A walk of scandal and skinny dipping

RICHARD BATSON There are fears that Cromer Pier could herald hordes of cheap day trippers heading to the genteel resort, lowering the tone of its classy charm.

RICHARD BATSON

There are fears that Cromer Pier could herald hordes of cheap day trippers heading to the genteel resort, lowering the tone of its classy charm.

Activities such as sandcastle-building and bicycle parades along the promenade and sands are considered vulgarities.

And as for the antics on the beach! Men and women bathing together, in the altogether, when they should be demurely dressed in swimming costumes from neck to knee.

It is the Victorian era. And the local gentry are battling against a tide of popular tourism which the arrival of the railways threatens to bring to the resort by the carriageload.

They eventually lost the day, allowing Cromer to blossom into a major magnet for generations of holidaymakers.

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But the struggles along the way are being revealed in a new guided walk, that strides through the town's architecture and social history.

As well as showcasing the resort's fine hotels, towering church and merchants' houses it also delves into the battles that threatened to nip its holiday boom in the bud.

Back in 1887, John Gurney Barclay spoke out against the idea of building a pier, for fear it would bring down a "large number of excursionists".

Cromer at the time was a fashionable watering hole for the upper class elite, who arrived with their horses and carriages for up to six weeks at a time.

The resulting pier was only built in 1901 under conditions there were "no pavilions, tea rooms, or dancing".

They were swept away just four yeas later when the sedate bandstand was replaced by the pavilion, and the arrival of concert parties livened up the entertainment, to the applause of the local press.

Similarly strict rules try to control swing boats, tea tents and mixed bathing on the beaches - seeking to segregate men's and women's areas and have bathing machines for changing.

Tour guide Andy Boyce said there were shocking reports of men and women hiring local fishing boats to go skinny dipping offshore.

The great sandcastle scandal of 1906 saw the local council vote to ban the competitions in case they destroyed "the privacy of the beach" - but overturned it after a local campaign.

The walks look at architecture but Mr Boyce said they also showed episodes of social history.

"The gentry wanted to keep Cromer as exclusive and sophisticated. Yarmouth was for the working class and Cromer for the upper and middle class," he added.

The walks will be on the last Sunday of the month, at 10.30am and take about 90 minutes, with the first on July 30. To book places, costing £3, call 0871 200 3071.