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Blakeney Point

39 Norfolk coast fab facts

A-Z of the Norfolk seaside

1 Norfolk has over 90 miles of coast (even more when the tide’s out!) which means half its overall boundary is next to the water. Here's our top 10 beaches.

2 You’ll find marram grass on dunes around the Norfolk coast. It’s to be encouraged as its deep roots fight against sand erosion by high and rough tides. Marram is Old Norse for sea (marr) and salk or stem (halmr).

3 Norfolk’s (and indeed East Anglia’s) highest point is Beacon Hill (also known as Roman Camp) near West Runton, between Sheringham and Cromer, 338 feet above sea level. And who said Norfolk’s flat? Oh yes, it was Noel Coward in Private Lives.

4 Splendid Holkham Hall is one of the finest Palladian houses in the country. Many of its handsome rooms are open to the public, including the imposing Marble Hall, whose colonnade is copied from the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome while the 50 foot high ceiling is modelled on the Pantheon. All that Italian has got us ready for a little dolce far niente!

Holkham Hall

5 On the run from the Nazis, Albert Einstein fled to Norfolk in 1933, before going to the USA. He lived for a month in a small hut on Roughton Heath near Cromer as a guest of Oliver Locker-Lampson, who guarded the genius with two secretaries, all armed with rifles.

6 Norfolk has beaches where you can take your dog all year-round. In fact, we love to see our four-legged chums.

7 Walk the Norfolk Coastal Path which starts at Holme-next-the-Sea where Seahenge was discovered in 1999. The path is 45 miles and stretches to Cromer. There are then other paths to take you all the way to the Suffolk border.

8 Norfolk is great for crabbing! Nip along and do it at Wells-next-the-Sea quay or from Cromer Pier. And the rockpooling at West Runton is pretty good too.

9 California near Great Yarmouth owes its name to the discovery of some sixteenth century gold coins on the beach in 1848, at a time when the California gold rush had captured the attention of the world.

10 Hunstanton is often referred to in these parts as ‘Sunny Hunny’. It’s the only east coast resort that faces west! The land you can see in the distance from the top of the cliffs at Old Hunstanton is Holland… Okay, it’s Lincolnshire (you can see the spire of St Botolph’s Church, otherwise known as the Boston Stump) but a first-timer to the town will always fall for it.

Hunstanton cliffs

11 If you love beachcombing, then look for pieces of amber along the high-tide mark, particularly after a big storm on our Deep History Coast. Amber is light and is easily loosened from submarine rock layers, so is often brought along by tides from the Baltic to be caught up in frondy seaweeds that sweep the seafloor.

12 Great Yarmouth is home to the world’s first football stand. It’s true! The grandstand at the Wellesley Recreation Ground is believed to be the world's oldest football stand still in regular use, having been opened on 11 June 1892.

13 The Norfolk coastline was the first part of Britain settled by early man. At that time, 1.2 million years ago, what is now Norfolk was connected by a land bridge to mainland Europe called Doggerland. The earliest known British settlement is in Happisburgh, Norfolk. The site was found thanks to a local man who was taking his dog for a walk by the sea. He spotted a hand axe lying on the mud and called the Norwich Castle Museum. The axe was made 700,000 years ago, some 200,000 years earlier than any previously discovered artefact.

14 The Thames used to run through Norfolk – it was fed by an extinct river called the Bytham from the Midlands, and that was even larger!

15 The country’s largest seal colony can be found on Blakeney Spit in early Winter every year. They're there all year but they pup December-February. Best way to see them is to take a boat from Morston.

Grey seal pup at Blakeney Point

16 Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe on the Norfolk coast. Receiving the Freedom of Great Yarmouth after the Battle of the Nile, he put his left hand on the Bible. ‘Your right hand, my lord,’ said the clerk. ‘That,’ replied Nelson, ‘is in Tenerife’.

17 Great Yarmouth used to be the hub of the herring industry. In one day in 1907 fishermen brought into port over 80 million herring! There used to be so many fishing boats, it’s said you could walk across the river boat by boat. Who needs bridges?

18 Magician and TV presenter Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee met at Britannia Pier Theatre, Great Yarmouth. That’s it. Just saying. Reminds us of the Mrs Merton line, ‘So Debbie McGee, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?’

19 King’s Lynn grew rich on trade as part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trading organisation composed of merchants from north Germany and surrounding countries around the Baltic Sea… and King’s Lynn! The Hanseatic legacy includes the Custom House, built by Henry Bell in 1683.

