Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Brancaster Staithe in the Haar
Brancaster Staithe Crab Hut
Wells-next-the -sea, an artist captures the beach huts
Wells, there will always be an England
Tory government reveals new affordable housing initiative
Wells-next-the sea
It has been a long time since I last visited Norfolk on a university field trip to Cromer in 1968 when the highlight was an afternoon spent sheltering in a haystack during a thunder storm. As a six year old during a holiday with my cousins in King's Lynn, my lasting memory was a day on the beach at Wells-next-the-sea. My Uncle Jack, a test pilot for the Canberra bomber, had raced away with my four cousins, my Dad had mainly driven jeeps and could not keep up in the hire car. Uncle Jack picked up yet another speeding ticket on his journey home, he could have papered the living room with them.

This trip was to visit a cousin of Aileen whom I never met but who had helped her with a family history project. We had made rapid progress down from Yorkshire through the flat farmlands of Lincolnshire to the Wash, the Brexit heartlands, and on to King's Lynn. The September heatwave in the south gave us a warm welcome and the entire population of eastern England seemed to be on the road to Hunstanton and the north Norfolk coast. It was nose to tail traffic and our hope of a late pub lunch faded as the clocks made faster progress than the vehicles. Hunstanton had lost its fabled charm and was another seaside resort with all the usual embellishments of fast food outlets, pleasure rides, continuous kerbside parking along the promenade and tawdry looking guest houses. Despite the splendid sea cliffs there was no temptation to stop in the town; the streets were crowded, a haar was hanging over the coast and the sea looked the colour of elephant's breath.

We continued along the coast road through attractive villages such as Titchwell and Brancaster. Well maintained houses were built of flint and brick and a large percentage of them looked like retirement homes. The pubs had stopped serving food but the consequence was a chance encounter with the boat park at Brancaster Staithe, where we happened upon the Crab Hut, a local food outlet that sold fresh crab baguettes and a mug of tea for £4. What a bargain and then a chance to mosey around the sailing boats and observe the muddy banks draining towards Mow Creek. The haar was restricting visibility, creating a cool belt of weather next to the sea and giving the day an eerie feel.  The lady in the crab hut told me that the haar would stretch to Wells-next-the sea, which was my intended destination for a stroll through the pine trees onto the beach.

I was tempted to stop at Holkham Hall until I figured out that it was a cash cow for the owners who seemed to have obtained first dibs at UK and European conservation grants, car parking fees for access to the beaches as well as pricey entrance charges. They then claimed the credit for preserving and providing activities through renting building and land for various commercial ventures to entice yet more visitors. We continued to Wells and parked by the sea but even here the land was owned by Holkham Hall with parking charges so high that they would be an embarrassment to most city councils. We had little choice but to fill their coffers in order to walk through the pine trees to the wonderful Wells beach.

The sun had broken through the haar and the beach was buzzing in the way that English beaches buzz. Dogs chasing balls, lines of beach huts, brightly coloured wind breaks, folding chairs, straw hats, children paddling, pensioners swimming with the current of the incoming tide, inflatable devices, artists, kites, Frisbees, sand castles, flags, life guards but not an ice cream vendor or donkey in sight. Holkham Hall probably has the franchise on those activities and restricts them to its commercial honeypots. Nevertheless it was a treat and we had a long walk along the beach that fronts the channel that leads to Wells. Later as the tide rushed in a few pleasure boats returned with their passengers, sun bathers were retreating to their beach huts as we exited the beach.

Our last leg for the day took us south and into the searing evening heat, 26°C, as we drove through Fakenham and Swaffham to a B&B in the village of Great Cressingham. It was a tranquil village with a pub on the outskirts, a school, community centre and little else. We indulged ourselves in the pub and cursed the online reviews of the B&B that had few endearing features and low beams that almost decapitated me on return from the pub.

The next day was spent on the catch up with Aileen's cousin. He was a retired policeman who had good values believing strongly in community policing and protecting wildlife against the poachers and gamekeepers. It was fascinating to watch and hear two cousins rediscover their common past and share their stories of the intervening years. We went for a pub lunch as the thunderstorms marked the end of the heatwave in Norfolk. Everyone seemed keen to tell us that it was the hottest September on record, given global warming this could be a warning for East Anglia which is slowly sinking into the north sea.

We drove off to Suffolk in the afternoon to stay at the village of Lavenham. It had been on the radio a couple of times in recent weeks reminding me of a night out there as a student when staying with a flatmate who lived in Sudbury. This was before Harry Potter arrived here. The houses in Lavenham are so quaint that they are obviously exempt from building control and many had been snapped up by wealthy outsiders.  The primary school could no longer provide for all the villager's children owing to the iniquities of placing requests from incomers. The hotel only took the Telegraph and Daily Mail and the local worthies at the bar cursed the Council for trying to build social rented housing. We were truly in Mrs May's England.

Lavenham, unaffordable housing

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