Friday, 17 June 2011


NORFOLK, ah, lovely, bootiful Norfolk!  Where even the glacial east wind is bone lazy, blowing straight through you because it can't be bothered to go round.  We had nearly four days there this week, and adored every moment.

Grassland at the NNR Reserve at Cley Marshes.  All rough grassland should look like this!

This place is birding heaven, naturalist's heaven, boatman's or yachtsman's heaven and, perhaps above all, a wildflower lover's heaven.

Noel Coward rudely said, in Private Lives, that Norfolk was very flat.  It isn't.  It's no flatter than Essex, or Warwickshire, and if you've tried scrambling up and down the precipitous bumps of the terminal moraine just above Sheringham, you'll find it as steep as parts of the Lake District.

The PG and I enjoyed walking among bee orchids, marsh orchids, common spotted orchids, adders tongue ferns, horned poppies, vipers bugloss and scadillions of big, red, full-blown poppies.

 We dined on freshly caught crab, Norfolk ham, superb cheeses from Mrs Temple's Walsingham creamery, fresh raspberries, bright but disappointingly flavoured local-grown strawberries. (I might have known they'd be 'El-bloody-santa' - the nastiest variety every foisted on the world.)

We watched godwits - both bar-tailed and black-tailed - spoonbills, redshanks, spotted redshanks (black in their summer plumage) sanderlings, dunlin, glimpsed bearded reedlings and sat, slack jawed in concentration, watching hundreds of little terns fishing for sand eels in the North Sea, and flying home to their colony to feed their young.

A black-headed gull, resplendent in breeding plumage, watches us eat our beach picnic.

We went slumming from our home-base of Wells-next-the-Sea, to fish and chippy Sheringham, to gaze at people gazing at the sea, and we lunched at the top of the aforementioned moraine, while sea breezes kept our drinks at fridge temperatures.

The People!
What can I say about folk who call boots boats and boats boots?  Rum?  Pecooliar?  Maybe, but it's lovely - though increasingly rare to hear a genuine Norfolk accent.  Proper Norfokkers speak in a lilting voice with poetic cadences. The 'raised inflection interrogative' was here long before teenagers picked it up from watching Neighbours and is much more musical because it drops on the last syllable.  Try saying 'Dew yew want an ice cream.'   Now say it again, but with 'ice' half an octave higher.

As for the dialect - that seems almost to have disappeared.  I haven't, for many years, heard anyone talk of 'trickolating' (mending) or 'pingling' meaning to mess about with food, rather than to eati it.  Snails, in my childhood were 'dodmans' or 'oddmedods' and ladybirds were 'bushy barneybees.'  You didn't bump your head, but a low beam could cause you to 'thack your skull.'

We also called on another 'bor meaning 'neighbour' and greeted folk, not with 'wotcher,' but literally with words that sounded like 'What cheer!'

I feel able to be frank - well, let's face it, rude - about Norfolk for three reasons.

Firstly, I spent a goodly chunk of my childhood there.  We lived, in the 50s, in a decrepit old rectory with neither electricity nor mains water, and later, in a house conveniently next door to the village pub, this time with power but still no mains water.  My father installed an electric pump, so our supply could be sucked up from a well.  But just outside the pub, there was a hand-cranked, village pump which cottagers without their own wells were obliged to use.  Bathing, for some, was not so much weekly as annually, usually on the day before the Royal Norfolk Show. (Only joking!)

Secondly, with forebears just over the border into Lincolnshire, I feel almost native, so being rude is sort of self-mocking, if you see what I mean.

Einstein dined here - not!  The spelling errors and misplaced apostrophes suggest that 'Ronaldo' can't possibly be foreign but was probably Norfolk born, bred and schooled.

And finally, though most of the natives are utterly delightful, Norfolk folk can, at times, refine rudeness into a highly developed art.

Take a local hostelry the PG and I dined at on a previous visit - The Crown, at Wells-next-the-Sea.  Everything about the meal was good - excellent sea food, efficient service and pleasant enough surroundings.

But the ale was not in perfect condition and by its taste, either the pub's pipes was not quite as they should be, or, it was on the turn.  Stale ale - though perfectly drinkable - develops a cardboard back-taste and the hoppiness swings from pleasantly bitter to unpleasantly rank.