20 The fragrant pine woodland from Burnham Overy Staithe to Wells-next-the-Sea that backs the beach is entirely man-made! In the late 19th century, the 2nd Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall planted three miles of sand with Corsican pine trees to stabilise the dunes, hold back the sea and secure the fresh-water marshes where he grazed his cattle. Before then the tidal creeks were wide enough for ships to load cargo from a staithe, or quay, in Holkham village itself!

Holkham and Wells-next-the-Sea beaches

21 Changes to farming practice have encouraged the thousands of migrating geese to come every year for Norfolk’s Winter Wildlife Safari. When the tops of sugar beet were ploughed back into the ground, the geese had nothing to feed on. Then farmers began leaving the tops on the fields again which encourages the geese to fly in from the coast every morning, stuff themselves silly, and return to roost later in the day.

22 Monty Python and adventurer Michael Palin said of Sheringham, ‘The best thing about the sea was when it rolled back to reveal a hundred yards of firm golden sand, stretching east and west as far as the eye could see. A vast playing field, renewed twice a day. Out came the cricket bat and my father’s fast bowling which there was never room to show off on our neat little lawn at home in South Yorkshire. When that was over and someone had hit the ball far out towards Norway, there was a wonderful world of pungently salty, seaweed-slimy rocks to explore.’

23 When the Romans came to Norfolk in AD46, Great Yarmouth didn’t exist – it hadn’t yet been established by longshore drift. Now its beaches are a great place to go roamin’.

24 The earliest evidence of mankind found outside The Great Rift Valley in Africa, 850,000 year old footprints, were discovered in Norfolk at Happisburgh by archaeologists from the Natural History Museum. Which means Norfolk is the cradle of British civilisation and the first destination ever arrived at by overseas tourists!

25 There is a chalk reef off Cromer – a great home for shellfish and the reason why Cromer crabs are so sweet and succulent. Stroll out on the pier and you’ll be above the chalk reef. The pier forms an artificial reef that leads to the real thing!

Norfolk's chalk reef

26 The invention of bowler hats can be attributed to the Holkham Estate in north Norfolk. In 1849, Holkham gamekeepers kept having their top hats knocked off by low branches and damaged, so William Coke (pronounced Cook), a nephew of the first Earl of Leicester, commissioned his hatter James Lock to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat. Lock’s chief hatter got the job. His name? Thomas Bowler!

27 Arthur Conan Doyle first conceived the idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles whilst holidaying in Cromer with Bertram Fletcher Robinson after hearing local folklore tales regarding the local legend of a ferocious dog called Black Shuck. We don’t know if he was thinking of nearby Holme-next-the-Sea when he named his imperturbable sleuth.

28 The annual world snail championship is held at Congham. Yes, really! No need to hurry along though…

29 In 1974 at Hunstanton Golf Club, Bob Taylor holed in one at the par 3 16th hole on three consecutive days.

30 The best way to have a dirty weekend in north Norfolk is to look out for the annual Blakeney Greasy Pole contest. Win or lose, competitors end up in the mud! It's one of many quirky events in the county.

Greasy Pole

31 The only food not rationed in the second world war was fish and chips – because who’d want to fish in seas full of enemy mines and submarines and with fighter and bomber planes overhead! Our wonderful fish and chips heritage continues to this day, and they’re definitely best if you eat them by the seaside.

32 The Queen Mother used to have a beach hut at Holkham! Now, of course, not only does The Queen have her personal home at Sandringham, but the second, third and fourth in line to The Throne live nearby.

33 A storm at sea off Great Yarmouth is the beginning of Daniel Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe. Defoe was inspired when he was in the vicinity for his 1724 A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, describing Great Yarmouth as an ‘antient town’. Ironic really, it was still in the sea in Roman times.

34 King’s Lynn, on the River Ouse, has more listed buildings than York! They include fine medieval merchants’ houses, the Guildhall, Town Hall and Minster Church. It also has two market places – Saturday and Tuesday, the second surrounded by fine Georgian architecture.

35 Norfolk has great malting barley because it's grown on high land on the Norfolk coast where it also gets the benefit of salty sea frets, which adds to the flavour!

36 Many of the self-contained estate villages in west Norfolk are characterised by attractive Carstone, which is rich in iron. The brownness of the buildings led to the town of Downham Market being referred to, at one time, as the 'Gingerbread Town'. They're particulalry good at Heacham and Hunstanton.

37 The largest and best preserved mammoth skeleton ever found was recovered from cliffs at West Runton. The only bones missing had been eaten by hyena. Yes, really!

38 Did you know that the humble fish finger was invented in Great Yarmouth in 1952? In our opinion, a fish finger sandwich is hard to beat! With tomato ketchup, of course.

39 Cromer has the world's last end-of-pier theatre - and it's brilliant!

Cromer Pier

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