Norfolk hasn’t sold its soul to the tourists - I’m glad

PUBLISHED: 12:45 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:45 30 March 2019

Life before Chelsea-on-Sea with prams to the fore on Front Street in Burnham Market

Life before Chelsea-on-Sea with prams to the fore on Front Street in Burnham Market


Keith Skipper says Norfolk has much to be proud of

That ole tremble of trepidation runs through my Norfolk soul on the road to Easter.

A first whirly ice-cream of the year carries a topping of guilt as our seaside starts licking itself into shape for a new season.

It’s as if I am giving tacit approval for even shriller cries to “dew more” rather than “dew diffrunt” on the tourism front. My cornet and cream shaped like a tiny Olympic flame are ready to launch the 2019 race towards a record-breaking campaign.

Yes, there were several more discerning visitors last summer. But they didn’t spend much. So a bigger crowd this year may liven up the tills and repay some of the holiday trade’s long-term investment. Omens are healthy.

The taste for home-grown breaks remains strong and it must be in all our interests to roll out the welcome mat, point to Norfolk’s “fantastic” attractions and wait for an inevitable bonanza.

Well, as with the bulk of excitable councillors, developers and planners, those pushing the tourist industry are prone to emphasise all the benefits ~without calling attention to any of the drawbacks. The dive-in philosophy is dangerous and naïve.

Preachers of caution have always taken as their text: 
“Thou shalt not abuse, or allow to be abused, those very qualities which lure people here in the first place”.

Those golden words now need to be framed and thrust before everyone yelling for more as a matter of course.

There are practical as well as aesthetic and environmental considerations. Too many cars, caravans and buses must mean clogged-up streets. Anyone trapped in Cromer, Sheringham and Wells traffic on a hot steamy day – or even Burnham Market when word gets out it has survived the winter – will vouch for the way frustration, impatience and anger can build up and boil over.

A considerable number of local folk do make a living out of visitors, but even they must squirm at the sight and smell of queues crawling through the parking chaos and dangerous fumes our holiday haunts are told bluntly to accept as a reasonable price to pay for being busy.

Meanwhile, less traditional holiday areas must brace themselves for drastic change while seaside pressures multiply. Farmers and landowners will look more to the blossoming leisure industry as they sift through plans to diversify.

Breckland has to listen more intently to the tourist army ready to march through the trees. Stanford Battle Area could be a sure-fire winner. They’ll come from miles away to see rabbits with cotton-wool stuffed in their ears. Perhaps the Flintstones could ride again.

Pretty parishes must accept it’s time for Norfolk Dumplings to board the Gravy Train after decades of refusing to book in at the station. Not so much losing innocence as gaining enlightenment.

All this sentimental twaddle about our noble heritage, dancing peasants, hayblown lanes, community spirit, harmony with nature, life along the furrows … we can package and market that for the tourists. Rural romanticism sells well:

“Mornin’, my ole bewties. This here be Harbert the Hossman’s Cottage, an’ that there be the werry harness he used on Snowball for Great Plowin’ Challenge o’ Little Pishmire in 1909. They be buried tergether 
at back o’ yonder leisure park. Yew press that button, missus,
an’ Harbert will mardle ‘bowt them good ole days on the land. That be a quid extra for Snowball”.

Think I’m joking? Take a look around the West Country and see how they’ve turned a poem into a bazaar. Many parts of Devon and Cornwall are gripped by Arthurian legends with just about every enterprise aimed at tourists blessed with Merlin’s wand.

Thankfully, Norfolk has sensitivity and self-respect left. There are still some things that cannot be measured in terms of people or pounds. Tourism can continue to be a valuable servant of the local economy. It must never become its master.

Lilias Rider Haggard summed it up perfectly nearly 70 years ago when I took my first bucket and spade to Hunstanton beach: “If our authentic East Anglian scenery – our common heritage – is lost, not only will those who love beauty as a sure escape from the ugliness of life suffer, but the whole vast network of business interests who cater, directly or indirectly, for summer visitors and tourist traffic will slowly but surely reap the unpleasant reward of their indifferences”.

Discuss carefully over a whirly ice-cream. That be tew quid extra.

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