Weird Norfolk: The magical stone of Winterton

A large stone sits next to the road sigh for The Lane in Winterton

This wandering rock stands out from its surroundings and, like many other gifts left behind by ice floes, is a focus for local legends. - Credit: Richard Law/Geograph

It has watched over this stretch of coastline for centuries, a silent sentinel that brings luck – bad or good – to those that live and work in Winterton.

At the junction of The Lane and Black Street and sitting alongside a flint wall is a dark boulder which Norfolk Heritage Explorer somewhat whimsically describes as “…glossy black, about the size of a large pig”.

This wandering rock stands out from its surroundings and, like many other gifts left behind by ice floes, is a focus for local legends.

The stone is said to bring luck to villagers, be the place where fishermen once met to spin a yarn after a shift on the boats or be the cause of near-riots in 1931 when it was moved in order to build a new road.

Winterton takes its name from the Old English meaning ‘Homestead of the followers of Wintra” and is thought to have referred to a place that was only inhabited during winter.

Settlers would have sheltered their livestock in the village during cold winters, moving to next-door Somerton (‘Summer Town’) during the warmer months with their animals.

Aptly for a town named after Winter, Winterton owes much to the Ice Age.

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At the end of the last Ice Age, the UK formed the north-west corner of an icy continent but a gradually warming climate exposed a huge continental shelf for humans to live on.

Further warming and rising seas began to flood low-lying lands and around 8,200 years ago, a devastating release of water from a North American glacial lake and a tsunami from a landslide off Norway flooded what was once Doggerland.

Doggerland once linked mainland Europe and the eastern coast of Britain, meaning one could walk from Winterton to Holland across wooded valleys, swampy lagoons and gentle hills. This lost landscape is now under the sea, an Atlantis just out of sight.

When the great melt drowned Doggerland, the people that lived there were forced to leave as seawater encroached – for this stretch of the coast in Norfolk, the story sadly remains the same.

The Winterton Stone is a glacial relic, a reminder of an icy chapter in Norfolk’s past which has formed its landscape and much of its folklore.

Returning to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website, run by Norfolk County Council, complaints about roadworks are far from a modern invention.

It says of the stone: “The palladium of the village – moved in 1931 for road improvements leading to riots as it was deemed to be responsible for the poor fishing that year.

“It was therefore replaced in 1932. However, it is clearly not in the original position as it now stands on top of the tarmac pavement.”

Edwin Rose of Norfolk Landscape Archaeology wrote the Winterton stone report in 2007, but it has been impossible to track down the riots, but fishing has been an integral part of the village’s history for centuries.

In addition to fishing, there were also the Chitterunners or Chittlerunners, who would salvage vessels stranded on the notorious sandbanks that lurked just below the surface of the sea and help rescue ships in distress by manning the lifeboats.

In addition to a belief that maintaining the Winterton Stone’s position is vital to good fishing, others believe the stone offers good luck to villagers if they touch its smooth surface. 

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