Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Richard Godfrey, 1949 - 2014

We only knew Richard for some 8 years, but in that short time the warmth of his personality and his generous friendship came to mean a great deal to Alison, Sam, Emma and I.  His pots were miraculous, their vibrant colours and zinging graphics becoming a permanent - or so we thought - and much loved feature of both galleries, bringing joy to so many.

But it was Richard himself who was special. Memories of sitting in his seemingly always sunny studio talking over coffee about friends, music and art while he continued to work, staying with him and Chris, and the wonderful array of family and friends he introduced to us will last forever. We count ourselves extraordinarily lucky to have known him.

And we were amongst so many. To see the church in a far corner of Devon bursting at the seams with those who wished to mark and celebrate his life came as no surprise - a fitting reflection of the generousity of his spirit. The tributes on social media are moving, personal and exceed anything I have seen before. How one man can have contributed so much to so many lives is humbling.

We will really miss him as will so many others. Very much thinking of all his family and friends - but assume and hope they took as much away from the service as we did.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Mutual - if distant - attractions

For reasons now lost in the mists of time, I am a friend of the Bovey Tracey Craft Fair. It's over 300 miles away and, as its now fashionable to say, other fairs are available. Many of the artists and makers who show there each June return year after year, and yet I still feel drawn to attend whenever possible. Not too big, but with plenty to see and talk about, I have never been disappointed.

It was I think in 2012 that I first saw the work of Rob Braysbrook. For him it's also quite a way from home - in his case the very furthest extremity of Cornwall, so it wasn't a complete surprise that I hadn't seen his work before. Regular visitors to events of this kind will know how quickly everything starts to look very similar and general levels of receptiveness begin to drop. And yet in amongst an embarrassment of riches - the standard is high - Rob's work caught and held my attention.

Two and a half years on, I am delighted to have some of his work here in Norfolk. His reliefs cut from birch veneer please me on all kinds of level, and in the few days they have been here my reaction has been replicated by our visitors. As one customer pointed out, this is exactly how most of us see waders and their kind, as outlines against the light or reflected in the wet mud.

My pleasure at being able to show it here was heightened by the fact that the artist brought it in person, renewing our contact, travelling over 400 miles to sample the unknown delights of North Norfolk. In my view, he could have been forgiven for not being over-excited, it being undeniably grey and by the dramatic standards of far Penwith less than stimulating.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Having suggested the walk on the bank at Overy as worth a try, we bumped into each other in the dusk just 24 hours later. Norfolk had worked its magic on him, the sight of the elusive rough-legged Buzzard and a short-eared (I think) Owl just confirming the message I had apparently conveyed to him back at Bovey. And as with so many things about gallery life, there was an added bonus insofar as he departed heading west bearing a work for delivery in Falmouth.

Inevitably, our conversations have reignited my latent love of Cornwall and I imagine I may well find myself heading their way in the New Year. I love our saltmarsh coast but a little wild wetness of cliffs and rolling waves does seem very tempting just now.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Time and Tide

In just a few weeks time it will be a year since much of the Norfolk coast was awash, a combination of high spring tides and low pressure over the North Sea producing coastal flooding not seen since the 50's. A lot of the damage has been repaired and in many cases things are more or less as they were this time last year.

However on my perambulations in the dusk at Burnham Overy, its difficult not to notice the scurry of activity of building contractors busy working on many of the properties that were inundated last year. Presumably their owners feel a sense of growing urgency or simply would like them back in use by Christmas. One of the bigger houses is replacing its hedge boundary to the coast path with a reinforced wall and presumably removable flood barriers to its entrance from the Staithe.

It's equally difficult not to notice that the weather seems to be following a rather similar pattern to last year. It's all very calm and tranquil, only just autumnal rather than heading for winter and certainly nothing untoward in the monthly forecast - again just like last year. Given the way nature has a habit of catching us out, it would be nice to think the aforementioned flood protection is in place before the early December big tides.

Having said that, even if the works are finished, should history repeat itself it wouldn't come as that much of a surprise if the tide somehow found its way round the back

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Grapevine in Exeter - 9 days in the Chapter House

Just over twelve months ago I mentioned a visit to Exeter as part of an autumn escape from Norfolk. At the time I noted that this was to be the venue for our next exhibition of Gerard Stamp's work. Accordingly at the start of the month, with paintings already despatched and display systems ordered, Grapevine headed west.

