Nicola here. After long winter months of bad weather and lock down, the idea of going to the beach for some fresh sea air to blow away the cobwebs was irresistible and so last week we took a trip to Norfolk (UK) and to a little seaside village called Sea Palling on the East coast.
Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived a long way away from the sea that I often have a longing to see the ocean. A lot of us love it, I know; there’s something so soothing about the surge and fall of the waves and so refreshing about the sea breeze and the big open skies. It feels as though it’s doing you good.
Sea Palling, or Palling, as it was known originally, is old enough a settlement to have been recorded in the Domesday Book when it had 9 villagers, 14 smallholders, 20 acres of meadow, 24 wild mares, 23 pigs and 71 sheep. Its total value was £4. I love this insight into the tiny seaside community of a thousand years ago.
The sea, has of course, been influential on life in the village through that millennium. The first written record of a terrible storm and flood comes from 1287: “The sea, agitated by the violence of the wind, burst through its accustomed limits, occupying towns, fields and other places adjacent to the coast … it tore up houses from their foundations, with all they contained and threw them into the sea with irrevocable damage.” Since then nearby villages have and continue to have houses washed away. In 1607 Palling itself was flooded when the sea breached the sand dunes and tore through the village. The notorious North Sea flood of 1953 also wreaked devastation and I visited the little museum by the harbour which has shocking photographs from the time. The row of cottages where we stayed was built on the site of previous houses destroyed in the flood.
The sea offered opportunities as well as danger. You may have come across Norfolk in historical fiction and romance that features smugglers. In the 1770s Palling was the headquarters of an armed smuggling gang and the revenue seized tea, tobacco, gin and other spirits on a number of occasions, including one enormous haul of 1000 gallons of spirits in 1777! A wreck in 1768, the Lady Agatha, had a cargo apparently worth £50 000. None of this was recovered by the owners as the “pawkers” who scavenged wrecks and made off with the valuable, took all of it. (Here's a picture of Angus pawking on the beach but he is more interested in his ball than a gallon of gin!)
Palling became Sea Palling in the Edwardian era when tourists discovered its benefits as a holiday resort and it’s continued to be one ever since. It’s not your decorous “posh” resort, however, and I don’t think locals would mind me saying so. It’s the proper amusement arcade, sandcastles, pints of warm beer, fish and chips, ice cream cones and donuts (not all together) sort of seaside place. I loved those donuts!
We spent plenty of time on the beach whilst we were there and also visited the nearby villages of Waxham and Horsey. Waxham has a beautiful old manor house built by the Woodhouse family in 1570 and an amazing thatched Elizabethan barn said to be the longest in the country. In the eighteenth century the local squire, Sir Berney Brograve, was notoriously wild and it is said that his sprit still haunts the area and his ghost has been seen galloping along the coast road on stormy nights! Since we had fantastic weather for the entire week there was fortunately no chance of meeting Sir Berney on our walks! This map (copyright Alice White) shows what the manor estate would have been like in the past.
Horsey Mere offered a different historical experience. Here there is the “youngest” windmill on the Norfolk Broads, built in 1912 on 18th century foundations and recently restored. It was the perfect place for a sunset walk. The Broads is a network of mostly-navigable rivers and lakes which were manmade back in the middle ages when local monasteries began to excavate the peat to sell as fuel to the growing towns of Norwich and Great Yarmouth. These days it’s a National Park but it’s worth remembering that when the lakes were dug, Norfolk was the part of the country with the fastest-growing population and Norwich the second largest city in England after London. Fast forward to the present and it’s a very different place, a county of huge skies and empty spaces, glorious nature, sandy beaches and oh so much history!
If you were to head to the seaside now, where would you go, what would you do, what would you eat??? Or is there someplace you prefer to the beach? Share your favourite bolt holes and donut dreams!