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‘Customers from as far as Leicestershire’: How things are looking on the Norfolk coast

PUBLISHED: 08:21 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 08:24 23 May 2020

Crowds flock to Hunstanton on a sunny day. Visitors have been urged to observe social distancing Picture: Chris Bishop

Crowds flock to Hunstanton on a sunny day. Visitors have been urged to observe social distancing Picture: Chris Bishop

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Things are getting heated on our Norfolk coast. In normal times the hot weather would be welcome to the many communities who rely on it to thrive. But these are not normal times and thousands heading to the coast have caused concerns they could help cause a second coronavirus spike. Chris Bishop spoke to those affected.

Retired engineer David Tate, 77, was out on the links at Old Hunstanton on the hottest day of the year  Picture: Chris BishopRetired engineer David Tate, 77, was out on the links at Old Hunstanton on the hottest day of the year Picture: Chris Bishop

While one side of Norfolk was heaving, the other was heaving a sigh of relief.

Appeals to stay away from the coast went unheeded as the hottest day of the year brought sunseekers flocking to the seaside.

Hunstanton was packed by afternoon, with hundreds of cars crammed into the cliff top car park and Cliff Parade.

Messages from primary school pupils are displayed at the church at Brancaster in Norfolk.  One asks visitors to stay away from the coastal village  Picture: Chris BishopMessages from primary school pupils are displayed at the church at Brancaster in Norfolk. One asks visitors to stay away from the coastal village Picture: Chris Bishop

MORE: ‘Do the right thing’: Police chief’s concern about people heading to beaches

The influx did not go down well with some villagers in Old Hunstanton, where trippers were parking on verges along the narrow lanes.

Retired engineer David Tate missed the rush with an early morning round of golf on the nearby links.

Cattle cool off in a lake at Stiffkey in Norfolk on the hottest day of the year  Picture: Chris BishopCattle cool off in a lake at Stiffkey in Norfolk on the hottest day of the year Picture: Chris Bishop

Mr Tate, 77, admitted he had missed not being able to tee off for weeks at the height of lockdown.

“We’ve had to find other things to keep ourselves amused,” he said. “It’s not been easy.”

Children from Brancaster Primary School have drawn messages displayed outside the church in the centre of the village, where visitors turn off the main road for the beach. One read simply: “Stay at home.”

Sailing barge Juno at Blakeney Harbour in Norfolk  Picture: Chris BishopSailing barge Juno at Blakeney Harbour in Norfolk Picture: Chris Bishop

But the village’s beach and nearby Burnham Overy Staithe were busy by lunchtime all the same.

Those hoping for easy access to Holkham and Wells beaches were greeted by closed car parks. While some turned away, others parked on verges on the main A149 coast road and trekked across the fields and marshes for their seaside fix.

A herd of Highland cattle which were grazing near Stiffkey had the right idea as temperatures topped 25C. The animals took to part of a flooded meadow to cool down.

Charlie Ward at work on the sailing barge Juno, at Blakeney Harbour in Norfolk  Picture: Chris BishopCharlie Ward at work on the sailing barge Juno, at Blakeney Harbour in Norfolk Picture: Chris Bishop

Traffic was light through the village, whose narrow flint-walled roads become congested in the holiday season.

It was a similar story in Blakeney, where the harbour was deserted.

“It’s probably because the car park’s closed and people have to self distance,” said Emma Darby, who runs a snack van at the beauty spot.

Morston Harbour in Norfolk  Picture: Chris BishopMorston Harbour in Norfolk Picture: Chris Bishop

Charlie Ward, at work on the sailing barge Juno, was one of the few people about.

“This is busy compared to the last couple of weeks,” he said. “It’ll be a different story when the car parks reopen.”

Neighbouring Morston was also dead. Boats which carry thousands of visitors to see the seals and wildlife each summer can’t sail because crew and passengers can’t socially distance on board.

Cromer beach on a quiet day during lockdown.  Picture: Chris BishopCromer beach on a quiet day during lockdown. Picture: Chris Bishop

“It’s lovely,” said one woman out walking her dog. “I just wish it could stay like it.”

Several beaches were quiet further around the coast, with the swathe of sand between Cromer and Overstrand almost deserted.

Villagers in lockdown have organised a competition on social media to find the dog which looks the most like its owner.

Billy Henderson, who has run an ice cream van on the coast road at Sheringham for six years, said trade was quiet  Picture: Chris BishopBilly Henderson, who has run an ice cream van on the coast road at Sheringham for six years, said trade was quiet Picture: Chris Bishop

Ice cream man Billy Henderson wasn’t exactly coining it in on his pitch on the A149 near Sheringham.

“This road’s been a lot busier than this,” he said. “I had customers from Leicestershire yesterday and the day before, they said they were out for a ride. I think the weekend will be busier.”

Most of North Norfolk council’s car parks were closed along with those owned by the Holkham Estate and are set to remain so this weekend. Officials hope the move will help to deter visitors.

A sign at the cliff top car park at Hunstanton in Norfolk warns visitors about coronavirus Picture: Chris BishopA sign at the cliff top car park at Hunstanton in Norfolk warns visitors about coronavirus Picture: Chris Bishop

But it remains to be seen whether it will merely displace the crowds who venture out in search of fresh air and sunshine elsewhere - such as Old Hunstanton.

On Wednesday, the cliff top car park was packed with hundreds of cars, as temperatures soared and sunseekers flocked to the beach. But some parked selfishly elsewhere, upsetting residents.

MORE: Coronavirus second spike fears spark plea over Bank Holiday weekend trips to coast

“Hundreds flocked to our beach today,” said one. “Boris Johnson has allowed idiots to return to our homes and areas we live and spread the Covid-19.”

David McLeod, chair of Old Hunstanton Parish Council, said the closure of car parks further around the coast had displaced visitors westwards where facilities were open.

Mr McLeod said the parish council had no powers to take action over the problem.

“All we can do is advise people to report it to police,” he said. “It’s annoying because we had an influx of second home owners after the pandemic started.”


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