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By the wild North Sea (Yarmouth to Caister Castle, Cromer, Cley, Wells, and Hunstanton) page 2


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The old home of the Pastons has entirely disappeared from the village which bears their name; but you may still see a big Elizabethan barn here, which was built by Sir William Paston.

By the time you arrive at this point of your coast-line journey, you begin to lose sight of the sandhills, with their ragged marram-grown ridges and scanty floral crop of sea holly, restharrow, and sea bindweed. From Happisburgh to a spot some distance west of Sheringham the coast in most places lifts up above the sea a sheer face of cliff, often to a considerable height. These cliffs are of great interest to the geologist, for they contain the so-called Forest Bed. It extends nearly sixty miles along the coast, but is especially conspicuous at Bacton, Happisburgh, and Cromer, while out at sea it is often met with at considerable depths by the East Coast trawlers, who bring to light many of its fossil bones. These include remains of the mastodon, several elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, beavers, oxen, and several kinds of deer, specimens of which are in Norwich Castle Museum.

Almost at the commencement of this cliff-line you enter upon a stretch of coast which of late years has seen such changes that its elderly inhabitants may well wonder if they are dreaming or witnessing some phantasmal transformation scene. Until a comparatively recent date it was practically an unknown land, so far as the tourist and pleasure-seeker were concerned; now it is famous. All England has heard of Trimingham, Overstrand, Cromer, and Sheringham. There is something in the scenery around these delightful places that makes a lasting impression. One cannot forget the wave-fretted cliffs which show so bold a front to the sea, the ruined shrines which, lonesome and storm-beaten, are landmarks to the mariner, the quiet hamlets backed by sunny fields and pastures and lovely woodlands. It is not difficult to foretell the future of Cromer and the villages which surround it. There is such a future in store for them as Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and many of the popular places on the East Coast can never hope to enjoy. Together they make up the "beauty spot" of Norfolk. The very naming of them suggests " dreams of delight" - Felbrigg Woods, the Lighthouse Hills, Overstrand and Sheringham Cliffs, Runton, Roughton, and Gunton - they bring to mind the play of light and shade on the cliff-top, the wind-blown runnels of sand which trickle down to the beach, the crooning of wood-doves, the waving of bright seaweeds in the rock pools, the piping of shore birds, and the ceaseless song of the sea. Even the summer birds seem to sing and the summer flowers to bloom later here than elsewhere along the coast; while as for the sea, the Mediterranean can scarcely show a deeper, lovelier blue.

You are indeed in the "beauty spot" of Norfolk, and it is difficult to tell of a tithe of its charms. I might write of Mundesley, with its splendid beach and crumbling cliffs; of Overstrand, with its leafy byways and ruined church, containing the simple tomb of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, the abolitionist of slavery; of Cromer, with its hills and vales, quiet shady lanes, grand church, and famous golf links; of Trimingham, where the cliffs are 300 feet high, and from whose Beacon Hill nearly forty churches can be seen; of Beeston and its Priory; of the Skelding Hills and Sheringham's bird-haunted woods and breezy uplands. I might write in detail of all these, but so much would still remain untold that I should despair of being able to do anything like justice to them. It is all so enchanting; it is a bit of Devon and Cornwall transplanted to the shores of the North Sea, only it is Devon and Cornwall without the relaxing air of the south. The sea breezes are of the most bracing kind - there is no land between Cromer and the North Polar regions, and the winds are often fresh with the keenness of the ice-fields. People who regularly go to the coast say that even if one is dying it is impossible to feel ill here. And it is astonishing how good homely country fare tastes when it is eaten at one of the coast-line farmsteads.

If you wish to appreciate the charms of Cromer and its surroundings, and to get a good view of them, you cannot choose a better vantage ground than the Lighthouse Hills. You may stay there all day and not tire of the prospect before you. There is colour enough in it - in the house- roofs and cornfields, sea and shore - to satisfy everyone. Existence here becomes idealised, presents boundless possibilities; there is nothing to limit the imagination; the vista of life is as wide as the sky. The cries of the sea birds and humming of the bees are in harmony with the voices of wind and wave. From dawn till sunset you are content to lie amid the wild mignonette and silvery sea buckthorn, and watch the flying clouds and their shadows on land and sea.

And even when night falls, and the sky is filled with stars, it is with slow steps that you leave the Lighthouse Hills; for it is then you are reminded of what Hardy has written of such a wind-swept height: " To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight... the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are horizontal and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre among these astral clusters, aloft from the customary haunts of thought and vision, some men may feel raised to a capability for eternity at once."

At Cromer, again, you have striking evidence of the effect of the sea's siege of the Norfolk coast, for the old town of Shipden, mentioned in Doomsday Book, and once a royal demesne, occupying a position seaward of the present town, has wholly disappeared. Local fishermen affirm that at low water portions of its old church of St Peter, which went down-cliff in the fourteenth century, may be seen, with other traces of the vanished town. Apart from these questionable relics, however, the district possesses several objects of historical and antiquarian interest. On Toll's Hill, said to have been a smugglers' signalling station, are the remains of an old beacon, similar to that which, before the erection of a more modern structure, stood on the Lighthouse Hills. At Aylmerton, a hamlet about three miles from Cromer, is a tract of high heathland, noted for its numerous hollows, pronounced to have been the dwellings of some primitive 88 inhabitants of the district. They are known as the " Shrieking Pits," owing to a tradition that loud shrieking is sometimes heard from them, and that a white figure peers into them and wrings its hands in an agonised manner. Mr A. D. Bayne, in his "History of Eastern England," says: "The northern part of Norfolk appears to have been densely peopled by the Iceni, as indicated by the burrows, pits, and remains of dwellings and pits near Cromer. There is the site of a large British village, consisting of remains of several thousand inhabitants. It begins at Felbrigg and runs up to Beeston. It is divided across the middle by a bank, the base of which is from twelve to twenty feet in width. At each end of this encampment are two large burial grounds where have been found quantities of pottery. At Weybourne there are above a thousand pits, supposed to have been Icenic dwellings or hiding-places."

Between Cromer and Sheringham are the ruins of Beeston Priory, founded in the reign of King John by Lady Isabel de Cressey. These ruins, which are not far from the village church, are very picturesque, though only the west end of the conventual church, a small belfry tower, and a portion of the chapter-house are now to be seen. The church, when intact, was a large cruciform structure, but without aisles. The village church has been recently restored; but a piece of the screen which, at the time of restoration, was placed behind the communion table, interests ecclesiologists, as do the corbels which carried the rood-loft, the clerk's seat, and one or two old brasses. At Gresham, a village five miles from Cromer, and of which a son of Chaucer once held the living, are the foundations of the house in which Margaret Paston and a few servants kept at bay for some time a thousand of Lord Molynes' rabble retainers, who, on January 28th, 1450, besieged it, armed with " cuirasses and brigandines, with guns, bows, and defensive armour." To gain possession of a place almost entirely unprotected, they also employed " mining instruments, long poles with hooks, called cromes, used for pulling down houses, ladders, pickaxes, and pans with fire burning in them." Needless to say, in the end they succeeded in breaking into the house.

Before losing sight of Cromer, as you continue your journey towards Sheringham, it is interesting to make note of the words of an old guide writer, who, in 1819, said: " Cromer was first frequented as a watering-place about the year 1785, by two or three families of retired habits, whose report of the beautifully diversified scenery of the neighbourhood, of the simple manners of the inhabitants, and the excellent beach at low water, made others desirous of sharing in this rural enjoyment." He also remarks that " Fish are scarce at Cromer, except lobsters, which are good but small, and sold at 8d. or 9d. a pound; when dear, they are called 4 hanged' lobsters."