As regular visitors to the gallery will know from my conversations, this venture was not without its hazards, taking us and the artist into largely unknown territory. It's one thing to arrange and run an exhibition in your own space, it is rather different doing it in a Cathedral, whose main business is clearly not the same as ours - and doing it for an unknown and unquantifiable audience.

Despite a degree of stage fright on my part, and with the willing assistance of Cathedral staff and volunteers, the doubts and concerns proved to be without foundation.  Having seen the Chapter House - the venue for the exhibition - fully occupied by wedding guests on the preceding weekend, latent doubts started to simmer nicely, particularly with regard to whether the space was actually as big as I had thought, and whether the agreed layout would fit.

An early visit on the Monday morning with ample supplies of masking tape and measuring tape confirmed that all was well and that the proposed arrangement could be accommodated. Suitably reassured, I headed for the hills - Dartmoor to be more precise - via the Devon Guild of Craftsmen at Bovey Tracey. Having been through - in my humble opinion - a bit of a dodgy patch, it seems back on course, with a modest but pleasing range of art and craft. It also offers in its cafe one of the best ploughman's lunches to be found in this part of the world.

My further progress was slightly delayed by being hijacked to participate in an Arts Council study of who visited and why we chose to so do. Having declared a slight interest, insofar as we show and sell work by many of their members, this was pleasingly proved to my interviewer by looking up to see my good friend Richard Godfrey, delivering 3 of his new pieces. With hindsight our greetings may have seemed excessive, but I was genuinely delighted to see him - and it was his birthday! Suitably fed and uplifted I headed for Haytor. Dartmoor can on occasion be a truly terrible place but very hard to believe that on such a wonderful afternoon.

Tuesday found me back in the Chapter House, awaiting the delivery and installation of the display screens. A brief period of tension contemplating how to mount an exhibition without said screens was quickly soothed by their arrival in the hands of two vast and peaceful chaps who seemed surprised that I not only knew where I wanted them to go but had marked it out for them.  All was completed promptly and precisely, leaving me wondering why I could ever have thought otherwise.

Ably assisted by a splendid fellow who in a previous world had kept a watchful eye on the Royals but now was surprisingly known as the Floor Manager of the Cathedral, Gerard's paintings made their final move across the Green to the Chapter House. Hanging (mounting to be more accurate) with the artist's assistance was completed free of any alarms or excursions - to the extent that the exhibition was ready for visitors by close of play. To mark this momentous point it seemed only right and proper to adjourn to a local hostelry, before entertaining our host to dinner in the Conservatory, one of Exeter's hidden dining delights.
A well attended opening after Evensong on the Thursday, saw visitors not only from the local area but also from Plymouth, Wells, Bristol, Gloucestershire, London and - to our surprise - even some who had travelled from Norfolk for the occasion. In opening the exhibition, the Dean said how delighted the Cathedral was to be hosting the exhibition and thanked Gerard for his paintings celebrating the 900th Anniversary of the present Cathedral. He also noted it was the 12th Anniversary of the Grapevine Gallery which had first opened its doors in Norwich on this day in 2002!

Over the following 7 days, over 1500 people visited the exhibition making this without much doubt the most successful we and Gerard have ever mounted.

Judging by the reaction it was more than worthwhile... and the word is, Exeter would like some more. A Devon Grapevine?  It has been suggested before and it cropped up again more than once during the week. However, although I love the place and its people, it looks pretty unlikely - although you can never be sure what's round the corner......

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Getting lost

There are those who still find the bits between the main routes in Norfolk a bit of a mystery. And until comparatively recently you could be excused for sodoing.  The signage was, to put it mildly, a bit hit and miss. Not for nothing is the area north of Wolterton and Mannington still referred to as the Matlaske triangle. 

Purely personally, I always seemed to end up where I meant to be, even if afterwards you were not quite sure how you'd got there. The rest of Norfolk seems simple by comparison. However, an unplanned and circuitous return to the gallery this morning proved this is not entirely the case.

Having always made my way to and from Quidenham - south of Attleborough for those who are not familiar - via Norwich and the A11, on a whim I decided the return journey might be quicker taking a notionally straight route north to Dereham and Fakenham. The first part seemed pleasingly straightforward on emptyish and straightish roads. It also filled some of the few gaps in my visual memory bank of Norfolk, including Shropham, Watton and Shipdam, all looking good in the late September sunshine.

