Cromer’s clifftop and pathways to nowhere: the best of Norfolk in November
PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:24 23 November 2019
Keith Skipper says it’s easy to forget the good bits of Norfolk in November but there’s plenty to appreciate, even as we wait for Spring...
"How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of the Spring!"
I happened across that thought-provoking line while taking refuge from more sharp showers and spiteful winds buffeting leaves into king-sized gold and brown confetti over our autumn parade.
It can be heavy going through this 11th month with its curious mixture of memories marching, poppies falling, fireworks climbing, lights twinkling, shops enticing, children champing at the waiting bit and a countryside donning its best haunting gear.
Peer through fog across a landscape you took for granted yesterday. Trees become monsters, raising crooked arms in either threat or supplication. Yet you appreciate the bleakness all the more when it's time to leave it.
You glimpse what's left of an old barn skulking behind a mountain of sugar beet waiting for a lift to the factory. You imagine the throb of an ancient threshing machine and realise that tumbledown building once stood as a proud cathedral of labour. There's no-one left to worship.
Sorting wheat from chaff has joined a mundane list of farming rituals shorn of ceremony and community teamwork. Men and women of the fields are few and far between. "Living close to the land" is beginning to sound like the title of a melancholy chapter in an agricultural history book.
Perhaps November weather brings on extra regrets at the way Norfolk's rural treasures have been plundered, first by mechanisation and now by too much unwarranted development. Happily, there's always the chance of bumping into an old friend or making a new one carrying a far more optimistic outlook.
I can add Edwin Way Teale to the latter category. An American naturalist, writer and photographer, he came up with the quote with which I start this article. And there are plenty more enlightening musings about our environment where that came from.
Teale's work serves as primary source material documenting environmental conditions across America from 1939 until 1980, year of his death. He is best known for his series The American Seasons, four books recording his observations from over 75,000 miles of travel by car.
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He was bound to feature among those saluted for pointing the way to addressing a major global issue of our times with true passion and purpose. Nearly 40 years after his death, I'm sure to be joined by many others in giving thanks for hearing his important voice for the first time.
I've selected just three other Teale texts from a massive outpouring to underline the power of his environmental gospel as deep concern over climate change at last gives way to positive action across the world.
They may provide useful food for thought to share with election candidates on the doorstep if the green agenda comes up :
"The long fight to save wild beauty represents democracy at its best. It requires citizens to practise the hardest of virtues - self-restraint"
"As the pressure of population increasingly regiments us and crowds us closer together, an association with the wild, winged freedom of the birds will fill an ever-growing need in our lives".
"Time and space - time to be alone, space to move about - these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow".
These beguiling points from various stages of the last century tell us how long it's taken us to find enough courage for an honest debate demanding a widespread response beyond hollow soundbites and empty promises.
Climate change is a truly fashionable topic for the first time in a United Kingdom general election. Young voters in particular will be keen to make their voices heard and point to a precarious future without prolonged attention to environmental detail.
Meanwhile, we all need to make full use of still-available time and space in Norfolk, cherishing moods and places where the rat-race can be shoved aside and replaced by a freedom to concentrate on the big issues in a quiet and stimulating setting.
I can find such a safe haven on clifftop rambles either side of Cromer, in wooded patches and gardens around Felbrigg Hall and along any number of lanes and paths leading to nowhere in particular among rural hiding places in north Norfolk.
Standing among a clutch of trees wearing autumn gold the other day, I recalled an old Norfolk friend waxing lyrical: "Fallen leaves lying in the grass in the November sun can bring as much happiness as daffodils in Spring".
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