You’re thinking of coming to Norfolk, so we thought we’d edify and educate you a bit about our wonderful county. Then, when you’re on your way, you’ll be able to amaze your family and friends with your inside knowledge.
Now, just so you’re paying attention, there are three untruths in our article. Can you guess which ones they are? Answers are at the bottom.
1 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.
2 John Fletcher Dodd set up the first holiday camp in England at Caister-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth in 1906. Take that, Billy Butlin!
3 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.
4 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.
5 Robert Hales, the Norfolk Giant, was born at West Somerton, near Winterton-on-Sea, in 1820. He is buried in the village churchyard. He was 7 foot 8 inches tall. That’s the effect of sea air for you.
6 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).
7 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.
8 The Norfolk Broads are man-made! And we only found out in the 1950s! The Broads were created by digging out peat to use as fuel in medieval times. Over 900 million cubic feet of peat were extracted… all by hand! Norwich Cathedral records from the Middle Ages show that the building burned over 400,000 turves of peat a year!
9 David Bowie mentioned the Norfolk Broads in Life on Mars? ‘See the mice in their million hordes, from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.’ Well, he could have used Norwegian fjords, couldn’t he? And while there are many mice in the Broads, the area is better known for birdwatching.
10 In the Southern Broads, in south Norfolk, you’ll still see ‘narrow’ or ‘street’ commons and greens, a reminder of the linear network of grazing verges that were used to sustain livestock on their way to market.
11 There is a street in Norwich called Let’s Be Avenue in honour of Norwich City Football Club Delia Smith’s famous half time rousing speech to supporters.
12 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.
13 Many of the self-contained estate villages in west Norfolk are characterised by attractive Carrstone, 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’.
14 The annual world snail championship is held at Congham. Yes, really! No need to hurry along though…
15 The distinctive look of the Brecks was created by rabbit farming, or warrening, in medieval times. Intensive grazing by the rabbits led to the land turning to sand and gravel, with no vegetation. Charles Dickens wrote how barren the Brecks were in David Copperfield. Oh, the picture above is actually of Grime’s Graves, Neolithic flint mines, in the Brecks… nothing to do with rabbits.
16 17th century Dutch engineers who were draining the Fens had a plan to make Norfolk an island by cutting a canal between the sources of the two rivers Waveney and Little Ouse near Thetford. The principal aim was to make a new shipping channel directly between King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.
17 Norfolk has great malting barley because it’s grown on high land on the Norfolk coast (who said Norfolk was flat?) where it also gets the benefit of salty sea frets, which adds to the flavour!
18 If you stand on the cliffs at Old Hunstanton, otherwise known as Sunny Hunny, and look across the water, that land in the distance is actually Holland. Of course, Norfolk was the last part of England that was still linked by land bridge to the Continent – that’s why ours’ is the Deep History Coast.
19 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.
20 Bishop Henry Despenser was called The Fighting Bishop of Norwich after helping put down the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. The Despenser Retable was hidden in Norwich Cathedral for centuries.
21 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!
22 Quarles, near Wells-next-the-Sea, and Quidenham in the Brecks are the only two Norfolk villages beginning with a Q.
23 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.
24 Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe on the Norfolk coast and learned to sail at Burnham Overy Staithe (above). 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’.
25 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?
26 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!
27 The original Nosey Parker was a Norwich man. Archbishop Matthew Parker was asked by Queen Elizabeth I to make sure there were no plots against her, a task he did by sticking his nose into everybody else’s business. He’s one of the City of Stories’ great notables.
28 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.
29 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’.
30 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! Originally called the ‘Coke hat’, bowlers are still worn by the stewards at the Royal Norfolk Show.
How did you get on? Did you spot the made up ‘facts’. They were 11 (there’s no Let’s Be Avenue in Norwich), 16 (there were no plans to make Norfolk an island… but perhaps there should be?) and 18 (the land you can see from Hunstanton is actually Lincolnshire – look closely and you’ll see the Boston Stump, the tower of St Botolph’s Church, the highest, exclusive of spire, of any parish church in the country). Well done if you got them!
Enjoy your visit to Norfolk!