Tha's rare nippy up north
The north Norfolk coast is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But perhaps an icy day in February is not the best time to explore this long stretch of sand, sea, and sky... especially when you've left your thermals behind
I'll just fight my way out of the forest of red roses delivered here on Valentine's Day…
I have had a few days holiday, dear reader, and ventured unto parts previously untrodden by my bunion-racked size sixes; specifically, north Norfolk. With a few days to fritter away at leisure we decided to point the car up-wards beyond Norwich.
Many years ago we took the children to Cromer where we had crabs and decided not to book for the end-of-the-pier show which starred Hope and Keen. (One point for remembering them, an additional point if you can also remember the names of all your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and two bonus points if you can remember the name of that woman you saw in Debenhams - the one you know you know from somewhere).
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The name Blakeney is romantic. It was, of course, the real name of the Scarlet Pimpernel and how apt that rhyme about seeking him here, there and everywhere seems when you enter the no-signal phone-zone that exists in this unspoilt seaside spot on the northernmost stretch of East Anglia's glorious coast.
The village is quiet, eerily quiet when we arrive at our hotel just before dusk. It seems a Tuesday in early February is not the time to find Blakeney throbbing with night life… or, indeed, day life.
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It was raining and cold but we go for a walk and survey the plaques on the waterfront buildings marking the high spots where flood waters had reached in the past. There are some stylish shops and restaurants but they're mostly closed today.
We walk past a local resident and greet her with a cheery: “Good afternoon.”
She knows we are strangers and gives us a friendly smile: “Sorry about the weather,” she says apologetically
So, it is her fault.
Back at the hotel, we admire our room with its king-size bed overlooked by a vast clock. Unlike many hotel rooms, this one has lighting good enough to see by and the bathroom is magnificent. I look forward to a soak in the free-standing bath using the range of toilet-bag sized accoutrements provided. Not that I would dream of taking them away, of course.
We admire the fixtures and fittings before making a cup of tea and settling down to watch Look East before dinner… except it is Look North. “What have they done with Stewart White?” I demand, watching an item about Hull .
“This is what happens when you head north,” says my husband, nodding gravely.
“Yes, but if I'd known I was going to end up in The North, I'd have packed my big thermal knickers,” I grumble.
My husband mumbles something under his breath and refuses to tell me what he said.
I flick through the TV channels - no Five. Not only are we in The North but the telly reception is pre-1997.
Dinner in the hotel is spectacularly good - fine dining; good wine, very definitely 21st century - and then, exhausted, we fall into bed. My goodness, it must be nearly 9 o'clock.
Did I mention the clock over the bed? It ticked. I have always found ticking a distraction. Before the advent of super-quiet electronic clocks I used to wrap my travel alarm in socks and stuff it in my underwear drawer.
This mighty timepiece was too big for a drawer - too big even for my underwear. We considered putting it in the bathroom but decided it would echo. Eventually, I fell asleep by fitting the strains of The Blue Danube to the clicking of the seconds; like a metronome.
On Wednesday morning, having overslept, we rush down to devour a full English breakfast, protection from the cold. According to the sign, the boat trip to see the seals is leaving from the quay at 10am and we don't want to miss it.
Settling the bill and hurling our bags into the boot of the car, we speed (on foot) down to the waterside - but no boat. There was no one. Maybe we should have booked. Undeterred, we decide to take the coast road to Wells-next-the-Sea and get as far as Stiffkey, a picturesque village pronounced “Stewkey” according to my well-Norfolk colleague, before a sign announces the road is closed ahead.
The man in the van shows my husband a map and the numerous locations of all the diversion signs. Anyway, he adds, we should have had a leaflet through the door telling us about the closure; everyone did.
My husband explains that none of the diversion signs are actually on the road between Blakeney and Stiffkey and we didn't get the leaflet.
“It's our own fault for not living round here,” sighs my husband climbing back into the passenger seat.
We drive back to Blakeney - the nearest place we can divert and set off once more.
Our next stop is Walsingham where blankets of snowdrops are about to blossom in the Abbey gardens. We visit the shrine where people's hopes and prayers flicker in candlelight.
And so to Wells-next-the-Sea. It is a cleverly designed name because it doesn't actually boast that Wells is directly next to the sea only that, after Wells, the next thing you come to is the sea which - apart from the later additions of a holiday park and a caf� (closed) - is absolutely accurate.
The tide was out. A foot or two in from the horizon, we could see the waves lapping at the shore about a mile in the distance. Signs warn you to beware of getting trapped by the incoming tide, so we walked gingerly out over the wavy ridges, sinking inches into the soft, damp sand.
A friend of ours says she wants to die on Holkham beach… not yet, obviously, but she finds it the most beautiful, peaceful place. Standing out here, looking at vast expanse of blue sky, fringed by a band of grey sea and a swathe of pale, gold sand you get a sense of the vastness of the universe and the reassuring permanence of nature. And of Norfolk .
Cor blast, I could kill a cup of tea.