A photo essay of Norfolk seasons by the sea: summer

We’ve been living by the sea in Norfolk for two and a bit years. This is the first in a series of four photo essays documenting each of the seasons on this coast. With the glorious summer of 2014 just passing, it seemed the right place to start.

The photographs were mainly shot on camera phones, a discipline with its own challenges.

Summer night sky over Blakeney Cut

I returned home to Blakeney Quay after kayaking the harbour on a warm, still July evening. Turning to look back north and west, the quiet glow of the summer night sky continued long after the sun went down. We see this rainbow of the dusk each night from May to July as we walk up to bed, looking out from the staircase window and framed by the gables of old houses. In June it is still there at midnight.

Picnic at Burnham Deepdale

Purslane and muddy sand, the bright colours of mooring buoys and the blue expanse of the Norfolk sky. Taken as we sat for a quick picnic at Burnham Deepdale, on our way to collect weekend house guests from Kings Lynn station – a recurring theme of summer when your family realises you live in a house by the sea with spare bedrooms!

Mucky paws

Ankle deep in squelching mud from a walk down the harbour at low tide. It’s always fun to see how visitors from the city react to what our little nephew calls ‘The Blakeney Blurgie’.

Black bream

Taken at Cley Beach, cooking locally caught fish over a charcoal grill. Light the barbecue, dive into the waves and swim as the smell of the fire drifts over the water. By the time you’re out, the coals are ready to cook. We love it best on a Sunday evening, when the coast empties of weekenders and there’s still time for an evening on the beach before the working week.

Samphire is at its most tender in early summer. We always pickle some to stow away in jars and eat at Christmas. I love to go early on a summer’s morning to cut a few tips for a breakfast of scrambled eggs and samphire on sour dough bread.

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The summer of 2014 will be remembered for the endless bounty of strawberries. These were some of our own and, once we’d picked all those, we had them for several months from neighbouring Wiveton Hall and Sharrington, a few miles inland.

Picnicking in the church yard at Cley under an impossibly blue sky.

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Taken in the Glaven Valley, between the ford at Glanford and Bayfield Hall. It is a staggeringly beautiful spot and sometimes I’ll just stand on the bridge looking South down the valley, drinking it all in.

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It was one of those special days when the summer sun is high in a blue sky, but little patches of coastal fog hung beside the sea. This was taken at Kelling Quag, a remote pond you pass on the way down a long lane to the deserted beach at Kelling Hard.

It is impossible to sit on one of Norfolk’s pebble beaches and not play with the stones: to throw or collect or build. Cley, after a swim.

Sunset through the fishing pots at Cley

The sun sets over the water at Cley Beach throughout the summer. We will often sit in the lee of an old fishing boat, between the sea and the pots, keeping warm by the charcoal barbecue after an evening swim.

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The Watch House stay

Having lived in Blakeney for two years and three summers we have only just made our first trip to the Watch House! (Half Way House to you Cley residents) What an oversight!! We should have done this every year, and will from here on in. Our adventure started with a vision. A raft. A swimming platform. This dream has taken us all summer. By which, I mean, we have sporadically made a token effort to build said raft. But the trip was upon us and we had no means of transporting our provisions. So a last ditch effort was made and the raft took form. Largely untested I was nervous it would even float and when high tide and sunset on an overcast day coincide, there is little margin for error. Luckily she floated! A gusty north wind and the tide against us we made quite a spectacle on the quay.
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A good while later we arrived and could not have felt more grateful or cozy anywhere else in the world after that ordeal.

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The morning was clear and bright and many adventures were had, including mud racing, skim boarding, swimming in the waves, cub, and most importantly the BBQ!

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As sunset approached our raft became a swimming platform swiftly followed by a kayak with a seal for the boys and wine on the dock for the girls. Dinner mainly consisted of cheese and wine and cards.

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Breakfast BBQ anyone? Bubble and squeak with samphire, sausages, bacon, fried and poached eggs and grilled tomatoes! I always make a point of travelling with a chef!

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All too soon it was time to go. We packed up the raft and dragged it out into the main channel. The return trip could not have been more different to the way out! We casually drifted into Blakeney and arrived in style on the quay.

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What a trip. What a place. A mile from my house we found a little paradise. Holiday is definitely a state of mind. I can only advise annexing a small spit of land like a pirate to everyone to make you forget your problems.

