Thoughts in 2024 of a waste of time “going to the coast”.
When I was young I used to dwell in a heap of nostalgia about “The Seaside”. Specifically, the Norfolk and Suffolk coast. Being that I lived in Thetford, I was slap-bang in the middle of a lot of coast. As a kid I was trundled along to Sheringham, Wells-Next-the-Sea, Blakeney, Cromer, Hunstanton, Weybourne, West Runton and Great Yarmouth by my parents and grandparents. Oh, and Southwold.
My grandparents used to take their caravan to a campsite near Upper-Sheringham. Obviously, I became obsessed with these places and was unable to shift them for many years. Finally, now I have no desire for those places, but that required a lot of water under the bridge.
I’ve not mentioned others, like Orford, Thorpeness, oh, and the rest. Later, when I had a car, I explored every inch of the coast in that bulge on the side of England, and up a bit and down a bit. Skegness to Margate. What a terrible waste of time. The only positive was that I used the experiences to craft the start of my novel, Burning Wolfhound, write what you know.
The main obsessions were Sheringham, Blakeney and Weybourne with the others tacked on, Hunstanton, Cromer and Southwold. I’m no longer sure why. Just a childhood experience that seemed good and I was unable to let go of. The same happened with other things, like Formula 1. Man, I hate Formula 1 now (that is another subject).
Weybourne and West Runton fell out of favour for me simply because they put in parking meters that took change. I never had any change. Sheringham parking was still free and if you parked round the back in Blakeney it was free, or on the road and in the winter there was no parking attendant.
Previous thoughts written down 2021. (witness how naive I was 3 years before even)
The North Norfolk Coast. It certainly changed over the years, and I had many visits there from childhood to adulthood. I’ve not been back in a long time, as at one point I decided to break the addiction.
The scope of the coast can be broken down. We start at Hunstanton, there are a few stops on the way, but the next real stop is Wells-Next-The-Sea. Then Stiffkey, Blakeney, Cley-Next-The-Sea, Salthosue, Weybourne, Sheringham, West Runton, Cromer.
That sums up the places in a list. Now, let’s see:
This little North Norfolk Coast section of writing came into being due to this lunchtime (26 July 2021) I was sitting eating a custard and fruit salad with my wife. It was in a plastic pot, and she said, “It’s not mixed.” I thought, “that’s a good thing.” So I ate my fruit salad, the first layer was raspberries that I picked this morning. This strongly reminded me of Hunstanton and then I had the whole coast running through my head. But the starting point was the raspberry layer. This got me thinking of Hunstanton. Why?
Well, a long time ago, probably the late 70s or early 80s, my mum and I were hooked on knickerbocker glories. Not just any knickerbocker glories. There was a café in Hunstanton.
Hunstanton can be divided in two. The seafront and the town. The seafront can be divided into three. 1. the amusements called Pleasure Beach, I think. 2. the middle bit, gardens along the beach. 3. the red cliffs.
I never had a great deal to do with the town. The amusements I hardly remember, so I assume I had little to do with them. The gardens were also just a passing through part.
The cliffs were visited a lot as above them is a large grass area and the main road in and out of the east end of the town. This road was the place to park for free, so all visits started here. As you walk into Hunstanton from the car along the grass area you first come to a building which was always a café. For a long time this was the ice cream café. They may have done other things but who’d remember after their knickerbocker glories?
Directly down from this café are a bunch of stairs which get you to a concrete promenade. If you walk east you end up at the foot of very high red cliffs. Below the cliffs are rock pools for looking for crabs and sea life.
Back to the ice cream. I’ve never had a knickerbocker glory to beat the one at the ice cream café. The top was cream and a couple of wafers. The layers went down through several yummy ice creams, then the real fruit raspberry layer or a strawberry layer. Usually there was something special at the bottom. This was back in the day when food was still good food.
