to be known as the House In The Clouds. The property is now available as a unique holiday rental.

Behind the village, further holiday fun can be had at the Meare, a boating lake with lovely views of the windmill and House In The Clouds. The children’s writer and creator of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, was a friend of the Ogilvies, and there is a Peter Pan theme running through the Meare, including on the little islands which feature scenes from the novel where children can play. A regatta and firework display is held on the Meare every August, this year’s event being on 19 August.

Map of the area.

'Thorpeness 13-05-2004' photo (c) 2004, Karen Roe - license:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Like its near neighbour, Snape, Aldeburgh has an important musical legacy, largely due to the town’s association with the famous British composer Benjamin Britten. Britten was born further to the north, in Lowestoft, but he lived for 20 years in Aldeburgh, sharing his home, the Red House, with the singer Peter Pears who worked closely with the composer. It was during his time in Aldeburgh that Britten wrote one of his best-known works, the War Requiem. Moreover, it was Britten who founded the Aldeburgh Festival (see Snape post). Last month, it was announced that a lottery grant of £1.4 million will be used to expand the exhibition space at the Red House and to create an interactive learning room for schools groups. This is timed to coincide with the centenary of Britten’s birth.

We spent a very pleasant few days in Aldeburgh several years ago, and I remember it fondly for its mix of attractive period buildings, and its shingle beach with fishing boats hauled onto it and picturesque fishermen’s huts. There are several art galleries to add to the mix.  Probably the most-photographed feature on the beach is the distinctive Scallop Sculpture by artist Maggi Hambling, which is dedicated to Benjamin Britten. One of the oldest buildings in Aldeburgh is the Moot Hall housing the Aldeburgh Museum, which was built in the first half of the 16th century, and which has been used for over 400 years for council meetings. On the last evening of my stay in Aldeburgh, I walked along to the mouth of the River Alde, where I managed to capture a glorious sunset, pictured below.

For a list of events in Aldeburgh, follow this link.

Map of the area.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the part of Suffolk encompassing Snape and Aldeburgh is, to borrow a phrase from Julie Andrews, “alive with the sound of music”. The focal point of the musical action in Snape is the arts and retail centre known as Snape Maltings, a tasteful waterside development which includes the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. The Hall’s big event of the year is the Aldeburgh Music Festival, but there are concerts year-round, this year’s offerings including all of the Beethoven quartets, as well as the Snape Proms, which take place during the month of August. The centre also offers musical coaching for young people. For those more interested in the visual arts, there is an art gallery at the Maltings, which offers art courses. On the retail side, there are nine independent shops and galleries, as well as a cafe and a tea room serving wholesome meals and delicious cakes. Added to all this there is an RSPB bird reserve where if you are very lucky you may see a kingfisher or a water vole, as well as boat trips along the River Alde. So there really is something for everyone at Snape.

Map of the area.

'Snape Maltings, Snape Suffolk' photo (c) 2009, Amanda Slater - license:


Go for a walk anywhere on the British coast, and there will always be something of interest: an odd geological feature maybe, or a remnant of a shipwreck, an old lighthouse, a seal poking its head out of the water - the list is endless. But there can be few places to rival Orford Ness for unusual sights to feast the eyes on. This spit of land just off the Suffolk coast, a few miles south of Aldeburgh, was once used for a variety of weapons research projects, including one for radar headed up by Robert Watt (see the previous post). Among the strange relics left behind from this time are the remains of a model atomic bombing range, the transmitter building used by Watt’s team and a tower-like building completed in 1928 and used for testing a ‘rotating loop’ navigation beacon. To get to the spit there are crossings by boat available – although they are considerably less frequent outside high season, as we found to our cost when we arrived on a weekday in April a few years ago to find no boats making the crossing. Walkers must keep to the designated trails due to the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

There is a red-and-white striped lighthouse at the end of Orford Ness which was built in 1792 and became automated in 1965, making it the first automated lighthouse in mainland Britain. Just inland is a forest called Rendlesham Forest which in 1980 had its “Roswell moment” when dozens of USAF personnel from a base in the area reported seeing a number of unexplained lights and other phenomena. The lights appeared to descend into the forest, moving between the trees, prompting fears of a UFO landing. However, hardened sceptics insisted it was the lights of Orford Ness lighthouse which were responsible for the sightings. The village of Orford itself is a pleasant spot, with a relic of much earlier military activity in the form of Orford Castle. This was built by Henry II, and construction began in 1165. Only the keep now remains, five floors in all, which includes three square turrets, a chapel, a kitchen and other chambers.

Map of the area.

'Orford Ness Pagodas' photo (c) 2009, Amanda Slater - license: