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

The Sea's Siege of Norfolk - Caister Castle - Sir John Fastolff - Martham - Inroads of the Sea - The Chronicles of John of Oxnead - Bromholm Priory - Paston - Tombs of the Pastons - Sir John Paston and his Friends and Enemies - Sandhills and Cliffs - The Old Forest Bed - Trimingham, Overstrand, and Cromer - The Beauty Spot of Norfolk - The Lighthouse Hills - On the Cliffs at Night - The Lost Town of Shipden - The " Shrieking Pits" of Aylmerton - Beeston Priory - Gresham and Margaret Paston - Sheringham - View towards Blakeney Point - Salthouse Marshes - The Alighting-place of Migratory Birds - Rare Warblers - Cley and its Fine Church - Wells - Walsingham Priory - Kingly Pilgrims - Binham Priory - StifFkey - A Queer People - Holkham Hall - "Coke of Norfolk" - The Wild Grey Geese - The Birthplace of Nelson - Brancaster – Hunstanton.
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All along the eastern shores of England signs of the erosive action of the waves are to be seen, and nowhere more apparent than along the Norfolk coast. This is a fact which no traveller making a coast-line journey from Yarmouth to Hunstanton or Lynn can fail to be impressed with. Should you follow the route I now propose to describe, you will not only skirt stretches of seaboard where hamlets and churches, fields and waste lands, have been demolished or submerged, but you will see the sea's siege still going on. You will soon understand, too, how it is that the question of protecting the East Anglian coast against inroads of the sea has become a serious one. The inhabitants of towns and villages which have lately become widely known and popular health and holiday resorts cannot watch unmoved the wasting of their cliffs and destruction of their sandhills. They have too much to lose to be indifferent to the sea's siege; but for the most part they are helpless, owing to the costliness of really effective protective measures.

I intend, in this and the succeeding chapter, to indicate a route which follows the curve of the coast-line nearly the whole way from Yarmouth to Lynn. If you follow this route you will not only see Mundesley, Cromer, Sheringham, and Hunstanton, but Holkham Hall, Sandringham Hall, and some of the most interesting ruins and delightful scenery in Norfolk. Should you be a cyclist, you will have no difficulty in visiting every place I shall mention; and even if you make this coast-line journey by rail you may, if you do not mind the frequent alightings, plan your travelling so as to miss few of them. Most directly, the distance from Yarmouth to Lynn along the coast is about ninety miles; but in this tour it will be increased by occasional excursions into districts not strictly by the sea.

Between Yarmouth and Caister the shore is made up of sandy beach and marram-grassed sandhills, so, as you will have ample opportunity for becoming acquainted with this kind of coast before you reach the Norfolk cliffs, you may prefer to leave Yarmouth by the Caister Road, which enters the town near St Nicholas church. This is a straight, level road, fringed with young firs and willows, and bordered on the one hand by the marshes of the Bure valley, and on the other by sand-dunes and an occasional tract of gorsey common land. Caister village, an enterprising little place which has learnt to make the most of its proximity to frolicsome Yarmouth, is too near that town to have retained any degree of rusticity. But commonplace as is its appearance, it is famous on account of its castle - a grand old ruin which, fortunately, stands a little more than a mile from the village street.

Caister Castle is no Norman fortress, owing its erection to some warlike baron, but is undoubtedly one of the most ancient brick buildings in England. It was built between the years 1443 and 1453 by Sir John Fastolff, who obtained a license from the Crown to employ six ships in conveying building materials to Caister. This Sir John was a famous soldier in his day, for he took a leading part in the battles at Harfleur, Agincourt, and Verneuil, and during the siege of Orleans defeated the French troops in an action known as the Battle of Herrings, because its object was the cutting off of supplies. Apparently he lived in considerable state here, for in an inventory of his property in the " Paston Letters" it is shown that, in addition to gold plate, he possessed 13,400 ounces of silver plate, while his banquetting table was adorned with two hundred and fifty-one " chargeours, disshes, and platters " of silver and silver gilt. But he did not live long to enjoy the sight of a lavish display suggestive of loot, for he died a few years after the castle was completed, bequeathing it to Sir John Paston, a member of a family whose name has become well known through the publication of the famous " Letters." Sir John Paston was not permitted to retain undisputed possession. Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, maintained that Sir John Fastolff had, during his life, given him the castle, "and that he would have it plainly." At the head of 3000 men he succeeded in taking the new stronghold, and held it until his death, when Sir John Paston regained possession. Although not occupied after the reign of Elizabeth, it remained, in his family until 1659, when it was sold to a citizen of London to whom the Pastons were indebted to the extent of £6500.

All that is left of the castle is a lofty circular tower and considerable portions of the north and west walls, about which, when I last saw them, many pigeons were fluttering or nestling in the crevices. Only a few of the tower steps remain intact, so it is practically unclimbable. Strange to say, very little ivy clings to the walls, the only vegetation, except a few recently planted fruit trees, being wall-flowers, pellitory, dyer's rocket, and here and there an elder bush which has rooted itself in the brickwork. Some old iron guards are still fixed to one of the tower windows, near an open hearth with a smoke-blackened chimney. The moat, which is often almost dry, is overshadowed by trees and littered with fallen bricks and masonry. The whole ruin seems sadly neglected, and I never saw a place of historic interest so desecrated with the scrawlings of silly trippers. This, no doubt, is due to its nearness to Yarmouth. Like many other ruins, those of the castle are seen at their best by moonlight, which fails to show the traces of vandalism so conspicuous in the daytime. There is an old tradition that a headless horseman, who drove a coach and four headless horses, used to haunt the neighbourhood of Caister.

About half a mile from the castle, the road from the village joins the high road from Yarmouth to Norwich, an excellent stretch of highway, which, however, may with advantage be abandoned for a by-road on the right leading to Great Ormesby. The distance is a little over a mile, and it is not a mile to be hurried over. There are pleasant cornfields and pastures on either hand, and woodbine and wild roses in the hedgerows.

Great Ormesby church should be visited, if only to examine its Norman doorway; and then you may take to the road again, which leads you past a village green and forge to Little Ormesby church and the Eel's-foot Inn and Sportsman's Arms. The hostelries are favourite resorts of anglers who come to fish the local broads. Then the whispering of reeds and the gleaming of waters speak of Broadland, for you have reached Ormesby Broad. The scene, made up of lovely lights and shadows on the water, skimming swallows, quiet pastoral pictures, sallows, willows, and wild flowers, is a familiar one to travellers in this part of Norfolk. You continue your journey to Martham, a small town whose church of St Mary might fittingly be the sanctuary of a place ten times its size. Apart from its 80 church Martham has little to claim attention. My sole impressions of it are of a bank which opens for three hours on two days a week, a green with geese, some ponds around which the willows grow so close together that they seem to be crowding each other in efforts to reach the water, and a local shopkeeper's harvest sale bill, which announced that this annual event was causing " Great Excitement in Martham."

But it will not do to stray too far from the coast at the commencement of your tour, so you will do well to return to it by way of Winterton, a village gaining favour among people of quiet tastes owing to its splendid beach and secluded position. You soon find yourself in the midst of a district which within the last few years has experienced disastrous inroads of the sea. To the north of Winterton, at a place known as Horsey Gap, there is a weak spot in the sandhill bastions which protect the coast. Here the sea has several times swept in and inundated the adjoining lowlands. As long ago as 1287 the surrounding hamlets were subject to such floods and encroachments, for in the chronicles of John of Oxnead we read that in that year, " in the month of December, the seventh of the Kalends of January, the 8th day of the moon, the sea, in dense darkness, began to be agitated by the violence of the wind, and in its agitation to burst through its accustomed limits, occupying towns, fields, and other places adjacent to the coast, and inundating parts which no age in past times had recorded to have seen covered with sea-water. For, issuing forth about the middle of the night, it suffocated or drowned men and women sleeping in their beds, with infants in their cradles, and all kinds of cattle and freshwater fishes; and it tore up houses from their foundations with all they contained, and carried them away, and threw them into the sea with irrevocable damage. Many when surrounded by the waters sought a place of refuge by mounting into trees, but benumbed by the cold they were overtaken by the water and fell into it and were drowned.

Whereby it happened that in the town of Hyckelingge nine score of different ages and sizes perished in the aforesaid inundation." Again in 1608, according to Blomfield, a great breach occurred between Winterton and Waxham, through which the sea flowed at every flood tide, overflowing many thousand acres of marsh, and seriously damaging the fresh-water fisheries even so far inland as Norwich. In 1781 and 1 791 there were repetitions of these disasters; but after that there were no serious breaches until November 1897, when between Winterton and Palling, and also at Cley and Salthouse beyond Cromer, great damage was done by rough seas and unusually high tides again causing the coast walls to give way. At Horsey the sea swept through the sandhills, drowning a large number of rabbits which had their burrows there. A native of the district who saw the sea come in, said afterwards, " It was pitiful to see 'em clamber for the higher holes and then, when the water came in, jump clean up a good yard or more. Then they struggled against the wash a minute, but were toppled over and swept on to death amongst the rubbage. Some went tumbling down the cliff front (he called the sandhills cliffs) as their burrows were halved by the sea, then scrambled up again, to be licked off by the waves that broke upon them - and down with marrums, faggots, and sand they went into the boiling waters below." From 150,000 to 200,000 tons of sea-water were subsequently pumped off the adjoining marshes. At Eccles, a parish of which only a few acres are now left, the church tower could until recently be seen standing forlorn on the beach, but it has now fallen, and is likely to be soon hidden by the sand or the sea.

While in this neighbourhood you should not fail to see the deserted Hall at Waxham; but the remains of the Austin Priory there are so few as to be scarcely worth a visit. In the parish of Bacton, however, which you reach after passing through Happisburgh, or Hasboro', where Cowper stayed for some time, are the ruins of Bromholm Priory, founded in 1113 by William de Glanville, and famous for its Holy Rood, which pilgrims came from far and near to worship, and which was reputed to have power to cure all ills that flesh is heir to and cast out demons. Sir John Fenn says that it was " a monastery of some celebrity. Though not, at least in its latter days, one of the most wealthy religious houses, for it fell among the smaller monasteries at the first suppression in the reign of Henry VIII., its ruins still attest that it was by no means insignificant.... Among the numerous monasteries of Norfolk, none but Walsingham was more visited by strangers, and many of the pilgrims to Walsingham turned aside on their way homeward to visit the Rood of Bromholm. For this was a very special treasure brought from Constantinople... composed of a portion of the wood of the true cross." "Helpe, holy cross of Bromholm," was the cry of the affrighted miller's wife of whom we read in Chaucer; and Piers Plowman invokes the Rood of Bromholm to " bryng " him " out of Dette." Time has played havoc with Bromholm Priory, and neglect has resulted in dilapidations and base usage of portions of the old shrine; but still you may see the great empty arch of the east window of the chapel, flanked by narrow pointed windows, something of the refectory, and the gatehouse with its pointed arches.

Adjoining Bacton, and on the road to Mundesley, is the coast-line village of Paston, where you should not fail to visit the church, and examine its memorials of the Paston family. The most imposing of these is a fine monument, with a recumbent effigy, to Catherine, the wife of Sir Edmund Paston, who died in 1628. The tomb is the work of the sculptor Nathaniel Stone, whose diary contains this entry: - "In 1629, I made a tomb for my lady Paston, and sat it up at Paston, and was very extraordinarily entertained, and pay'd for it £340." The earliest monument, however, is an altar tomb bearing the date 1538 upon a brass which also informs you that

"Here Eastimus Paston and Marye his wiffe
enclosed are in claye,
Which is the Resting place of fleache
until the latter daye."

Sir Edmund Paston, who died in 1632, and Clement Paston and Beatrice his wife, are also interred here; but William Paston, who was appointed justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1429, is buried in Norwich Cathedral. John Paston, the husband of the devoted Margaret whose letters are the most interesting epistles in the famous collection, was interred within the walls of Bromholm Priory. He it was who had so many enemies, against whom, in his absence from home, his brave and faithful wife defended, as long as she could, his house at Gresham. But in spite of the fact that his legal duties compelled him to spend most of his time in London, he seems to have had good friends in Norfolk as well as enemies, and they and his wife kept him well informed of what was going on at home. Thus, when his houses at Hellesdon and Drayton were in the hands of the Earl of Suffolk, one of his neighbours wrote to him as follows: - " And as for Haylysdon, my Lord of Suffolk was ther on Wedens- day in Whytson Weke, and ther dined and drew a stew and toke gret plente of fych; yet hath he left you a pyke or ij, agayn ye come, the wych wold be gret comford to all your frendes, and dyscomford to your enmys; for at hys beyng ther that day ther was never no man that played Herrod in Corpus Crysty (A reference to the acting of Mysteries at Whitsuntide.) play better and more agreable to hys pageaunt than he did. But ye shale understond that it was after none, and the weder hot, and he so feble for sekeness that hys legges wold not bere hyme, but ther was ij men had gret payn to kepe hym on hys fete; and ther ye were juged. Som sayd 'Sley'; som sayd 'Put hym in preson!' And forth com my lord, and he wold met you with a spere, and have none other mendes for the troble at ye have put hym to but your hart blod, and that will he gayt with hys owen handes; for and ye have Haylesdon and Dreton, ye schall have hys lyff with it."

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