Monday, 7 September 2009

Norfolk: summer's end

Norfolk isn't a place that you might just pass through; no, you have to want to go there. It requires a bit of an effort. It's one of those land's end places where the land meets the sea and a great overarching sky.

Perched on the edge of the North Sea, Norfolk was a hunting ground for Viking invaders. But if you are trying to approach it by car, instead of long-ship, be warned that is one of the few counties in England without a major motorway.

Much of England divides itself into a north/south paradigm, but Norfolk really doesn't fit into either category. It is exactly halfway between the two, and far to the east, and possesses its own sub-culture -- like most isolated places. "Normal for Norfolk" is either pejorative, or said with pride, depending on the speaker.

It seems fitting that England's most famous naval hero, Horatio Nelson, was a Norfolk lad. He grew up in Burnham Thorpe, which was only ten miles from the coastline. The Navy was a typical career choice for the younger son of a good family, and Nelson joined up at twelve, as did Jane Austen's two youngest brothers. (One of her brothers, Francis, actually served with Lord Nelson.)

One night we ate dinner at The Lord Nelson -- which was named for the hometown boy made good, following his decisive victory at The Battle of the Nile in 1798. As an adult, Nelson rarely returned to Norfolk unless he needed to recuperate from one of his injuries. I don't know if Norfolk was a place to sail, or just a place to sail away from . . .

While visiting the nearby Burnham Overy Staithe, we dropped into the village fĂȘte. Of course I couldn't resist the used-books stall, and I came away with several biographies with local interest -- including England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton and The Wilder Shores of Love. Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson were the ultimate celebrity couple of their time, and Hamilton's life story truly proved the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction. I haven't read about the wilder shores yet, but it features four 19th century women whose lives were just as adventurous as Emma Hamilton's. One of them, Jane Digby, grew up at the local Holkham Hall. She later travelled with a Bedouin tribe, as the mistress of a Sheik. Norfok must have given her a taste for wind and sand and wide open spaces.

The estate of Holkham claims, with some justification I think, to have "the best beach in England."

A picture cannot begin to capture the seemingly limitless panaroma. There is so much sky there, and such a vast expanse of white sand, that even on a Bank Holiday weekend the beachgoing hordes seem about as significant as ants.

Although I am usually leery of horses, I have to admit that I wanted to be in the silver slipstream of this rider. It must be a glorious thing to gallop down such a beach.

Unfortunately, those beautiful Norfolk beaches are also rather windswept. We were grateful to be there during a sunny spell, but even so, we had to huddle in the long grasses of the dunes to eat our picnic. Even on a late August day, the wind is a cold whip.

Poor Fanny Nelson. Not only did Lord Nelson throw her over most publicly for Emma Hamilton, but he transplanted her from a West Indies beach to a Norfolk one. Apparently, she was "debilitated by the Norfolk damp and mud" (Williams, p. 189). "Mrs. Nelson takes large doses of the bed," reported her father-in-law.

Impervious to mud and wind, my youngest daughter didn't want to leave the beach. Not even when the golden hour turned to dusk.

We came to Norfolk in August, but when we left, it was already September. So now the sun sets on summer . . .

44 comments:

David Cranmer said...

"...A picture cannot begin to capture the seemingly limitless panaroma." But it did here for me. I keep a list of places I would like to visit and I've just added Norfolk.

steven said...

hello bee!! i was born in lancashire, spent my early childhood in cheshire, came to love yorkshire and derbyshire as a young adult and always wondered about places like dorset and norfolk. they seemed so far away - not geographically but in the way they are as places with a very different quality about them. this beautiful posting underscores much of what i have thought norfolk was like and makes me wish to go there some day. thanks so much for this. steven

rxBambi said...

You always make every place you go seem so wonderful, and you write so beautifully. Great photos too...

Catalyst said...

That photo of you (presumably) is a keeper . . showing the force of the wind even snuggled among the reeds. A wonderful post.

marja-leena said...

Oh, I love your photos and descriptions. You were as lucky with the weather as we were on last weekend's mini vacation. We almost went to Norfolk to meet a blog friend but instead she came to meet us in London. Next time....

willow said...

This beach is breathtaking, Bee. I'm afraid I'm terrible at geography, but this reminds me of that wonderful beach scene in the movie Becket.

Delwyn said...

Hi Bee

thanks for taking me to Norfolk today. I am glad I was out of the wind. It reminded me of the windswept coastline of parts of NZ, a raw beauty made all the more beautiful by its vast open-ness, windiness and inaccessibility.

Kids seem to be impervious to wind and cold...

