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Norfolk ghost villages break my heart - meanwhile Wells is rammed

PUBLISHED: 06:11 20 July 2019

Skip shares a parochial gospel from the pulpit of St Mary’s Church at North Elmham

Skip shares a parochial gospel from the pulpit of St Mary's Church at North Elmham

Archant

Keith Skipper says Norfolk parking situation needs a rethink with some places empty and others full to bursting

Where have all the people gone? A question I pose mournfully on passing through so many Norfolk "ghost" villages on my social and working rounds.

Plenty of glossy new cars planted outside good-looking houses with enough surrounding greenery and rustic props to hint at appreciation of living in the country.

Scarcely a soul in sight to match traditional virtues of mardling, mingling, mooching and making your views known over the garden hedge or shop counter. A farmer or anyone else on a bike is a rarity.

So who are lurking behind closed curtains at Thistledew, Dunroamin, Osocozy, Pasture Best, Slowyewdown and Ye Olde Poste Office? Why do well-heeled Folk from The Smoke and other dubious cradles of civilisation seem to chase rural retreats merely to offer extremely good impressions of people and places left behind?

I suspect some answers may be tied up with recent kerfuffles about second homers, particularly in and around "Chelsea-on-Sea", and a rising tide of tourists washing over local priorities in coastal hot-spots.

Perhaps the timing and tenor of these surveys and ensuing debates is rather curious, bang in the middle of another clarion call from vested interests for more to join the Norfolk Appreciation Society. Even so, it would be dangerous to duck the serious issues involved.

Too simplistic as well to tell an ever-hungry holiday industry it is high time to reap what has been sown. But I will go so far as to claim any campaign to treat special places as areas of outstanding booty, maximising commercial advantages at expense of the natural environment, is bound to end in lasting pain.

It has been more customary in the recent past to leave any kind of inquest into mounting summer pressures until the season of mists and mellow ruefulness. I recall the rustle of regular consultation papers from the Countryside Commission and other well-meaning bodies throughout closing years of last century.

Rather than signal winters of serious discontent over adequate rural protection and coastal threats from tourism, recreation and erosion, these documents simply gathered dust on a shelf marked "Urgent Action Needed!".

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Now, as obvious worries accumulate, it must be a small step in the right direction to recognise immediately how "unspoilt" areas are being turned into massive car parks. When popular locations like Wells complain loudly they can't cope with so many visitors, it must be time for a brave new attitude towards an old dilemma.

The grim alternative could be giant flashing screens on various entrances into Norfolk revealing numbers of parking spaces left in our most alluring destinations - a bit like travelling into Norwich to sample festive season shopping delights from late September.

Back to conundrum of the hour and eerie lack of human activity on our village scene. We have long accepted the loss of proud armies serving farms and fields since the blizzard of mechanisation flattened history. For all that, most country communities have grown in size since but shrivelled rapidly in character.

I am seriously tempted to go back 250 years for a possible explanation in Oliver Goldsmith's evocative poem The Deserted Village. I don't know where he parked his wagon before writing:

Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay …

Where to search for salvation? Well, I tried the parish church at North Elmham for galvanising qualities rather than pass through this expanding mid-Norfolk village as usual when my home patch calls.

I took to the pulpit at St Mary's for Squit, Wit and Strawberries, sharing a blatantly parochial gospel in the name of important fundraising to keep this wonderful old building fit for service. We raised nearly £550 to make a useful dent in a massive target.

Yes, several old friends in a lively congregation, some as grateful as me that back-stretching hours of fruit-picking are distant memories. But an upright sense of purpose and pride among long-term residents and comparative newcomers joining forces "to do something important for our community".

North Elmham is better placed than many when it comes to local facilities - two pubs, a store, post office with tearoom, school, doctors' surgery, garage and a fish and chip shop for starters. A layer of old-fashioned values to protect that impressive list.

Still, we all know the proof of community pudding is in the eating. Preferably at a crowded table with strawberries and the cream of local society.

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