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.

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