How a now quiet North Norfolk village was once a bustling European port

Children playing in the High Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

Children playing in the High Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

We may be in “lockdown” but join us on an armchair journey to one of the most enchanting villages on the beautiful Norfolk coast – Cley next the Sea.

An iconic view of Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

An iconic view of Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

Today it is a place where people relax and enjoy all it has to offer, the sea, the marshes, the nature and of course the birds.

But there was a time when this was a busy and bustling port on the River Glaven where a whole host of goods were imported and exported.

The harbour ran up to the church and hundreds of years ago was full of ships.

It was said that Cley mariners captured the heir to the Scottish throne in 1406 while he was on his way to France.

A peaceful day in The Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

A peaceful day in The Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection


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The future King James I was held as a hostage for several years.

In days of old Cley was once one of the busiest ports in Europe, a haven for smugglers and pirates, more important than King’s Lynn or Great Yarmouth and the many Flemish gables still remaining as a clue to its former trade with the Low Countries.

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Landowner Henry Calthorpe drained salt marshes for agricultural use and in 1637 put a dam across the Glaven and enclosed the marshes.

Although the bank was later demolished, the river channel had already began to silt up. Soon ships could not get to the Cley wharves…it was no longer-by-the-sea.

The Old Arch at Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

The Old Arch at Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

Then the failure to attract the railway in the 1840s was another setback and the Cley customs house closed in 1853.

What we have today is a picturesque, charming place sitting on the edge of the marshes. A peaceful retreat with real style.

There is the 18th windmill guesthouse, once owned by the family of singer James Blunt, and by the village green stands the Grade 1 listed medieval church of St Margaret’s.

Cley by the sea is now Cley next the Sea…and it is the perfect place to visit.

Posing for the camera in The Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

Posing for the camera in The Street, Cley. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

The famous Cley marshes. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

The famous Cley marshes. Picture: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection - Credit: courtesy of the Mike Adcock Collection

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