Let’s keep Norfolk’s self-respect as the tourism gates start to reopen after lockdown

Creamy waves a Cromer to stir hopes of a whirly ice-cream treat along rhe front

Creamy waves a Cromer to stir hopes of a whirly ice-cream treat along rhe front - Credit: Archant

Rural romanticism sells well, but lets keep Norfolk a little bit special and not sell out, says one of the county’s biggest fans, Keith Skipper

I’m looking forward to my first big whirly ice-cream of the year on Cromer front.

This tasty treat usually sends a tiny tremor of trepidation through my Norfolk soul as it carries a topping of guilt for watching our seaside start licking itself into shape for a new holiday season.

It has always seemed as if I’m giving tacit approval for even shriller cries of “Dew more!” rather than “Dew diffrunt!” on the tourism front with my cornet and cream shaped like a tiny Olympic flame lit to launch another race towards a record-breaking campaign.

Well, our holiday trade is in for a major struggle just to cling on this summer whatever the weather or number of appeals, most notably from clusters of under-pressure MPs for the government to hold back a disastrous tide of rapid decline with generous shoring-up economic measures.

Of course, there’s a very long queue of “special cases” jostling for big favours as our lockdown straitjacket is slightly loosened. The list is bound to grow while fears of financial depression intensify.

Agriculture, public transport, clean energy, care for an ageing population, more affordable homes and jobs for local youngsters. survival packages for small businesses and a long-term strategy to counter coastal erosion will spring to many a Norfolk mind.

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Tourism, along with allied interests in the entertainment and hospitality sectors, has benefited considerably in recent seasons from increasing taste for home-made breaks. Lingering effects of an international pandemic may well turn an occasional habit into an automatic annual date.

There has to be ample opportunity this year to consider seriously some worrying aspects of an industry ever ready to emphasise all its benefits without drawing attention to any of the drawbacks.

Plucking eyewatering numbers out of thinnish air about what it all does for our local economy should not push an important trade beyond criticism. It gets easier every summer to ask when those at the wheel will be forced to admit their holiday bandwagon is going too fast and crammed too full.

Preachers of caution have always taken as their text: “Thou shalt not abuse, nor allow to be abused, those very qualities which lure people here in the first place”. That golden belief must now be framed and thrust before everyone yelling for more as a matter of course.

There are practical as well as aesthetic considerations. Too many cars, caravans, buses and other vehicles and you’ve got clogged-up streets. Anyone trapped in Cromer, Sheringham or 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.

Yes, a considerable number of people do make a living out of visitors. But even they must squirm at the sight and smell of queues crawling through parking chaos and pollution perils holiday haunts are told to accept as a reasonable price to pay for being busy.

Meanwhile, less traditional vacation areas should brace themselves for change if seaside pressures are allowed to multiply. Farmers appear likely to look more to the ever-blossoming leisure industry as they sift through plans to diversify.

Breckland may have to listen more intently to a 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.

I’ve heard rumours of pretty parishes being invited to accept it’s time for real Norfolk Dumplings to board the Gravy Train after decades of refusing to look for the station. Not so much losing innocence as gaining enlightenment.

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

I do hope I’m joking. Just take a look around Cornwall and see how a poem can be turned into a bazaar. Many parts are gripped by the Arthurian legend with just about every enterprise blessed by Merlin’s wand.

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

Meanwhile, let me move from lockdown to lickdown with a big whirly ice-cream.

SKIP’S ASIDE: A dozen summers have flown since I took an unlikely diversion deep into the heart of our local holiday waters.

An invitation to officially launch Cromer’s new tourist information centre raised many eyebrows. Mine included. I thought it must be a joke after decades of wondering out loud why so many people go on holiday to the same place at the same time to muck it up.

Then there was a reputation as a serial critic of North Norfolk District Council, especially over a series of planning decisions to blight an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Holt Road entrance into town.

Perhaps they had tried and failed to book one or other of two top-notch tourists attracting attention that week. The Prince of Wales and Gordon Brown, clinging to his prime minster crown, were seasoned ribbon-cutters and keen supporters of breaks full of eastern promise.

Maybe they thought a useful example of local democracy at work, stepping outside rhe usual cosy coterie of civic back-slappers to do opening honours, would send a clear message to those then espousing a unitary authority cause.

Then again, a good sense of humour might have prompted their choice in 2008 – and I’d be a proper party pooper for rejecting an opportunity to add another rich pleasure to my usual Friday morning stroll to the Meadow Car Park market to buy eggs.

Whatever their motives – and I counted several smiles bordering on the quizzical as I entered the lion’s den sprouting turrets and canopies – it was too good a chance to miss. A full-time parochialist suddenly empowered by a fresh platform decked out by old adversaries.

Fully alive to current value of placing “eco” in front of as many nouns as possible, I urged key figures on my home patch to spearhead rise of the “eco-tourist” by encouraging more to walk, cycle and use public transport.

My mardle with tourist-minded folk in their own new headquarters is not without precedent. I have addressed local and national gatherings of estate agents, house builders, advanced motorists, planning officers, and several others with whom I have little in common. We debated our differences in a civilised and humorous manner.

I cannot guarantee they all have seen the folly of their ways.