SHINGLE banks are not the easiest terrain to walk across. And between the north Norfolk village of Cley and the town of Sheringham they stretch for miles. It???s a matter of steer your prow into the wind and start plodding . . .
Today, after a series of almost accidental events, I find myself walking the final few miles of the Norfolk Coast Path, a trail that runs 42 miles (67.5km) from Hunstanton to Cromer. I???ve only a day to spare so I???m walking the 12 miles (19.3km) from Cley to the railway station at Cromer.
Cley, depending on who you talk to, usually rhymes with ???eye???. My wife and niece drop me off at a river mouth known as Cley Eye, which amuses me no end because it rhymes with Pie Eye, or Why Aye. There must be a Geordie joke in there somewhere but I can???t nail it down. (Click pictures for high-res images)
Cold and vaguely disorientated, whipped by wind and dampened by spray, I leave the two women in their nice warm car ??? which suits them fine because they???re both laughing at me ??? and set a course slightly south of east and head towards Cromer.
Strange how I landed here in this flat land of fens, square-towered churches and Wherry beer. It???s just one of those things that life deposits on you. One minute your wife???s on the phone to her teacher sister in Norfolk, deciding on the spur of the moment to visit because we???ve got a few days off work; the next you???re marching in solidarity on an NUT protest in Norwich city centre demanding the resignation of Michael Gove. Not sure how that happened.
And now I???m standing on a deserted beach, watching my car disappear down a narrow road towards civilisation and the certainty of money being showered among the teashops and charity shops of Norfolk. At least they???ve given me enough cash for a pint and a train fare back to the city.
Norfolk. This coast is a timeline through history, with Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age remains peppered among the dunes and shingle banks. But the most obvious structures date from the 1940s ??? the numerous half-buried or partially-destroyed pillboxes and gun-emplacements that defended the shoreline from Hitler???s forces.
Time and nature have proved to be more formidable adversaries than fascism. The concrete structures have, in some places, been reduced to rubble and scattered along the tide-line. Erosion appears to be rampant. Huge breaches in the defences have allowed the sea to wash thousands of tonnes of shingle into the marshes. In one place a car-park has been lost beneath several feet of detritus. Norfolk is being swallowed by the North Sea. And here???s us worrying about the Russians.
Michael Gove, eh? Why is it that the Crimeans can hold a referendum, which Britain denounces as undemocratic, when Michael Gove can turn huge chunks of the education system over to the private sector using measures no one voted for because they didn’t appear in any election manifesto? Who’s living in the true democracy here?
Bloody Tories. And here’s another thing. The cack-handed, one-eyed, intellectually-challenged pillocks who run the newspaper company I work for have just pushed my redundancy date back for the third time because they haven’t a clue what they are doing. March 13 became April 15 which has now become May 7. My chickens are more organised and go about their business more purposefully and effectively than the half-baked executive types slapping my destiny from pillar to post.
This is why the economy is sluggish and the sea is washing the land away. This country is being run by jumped-up advertising reps who believe the public would rather play bingo than secure a proper education for their children. They inhabit every stratum of management in every corporate and political organisation. Basically, the rest of us don’t stand a chance. If you ask me, we should hold a referendum and chuck our lot in with the Russians.
Where was I? The Norfolk Coast Path. Here’s something interesting. On the outskirts of Weybourne I spy two field guns with their barrels poking skywards from Second World War bunkers. They are in an area fenced off with barbed wire; and nearby wartime buildings emit strange sounds from aerial masts ??? pings and beeps and stuff like that.
I take some pictures and wait to be arrested. It’s like a scene from a Dr Who episode in the 1970s. Any minute now the Brigadier is going to roar up a track in his jeep and bundle me into the back. But nobody appears.
So I continue my walk along the shingle, ruminating on the likelihood that, because things have moved on, the modern way to deal with intruders is to zap them with a US drone while they’re sitting on the beach eating a bacon sandwich. (Only later, while out for a drink with my brother-in-law, do I learn that the army base is now a museum called The Muckleburgh Military Collection. Had me fooled, I can tell you)
At Weybourne Hope the path leaves the shingle and takes to the grassy clifftops. The walking is uplifting and less arduous. There is much evidence of coastal erosion, with many fresh landslips spilling brown and orange clays onto the beach. The path has disappeared in places ??? and recently too. If Bill Bryson ever contemplates revising his books, he should rename one of them Notes From an Even Smaller Island.
I arrive in Sheringham with the first heavy shower of the day and seek shelter in a seafront pavilion, gazing indifferently across a grey duck pond at a totally featureless housing complex. Every window in the complex is equipped with those bland vertical blinds that have inexplicably replaced traditional curtains.
Vertical window blinds. I’ve missed something here. Has there been a post-soviet campaign to align contemporary British tastes with the eastern-bloc culture of conformity? No need to vote for the Russians. They’re already here.
At the eastern end of Sheringham promenade, with the pouring rain in my face, I make a major blunder and set off along the shore beneath the cliffs. The tide is coming in, and I get the impression that if I continue on this course I will very soon become a statistic.
I backtrack somewhat nimbly, and, at the side of a putting green, discover the path I should have taken in the first place, and make my way towards Cromer along airy clifftops and through pleasant woodland.
And that, my friends, is the final 12 miles of the Norfolk Coast Path. Cromer station is easy to find, and just down the road is a warm and welcoming pub called the White Horse Inn, a suitable place to revive the spirit and sink a pint of IPA while waiting for a train.
Tonight my wife and I intend to march once more in solidarity with the teachers, only this time on a pub crawl around Norwich, finishing with a curry in the Spice Island restaurant in Tombland. I expect we shall raise a glass or two to Michael Gove while uttering appropriate toasts.
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