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There appears to be a new sport in Norfolk – cliff surfing

PUBLISHED: 14:31 01 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:31 01 December 2017

Visitors to the coast should heed warnings to stay away from the crumbling cliffs, says Nick Conrad. Picture: Archant library

Visitors to the coast should heed warnings to stay away from the crumbling cliffs, says Nick Conrad. Picture: Archant library

Archant

Keep away from Norfolk’s crumbling cliffs, says Nick Conrad. Too many people are thoughtlessly damaging them - and putting themselves at risk.

Just two weeks ago I found the most curious item on the beach, I couldn’t imagine why someone would dump it there. I will tell you all what it was at the end of this column. But first...

There appears to be a new sport in Norfolk – cliff surfing. This dangerous and reckless pastime involves thrill seekers cascading down our cliffs. There is nothing new about this, I’m sure many of us at some point have enjoyed the sensation of sliding over the sand. However, it’s dangerous and it can lead to erosion.

My father and his siblings were raised in Sheringham in the 1960s. Frequently they would enjoy Norfolk’s ‘Le Sable Luge.’ But it’s always been banned and I absolutely support the local authorities and conservation groups in appeal to Norfolkians and tourists alike to take this seriously.

But how dangerous can cliff surfing be? It sounds like a great laugh. Well, this appears to be a problem across the UK...

A schoolboy was injured when he fell at Brown’s Bay, Cullercoats. The youngster was placed in a coma and suffered serious injury. Fire crews were called after a walker survived a 100ft fall down a cliff in Bournemouth. He suffered a fractured pelvis.

Closer to home, a 13-year-old boy was rescued after getting into difficulty while climbing on cliffs near Sheringham. He was spotted by a member of the public who alerted the coastguard and stayed with him until the emergency services arrived.

I love walking along our beautiful wide Norfolk beaches. From the base of the cliff you get an excellent perspective of the continuous erosion. Between East and West Runton you can see evidence of where people have taken a shortcut. Rather than the firm sand and mud held together by grasses and weeds, the sand is powdery and loose underfoot. I’ve witnessed whole families flying down the side of the cliff, right past a clear sign warning thrill-seekers of the dangers.

I stopped a young boy last summer who was merrily about to skip down the cliff with his even younger sibling! I estimate the two boys were aged between five and nine years old. They sheepishly listened, but I clearly had ruined their fun. I’m a killjoy! I’m also a hypocrite, as in the past I’ve enjoyed larking around but never dangerously.

Do today’s youngsters possess the knowledge needed to stay safe along our coast? My father and many of his contemporaries understood tides, currents and where the cliffs were particularly unsafe. Much of that knowledge hasn’t been passed on to the next generation.

The public’s ability to assess danger appears to be lacking. At this icy time of year especially, a walk along the cliffs can be lovely but, while the views may be picturesque, they come with their own perils. I suggest it’s time for a national campaign to highlight the risks of climbing, walking along or bathing near cliffs.

It is irresponsible and negligent for any inexperienced climber to scale cliffs because not only are they jeopardising their own safety, they are also endangering the lives of coastguards, firefighters and fellow rescue workers who are expected to come to their aid when they get stuck or fall.

So back to this mystery item that I recovered on my coastal walk: a king-sized mattress! I couldn’t work out why someone would discard it on the beach. But apparently, a thrill seeker was using this old mattress as a toboggan and couldn’t be bothered to retrieve the ‘device’ from the bottom. Like a true hypocrite I ‘carefully’ scrambled up the cliff with my brother to retrieve it.

Thank you to North Norfolk District Council for taking it away.

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