Hunstanton was always one of the cool places on the North Norfolk coast. It was some distance from Blakeney and Sheringham, my main haunts. I think we usually decided, when I was a kid, whether to go direct to Hunstanton or Sheringham. Being that it was a bit removed the day would involve being at Hunstanton entirely, unlike visits to Sheringham.
Hunstanton dropped out of favour for me, I don’t know when the café closed. I returned as an adult to Hunstanton very little. There is little left in my head about the place. The only other significant happening there was that I stayed for a week with a family.
I met a boy at a race meeting, seems his dad raced the same car as my dad. The mum had always wanted me to be friends with this lad. So I ended up staying with them in Hunstanton. They lived in a huge Victorian house just off the seafront. The lad had a fancy BMX bike in yellow. His dad was a builder. The lad had a petrol go-cart in the garage. He’s probably an F1 driver now. He had a table top space invaders game in his room, like they had in pubs.
We used to go down the arcade and play arcade games that would now seem stupid dated. It was weird to hang out with the local kids in Hunstanton, after hours, so to speak. I don’t remember seeing this lad at race meetings again.
That’s pretty much Hunstanton for me. Pretty sure I was there with my mum and dad, seem to remember both lots of grandparents there. Went once with my ex-wife. Also once went on a duck boat out to sea with my mum. I know I spent a lot of time in the place but the memories seem absent, strange.
Someway from Hunstanton is Wells. On the way between you do pass through a few places that I’m pretty sure come at me from the past. I’d have gone with my parents, then on my own, or with my ex-wife. I know I didn’t pass that way a huge amount. Some of the coast is very isolated. In parts the road runs along distant deserted, and inaccessible, beaches. These isolated beaches inspired me to put the start of my novel Burning Wolfhound along this lonely coast.
I went to Wells many times. I was there with my parents a lot, by myself and with my ex-wife. The village is removed from the coast but contains a harbour. I only really had anything to do with the car parks and chip shops until I went camping there with my ex-wife.
To get to the beach means driving or taking the little narrow-gauge train (2024 update, I have learnt that the railway was closed down). It’s at least a mile to the beach. Once there you have a large car park. Back in the old days it was free. There is only one shop at the beach. Between the beach and car park is a sandy barrier with pines growing on it. These pines line the beach front. You can walk someway long the paths of pines.
If you come straight out of the car park onto the beach there is a lifeboat house to one side next to the river that runs into the town. The other side opens out into the wide beach. When I was little there were only a few beach huts but in later years they multiplied.
The tide goes out a very long way here and people are often caught when it comes in. The sea then laps right up to the pines. The smell of pines still reminds me of Wells.
When I was young Wells was about the sandy beach and the fish and chip shop, that’s about it. Later I went camping with my ex-wife and the children. I think we went twice. I don’t know if it was for a week or two. The campsite was a field attached to a caravan site. The loos were portaloos. From there you could get the little train into town. We’d go and get an ice cream of an evening. Once there was a gig in the town out the back of a Luton van.
Surprisingly I have little else to add about Wells. Oh, once I went with a French friend and a bunch of French girls. We sat in the beach in the sun and I went home burnt. Not much else to add.
It’s a funny little place. More a big boatyard with muddy inlets. You can see Blakeney spit lifeboat house from there. It it sort of desolate and spooky. These were my main take away from the past.
To say I was obsessed with Blakeney would be an understatement. In the old days it was a very forlorn place, a mere fishing village. Though when I researched Burning Wolfhound I found that it had been busier back in the old old days before everyone started going abroad for holidays.
Blakeney is populated by two pubs, a hotel and a two and four shops. There always seemed to be a café, a fashion shop and a gift shop. The grocery shop was tucked away in another street. There was a ice cream vendor on the main bit. The main bit was the quay with the hotel behind. Around and to the side of the quay is sand with a river/inlet running around it. The sand is hard and used as a car park.
