OPINION: There's still plenty of exploring to do here in Norfolk


Vital local service on the hoof as Billy Eastick takes the reins for post-war honeycart rounds in Lound, a village community tucked away between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft - Credit: Keith Skipper Collection

My Norfolk country childhood, much more Rooks and Rascals than Swallows and Amazons, fashioned an incurable sense of place and identity, invariably missing from today’s urban-splashed, meadow- chomping, house-plonking, car-clogging, character-stifling, nature- neglecting rural canvas.

We cherished our patch, defended it when necessary and treated with the utmost suspicion anyone or anything that threatened our carefully constructed post-war applecart.

Tucked away cosily between Dereham and Swaffham, far enough from the noise and speed of the grimly functional A47 to hint at a reasonable impression of Brigadoon our little parish rooted in the regular rhythms of farms and fields, largely ignored rest of the world.

Of course, such glorious innocence - we liked to call it self-sufficiency, could not last. Commuters and well-heeled retired folk seeking pastoral refuge replaced a dwindling land army left scanning headlands for reinforcements that never came.

Mechanisation marched in to turn tied cottages into Sunday colour supplement fodder and to push giant horses towards rural life museum furrows.

A brutally simplistic summary of what happened after I was demobbed from Eden in the early 1960s. But I try to avoid tumbling into sentimental traps normally reserved for those who loved and lost -or even learnt and left.

While looking back with fondness and gratitude on those calm but austere years for giving me a strong set of values to go with that unfading sense of belonging, I recognise and respect what succeeding generations of country dweller s have managed to achieve on far thinner resources.

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Communities like ours, a fair number of whom might have been blissfully unaware of each other, took a school, pub, shop, chapel, church and village hall for granted. Football, cricket and darts teams flourished. There were also enough expert volunteers to keep the roads open when it snowed.

Postal and newspaper deliveries rarely faltered. Bread, groceries, meat, fish, paraffin, bottles of Corona, recharged accumulators and fresh laundry arrived regularly at the door. We grew our own vegetables. Buses called twice a week to widen shopping and social horizons in town The doctor or district nurse came when you called.

Now I am on nodding terms with most of Norfolk’s 700-odd villages after nearly 60 years of regular rounds as chronicler, broadcaster, entertainer and nosey native. I wonder how many can come anywhere close to boasting that list of facilities and services.

Okay, the honeycart has run out of steam, little sheds down the yard have tumbled into history and the old tin bath in front of an open fire now rusts in peace. Rural life can be wholly comfortable, even posh, for those who bring adequate resources from big city adventures.

Even so, I suspect our rough-and-ready era fostered a spirit of togetherness current politicians, planners and even plundering developers can only envy along with arrogant newcomers determined to preach and impose rather than listen and muck in.

Norfolk’s a big county, defying one to keep in constant touch with all corners, even in this age of speed and mobility. It seems the coast claims our attention at any time of the year while scores of inland villages hardly ever see a stranger, let alone an old friend.

Sport continues to build a host of local bridges with enthusiasts piling into other neighbourhoods for the first time, as a result of promotion or relegation. Women’s Institutes and other travel-hungry organisations also do their bit, especially with group gatherings.

Yet it seems strange to assume more people in Ashwellthorpe have been to Ibiza or Malta than to Itteringham or Mileham.

Even stranger to suggest the majority would find it hard to pinpoint those Norfolk villages.

I could have settled for Alpington, Ingworth and Matlaske and been fairly sure of a similar number of blank faces. It’s the sort of exercise created to push missionary zeal to fresh heights.

Many Norfolk locations are twinned with locations in Europe or further afield and yet they admit to having no idea about other settlements of similar size and flavour in their own county.

With so many holiday ambitions now squeezed by financial restraint , the next few years are bound to extend the take-a-break boom closer to home Vibrant. Village Ventures could be the answer.

Don’t all go at once. That’s exactly what spoils bigger targets from seaside to city centre.

Pick a friend or family member with an adventurous streak and try a wander and a wonder in a parish you haven’t visited before.

Just beware those Rooks and Rascals.

Skip's Aside:
I have reached that age and condition when crossing a busy road revives memories of The Green Cross Code Man from slightly more nimble days.

Bodybuilder, weightlifter and character actor David Prowse took on that super-hero role for a big road safety campaign running from 1971 until 1990. He also portrayed Darth Vadar in the original Star Wars film trilogy – the frame, but not the voice.

There are plenty of places to exercise due care and attention on my regular rambles around Cromer, not least when moving from one side to the other of an ever-bustling Norwich Road into town.

There’s a strong temptation on peak traffic occasions to develop a pronounced limp and slightly helpless stance in an effort to negotiate safe passage to the doctors surgery, a testing stroll from home for my wife and I.

Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code Man, pictured at Angel Road first school in Norwich in July 1989

Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code Man, pictured at Angel Road first school in Norwich in July 1989 - Credit: Steve Adams

We enjoy the outside challenge but so much, noise, speed and pollution hardly provides the right sort of ingredients for a meaningful tonic. On shorter expeditions into town I make a point of waving warm thanks to any driver clearly making an effort to give me ample time to get to the other side.

Watching vehicles shamelessly parking on double yellow lines or taking obvious liberties through lack of a traffic warden on the beat, especially at height of the tourist rush, I yearn for a big green man to emerge with admonishing finger, serious frown. And voice like Darth Vadar.

I received several messages after my recent article on this page about Cromer needing a lot of soul-searching about its future role on the local tourism scene. Pedestrianisation of the town centre,, too often choked with traffic, and fresh emphasis on public transport topped the wish-list

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