OPINION: Norfolk's coast needs some soul-searching to decide its future

 Plenty off traditional charms to share along this favourite Cromer clifftop stroll

Plenty off traditional charms to share along this favourite Cromer clifftop stroll - Credit: Trevor Allan

A much-cherished penchant for growing old gratefully on the north Norfolk coast has faced unprecedented pressures during most of the past two turbulent years.

Physical and mental travails have been magnified into widespread debates including how we best look after an ageing population and, in popular holiday locations, just how far tourism and second homes can be allowed to rule the roost.

Successive summer seasons haunted by a world-wide pandemic and compelling evidence of urgent need for an environmental revolution have pushed many of us closer to accepting a range of harsh home truths.

Perhaps one of the most unsettling on my list has been the manner in which our county has been treated as little more than a convenient getaway destination for both short-term breathers and much longer attachments throughout a Covid-ravaged spell including two lengthy lockdowns and growing fears of local variants sneaking in.

On too many occasions when sunshine acted as an extra magnet there were widespread reports of visitors revelling in anti-social parking antics, and blatantly ignoring regulations about wearing masks and observing social distancing. A total mockery of respect for hosts and health and safety of everyone.

As a full-time resident of Cromer, since 1988, I know all the arguments for and against living in a seaside resort ready to share a well-worn package of traditional virtues still bright enough to nourish a buoyant local economy. Flocks of visitors invariably come with that territory along with extra traffic and pollution.

When the place get uncomfortably overcrowded nowadays, I do remind myself how late Victorian locals had to cope with regular invasions sparked by arrival of the railway and Clement Scott’s stroke of marketing genius when he “discovered” Poppyland.

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He lived to regret the impact of such a flowery label and openly mourned the way it was transformed into Bungalowland, I suppose Chelsea-on-Sea, with well-manicured tentacles spreading out from Burnham Market. Is a modern equivalent It has also been imbued with a capital celebrity coating.. The London arty set. poets, writers and actors, took eagerly to the Poppyland stage. In both cases, I suspect a majority of gnarled natives just sniggered and got on with their well-set lives.

Of course, the well-heeled bolthole brigade takes on extra significance when rising numbers add up to an even more inflated housing market in desirable areas where homegrown youngsters are left stranded by a fast-encroaching colonisation tide, especially between Wells and Hunstanton.

While some may be quick to accuse me of rank sentimentality when it comes to preserving what’s left of old-fashioned Norfolk community spirit, a brand of togetherness is vital at a time of continued nagging uncertainty, not least over another torrent of house-building and road schemes with all their social and environmental implications.

For all the development, some of it swallowing more prime agricultural land and natural havens, Norfolk will remain a big target for visitors and newcomers seeking solace from a whole series of over-exploited zones and rat races elsewhere.

The obvious fact that such acclaim runs a risk of destroying those very qualities attracting folk here in the first place must not be lost in a protracted clamour for “new beginnings” and “gentler pace of life.”

Meanwhile, back on the Costa-del-Croma, largely shunned by Clement Scott and fellow wordsmith missionaries towards end of the 19th century, a winter of soul-searching on its future role in local tourism wouldn’t go amiss. Town centre congestion and pollution along with parking chaos throughout “Gem of the North Norfolk Coast” have reached epidemic proportions.

It's no good wringing hands over failing to build a bypass as popularity boomed or believing a bit of park-and-ride tinkering will stem the ugly flow.

Cromer as a whole, but especially those who make a living out of visitors, must find a radical green formula to clean up the place and stand a chance of staying in the main holiday lane.

Skip's Aside:

We knew the Green Belt had nothing to do with karate. We accepted something nasty could happen if we didn’t eat all our greens. We counted ten green bottles hanging on the wall.

I’ve been digging deeply into my memory patch for reminders of how various shades of green affected Norfolk lives before it became fashionable to wear them.

Join me on the village green opposite the primary school where lurked copies of Anne of Green Gables and How Green Was My Valley, useful grounding for the compelling novels of Graham Greene … you know, brother of Sir Hugh Greene, director general of the BBC for most of the 1960s.

Talking of television from a more innocent age, we walked the police beat with Dixon of Dock Green, hid in the forest with Richard Greene as Robin Hood and tried to double our money or hear opportunity knocking with ever-effusive Hughie Green.

Musical treats included Frankie Vaughan emerging from Behind the Green Door and Tom Jones rolling on the Green, Green Grass of Home. Green Goddess could be a funny drink or a fire-fighting machine

Little boys without hankies had to hum Greensleeves. Just a bit of fun to prove we were in the green groove way back when bartering down country lanes turned into daily festivals of flowers, fruit and vegetables. In fact, there’ nothing new under the sun or blossoming hedgerow.

After all, the pastoral impulse in Victorian England is being echoed uncannily in some of the forces and feelings of our growing Green movement Our great debate seems much more complicated and has been elevated to the highest political level.

At least the Victorians were spared too many contributions from that department

High priests in their back-to-the-land pulpits John Ruskin, William Morris and Edward Carpenter merely had to put up with being called sandal-clad eccentrics who spouted slogans like:  The plough is a better backbone than factory” and encouraged girls to dress like Alpine peasants.”

Perhaps the lasting value of their alternative pursuits was to inspire future generations to question deep-seated belief in untrammelled “progress.” Even in the late 19th century, market forces , working through a process of evolution to balance supply and demand brooked no intervention.

It would be foolish to draw too many analogies between the two eras but certain similarities are striking.

The late 19th century brought a dramatic flowering of societies for protecting and preserving parts of old England from urban industrial onslaught. We owe much to these pioneers who really meant it when thy talked of saving something for their children’ children.

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