3.3 Losing Edges: Norfolk Coast

The Norfolk Coast seaside towns have long been a favourite tourist destination. Although these days travel by Victorian railways has been largely replaced by road. The coast road between Hunstanton to Happisburgh and Sea Palling is dotted with many beaches and (crumbling) scenic cliffs.

The area has a long and rich history – with the earliest human footprints outside Africa – and close ties to continental Europe through Kings Lynn on the Wash estuary. The seaside towns are lively in summer, day trippers from large towns like Norwich and King Lynn, second home owners from London and tourists coming from many part of UK to enjoy the good climate staying in holiday cottages and the large number of caravan and camping sites. But in winter they are cold and deserted with fewer tourists so far from London and large towns, and with a large percentage of the local population having been forced out by exorbitant house prices. The area is very environmentally vulnerable and the coastline is shrinking.

Project possibilities

The Norfolk Coast is close to Cambridge, and also near to my partner’s parents’ house. Snettisham is only an hour’s drive from Cambridge and a place that we go frequently for days out. Other places have good campsites that are also close for short weekend holidays at different times of the year. In winter it is also relatively deserted, we have somewhere to stay and so it is very convenient to continue a project even with most COVID restrictions. I have digital photographs dating back to 2008, taken on a range of old compact, iPhone and DSLR cameras, including my first distorted but potentially intriguing experiments with panoramas.

Possibilities I am considering for this project are to:

  • explore journey documentary using our car video cam as a new way of recording, possibly editing this as a short moving and still image animation for You Tube.
  • continue to work with photography, taking new image series, informed by on-line research and conversations with people I meet for some sort of documentary Photobook, following traditions of seaside photography or Scarfolk-style satire.
  • make some psycho-geographic maps as large long card cut prints, both for book illustration and possibly as wall images in their own right.
  • look at producing a series of images with documentary interest that can be used as ‘nostalgia cards’ in the style of Frances Frith and/or reproduced in photography-based printmaking media like screenprints or possibly solar prints and cyanotype.

Snettisham and Heacham

Snettisham is the first coastal holiday resort along the Wash Estuary from Kings Lynn. The Snettisham coast looks across the square-mouthed estuary at the county of Lincolnshire, only 15 miles (24 km) away. It is Norfolk’s only West-facing beach and known for its dramatic sunsets. It is a major stopping point for geese migrations in the winter, and has huge dramatic skies.

Snettisham (‘Snaet’s/Sneti’s homestead/village’ the manor is also spelt Snesham and  Nestesham) has a long history. It is the site of the iron age Snettisham Hoard discovered 1948-1973 and including nearly 180 gold torcs. In 1985 there was also a find of Romano-British jewellery and raw materials buried in a clay pot in AD 155, the Snettisham Jeweller’s Hoard. These may be evidence of a long tradition of gold- and silver-working in the area. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it was part of a manor included West Newton, Castle Rising and Weston Longville under ownership divided between William de Warenne and the Bishop of Bayeux.  St Mary’s Church in the village has a 14th-century, 172-foot (52 m) high spire, a landmark for ships in The Wash, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “perhaps the most exciting Decorated church in Norfolk”.

The River Ingol runs to the south of the village upon which stands the now unused Snettisham watermill.

Traces of the railway station and railway line can still be seen the service which was opened in 1862 was terminated in 1969.

Snettisham RSPB reserve is 2 miles (3.2 km) to the west of Snettisham village with bird lagoons and bird observation hides, including a rotary hide.

A little further along within walking distance are the ‘Stubborn Sands’ of Heacham, with its sprawling static caravan sites and water sports.


Hunstanton is a 19th-century resort town, initially known as New Hunstanton to distinguish it from the adjacent village from which it took its name. Old Hunstanton village is of prehistoric origin and lies near to the head of Peddars Way. In 1846, Henry Styleman Le Strange (1815–1862), decided to develop the area south of Old Hunstanton as a bathing resort. He brought a group of like-minded investors into the construction of a railway line from King’s Lynn. By the 1860s the Lynn and Hunstanton Railway became one of the most consistently profitable in the country. Hunstanton was badly hit by the North Sea Flood of 1953. The wall of water on the night of 31 January – 1 February killed 31 people in the town with 35 more victims in neighbouring places such as Snettisham and Heacham. The seafront was also damaged in the 2013 storm surge but had been repaired by the time of these photos.

This series of photos from New Year’s Day 2015 were accepted, with some others, for Shutterstock. I am aiming to develop them, with new images from winter 2019 around the theme of seaside towns in winter – including any further storm damage.