Sheringham, which the author just quoted did not consider worthy of mention, promises to become a rival to Cromer, and even now there are not a few people who prefer it to the better-known place. From the west cliffs of Sheringham you get a grand view of the coast as far as Blakeney Point. The height of the cliffs gradually decreases in that direction, until they give way entirely to the Salthouse Marshes, a somewhat dreary district often visited by the gunner and ornithologist on account of its being a favourite haunt of waders and other birds. The marshes, which are protected on the seaward side by a long pebble ridge, are wide, treeless, and almost featureless. At the time when the sea last broke through the ridge they lay for a long time " sea-soaked and water-logged." In a recent article in a weekly paper reference is made to the favour shown these marshes by the smaller land birds in the migration season. " It is then," says the writer, " that the 'blue-throats,' birds once deemed among the rarest migrants, come yearly, and remain to rest before passing southwards.... Here the 'barred warbler ' was first seen and identified in England, and later Pallas's barred warbler, a little bird from the far East, was found there. It was taken for a gold-crested wren as it flew along the beach, but the sharp eyes of a local gunner detected the difference, and it was 'collected.' The aquatic warbler has also been taken recently at the same spot, and the list of minor rarities there secured is too long to set out.... Black storks, rare grebes, and ibises, are among the visitors to Salthouse, and some of the rarest of all ducks taken in Norfolk or in England were shot at Blakeney. These were, it is believed, four specimens of Steller's duck, one of which, in the Norwich Museum, was for fifteen years the only specimen of this bird killed in England and preserved." Of the arrival of the migrants the same writer says: " By night most of the shore birds and sea birds come - stints, plovers, terns, ducks, and phalaropes; but by day the land birds drop in at all hours. You may wander down at all hours towards Blakeney Point without seeing a bird, and on returning find the bushes of suaeda and furze full of thrushes and fieldfares.... Walking on the great shingle bank at dusk, while the eternal roar of the waves over the nine-mile barrier rises and falls with a noise like the roaring of a 10-inch shell, you may see the little birds coming in from the sea, just topping the waves, and alighting only a yard beyond the froth of the last roller on the beach. Then they flutter to a grass tuft, and creeping in, fold their weary wings and sleep in the sound of the breakers."

A great deal about the wild life of this particular district and of that lying further west, between Wells and Bran- caster, may be learnt by consulting Mr C. J. Cornish's " Nights with an Old Gunner," in which sport on the North Norfolk coast is fully and entertainingly described.

Cley, which is now only a village though it calls itself a town, was once a flourishing place, carrying on a considerable trade with foreign ports. That time, however, has long gone by, and the only indications of its former prosperity are its grand old church and the quaint old grey- pebble houses which survive the decay of the town's trade. Mariners nowadays scarcely recognise Cley as a port, but in 1406, when James, son of Robert Bruce of Scotland, was driven by stress of weather to the Norfolk coast, he sought refuge here. He met with a reception scarcely calculated to give him a favourable impression of the place, for the loyal mariners of Cley would not allow him to depart when he wished, but sent him prisoner to London. Cley church, which is partly in ruins, is one of the finest in the county. If it could have been kept in thorough repair and its transepts, which were never finished, owing to the ravages of the Black Death, completed, it would attract the attention of every English ecclesiologist. As it is, it is a noble structure, and seems strangely out of place in a little out-of-the-way coast-line village. Its building was commenced in the decorated style, as may be seen by the chancel nave and aisles; but the nave was not completed nor the tower built until a time when the perpendicular style was generally adopted in the erection of sacred buildings. The unfinished transepts, although in ruins, possess some beautiful decorated tracery; and the clerestory windows, in which the ordinary form alternates with cinquefoils enclosed in circles, are of the same period. The south porch is an especially fine one. In addition to emblems of the Trinity and the Passion, it bears, in the spandrels, the arms of Richard II., impaling those of Anne of Bohemia; while in the moulding of the jambs are represented the Agnus Dei, the Cross Keys, the arms of England, and those of the noted Norfolk families of De la Pole, Erpingham, and De Warrenne. There is an ogee arch to the church doorway, the boss of which shows an old woman flinging her distaff at a fox which has stolen a goose. There are several old tombs and brasses. One brass, which bears the effigy of a priest, is to the memory of John Yslington, who died in 1429; while in the south aisle is another, with effigies in shrouds, to John Symons, a merchant who died in 1508. An altar tomb in the churchyard is that of Captain James Greeve a gallant sailor who fought beside Sir Cloudesley Shovel. It bears the inscription: " Here lyeth the body of James Greeve, who was an assistant of Sir Cloudesly Shovel in burning ye ships in ye port of Tripoly in Barberii, January 14th, 1675-6, for his good service pformed was made Capt. of the ship called the Orange Tree of Algier in 1677, and presented with a medal of gold by King Charles ye 2. He died April 14, 1686, aged 48 years."

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Pictures for By the wild North Sea (Yarmouth to Caister Castle, Cromer, Cley, Wells, and Hunstanton) page 2

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A Norfolk House-Boat
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Cromer
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Upper Sheringham
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Stiffkey
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