I must confess I have never been overly fond of Dereham. Despite this being - almost - back within familiar territory, I have no visual memory of the place and its roads. In view of this I decided it would be prudent to follow the signed through route to Fakenham. Early doubt set in when this led to the westbound A47 heading for Swaffham. Confidence briefly returned on finding Fakenham now signed as a right turn, which as we all know is best avoided anywhere on the A47. This turn seemed to be bringing me back to roughly where I had first entered Dereham but then mysteriously turned into the old main road to Swaffham.

At this point, it was clear highway engineering had triumphed over Norfolk's natural grain. Accepting what had become increasingly apparent, my return took me - inevitably - via Swaffham to familar friendly territory of Weasenham and Raynham and on to Fakenham. Strange to say, what at the time felt like seriously excessive miles actually only slightly delayed my planned late opening of the gallery - but it did confirm that our roads and their signs can still be suitably mysterious on occasion.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Michael Parkin

Obituaries for Michael Parkin have appeared in the national press. We first met Michael and Diana at Gunton some 25 years ago; in his case I like to think it was in the queue for pudding at a summer lunch. Our paths crossed irregularly over the coming years, most usually as a result of family and our respective daughters' friendship and increasingly accompanied by burgundy or chocolate cake.

In 2002 Alison and I opened the gallery in Norwich, and at some point the idea emerged that we would host an exhibition curated by Michael and Diana.  Featuring some of his favourites - Nash, Bawden, Morris, Hale -  and some - Claughton Pellew springs to mind - until that point completely unknown to us, this exhibition helped establish the gallery as a serious player and attracted the attention of a different and extended part of the East Anglian art set.  This first, and almost inevitably successful, collaboration led to another exhibition, and equally inevitably to further mutual enjoyment of the good things in his life - family, friends, wine and chocolate - ideally all together.

Along the way, my painfully inadequate knowledge of British art in the 20th century was being addressed by way not just of facts and awareness but by immersion in Michael's world of personal experience and reminiscense. On our daily journeys from Gunton in to the gallery, his comments on my driving style, "you're much slower than Alison", were interspersed with priceless insight into the world of a London art dealer in the second part of the twentieth century.  And of course the occasional diversion to purchase the essentials of life, chocolate cake and slightly more surprisingly, eggs. The former was catered for by the fortuitous co-relation of the gallery and Zuckermann's the late lamented deli and purveyor of Chocolate gateaux next door to us on Unthank Road, whilst the latter need was met by a farm at Erpingham where eggs were left outside for selection and the money was pleasingly despatched down a drainpipe set in the wall.  Both gave Michael considerable satisfaction.

In 2007 we opened our second gallery in Burnham, and for a while Diana shared this new world with us.  As Michael's health declined, Diana increasingly devoted her life to caring for him and his wit and observation disappeared from our lives.

We shall remember Michael with affection and count ourselves blessed through family and circumstance that, for albeit a very brief moment in his colourful life, he shared some of it with us.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Living is easy

Summertime in North Norfolk is very alluring just at the moment. The heady mix of music, eating, art and friends is hard to beat. Last Saturday was a case in point. For music lovers you could choose between Gluck at South Creake, Byrd and Tallis at Salle, Handel at Aylsham, and there was more. A day later Vaughan Williams and Mendelssohn rounded off the Holt Festival while just two days later Music In Country Churches was in Old Hunstanton with the English Chamber Orchestra playing an exciting programme of Strauss, Debussy and Tchaikovsky.

With over 300 others, we went to Salle. Beautiful all the time, this miraculous building was at its most stunning. With early evening sun illuminating the nave and the choir, the pairing of the music of Taverner and Byrd and the incomparable acoustic was sublime.

Prompted by a visit from old friends in the north, Sunday found us visiting another jewel on our doorstep, Blickling Hall. Not normally a great fan of the National Trust approach to things, I have to say it was hard not to be impressed, even when it's so familiar. The only thing to disturb the beauty of its symmetrical approach is the current positioning of the clutter of plant sales in the main forecourt. Very strange. One can only hope this is not permanent.

Somewhat perversely, on the other side of the house, the clearly very temporary tent canopy between the Hall and the lake seemed to actually add something - and judging by the yet to be cleared debris visible within had been put to very good use the previous day. A fantastic setting for a party.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Give way

By way of explanation of my previous observation that the A11 dualling scheme is flawed, the problem lies at the Barton Mills roundabout. But only southbound. 