Happy days

dogimo said...

Am I reading that correctly? The place you ate dinner has been around since before 1798. That was just when they changed their name to honor the dauntless Horatio.

Wow, I love the Ye Olde Worlde. They have pubs and pastry shops older than our most hallowed institutions.

ArtSparker said...

Bittersweet.

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

Wonderful pictures, BEE!! Especially love the daughter huddled with her hair blowing, the wet sand in the next one, and the glorious sky and water! Thank you!!

karen's being bossy said...

well my darling bee!!!!! i've missed you! i've been so out of the blogosphere for so long now, but tonight i had the crazy thought to update mine & took a peek at yours too. what a wonderful post to welcome me back! gorgeous wprds, gorgeous photography!

Celeste Maia said...

I love this posting!
I've always dreamed of going to Norfolk, and you have taken me there so beautifully with words and photographs. What a fascinating place. As for Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton, I have the "other" version of both from "The Volcano Lover" by Susan Sontag. Have you read it? It is a fantastic book and tells quite a story of the two.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Ah, there's just something about a windswept beach. The best place to bid a fond farewell to summer.

I have often thought of Emma Hamilton and wondered if she was as pretty as Vivian Leigh's portrayal of her in the movie.

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Bee
I agree with your daughter not wanting to leave such a beautiful place.
Thanks for the post and pictures(I love the boats).
Tracy :)

Bee said...

David - I've been to lots of beaches, but there is something really special about Holkham. And this is from a person who doesn't like wind! I hope you can visit someday . . .

Steven - Wow; I didn't realize that you were English. (And btw, Emma Hamilton was originally from Cheshire.) How often do you visit?

rxBambi - Well, I've been fortunate to go to some lovely places this summer. I wonder what I will write about now?

Catalyst - Well, that photo is of my 11 year old daughter . . . but I will take that compliment!

Marja-leena - Yes, Norfolk in the rain is another matter. I suppose we could have had that beautiful beach entirely to ourselves, though.

Willow - I don't know the Becket scene, but apparently Gwyneth Paltrow walks down Holkham Beach at the end of Shakespeare in Love.

Delwyn - Your NZ beach? Yes, that sounds so similar.

Dogimo - Yes, you can link on the pub. It was around for about 100 years before it was re-named for Nelson. Wild, huh? Here's another fun fact: Apparently, Norfolk's population was actually bigger before the the medieval plague season. Yes, the area has been in decline since 1300.

Artsparker - So many beautiful things have an underlying melancholy, don't you think?

Boomer - Thanks so much. I love that one, too.

Karen - I'm glad you are back. I check in every now and then.

Celeste - I read The Volcano Lover when I was on my honeymoon in Hawaii! That was a long time ago . . . so perhaps I should read it again. The life of Emma Hamilton was just so fascinating.

Pamela Terry - Well, I don't think she was as pretty as Vivian Leigh, but perhaps tastes change in these matters? Romney painted loads of pictures of her as "Emma Hart."

Tracy - Thanks; of course I have many more boat pictures. Why are some objects so fascinating to photograph?

Polly said...

I've never been to Norfolk but your description made me really want to go there as soon as I can. I'm intrigued by all the literary references and the lack of motorway! It must feel remote for that reason alone.

Beautiful photos.

Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful, informative, evocative essay.
Yes, there is something lonely and a little bleak about Norfolk, but I like it better for that somehow.
Have you read Rings of Saturn by my favorite WG Sebald.
Such wonderful meditations on East Anglia.
For all things Nelson you should go to visit Claud at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich apparently it is awash and a-swill with Nelson memorabilia.
Says me --who has yet to get there.....
Crashing the local fete --I would love to do that.

Margaret Gosden said...

The photograph of your youngest daughter is just wonderful! Both the sea/sand scape and of her absorbed activity. Your account of Norfolk fascinating, of course.

Beth said...

If you had to compose the requisite “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay, you’d be golden! You’ve managed to combine history lessons with good times everywhere you went.

I’ve noted those two books...

Sarah Laurence said...

I haven’t been to Norfolk, but now I feel like I came with your on your vacation. I love how you match your reading to your environment. I enjoyed the feeling of open space in your sky-sand photos. I want to gallop down that beach too into the sunset. Just, lovely!

You are motivating to rally my kids for a hike along the shore today - Labor Day and last day before school resume. The sun is shining, but they'd rather stay home. Tough luck for them. Kids belong outside. I loved the image of your daughter in the windswept dunes.

Fun to see images of Oxford in the post below.

B said...