When we paid our tab, and, since the receptionist asked if everything was all right, I mentioned the beer. She was clearly offended and informed me, brusquely, that they knew beer, that did I realise it was Real Ale, that it was tasted every day and was never served unless it was in perfect condition?

'Sorry to disagree,' I replied, 'And I do appreciate that Woodforde's Wherry is not half so good as it used to be, but yours tasted as though it was on the turn.'

'It's fine,' she snapped, 'our beer is excellent.'  So we left with a flea in our ear.

Sad really, because we'd like to have gone back to the Crown one day.  But somehow, I don't think we will.

Hells bells - that's more then enough moaning.  Stop it Colborn, at once!!!  Self-satisfied prat!

Speaking of horny - ahem, ahem! How about these. . .

Yellow horned poppy, Glaucium flavum on the shingle beaches at Cley.  Wonderful curved, horny pods and blue-green, glaucous, pubescent foliage.

The texture and colour of the foliage is wonderful in contrast with hard pebbles.

Some people - especially PRs and the tourist trade - call my favourite  part of North Norfolk 'Poppyland.' The name was coined by Victorian critic Clement Scott who shacked up with a miller's daughter at Overstrand, just down-coast from Cromer.  Wild field poppies thrive in the sandy, flinty soils, not only on the coast, but all over the county. Every decent farm gateway, every road bank, many of the field margins and lots of front gardens are joyously picked out with big red blobs of poppies.

Because of the opiate connections, poppies are associated with sleep. Norfolk people believe smelling them causes headaches but to me, these are ebulliant, wide-awake plants, full of brash cheefulness.  They come just after gentle pink dog roses, in the procession of landmark summer wildflowers.  Lovely! Lovely!

 It's more fun watching people watching the sea than watching the sea.

Next week - I think you deserve a pictorial tribute to poppies, especially if you've just read all this rambling nonsense!

I'm listening to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 16 in G.

This week's film was Ordet, (Danish) Dreyer's exploration of religious fundamentalism, Lutheranism, faith and reason in a small agricultural community in the 1920s. The concluding events defy logic and reason but not faith - if you have it.

This day in 2006 it was sweltering hot and I wandered knee deep in drifts of Dactylorrhiza fuchsii or common spotted orchids, at Thurlby Fen Slipe, a local nature reserve in sunny Lincolnshire - another county which is a lot less flat than people think.


  1. that sounds like a most splendid 4 days in Norfolk. My sister lived in Cromer for probably 4 years and I really regret not exploring the area more when I had the chance

  2. What a perfectly lovely, simple time in Norfolk. Gulls don't get good press, but your black-headed gull is a handsome specimen. A very pleasant, meandering story to read - I have ancestors from Norfolk, so it was nice to 'catch up'!

  3. I have a love/hate relationship with Norfolk. I spent far too many summers there in a caravan in Hunstanton when growing up which makes me want to stay away, yet I remember beautiful scenery and lovely places to visit. Your blog makes me want to return and revisit with fondness old haunts.

  4. Great blog & I hope you tried Ronaldo's ice cream - he was selling his lush all natural ice cream from a barrow in Norwich before anyone had heard the phrase "luxury ice cream". :-)

  5. Did you see a large Thames sailing boat called Juno? My cousin Charlie sails her between Blakeney and Wells. Next time you go you must take a trip on her, delicious food and what Charlie doesn't know about the Blakeney Point sanctuary isn't worth knowing!

  6. Used to see those chocolate dipped gulls in
    Zurich, where they had a Boot Show. That's BOATS, and just the Show is English. Very confusing. Would love one of those yellow poppies!

  7. I live on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, and love it up there, I agree about the hilly part - unless you get off the beaten track in East Anglia you really can't appreciate how hilly it is - or how unspoilt.

    My sister stayed at the Crown for a few days. Don't. She said they were rude and the place was not as clean as it should have been. She thought that they had got lazy because they knew there would always be people wanting to stay there, or eat there.

    However, I can vouch for the pub/inn at Cley, and also the food at the windmill there.