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Lockdown for everyone but the birds - how is one of our smallest communities coping?

PUBLISHED: 06:05 25 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:58 27 April 2020

A poster at Holme-next-the-Sea during the coronavirus lockdown, warning second home owners and those using holiday homes to stay away   Picture: Denise Bradley

A poster at Holme-next-the-Sea during the coronavirus lockdown, warning second home owners and those using holiday homes to stay away Picture: Denise Bradley

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We’re almost one month into lockdown - but how are our communities coping? In an EDP special report our reporters find out how life is carrying on in four of our villages.

Cottages in the quiet leafy lanes around Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise BradleyCottages in the quiet leafy lanes around Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

Visitors have deserted a tiny coastal community as life goes on in lockdown for everyone but the birds.

Holme-next-the-Sea (population 223) straddles the A149 coast road as it meanders from Hunstanton towards Wells via a string of tiny harbours and picture postcard villages.

Chalk and carrstone cottages line the leafy lanes, along with holiday homes of all shapes and sizes.

Business would normally have been brisk at the start of the tourist season. But the guests have melted away.

The White Horse pub at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise BradleyThe White Horse pub at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Alison Michalska runs Rossmoor, a spacious self-catering property on Eastgate.

St Mary the Virgin Church at Holme-next-the-Sea where services have been cancelled  Picture: Denise BradleySt Mary the Virgin Church at Holme-next-the-Sea where services have been cancelled Picture: Denise Bradley

“We were fully booked from the end of January until mid October, but all our bookings have been cancelled from the March announcement of lockdown to currently mid May,” she said.

“The cancellations will of course continue as lockdown inevitably extends. Most guests are choosing to re-book their stay for 2021 which is good news for next year.”

It isn’t just the holiday lets and the second homes which are standing empty.

Coronavirus has also called time on the White Horse, the village’s 300-year-old pub famed for its real ales, home-cooked food and dog-friendly bar.

A poster at a parking layby near the beach at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise BradleyA poster at a parking layby near the beach at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

While regulars can no longer pit their wits against each other at weekly quiz nights or meet up and chat over a pint, an online village information network now has more than 150 subscribers.

Administrator Tony Foster, 76, who retired to Holme 18 years ago, said: “There’s a lot of chatting going on in the village, there’s excellent community spirit.”

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The deserted beach on a warm sunny day at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise BradleyThe deserted beach on a warm sunny day at Holme-next-the-Sea during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

So far around 25 have volunteered to help fellow villagers with shopping, collecting prescriptions or dog walking.

The Round Table in nearby Hunstanton has also launched a similar scheme, while West Norfolk council says it has four volunteers offering assistance in the village.

Charitable generosity is nothing new in Holme. In 1699, Benjamin Holley left funds to buy land to be held in trust, the income from which would be used for “the relief of the industrious poor of the village”.

Warden Sophie Barker has been keeping a lonely vigil recording sightings at Holme Bird Observatory during the coronavirus pandemic  Picture: Ian BurtWarden Sophie Barker has been keeping a lonely vigil recording sightings at Holme Bird Observatory during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: Ian Burt

Until the early 1970s, the Holleys Charity delivered coal to the needy.

Mr Foster, who is also chair of its trustees, said so far it had not been approached with any requests for assistance during the current crisis.

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Activities in the village hall have all been put on hold, including carpet bowls on Wednesday nights. An evening’s bowling would have set you back £1, pre-pandemic - with refreshments 10p extra.

Members of the 10-strong Knit, Stitch and Natter group which also met at the hall on Wednesday afternoons now knit at home and natter on the phone.

Organiser Linda Scott said: “We are nearly all over 70 and not everyone has access to a laptop or smartphone. Those who do have been keeping in touch via email as well as contacts by phone. Whilst taking our daily exercise walk we can wave to each other sometimes.”

Members along with other knitters in and around the village have turned to making gifts for others impacted by lockdown.

Stephanie Jones is coordinating crafters making presents and cards for clients of the charity Headway, which supports adults with a brain injury and those who have suffered a stroke.

“Headway has three day centres which are based in Kings Lynn, Norwich and Gorleston,” she said. “Sadly the day centres are closed due to lockdown.

“The gifts and cards are a small token to let clients know they are being thought of at this difficult time for all of us, but for them in particular.”

The bell ringers have stopped ringing. Holme Open Gardens, due to go ahead on July 5, has also been cancelled.

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Social distancing has left the social fabric of the village in tatters.

But Mrs Jones said: “We are lucky to live in such a beautiful area and not to be in a high rise block in a city during the lockdown, so we must count our blessings.”

In times of trouble past, villagers might have done just that at St Mary’s Church, which has towered over Kirkgate since the 14th Century. Now its bells have fallen silent and services have been cancelled.

Rev Rachael Dines, team rector of eight churches in the Saxon Shore Benefice, is posting her Sunday sermons online and e-mailing copies for her churchwardens to print off and post through parishioners’ doors.

“I don’t know how many people it’s reaching but people have told me they have found it helpful having something,” she said.

Holme is an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘watery vale’. The village’s windswept beach is popular with those wishing to avoid the hustle and bustle of nearby Sunny Hunnny.

But now signs warn visitors to stay away. And Mr Foster, who also runs the village website, said the sands were empty over the Easter weekend despite the warm weather, as calls to remain at home were heeded.

“The village offers heartfelt thanks to all the folk who did not visit us over the Bank Holiday,” he said. “Thanks for following the government’s rules and staying at home.”

Famed for its bird life, the remote beach includes the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Holme Dunes reserve, which is currently closed to visitors along with its access track and pine woods. More than 300 species have been recorded at the site.

Norfolk Ornithologists’ Association also runs an observatory behind the foreshore overlooking a lagoon called Broadwater. It is currently staffed by a single staff member who writes a blog detailing daily sightings.

Warden Sophie Barker said: “Spring is normally a busy time for us, as bird watchers are hoping to see migrating birds arriving and passing through the site on their way north, and this can include some unusual species.

“Under normal circumstances, the warmer weather would also bring more people outside and to the coast.

“We’ve tried to post daily on our blog www.holmebirdobs.co.uk with news of some of the interesting birds, butterflies and moths on the reserve so at least people at home can keep in touch with it in this way.”

Cuckoos and whimbrels have been heard this week. Some of the first swallows to arrive on our shores have been seen skimming across Broadwater.

Migration goes on without waiting for the coronavirus tide to turn. But life remains in lockdown for the villagers of Holme.


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