North West Marshes

North West Norfolk has a large stretch of marshland on the Norfolk Coast Path in the district of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. The silted estuaries are now a relatively remote area about 20 miles from King’s Lynn and 30 miles from Norwich, very important for birdlife as well as walking. Historically from at least Roman times until Tudor times??, the estuary towns were important ports in the wool trade to Netherlands and some of the largest and busiest in the country.

The Burnhams are seven adjacent villages: Burnham NortonBurnham OveryBurnham ThorpeBurnham SuttonBurnham Ulph and Burnham Westgate. The last three form the continuous settlement of Burnham Market. Lots of Lord Nelson pubs to commemorate everywhere he touched – and some places he never went.Burnham Market was rated as among the “20 most beautiful villages in the UK and Ireland” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2020.


Historically Burnham Overy on the River Burn was the port for the surrounding villages of the Burnhams. Burnham Deepdale and Burnham Overy Staithe can be combined in a single walk, with views of Scolthead and nature reserves on one side and the windmill and town of Burnham Norton on the right. Holkham Estate is 3 miles further along the beach or coast path to the east. Google Map


Project possibilities

This project builds on photographic work in 2019-2020. My partner has to look after his father’s house in Burnham Market over the coming year and he will be visiting frequently, so it will be an ideal opportunity for repeated derives 2021-2022. With family ties to the place we also have a good basis on which to get to know local people and learn more about the area. There are many tourist shops selling art and prints in Burnham market and other nearby seaside towns.

For this project possible ideas are:

  • a short derive walk around Burnham Market based on sketches and/or Scarfolk-style photomontage based on psycho-geographical walks and (COVID safety permitting) hanging around in pubs and cafes in Burnham Market with all its upmarket second homes and class distinctions.
  • psycho-geographic and personal reflections on historical, environmental and social issues marshes as a short walk guide with minimalist, quite haunting sketches or drypoint or other prints.
  • photographic single images of the marsh areas to produce a series of visually interesting photographic prints and cards, and images in printmaking media on environmental challenges of marshland management for the local tourist market.

Burnham Overy Staithe

Between Burnham Overy Staithe and the sea, the river spreads out into multiple tidal creeks through the salt marshes that fringe this stretch of coast, and finally reaches the sea by passing through the fronting sand dunes at a gap locally known as Burnham Harbour. Small boats can reach Burnham Overy Staithe through this gap and creek. Today Burnham Overy Staithe, and the associated harbour, is a major recreational sailing centre. It is also the point of departure for ferries to the Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve.

Photographs September 2018

Burnham Deepdale


Cromer became a resort in the early 19th century, with some of the rich Norwich banking families making it their summer home. Visitors included the future King Edward VII, who played golf here. The resort’s facilities included the late-Victorian Cromer Pier, which is home to the Pavilion Theatre. In 1883 the London journalist Clement Scott went to Cromer and began to write about the area. He named the stretch of coastline, particularly the Overstrand and Sidestrand area, “Poppyland” referring to the numerous poppies which still grow at the roadside and in meadows. The combination of the railway and his writing in the national press brought many visitors. The name “Poppyland”.

This coast is very vulnerable. On 5 December 2013 the town was affected by a storm surge which caused significant damage to the town’s pier and seafront. I want to see what has happened to the scene below taken in 2009, and whether much of it still remains.

The first images top left edit low quality snapshots of the High Street as colour and monochrome images that were acceptable as ‘nostalgia-effect’ images for Shutterstock. I would like to develop street photography in the town further in the style of Martin Parr.

The sea front and Cromer pier built for the Victorian tourist industry is an iconic landmark that makes an interesting ‘Norfolk nostalgia’ screen print.

West Runton and Sheringham

The current town of Sheringham was once Lower Sheringham, a fishing station for the main village, now known as Upper Sheringham. It is a railway town that was developed with the coming of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway line in the late 19th century. Most of Sheringham’s range of buildings and shops come from this period and the early 20th century. Along the fragile sandstone cliffs past Beeston Tor lies West Runton – much of what is shown in these photos from 2011 was washed away in 2013 and also affected by the flooding and heavy rain in 2019. See: https://www.northnorfolknews.co.uk/news/coastguard-warning-of-further-cliff-falls-after-sidestrand-incident-1-6103879

It is a beautiful, and often very uncrowded stretch of coast, particularly outside the school holiday season. The coastline twists to face West towards the Wash, and so has beautiful sunsets. Examples of Photoshop composite developed for Illustration 1 book cover.

The power of the sea is ever present and dramatic. Especially in the Spring tides. The cliffs as they erode have revealed mammoths and and dinosaurs that are kept in Cromer Museum. These are the real vivid colours of the red stone at sunset.