The two principal roads leading out of Norfolk towards London converge here. Given that we give way to the right, traffic on the A11 - however adequately catered for on the new dual carriageway - will always have to slow, if not stop, at this point.  Much as it did previously at Elveden. It seems fairly clear that the new scheme will simply have moved the previous pinch-point closer to London.

A southbound flyover, for which there would appear to have been room, would have resolved this

Friday, 25 July 2014

In Season

Every year, round about this time every 'journalist' who has a friend here or indeed has met someone who knows someone in Norfolk puts pen to paper.  Most simply recycle what they've heard or already read - some clearly have not been here recently.

That's bad enough but then you get the occasional one who has been - and that can be even worse. Country Life recently blew the gaff on one of the more private spots, identifying it and how to get there rather too clearly. And then there are those who either really like estate agents - or whisper it quietly - are paid by them and peddle a heady mix of beaches, geese and their selection of desirable properties.

I would rather they didn't but that clearly isn't going to happen. One can only hope that the almost laughably poor train services into Norfolk together with what I think may prove to be a flawed scheme dualling the A11 will continue to ensure we're not that attractive to their readers.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mixed feelings

Halfway through another year of artist open studios, I must confess to mixed feelings about what has become a bit of an institution. When Grapevine first opened some twelve years ago we showed work by a relatively small number of artists, of whom a surprisingly high percentage were from Brighton and Hove. Now this is where, to my mind, the open studio idea really began to take off. A compact, intense urban environment housing large numbers of artists - and it was a prime visitor destination. The pluses are obvious - lots of choice and variety and relatively close together. With coming of area trails aimed at walking a few yards from one delight to another its success and appeal seemed assured.

However, talking to artists, many even then had their misgivings. One year was good and exciting. Two years was reassuring - the visitors came back. But after that? Why did these people come? Were they seriously looking at the art? Or were they more interested in the coffee/chat and a chance to nose about an 'artists' house? Increasingly, the more established and professional artists started to rethink. Grouping themselves to take away the personal intrusion. Bit like showing in a gallery really - and in due course Brighton began to house a few more proper galleries again.

Here in Norfolk, things have always been a little different simply by reason of the geography. Outside Norwich the artists are widely spread; they tend not to cluster. So other than in one or two places its not so easy to walk or cycle from one studio to another and this has to a degree mitigated against the Brighton effect. The artists experience is inevitably similar with many deciding not to take part each year, finding the uncertainty over visitor numbers inequitable with the disruption and intrusion. And here as well, at the upper end they tend to grow out of it.

From a gallery's point of view, there has always been unease. Why would you encourage this? It's similar to how any business with overheads would feel about competing with someone selling from the garden gate or roadside with no overheads.  And yet each year there are artists who trail round galleries they have no connection with asking for their promotional material to be displayed and are seemingly surprised that this is not seen as a great opportunity by the gallery.

For my own part, I can see some value to galleries. In the most general terms it increases interest and it attracts visitors. However for a gallery that represents a local artist, his or her open studio can albeit indirectly lead to future business for the gallery - and not necessarily for that artist. It also allows the gallery to have a look at an artists work without declaring their hand.  So - swings and roundabouts, but as a non-participant I am generally in favour. After all as one very well-known artist remarked to me,  "its what you do all day everyday, sitting there waiting for people - I just can't face it". Which is why he's an artist and why galleries exist.

Friday, 30 May 2014


In meteorological terms, tomorrow is the last day of Spring.  The statistics being trailed are all about it being the third warmest spring on record - which suggests that it has been extraordinary. But having only recently mused on the contrasts in both weather and its affect on artistic interpretations of Norfolk, personal experience is that here 2014 has been similar to 2013.

Having just had two days of unrelenting cloud and rain, the sun is out again - but looking back to this time last year I was then writing about cold, wind and rain on Overy Bank just as I could have done this week. In fact May has been as wet as January with much of that falling in the last couple of weeks. 

Talking to one of Norfolk's better known photographers - who shares my love of all things Overy - he commented how remarkably similar the light has been. One of his best known images of a storm front over the Boathouse taken this time last year was almost replicated this year.