You come down from the main road through the village and to the quay. I was always obsessed with the boats on the quay and the amateur crab fishing. Not that I ever did that. The seal trips used to leave from this quay when the water was deeper. But that moved to Stiffkey in later years.
Blakeney used to be tacked onto the end of a trip to Sheringham when I was with my mum and dad. We’d often come from Sheringham via Weybourne and an ice cream from the van at Salthouse.
The seal trip involved going out to see the seals and then stopping off at the lifeboat station out on the spit. I think I only did this a couple of times. There was a café in the lifeboat station when I went with my mum and dad. I also did the trip with my nan.
In those days the car park was free.
As an adult, with my own car, I went there again and again and again. I’d go in the winter when it was rainswept and miserable. I’d wonder why I was there. I really can’t believe I wasted so much time on the place. I even considered buying a cottage there. Perhaps I should have done, as at one point it would have been worth a fortune when the London crowd were obsessed with the North Norfolk Coast.
There isn’t much to say abut Cley. Once mum and dad looked at a house for sale there.
This is a very small village. The main thing is a stream and pond by the road where the ice cream van used to stop. I used to feel sick often with gorging on a 99 flake. You’d feed the ducks in the pond. I was obsessed with the name and wondered where the house was that was full of salt.
Once the car park was free. When they started charging, with machines, I never had change, so I stopped going there.
As a kid with my parents it was a great. The shingle spit with salty fishing boats on it. The WW2 pill boxes, one vanishing into the deep water. It was a wild place.
To one side was Weybourne camp, a RAF camp. In the 70s it was an abandoned place. My dad and I explored the area and went into one of the old gun emplacements. Later they turned it all into a museum. I was obsessed with Weybourne and loved the wild and abandoned feel to the place.
The village had little going on for it. Up above Weybourne was the station, about 1 or two miles up the hill. This was a stream preservation line. Was in Dad’s Army. I was pretty obsessed with the railway too. We went on it once when I was a kid. In those days it just went from Sheringham to Weybourne and back. The loco was a little 0-6-0 job for many years.
Later it was extended to Holt and they ran/run all sorts of locos on it. Once I went on the line when they had the 9F 2-10-0 Black Prince running. I spent far too much time being obsessed with it all.
We used to stay up beyond Upper Sheringham in a caravan site called Woodlands Caravan Park. That is why such intimate knowledge of this place. My nan and grandad would take their caravan there. You could come down to Sheringham via Bodham or Upper Sheringham. Bodham then via Weybourne.
I was also super obsessed with Sheringham. Again, I probably overdid it.
Taking this narrative up again 2024:
Sheringham, playing golf on the putting green with my nan and grandad. Crazy golf on the hill above the beach. Swimming in the cold water. The beach was stone when the tide was in and sand when the tide went out. There were smelly fishing boats on the beach, especially near the slipway. The newsagents in town had a large toy section with a lot of model trains. This was all old days stuff. But it is stupid how many times I went back, again and again. The last few times I really started to detest it there and my obsession with it. It took too long to move on from it. How much was real and how much a delusion of nostalgia?
I did the same to a much less extent with Cromer. Then a bit with Orford and Southwold. The castle was interesting at Orford and the weirdness of the MOD restricted land. At the end of the shingle spit that destroyed Orford as a port is a place called Shingle Street. It’s interesting, but my obsession was way over the top. Not as bad as Sheringham though.
As I say, Thetford, being right in the middle of that bulge into the sea of England, means that, a trip to the seaside happens a lot. Later I lived in Norwich. Yarmouth is the closest to Norwich. Yarmouth did hold interesting events, like the maritime festival, the Out There festival, cabaret, classical concerts, not to mention the amusements and the port. From Norwich the train is quite easy.
I now live a long way from seaside resorts. The Highlands coast is wild, like the North Norfolk Coast turned up to 11. I don’t miss the crowded tea shops and amusements. As I spent time on the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts I became more and more interested in visiting in the winter, the off season. Then it was wild and you had the place to yourself.