A night to swim

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It was a still evening and the tide was ebbing slowly. Away to the West, the sun glowed red and low behind the Holkham pines. If ever there was a night to swim in the green waters of Blakeney’s harbour channel…

I walked down to the old houseboat and swam back up towards the quay, against the tide, and with Bonzo paddling away beside me, lay back and let the cool evening water drift me back to my starting point.

In the distance, calling across the marsh from Cley, the first big skeins of geese were filling the sky with their clamour, speaking of seasons’ change.

Sunset swimming at Cley

Sunset at Cley Beach
Sunset at Cley Beach

I was out after dinner for a stroll down the harbour at Blakeney when I noticed the wind, which had been blowing all day from the south west, had dropped to a whisper. The pools of water left in the Cut were almost flat calm.

I hurried back home, grabbed a towel and my bike to pedal down to Cley. I arrived about 15 minutes before sunset, swam East for a while and then turned to swim back towards the setting sun in the West.

We haven’t had a calm evening like that for a long time at Cley; just perfect for swim before bedtime and watching the incredible colours as the sun dipped into the glassy water.

Sundown at Cley Beach
Sundown at Cley Beach

Jo Lawrence captures the spirit of the East coast

The Longshore by Jo Lawrence
The Longshore by Jo Lawrence

We often visit the Pink Foot Gallery in Cley when we’re out walking along the coast. Gallery owners’ Sarah and Rachel’s selection, from sculpture to water colours, is always a pleasure to explore – and frequently refreshed.

Time and again I find myself drawn to the paintings they have by Jo Lawrence. The one above, in particular, seems to capture the diffuse feeling of coastal light which occurs when the haze is backlit by a low sun. It reminds me of times I have walked down the Blakeney Harbour at low tide, or kayaked over to the sea bank near the Watch House on the Point and swum in those remote waters.

It is rare to find your own imagination captured, unknowingly, on canvas.

Google Maps link.

First swim at Cley and first of the Cromer Crab

First swim of the year at Cley; colder than it looked
First swim of the year at Cley; colder than it looked

When we moved to the coast last year I imagined swimming in the sea every day. Naively, I thought I’d simply make sure I went in daily, such that a consecutive day would never be that much colder than the previous one. I presumed I’d just gradually become acclimatised if I could stick to this routine.

The particularly bleak spell of Arctic winds and snow from the North East put an end to such plans and the last time I went in was a couple of weeks before Christmas.

I’ve been watching the weather every day since, waiting for a day like yesterday, when the winds were light and from the South and the sun was shining. The water is at its coldest at this time of year, having lost all of its temperature over the long winter, so the key thing is to ensure that, upon emerging from the sea, there’s not a freezing wind chilling you to the bone before you can get dry.

Even with the sun shining, blue sky and a gentle breeze at Cley Beach, I though it best to warm up with a run and a quick bike ride and to pack a big towel and some warm clothes. Suitably invigorated by the exercise, I took the plunge. The water was burningly cold, but I wanted this to be more than a splash and dash affair: if I could swim in these temperatures, then it would only get better for the rest of the year. I managed just a few minutes, time for some frenzied front crawl westwards, and back east again to my start point.

There’s no denying this a masochistic pleasure. At this time of year it is more about the feeling of leaving the water and getting warm than it is about the joy of swimming itself. However, it reminded me how lucky we are to live close enough to swim in the sea daily and the glowing feeling of total refreshment it brings.

Wrapped in a big woolly sweater and windproof jacket, I lay back on the beach, basking in the sun, watching birds and vapour trails making patterns in the deep pool of the sky. The only sounds were of the waves gently churning at the shoreline and, further down the beach, the crab boats getting ready to go out for the first time this year.

Crab boats going out for the first time this year at Cley Beach
Crab boats going out for the first time this year at Cley Beach

The weather, it seems, had been holding them back too. Usually they would have been out earlier in the year, but these two little boats, probably about 16 foot, were venturing out for the first time yesterday.

They launch from tractor and trailer off the shelving shingle beach, loaded with pots for the crab, going out around low tide and returning on the high tide. You can buy direct if you’re there when they come back in.

‘Cromer crab’ is renowned, coming from the waters near a chalky reef that stretches for several miles along the coast. Apparently this unique habitat imparts a particularly delicious taste. The season is just starting and will last until autumn, with oysters and lobster coming a bit later.

I usually buy mine from the little shed in someone’s back garden: look for the sign on the A149 coast road as you drive through Blakeney.