Norfolk sounds like a paradise right now! I need to escape somewhere remote and a windy beach sounds so romantic...

Lucy said...

Emma Hamilton was very round apparently!

Tom and I have always said one day we're going to come back and do an East Coast tour, start in Essex and go all the way up to the Yorkshire coast, at least. It calls to us, though I don't knowm if we ever will do it.

My mother's side were East Anglians, descended from an odd mixture of Vikings and refugee Jews from the Lowlands and beyond. Both these strains were visible in my immediate antecedents. We had some good trips out there when we were little.

Its image an odd mixture of the very posh and the most backward of bumpkinhood!

I love that picture of your daughter with the ripply beach behind, it seems to confound perspective...

mouse (aka kimy) said...

your write up of norfolk has me adding yet another place my bucket list of places that I wish to visit.

your images are so captivating

I did not know about lady hamilton and lord nelson but am intrigued by two books you came away with... nothing like a good biography or memoir and double ones are twice as much fun - did you ever read doris kearns goodwin's wonderful book no ordinary time, about fdr and eleanor?

happy autumn!

linda said...

I felt like I was caught within a novel somewhere, about romance on windswept beaches and hiding from the prying eyes of neighbors...loved the sound of your books!

the picture of your daughter trying to huddle among the grasses reminds me of our coastline, which has it's share of very cold days and even colder winds...although your pictures show a beach that is gorgeous and very very huge...I loved walking there along side you and wondered if the light was as glorious as it looked!

blessings..

Nancy said...

Great pictures and tour of Norfolk. I will probably never have the opportunity to visit - now I can say I've visited.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Delightful post. You may have shared this previously, but what type of camera do you use? Not that my getting one like it would assure I'd take pics 1/10th as wonderful, but it's a start, right? ;-)

I need to read more about Nelson. Once I unearth it, I will send you my cousin's claim about our ancestry link to Nelson. Now that I think of it more, I believe it was more tenuous than one of his siblings - it might have been one of his mother's brothers. More anon.

Loved to learn that the end of SiL features one of those beaches. Such a GREAT movie!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh how pretty! I love seeing the boats in the sand when the tide goes out. I always wonder that they don't tip over. Looks like you had beautiful weather for your last summer outing. XO

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

I've never seen such a wide beach. Your photographs are really beautiful...the colors fared well as they traveled across cyberspace.(It just always amazes me.) Must read about Emma Hamilton.
Been wanting to tell you - Your comments are the closest thing I can think of to sharing a cup of coffee with a friend. I thank you. They always make me smile.
Catherine

Anna said...

Bee I couldn't agree more with your daughter, I wouldn't want to leave either. Such a beautiful place, and I love all those pictures. Anna :)

Shauna said...

What a beautiful beach!

Bee said...

Thanks so much for all of the lovely, generous comments.

FF - I use a Lumix point and shoot; but sadly, it got some sand in it (I think) and has had to be sent off to camera hospital. I wish there was an NHS for cameras!

Maggie May said...

a gorgeous set of pictures, and love the background to go with it.

A Cuban In London said...

I loved this tour and did not want it to end at all. I almost went to Norfolk four or five years ago. I was invited to a Drum Camp as a dancer to perform with a series of guest musicians, the majority of which I knew. But it did not happen.

Thanks for the advice about the non-existence of a major motorway. I will need it for when we go. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Celeste Maia said...

Thank you for your lovely comments.

Reya Mellicker said...

What beautiful pictures! I love your daughter on the beach with all the texture in the sand, and the setting sun.

Y'all look windswept but definitely NOT debilitated. Thanks so much for this beautiful tour!

Christina said...

these beaches are just beautiful! oh my. what a lovely blog this is.
: )

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

My husband is from Norfolk. We go there regularly. It was lovely to see all your wonderful pictures. What a wonderful blog you have.

kristina said...

thank you for sharing this. I love that quote "large doses of bed" :-D

Susie Hemingway said...

I am lucky to live in the Linclonshire Wolds a bit further up the coast from Norfolk. We too have some beautiful beaches if you ignore Skegness and the like. Wonderful open skies and no light pollution. I have lived in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and also the Middle East, but now retired and here in my tiny village I have found home. It is so like going back to my childhood growing up in the fifties. We chose here as there is as you say, no motorway but it's funny how busy we are most weekends with friends and family still managing to find us!! I love your beautiful photos and so rewarding to read your blog. Thank you. I will return once again.

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cerdiver said...

I've really enjoyed reconnecting with you through your blog. I just had to tell you I love the pics on Norfolk. Beautiful!!

Christine