5 Mar 2012

Big Blue Sky

We are taking a break soon, off to the North Norfolk coast - a place that I have been visiting since I was a teenager, caravanning with a groups of giggling girls, camping in tents, staying in hotels and cottages - I have grown up with Norfolk as my holiday destination of preference.
Old Hunstanton
 The marshes and muddy creeks of Burnham Overy Staithe provided inspiration for much of Kevin Crossley-Hollands poetry - especially Waterslain - a sequence of 25 poems evoking characters from the village such
as beachcombers, wildfowlers and local historians (waterslain is an old Norfolk word meaning flooded). see here.  Here are the opening lines of Beachcombers
Faithful as a wordfisher
there he goes, old magpie of the foreshore
Face chafed and chapped like driftwood

Burnham Overy Staithe
Burnham Overy Staithe

What a coast this is
with its saltmarshes and lavender
its channels and dunes
bays and crumbling Ice Age cliffs
lovelier and wilder than its Suffolk neighbour.
Arctic, melancholic, beautiful, treacherous,
with sandbanks and quicksands,
storms and floods,
and never-ending erosion
Peter Sagar
 My earliest holidays began in Hunstanton, but gradually over the years, I have worked my way down the coast, to the wilder, bleaker places - stark in their beauty.  There is just so much space here - vast beaches of white sand, just you and the bird-life, the strong salty smell of the saltmarsh, the creeks winding out to the sea.  A bird-watchers paradise.  And the big, blue sky that goes on forever.


Rainbow over Morston
Storm over Morston

This part of the coastline is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty - and quite rightly so. It is like there is an invisible thread that draws me back time after time, my spiritual home.

In 1937 Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter, purchased Old Hall Farm in Stiffkey, which lies between Wells and Morston.  He recorded his experiences in 'The Story of a Norfolk Farm' (1941), the book contains some memorable descriptions of the north Norfolk coast:-

The sea was half a mile from the village, and then steeply down to a pebbly shore and a creek where a fishermans boat was moored.
We sat down on the grass gazing out over the marshes, one vast gut-channelled prairie of pale blue sea-lavender. 
Afar was the sea merging in summer mist and the palest azure sky.
There was no sound: the air was still: not a bird was stirring.
This was the sun I remembered from boyhood days,
the ancient harvest sunshine of that perished time when the earth was fresh ...

Henry Williamson's home in Stiffkey
There are literally dozens of plays and films that have used this part of Norfolk for film sequences see here ,
including Shakespeare in Love ,where the final scene was filmed on the beach at Holkham.

Holkham beach
So, in a weeks' time I will be re-visiting my old haunts, come rain or shine I will be breathing in lungfuls of fresh coastal air and feeling the wind stinging my cheeks red, hear the call of the curlew, and sitting by roaring log fires eating the fishy delights that Norfolk is famous for.  Little wonder I have a soft spot for this place, for all through history people have been drawn to its wild beauty.