The Norfolk Coast

On a cold drizzle-evening recently, I settled down with a glass of wine and my laptop.  The hard drive was groaning with 45 000 (!) digital photos and it was time to make some space.  After deleting a couple of hundred and drifting off to the fridge for a re-fill, I grew distracted by re-discovering half-forgotten photographs, squirreled away in deep, dusty folders and dank, cobwebby files.  For example, I found one batch taken on a weekend break to Norfolk with my partner Jim and our son in August 2013.  I reproduce some of those here in the hope that they provide a little wistful sun and cheer during a rainy, drab month.

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When a member of Jim’s family kindly offered us the use of her holiday home in north Norfolk we immediately, excitedly, breathlessly replied, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’

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The house was an unremarkable bungalow until it was redesigned and rebuilt in 2003.  It is a bold design and won’t be to everybody’s taste.  But after a little initial hesitancy, I loved it.  Inside is bright, airy and minimal: all polished concrete floors and beech ply.  No chintz.  The living room has a high, vaulted ceiling (into that steep, pitched roof) revealing the full height of the brick chimney with a woodburner at its base.  Large windows give plenty of light of course (though I would have made them bigger still) and gaze out over a simple garden to surrounding fields and salt-marsh.

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It is an assertive, self-assured build and doesn’t seem to care whether or not you like it.  Which is just as well – it is visible from a mile away.

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The garden is ideal for a holiday home.  The only regular job is the mowing of lawns (by whoever is staying), framing a large block of tall, native perennials.  This simple layout brings a chunk of surrounding meadow into the heart of the garden – as well as the buzz of bees and rasping of crickets.

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Scabious, knapweed, yarrow, wild carrot and the like are jostled by dock and thistle interlopers.  But then dock seed-heads add a pleasing rusty-red and thistle flowers lure in more bees and butterflies – though they’ll need weeding out in time.

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Where garden meets salt-marsh, sits a mirror-sided studio that whacked my jealousy gene hard.  And continued to painfully jab it.  I easily imagined myself living here and sitting within this garden-room, supping Earl Grey, periodically tapping furiously at my keyboard, stopping too often and staring out of the window.

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At this view.  The marsh is mesmerizing and

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changes almost constantly with the light.

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And it is full of marsh-loving birds – as you might expect.  I wasn’t able to get great photos of the bird life I saw (which is why I didn’t initially publish these photos) but I think this is a (slightly blurred) female reed bunting.

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This looks like a reed warbler though it might just as easily be a marsh warbler.  (An expert can have trouble telling them apart … so take your pick).

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I’m rather out of my confidence zone with id’ing these small, unfamiliar birds but I’m going to confidently assert that this is a juvenile whitethroat (unless you know different).

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Up on the skyline, beyond the marsh, sits a handsome windmill, and whilst pointing my lens at that, a bird of prey floated into frame.  It didn’t come very close and at first I thought it was a buzzard.

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It was only by using binoculars that I realised it was much rarer than that.  This was a marsh harrier – one of only three or four hundred pairs breeding in the UK.  I felt honoured to see it – if only from a distance.  (It’s tagged with green for easier spotting and identification, I suppose.  Or else canny advertising for salted peanuts).

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Oystercatchers

The house is only a short drive from a small seaside town but from there it is a further mile or two to the beach – a long, leisurely walk on sandy paths and wooden walkways beside the banks of muddy creeks and inlets.

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Common tern

Plenty more bird life here.

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The north Norfolk coastline reminds me of the German Baltic where I spent my childhood summers.

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Miles and miles of wide, yellow beaches, backed by dunes meshed together by marram grass.

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The sea is shallow, shelving gently for hundreds of yards and warm in August.  Not great for swimming, perfect for paddling (after a game of beach cricket and a sandy, slightly gritty picnic).

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The following morning we drove to Blakeney and hopped on a boat to visit a seal colony.  (It’s what one does when on holiday in Norfolk).

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No.  Sadly not in this smashing little ‘Swallows and Amazons’ dinghy.

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We could smell the seals before, rounding a sand-spit, we saw them.  A smell of large, hot, fish-eating mammals and their various excretions.  Can you imagine?  Bit like cat food mixed with long-overdue-for-a-change cat litter.  Heady.

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The seals are used to groups of gawping humans floating slowly past and barely opened an eye or waved a flipper.

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I wondered whether they think boatloads of chattering tourists are laid on for their own entertainment, amusement and curiosity.  If so, the novelty has long waned.

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There are both grey and common seals at Blakeney but I struggled to tell which was which.  The grey seal has a longer, more pronounced snout apparently – like the one above?  It’s latin name is Halichoerus grypus which translates as “hooked-nosed sea pig” – which isn’t very nice, is it?

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This is another grey seal?

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But as grey seals aren’t necessarily grey and are more common than common seals, it’s anyone’s guess really.

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And after a long, salty, fishy day out Jim and I were astonished (and not a little pleased) that we had finally succeeded in tiring out a 13-year-old boy.  Now that’s a sight you don’t see very often.  Never mind seals and marsh harriers.

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42 thoughts on “The Norfolk Coast

  1. I’m a bit behind with my reader. Glad I didn’t miss this though. It’s cheered me up on a cold day as I clutch my tea and hot water bottle. I love that part of the country. We stayed in Blakeney a few years ago and had a fab time. What an amazing building too. Great to see what you can do with a normal bungalow. Roll on spring.