The photos in this post review a number of earlier jpg image series from 2008-2015 and look at ways in which these can be processed in Lightroom, NikFX and Photoshop to be of acceptable quality for Shutterstock. I also like the nostalgia or the place and explore possible vintage treatments for cards and/or Photoscreen. I want to develop these series much further in various ways, retaining the images of scenes that no longer exist and including more street photography and landscape around themes of seaside towns in winter, and fragility of our coastline.


The place-name ‘Happisburgh’ is first attested in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it appears as Hapesburc. The name means ‘Hæp’s fort or fortified place’.

Happisburgh became a site of national archaeological importance in 2010 when flint tools 800,000 – 900,000 years old were unearthed. In May 2013, a series of early human footprints were discovered on the beach at the site, providing direct evidence of early human activity at the site. This is the oldest evidence of human occupation anywhere in the UK, and the footprints the earliest found so far outside Africa.

he coastal part of the village is subject to frequent coastal erosion: houses that in 1998 had been over 20 feet (6 m) from the sea now sit at the edge of a cliff and are expected to fall into the sea. Sea defences were built in 1959 to slow the erosion. Changes in government policy mean that coastal protection in Happisburgh is no longer fundable from central government. Beach Road that leads into the sea is being constantly eroded, and the nearest houses shown in the adjacent photograph were demolished in 2012 as a part of a coast management scheme.


Sea Palling

The last seaside resort before turning inland to Norwich is Sea Palling.

The Domesday Book (1086) records that Palling comprised nine villagers and fourteen smallholders. There were 20 acres (8.1 ha) of meadow, 14 wild mares, two cobs, 23 pigs and 71 sheep with a total value of £4.00. It was surrounded by areas of salt marsh.

Inhabited since pre-history, Sea Palling has been in constant threat from the sea.

  • The town of Waxham Parva disappeared under the waves in the thirteenth century together with its church and some of the land that was part of the large estate of Gelham Hall. One of the earliest accounts was written by John of Oxendes, a monk at nearby St Benet’s Abbey, in which he relates the destruction wrought by the great storm of 1287:

the sea, agitated by the violence of the wind, burst through its accustomed limits, occupying towns, fields and other places adjacent to the coast … it suffocated or drowned men and women sleeping in their beds, with infants in their cradles … and it tore up houses from their foundations, with all they contained and threw them into the sea with irrevocable damage.

By 1604 neighbouring Eccles on Sea had lost 66 houses and more than 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of land. Three years later Palling’s defences were breached and Waxham was flooded in 1655 and 1741. The 18th century owner of Waxham, Sea Palling and Horsey, Sir Berney Brograve, by reviving a previous Act of Parliament, unsuccessfully tried to have the sea breaches repaired after many destructive inundations of his estate. Lack of proper maintenance of the dunes led to continuous breaches and it was not until the nineteenth century that a programme of sea defence work was started. The North Sea flood of 1953 took the lives of seven villagers – some of the 100 who perished in Norfolk alone. A memorial plaque is in St Margaret’s Church. Following this tragedy the sea wall was extended in 1986 and in 1995 the Environment Agency undertook a multimillion-pound project erecting four barrier reefs then later in 1998 put up five more to make them more effective.

The coast is still hazardous and in December 1948 a steamer The Bosphorous was ensnared on the offshore Haisborough Sands and its cargo of oranges was jettisoned. To a populace emerging from the privations of war, the sight of the beaches strewn with loose and crated oranges was “miraculous” and revived another Palling custom – that of plunder. The inhabitants of 1948 could trace this pastime back for centuries when the scavengers of wrecks were known as “pawkers”, despite the attempts of the Lords of the Manor to claim all shipwreck. Perhaps the greatest coup was the wreck of Lady Agatha in 1768 with a cargo valued at £50,000 – none of which was recovered by authorities.

The sea also provided opportunities:

  • smuggling reached its peak in the mid-1770s. Revenue cutters patrolled the coast and there were seizures of tea, Geneva and other spirits on several occasions and it is reputed that Palling was the headquarters of a band of armed smugglers.
  • To counter smuggling a Coastguard service was established in 1822 and a station was built at Palling.
  • Alongside this there was also salvage work. Local fishermen became organised into companies and bought themselves fast sailing yawls. There were two beach companies based at Palling, known locally as the Blues and the Whites. It was a perilous occupation and the demands for exorbitant payments may be excusable given the dangers involved. The companies prospered with the increase in maritime shipping and by 1838 had brick built sheds for storage and a lookout built to watch over the Haisborough Sands. On 16 December 1842 one of the boats was lost with five crew and a few weeks later a yawl went down with the loss of seven crew. The impact on the village was immense as most of the drowned were young men with families.

Away from the sea, villagers maintained an agricultural existence. There was also, for a time, some brick making. The bricks were transported by wherry along the New Cut to various Broadland staithes. The industry ended around the start of the 20th century and the kilns dismantled.