OPINION: Walking back to happiness on a Cromer cliff-top stroll
- Credit: Trevor Allen
I set a new personal best for extreme dawdling on my mind-stirring, eye-watering, ear-tingling Cromer clifftop path comeback after a two-year enforced hibernation.
This outstanding feat for dodgy feet and most of the rest that travels with them blossomed out of a suggestion to my wife we should take the scenic route home after a morning stroll to the doctors.
No, we didn’t sign up for a late fitness test or even seek useful advice before setting off down Overstrand Road past the cricket ground bathed in bright sunshine. Sheer bravado and a following breeze pushed us upwards through the well-heeled Warren and on to a reunion with that heady mixture of ozone, waves and cherished views.
I felt immediately reassured about some important things remaining steadfastly available amid so much challenge, change and chaos in our recent personal lives.
We nodded to boats and tractors huddled together on the beach below, waved to a couple of dogs and their owners as they left us standing and glanced beyond the inviting green of North Lodge Park to find old friends like parish church, pier and Hotel de Paris still trimming our coastal skyline.
Perhaps embracing the familiar is a key ingredient behind gratefully soaking up the years in north Norfolk, not least before another holiday season when more sensitive locals appreciate a hideaway or two from the ever-growing tourist storm.
Even while pandemic lockdowns and restrictions were in place, I denounced daily that odious three-pronged scourge of traffic congestion, rampant pollution and parking mayhem. Cromer seemed to be used as a timely bolthole by part-time residents from all parts of the country.
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I’m supposed to be cheered up by a promised drive to get rid of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040. I’m not likely to be around to enjoy any benefits even if that brave new motoring world dawns on time. I would much prefer a concerted effort by politicians, car manufacturers and all vested interests to recognise an immediate need for cleaner air in our cities, towns and growing villages.
Of course, Cromer’s major consolation for those seeking occasional escape from tourism pressures is that refreshing blow along the clifftop path. The summer crowds may have largely dispersed before too many visitors and their mobile phones twig it is there. I have treated this ambling diversion as a “safe house” since applying for Honorary Crab status in 1988.
With my poor old feet issuing constant requests to go easy, it’s been more like a careful bending exercise when the wind’s playing up. I used to employ a clever reply when passing folk who looked at my expanding girth and asked if I took anything for it. Yes, I was out last week four nights running.
Now I intend to take inquiries and a regular route much more seriously, accentuating an old habit to make a virtue out of what many might deem blatant incompetence. Lifelong lack of a driving licence can easily lead to high moral ground.
Apart from providing a handy boost towards railway survival between the coast and other alluring parts of my comparatively small world, this social “failure” feeds a long-standing desire to dew diffrunt. For a start, I can pretend Top Gear is a trendy fashion store in Lower Bodham and Jeremy Clarkson an apprentice lifeguard at a car wash near Themelthorpe.
I can criticise sloppy parking, cavalier driving and general highway yobbery without being forced to set a better example. Yes, travelling as one of life’s willing passenger can be worth all the “lame duck “and “easy rider” taunts many hardened motorists fail to keep under the bonnet.
I can bask in extra rations of fresh air and extreme dawdling where available in village, town and city plus a warming glow of gratitude that I still know where my legs are. It goes back to a rural childhood as useful errand boy and casual nuisance with the need to move swiftly.
Naturally, it’s always a treat to find a kindred spirit in this eternal quest to stand out - or walk away - from the crowd. A glorious wallow of a read after my rather halting clifftop path comeback brought forth the perfect ally.
Ronald Blythe’s selected essays woven memorably into his Field Work feature the kind of tribute to virtues of strolling simple souls like me have been waiting for ever since signposts were swivelled to confuse the Vikings.,,
“Friends have often told me that my life would be transformed if I drove a car, forgetting how transformed it has been because I don’t. And so I walk a mile of flinty track to fetch my milk and two miles to the village post office, church or pub and more miles too when I get stuck with my writing and wander off to the river path …”
“So I have done since a boy; these more or less same scenes. And so, of course did most of our forebears, including quite recent ones. And did we but comprehend it, a great deal of our best poetry, novels and essays smell not of the lamp, but dust, mud, grit pollen and, I expect, sweat.”
Hail to thee, Blythe spirit! That’s the stuff to give those dawdling troops on another clifftop excursion. I will try not go downhill slightly faster.