Along the bank, the biggest difference is not the weather but the vegetation, with the Alexanders noticeably bigger and bolder. Whether this is down to warmer temperatures or a different pattern of rainfall we shall never know. It could of course be down to the fertilising effect of the surge, or maybe a different maintenance regime.  Whatever it is that the statistics suggest my guess is that most of us feel its been pretty unremarkable. A typical Norfolk Spring in fact, followed no doubt by a typical Norfolk Summer.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

I can see clearly now

In four weeks time, we are showing a small collection of paintings by an artist untroubled by style or fashion. Sister Deirdre Corfe has been a member of the Carmelite community at Quidenham in south Norfolk for over 40 years, entering a world of prayer and contemplation to live a life free of the fuss and fluff of that occupies most of our time.

Her paintings reflect this; they are neither fashionable or decorative. They do however give cause for thought. Thought about why she has painted them, why she has chosen to lead this life and whether all the other stuff - the fuss and the fluff - has any point or value.

in 2008, for her last exhibition with us in Norwich, Sister Wendy Beckett wrote; "Some art is for glancing at, and moving on: some art is for living with.  Art that is not an immediate crowd-pleaser (or displeaser) but has depth to be fathomed and experienced is a rare find, and it is this kind of art that we discover in Deirdre Corfe."  Sister Wendy concluded her comments writing "Corfe’s painting gives amazing pleasure but it is also a challenge.  It demands gently that we look afresh at the world and at ourselves."

I do not spend my life in prayer and contemplation, but even here in this privileged and beautiful bubble, life can sometimes seem complicated and confusing. Each time I meet and talk with Deirdre and look at her work I do feel challenged. Not in a confrontational way, but they do leave me quietly wondering.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


To my mind Norfolk has always been a county of contrasts. Its people, its landscapes and its weather. In the last week the latent contrasts in the former have been drawn out by the latter.  Yesterday was largely grey and misty, particularly so out along the bank towards the sea. And yet just a couple of miles inland it was bright and warm. Inevitably this was reflected in people and their mood; at the coast rather moody and mysterious whilst inland the mood was more open and friendly.

Which gave me cause to consider how varied are our perceptions of the place - and how this is highlighted by the variety in the artistic interpretations of all this.  In July we have an exhibition opening of works by Mike Bernard.  Familiar to those who visit the gallery and widely known for his paintings of the West Country, London and the Mediterranean, this will be the first time he and we have shown a collection of Norfolk subjects.  I have yet to see the collection but the first taste suggests Mike sees Norfolk as a sunny place.

This is how many like to see it - family, sand, holidays. We all know it and empathise; its Norfolk - where else could it be?  But if you love this - there will be many of us who at the same time can identify with its other side, the mist and the mystery. Judging by the reaction, the latest watercolour in the gallery by Gerard Stamp, captures the essence of this. There is no perceptible divide between saltmarsh and sky and yet - we know it's there.

The subjects of these two very different interpretations and appreciations of Norfolk are probably little more than 5 miles and a few weeks apart. Yes, they contrast but they don't conflict. It would only take a seafret to roll in over the beach huts and the sun to break though over the saltmarsh for the polarity to be reversed. And isn't that wonderful?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Too cool for its own good? or just catching up?

I'm talking about Norfolk. There's been a suggestion that cool and interesting things are moving out of London because the people who do them can't afford to be there. That maybe so but I don't actually believe it. There's always an edge.  But what about Norfolk? We are the ultimate edge and it is starting to feel like it is all being smoothed out and interesting quirkiness is being pushed out by the money.

It must be the time of year - it is the time when all the money comes back - but I can't help noticing that the relentless drive to be cool and fashionable is going into customary overdrive. The difficulty is that the local economy needs it.

So what prompts this bout of unease? Away from the gallery, some of my time is spent on matters Overy, or to be more precise the Harbour. Like lots of places it really suffered back in December with the surge but of course there were only locals around then. With the return of money, the residual flaws revealed in December are a cause for concern; when is this all going to be tidied, mended and manicured?

In some ways this is fair enough. But when you look at old photos - by old we're talking anything more than 25 years ago - you see things that just wouldn't happen now or would give rise to much coughing and spluttering. Too dangerous, too noisy, too smelly or even too scruffy.

