Slogans can only say so much about the beautiful county of Norfolk

Bromholm Priory

Bromholm Priory - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's beauty often sees slogans attached to some of it's prime locations, but Keith Skipper says it's the Norfolk way to resist this branding and to carry on as normal

It is turning into a rum old first quarter of a year supposed to offer all kinds of fresh starts, clear-the-air operations and firm pointers to a tingling new age of prosperity.

Well, high-speed ideas can take a long time to find any kind of momentum, especially among indigenous remnants who've heard and scoffed at so many of them since some bright spark suggested the Broads should be filled in and used for vital housing.

Professor Pete Diggins and his like dug up a few other madcap schemes to force a rebel county firmly into line with other places where countless residents eventually saw the light and decamped to Norfolk because it was better, different and far enough away from London.

Who can forget that notorious "Fakenham in 50" fiasco? A horse-and-carriage operator in South Creake six miles away promised to get passengers into town in less than an hour. Best time managed was a Thursday in March when all other stops on the route were abandoned.

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Then came the equally ill-fated "Dual the Quiet Lanes" campaign in north Norfolk. Someone with an eye on the tourist market suggested such a move would give thousands more people a chance to relish "the uncluttered joys of peace, space and wide open skies in rural areas"

Thankfully, the move was turned down after a noisy six-mile protest through Knapton and Trunch by cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians including local history enthusiasts looking for the Lesser Spotted Tractor Man not listening to Vivaldi's Rites of Spring through headphones.

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A telling echo of one of the most annoying political slogans of recent times emphasises how mere Norfolk mortals can weave excellent satirical points from the most mundane of material. A café opened in Castle Rising with this clarion call in the window: "Let's Get Breakfast Done!"

I also liked a notice on the counter of a brand new posh diner in Didlington. As customers poured in from as far away as Brandon, they were drawn to the tasty legend: "Spinach and Olive Oil are really good for you. Well, they didn't do Popeye any harm!"

Norfolk whimsy and inventiveness must remain at the heart of resistance to imposition of bland uniformity and a national bandwagon mentality. At least, newcomers and visitors must smile in admiration at a constant ability to blend proud local history with harsh modern realities.

A recent wander around the Paston, Bacton and Walcott coastal triangle underlines my point.

The medieval Great Barn at Paston makes an impressive neighbour for the 14th century St Margaret's parish church set back in a dip from the road nearby. We stood and listened to the silence in a spacious churchyard sprinkled with primroses, snowdrops and glorious views of rolling countryside beyond.

A couple of minutes later … and Bacton announces itself with a vital leading player in the national power game since 1968. A sprawling gas terminal complex looks like a giant jigsaw puzzle of a set from some futuristic film production starring pipes and towers.

A spattering of holiday parks nearby suggest this terminal has not meant the end for Bacton's more traditional seaside role. Recent sandscaping of the beach is designed to protect against erosion and flooding.

Bacton also has a fascinating gem from the past tucked safely away on farmland. A gatehouse and a few jagged pieces of masonry do little to convey the wonder and hope which once must have surrounded this corner of the village.

Bromholm Priory was established in 1113 and its fortunes transformed when a priest who had visited Constantinople gave the Cluniac monks two small pieces of wood which he claimed to be parts of the True Cross. Within a few years miracles were being hailed. This potent relic disappeared in 1637.

The Paston family were patrons of the priory. When Sir John Paston died in 1488, he was brought here to be buried. The funeral was an extravagant affair and a barber was engaged for five days to smarten up the monks.

Walcott is known for its big protective wall waiting to take on the North Sea's next angry surge. The place will never join the "fashionable spa" coterie or be invited to twin with Blakeney or Southwold. Even so, an air of defiance to be different from the others marks it out as a coastal haunt worth visiting.

Some would say Norfolk at its cussed best.


Norfolk's geographical isolation has long been a source of both grudging envy and mild mockery.

"On the road to nowhere" and "Bandit country" are the kind of labels we've been stuck with. Well-meaning missionaries, while extolling Norfolk's priceless virtues, have also been quick to offer reasons for such nervous tendency.

When HV Morton went "In Search of England" a century ago, he was moved to declare: "Norfolk is the most suspicious county in England. In Devon and Somerset men hit you on the back cordially; in Norfolk they look as though they would like to hit you over the head - till they size you up.

"You see, for centuries the North folk of East Anglia were accustomed to meet stray Vikings on lonely roads who had just waded ashore from a long boat.

"Good mornin', bor" said the Viking. "Which is the way to the church?"

"What dew yew want ter know for?" was the Norfolk retort.

"Well, we thought about setting fire to it!"

"You will gather that Norfolk suspicion of strangers, an ancient complex bitten into the East Anglian through centuries of bitter experience, is well grounded and should never annoy the traveller".

Couldn't have put it better myself! Many visitors still refuse to make allowances for aversion to Vikings - even Vikings without pyrotechnic inclinations - and the resultant coolness remains at the heart of the best Norfolk humour

In the early days of motoring a "furriner" came upon a ford at the bottom of a rutted lane. He said rather haughtily to a local standing on the footbridge; "My good man, do you think it's safe to drive through here?"

"Why, yis" said the local. "I reckon yew kin drive in orryte".

The motorist did so, only to find himself in midstream - with water halfway up the bonnet.

"What the devil do you mean?" he shouted angrily. "You informed me this was fit for motorists. You must be a complete idiot!"

"Well" said the native. "I dunt know noffin' bowt motor cars. But that dunt come no more 'n halfway up our marster's ducks".

As he trudged off to find a horse and rope, the local muttered to himself: "Thass right what I tell him bowt drivin' in. But I dint say noffin' bowt drivin' owt agin".

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