Thursday, 25 July 2013

Out of step

My recent musings on the significance of the River Stiffkey prompted the kind of instant multi-directional discussion that has only come with the maturing of social media - in this case Twitter - and its wider use and acceptance.

A number of points emerged. Firstly no-one actually disputed what I was saying. Secondly it seems there is a view that the sea-fret I thought was a transient and ephemeral manifestation of the divide is a reflection of a more significant  block to the transference of weather across Norfolk. Thirdly, there don't appear to be any ley-lines hereabouts!

However and as ever, not to be outdone, Norfolk instantly provided its own alternative, transforming this possible short-coming into a highly distinct and indeed superior version, the Pie-line.  Norfolk never fails to surprise, never more so than here where, within seconds, what had initially been put forward as a slightly amusing alternative designed to appeal to the lovers of the Norfolk Pork Pie, was transformed into an ancient way, the Pork Pie Road, from Beccles to Hindolveston. And just in case there was any doubt about its provenance, this it transpired had been featured in The Independent no less, some 3 years past in an article discussing Norwich's location in much the same way my thoughts had rambled over north-west Norfolk.

Now whether the absence of the inferior and common ley-lines has anything to do with it I do not know but going back to the weather, not only has this week lent weight to the blocking effect of the Stiffkey, but it has also confirmed the difference between us and the rest of the country. Monday night into Tuesday morning saw spectacular storms. "The most lightning and rain across the country since records began"  Maybe not but you know what they say. And where did they stop their easterly advance? You know the answer but just in case - half an inch of rain and electrical storms in Lynn, Brancaster and Burnham; Hindolveston? - beyond the Stiffkey and the source of the Pork Pie Road (in more ways than one) - none. And none further east. Even more strangely, whilst the storms further afield left slightly cooler air, here in west Norfolk it has been hotter and more humid than before. Do different? Yes, wherever and whenever possible - but it's actually because the world here just is different to that strange standardised one beyond.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Great Divide

The sun shone in Burnham on Friday last, as it has done for much of the last week. At 7.30am it was shining from a clear blue sky, as it was in Walsingham and as it was at Thursford and Sharrington. But it wasn't at Letheringsett, or Glandford, or Wiveton. Neither was it in Blakeney, Morston or Stiffkey. Actually it was in Stiffkey but only just.

So where is all this leading?  I have often held that Norfolk has an invisible divide between east and west. Not an Iron Curtain or even a net curtain, but certainly something changes. On Friday it was made visible in the weather.

So what is it? Let's put it this way, if you live in Norwich, Cromer and Sheringham are on the radar and you will visit them and indeed Blickling, Felbrigg and Holt.  You may also visit Blakeney.  A bit further and you feel uneasy. Morston? maybe. Wells? unlikely. Fakenham? very unlikely. It just doesn't feel like home. Conversely if you live in Wells, Brancaster of Fakenham do you go to Norwich? Hardly ever; maybe for the football or John Lewis. You're not comfy in Holt and why go to Cromer?

So just where is the line? Starting at the coast I would put it between Stiffkey and Morston. Coming inland somewhere between Warham and Binham. Deeper still, between Fakenham and Melton Constable. And then it gets confused by the Fakenham to Norwich road which surely is the boundary between North Norfolk and the county's heartland.

And then I realised. It's the River Stiffkey, one of Norfolk's unsung heroes.  Largely ignored and pretty well unknown apart from those who live along it, the Stiffkey is Norfolk's Great Divide. More powerful than it appears, less transient than Friday's sea fret, it is the physical representation of an unconscious but deeply felt change in character and atmosphere. A change in the feel of the place.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The perils of popularity

It may be a long way from Norfolk, but a comment this morning from a friend in Gloucestershire struck a chord. As a child she used to visit a local spot on the river. It was special to her and her family and friends. They canoed there. This last weekend it was overflowing - not only with humanity but sadly and somewhat inevitably with their rubbish. This is the price of popularity and being listed in a 'Top 50 place to ... " in weekend magazines. No longer secret, special or anything else much.

Almost immediately, a friend not a million miles away here in North Norfolk was bemoaning the litter pick she needed to do this morning outside her business.  She knew what they'd had for lunch because they left all the packaging for her to deal with. As she noted, they hadn't even shopped locally. 

I know how lucky I am to be here in Norfolk, and like many, prefer it when it's quiet. But courtesy of endless marketing - blatant and less blatant - there is no getting away from the fact that it's not quiet very often these days. It's certainly no longer secret; it is still special. Just.