The world has of course moved on but Norfolk is still - just - a bubble in the eddy that is East Anglia. You only have to look at St.Ives in Cornwall to realise what can happen when places just get too cool. Not only is it expensive, it is simply too crowded for its own good. It's probably too late now for Norfolk and was inevitable, but it is increasingly difficult to look at how it was without a slight sadness and unease about where it's headed.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Big Bangs

It would be quite easy to make fun of local media that this morning give generous coverage to the big bangs heard in parts of North Norfolk last night. Somewhat prosaically it turns out these big bangs were accompanied by heavy rain and were in fact, thunder.

There is a view that this kind of news coverage reflects and perpetuates the caricature of Norfolk as an isolated rural backwater living in a different age.  Well maybe it does and we do seem to have our fair share of this kind of non-news. I actually seem to think this same phenomenon gave rise to similar reporting not that long ago. However, whatever view you choose to take on this, it could also be argued that the coverage reflects how widespread the use of social media is in the these remote parts. Hardly backward, but in terms of printed news, the coverage does reflect the diminishing world of professional reporting and editing.

I actually think it's rather good that we do still get over-excited about these things and rather than being concerned about this kind of thing, take delight in our quaint old-fashioned ways. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Tall Storeys

I'm sure we're not unique but looking at the local authority's planning portal, there are a lot of planning applications around at the moment. In Burnham itself, if all the new housing being sought was built, the village would grow significantly in a way that has never happened before.

Some of these proposals are good, some less so, but with one honourable exception they do not seem to addressing local needs or wishes, but simply aiming to make the most of the opportunities being afforded by pressure on the system. Most of the discussion about these proposals is based understandably on the principles, but buried within them, there seems to be a common theme emerging - building taller than is the tradition.

Some of these appear simply greedy and will probably fail on overlooking issues, but there are others where height raises a moral dilemma. There is one local application which includes new housing - clearly not for permanent local occupation - which is rather obviously overscaled but because it relates to an important community focus, it is possible to understand the economic forces behind it. Those who are very reasonably objecting to it, run the risk of being seen to undermine a key local business - which is clearly not their intention.

Parish Council's comments reflect concern over this growing tendency to oversizing but it does look like it's becoming a habit which if left unchecked will change the look and feel of some of the best bits of Norfolk.  As the late great Ian Nairn would undoubtedly have considered this; OUTRAGE!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Birds - and people who watch them

Before coming to Burnham I really didn't know much about birds. I still don't but I enjoy seeing them and there's no denying they're good for business. Right across North Norfolk there are pubs, shops, restaurants - even galleries - who simply wouldn't be viable without birds.

It's not unusual to hear "I expect it's quiet out of season" but also "I'm surprised there are so many people about." The fact is, there really is no 'season' and an awful lot of those being blown about on the paths and beaches are there because of the birds.  Theoretically we are at the end of our quietest month.  Yes, it has been quiet but everyday has brought visitors in quite surprising numbers, even when the weather has been at it's most off-putting.

Like most of us who live here, I really like this time of year. I could say it's my favourite - still spare and clean but with the promise that comes with more daylight - but in reality I like it almost all the time. But with more daylight comes the opportunity for me to yet again choose whether to walk before opening or after closing. This week it's been the latter and I have returned to my standard 3 mile stroll to the sea and back. Along the bank.

Even to me, there do seem to be a lot of birds about and they look pretty much what I would expect - geese, gulls, waders, hawks and owls. All busy and doing what they do at this time of year.  And then there are the people who watch them. There are a lot of them too and they also look as I would expect, bringing with them the most extraordinary amount of kit. Tripod, lenses, scopes (I believe this is the term) which would surely do justice to a full-blown wildlife production.

As is my way, I normally say hello to anyone I meet on the bank - all very 'Overy' - and most people respond in similar mode.  Just occasionally there are those who seem genuinely taken aback by this, presumably conditioned by years of commuting on train or tube. Like the pair who had set up the most elaborate tangle of interlocking tripods across the full width of the path. Staring intently into their equipment they were clearly pre-occupied with looking for whatever it was. No response, no acknowledgement. Which is fine; we all have days when we just want to be alone. But maybe not build a tank trap on the same day.

A little further on, in conversation with a slightly less encumbered chap, it transpired that what they were probably looking for were Short-eared Owls and Rough-legged Buzzards pairs of both species having been reported in the last few days. My conversational friend said he had had no joy and thought it was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, before continuing on his homeward way.

Heading back from the beach half an hour later, all these people had gone. Nobody but me, one yellow-eyed Owl hunting close to me along the bank and a pair of rough looking Buzzards hanging about over the marsh.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Normal for Norfolk

Some weeks ago I decided I would not write about the weather for the forseeable future... but, risking everything, I feel I should. Up here in the fastness of the North Norfolk coast, we haven't really had winter this year.