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    • Hi Lou, well you’ve done much better than I have with catching up on blog reading. Norfolk is a smashing part of England. We camped near Blakeney about ten years ago and ran our dog ragged with long, endless walks on the beaches. She particularly liked the washed up and very dead sperm whale – on whose tail she then rolled. Charming – we had to give her a long bath before she was allowed back in the tent. Happy memories. D

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  2. What a fantastic holiday to look back on. (Though I’m probably more jealous of you owning a laptop that will hold so many pictures than I am of your visit to the seals – which says something!)

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    • Hi Lucy, it’s not a particularly good laptop. At all. Pretty bog standard actually with a 500GB hard drive and cost about £300. I have to regularly delete stuff to keep it at about three quarters full. Dave

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  3. Well I,for one, am delighted you dug these out and shared them. Love the uncompromising bungalow, what a makeover, but oh my good grief, that studio… I want…

    Norfolk has the most amazing landscapes, so much sky, its easy to see why artists flock there. Your photos made me smile, particularly the seals, sea lions are even more smelly, particularly when viewed in an enclosed space, like a cave. A not-to-be-forgotten experience in several ways! More photos from your clearing out process please.

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    • I’m afraid, Janet, that you’ll need to join the orderly queue for use of the studio (no pushing in). Sea lion cave, eh? I can imagine how the erm, aroma might be intensified when not wafted away by sea-breezes. Very heady indeed I imagine. Thank goodness for non-smellismart laptops. Dave

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  4. Looks like a fantastic summer weekend, I’d make sure to keep on good terms with that branch of the family! Beautiful views and wide open spaces are perfect for a warm sun and blue sky, with or without the seal poop.

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  5. Ah deleting photos is a job we all need to do and all hate. I recently bought an external hard disk and moved all movie files onto it leaving me a lot more room for photos! Is that cheating?
    I have never explored Norfolk – looks interesting.

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    • Hi Annette, I do have an external hard drive but use it to back up all my photos and various other important files. I’ve had computers fail on me before and without a backup there’s a real risk I’d lose everything on my laptop. Which doesn’t bear thinking about! Dave

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  6. Lovely to share a few days in North Norfolk, we often visit south Norfolk as my MIL lived right on the border of north Suffolk; I don’t find the inland part so interesting but the coast is beautiful.. We often visit Minsmere as my husband is a keen bird watcher (and getting keener every day it seems). Just before Christmas we were driving to visit friends for lunch when he suddenly stopped the car because he had seen something large – that turned out to be a March Harrier, we watched it for a long while flying, gliding just above the ground; the strange thing is we were only about half a mile from home and we’d never seen it before and not since.

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    • That’s not a part of the world I know, Christina. As a boy I visited Aldeburgh and Orford Ness and I went to school in Colchester for a few years and so know south Suffolk a little. I must get round to re-visiting Constable country. For such a small country England has a lot of parts which I’ve never visited. Off to Northumberland in the summer – which is another county I’ve fallen for. Dave

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    • It is distracting trawling through photos and quite therapeutic sweeping away the ones I don’t want or need anymore. And as they go back several years now it’s great seeing how the Priory garden has changed and coming across ones which, for one reason or another, I never used.

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  7. Idyllic. That is absolutely my fantasy home/garden/beach. I wouldn’t want to come home afterwards. I’ve never been and now want to go but what would be the chances of renting such a perfect location! I grew up by the sea so try to holiday on the UK coast. My son (now 19) always loved going and would spend hours rock-pooling and playing on the beaches. A good supper and he’d be out like a light. I guess it’s all that fresh salt sea air. As usual, utterly fab photos, Dave.

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    • I know what you mean, Caro. I had to have my fingers prised off the door jamb when it was time to go home. Spending ‘hours rock-pooling and playing on the beaches. A good supper and he’d be out like a light’ might describe me on that weekend. Dave

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  8. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I love this part of the coast and visit as much as we can during the year. You have captured the wild beauty of the place wonderfully – now I can’t wait for our next visit in March.

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    • I wish I could rely on going to Norfolk at least once a year. I do that with the Lake District and when I’m not there I spend my time planning my next trip and my next walks. But Norfolk is an awful lot closer. Perhaps I can do both. D

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  9. I have copious pics on my computer also but can hardly bring myself to delete any! I do love yours and how interesting it is to see where people live, what they do, how they garden in other parts of this world. Thank you!

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    • Hi Carolyn, I tend to take several shots of the same subject using different apertures, light settings etc and it is mostly these extra superfluous photos which I’m deleting. But even so, I need to be far more heard-hearted. Dave

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  10. Love this post Dave, the North Norfolk coast and Blakeney holds some very happy memories for us. We have booked a family holiday later this year up in Norfolk. I am also heartened to see you are sorting 45,000 photos, my task this evening was to cull some of the 26,000 on my hard drive and its hard to do!

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    • Hi Julie, we’re also hoping to get back to Norfolk this year. This was only my second trip there but I have fallen for it in a big way. And I’m very taken with walking a distance path – the Norfolk Coast path too. Good luck with the cull – I now try and do a couple of a dozen every time I use my laptop. D

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