The days are getting longer, the birds are doing what birds do and much of the garden never really stopped. And this is the year where 'the country' has had its wettest winter for so many years. But not here.  We haven't been particularly wet - in fact I think we may have been below average in our little patch, and it hasn't been cold. Since the start of November I can only recall one very slight ground frost, and looking at the Burnham Thorpe weather station the lowest temperature recorded was a very moderate -1.8° in early January.

It has however been windy. But then it usually is. What is remarkable is the almost total absence of any wind from the north or east. This is not a bad thing, but in the context of the tidal surge in early December it means that what we now see along the coast is not just the product of the surge, but the subsequent absence of a major part of the normal restorative process.

It would be foolish to think that it will continue in this vein but re-assuringly things look remarkably alright just now. In my experience over the last 25 years in Norfolk, snow is more likely at Easter than Christmas but given what now must be warmer sea temperatures than usual coupled with a late Easter, we might just get away with it. However, if we do, it would not be a huge surprise if summer turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

To rebuild... or not to rebuild

In no way am I a defender or apologist for the Environment Agency but their position is unenviable. With limited budgets and seemingly growing problems they can never satisfy an increasingly informed, interested and vocal society.  Away from their current hot potato in Somerset, where application of national dredging policies to a unique situation seems to be at the root of their position in the firing line, they face a real dilemma in Norfolk.

Where the December surge breached the banks at Salthouse and Brancaster there is real concern as to what happens next.  From 12 miles away, the Salthouse question seems to be largely about the merits of saltmarsh or freshwater marsh.  Questions over the ecological value of both arouse strong emotions and given the significance to the local economy of nature tourism it's not difficult see why. Purely personally, I can't help feeling that whilst we are all used to what was the case, i.e freshwater, it probably can't be maintained in the longer term.  I know the shingle has been historically pushed back and banked up again but my understanding that the current breaches are very close to historic positions of channels seems to suggest that as ever, round here the sea eventually has its way.

Slightly closer to home at Brancaster, I may have misunderstood, but the issue seems to be slightly different, with the emphasis being more on practical issues of access to the beach and the golf course. Strangely because the wider significance might be though smaller and thus the issue not so newsworthy (not, of course, that that would have any bearing on the outcome) this one might be considered easier to abandon by an Agency under pressure.  This would be a mistake; for those who need to use it, the repair and maintenance of this bank is vital, and not to do so would immediately lend it huge significance.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Plus ça change

If you asked around in the village at the moment, the general feeling seems to be that things are changing. The proposal for the car park has finally changed from an idea to a consultation to a planning application, and with this has come tensions and division.  There is little dispute as to the need for a car park; when we first opened in Burnham I was told by someone born and brought up here that there were two things which exercised the village - Christmas Lights and a car park - but as this had been going on for 50 years or so, there was little need to get too excited about it.

The site seems to have been known for most of those 50 years so that is not too controversial even though there are those who would prefer an alternative.  What has stirred emotions is the linking of the provision of the car park to new housing development.  There is no denying that the development aspect application seems to have grown somewhat during the process, and there those who strongly contest that it is too much, un-necessary and is driven by profit. Well, as they say, what's new?

Personally, I think the car park is needed - it is strange that we all love a place that from 9 to 5.30 everyday is dominated by cars - but don't see a need for new houses for those who are able to afford to buy them. As in London, the Cotswolds, and the West Country these will largely end up as investment properties or holiday homes. 

If and when - as now seems inevitable - they are built, the village will get used to them and the world will not end.  More significant in terms of the cohesion and viability of the community are other apparently minor issues which whilst not going un-remarked do not seem to stir the same emotions. The closure of the youth club is serious as it is one of the very few things on offer to school age people who live, rather than visit, here.  The loss - for that's what has happened - of the Parish magazine to a trade dominated give-away is in my view bad news and another step towards bland anonymity. The reported demise of the Burnham Society just takes this further and it is quite easy to see why a feeling of negative change is abroad.

However, despite what we feel, Burnham is not unique; these and similar issues are being faced across the country. Change happens.  However much we might wish for it all to stay just as we think it is, this is, of course, only the latest version of what is and will continue to be not a bad place to live and work.