Talk of the county:

The coast is com­mon. Not just chips and ar­cade com­mon, which is great, but vast swathes of open-to-all com­mon space

Norfolk - - CONTENTS - Rowan Man­tell rowan.man­[email protected]

Rowan Man­tell has gone to the beach

‘Gone to the beach.’ ‘If I’m not here, I’m at the beach.’ ‘At the beach, back dune.’ They might be a lit­tle clichéd, or even pun-aw­ful in the case of the last one, which I won’t be copy­right­ing, but I love the feel­ing be­hind those pieces of drift­wood or ocean-smoothed stones, art­fully hand-painted in shades of sea blue and sand yel­low. Sim­i­lar signs hang in count­less coastal shops and cafes, so much more sum­mery and de­scrip­tive than a curt ‘Closed.’

Ev­ery Au­gust an urge to throw off city clothes and con­ven­tions, to gather tow­els and cos­tumes, pic­nic food and rugs, bats, balls and boules, washes over our is­land nation. We surge to the coast, wave af­ter wave of fam­i­lies, cou­ples, friends, peo­ple on their own seek­ing sea­side soli­tude – fo­cused on fun, fresh air, fish’n’chips and the far hori­zon.

The sea­side is si­mul­ta­ne­ously a play­ground we’ve known and loved from child­hood, a par­adise of sun-kissed re­lax­ation and some­where mys­te­ri­ous and con­stantly chang­ing.

I love the nei­ther-land-nor­wa­ter-ness of the coast, the in­tri­cate pat­terns of mud paths and creeks which wind through salt­marshes, the shin­ing ex­panses of wet low-tide sand, the bub­bling wave­lets shim­mer­ing on to dry sand at high tide. Al­though I know that tide ta­bles are worked out years ahead, I’ve never quite grasped how the align­ment of earth, moon and sun com­mands the ad­vance and re­treat of so much wa­ter.

The tides rolling around our coast are as beau­ti­ful and mys­te­ri­ous as the day­light stream­ing across the sea from the east ev­ery morn­ing and the molten sun pool­ing over the edge of the west­ern wa­ter each evening.

In Nor­folk our old­est hu­man his­tory is be­ing un­cov­ered along the coast, with Holme’s Sea­henge, and Hap­pis­burgh’s 800,000-yearold hu­man foot­prints.

More of those home­spun­wis­dom signs ask us to take only mem­o­ries, leave only foot­prints.

In Nor­folk we can still leave foot­prints along much of our near 100 miles of coast – ei­ther by fol­low­ing the fab­u­lous longdis­tance foot­path which now holds al­most the whole of the county in its cagoule-clad hug, or on our abun­dance of beaches.

Cen­turies ago al­most ev­ery vil­lage had com­mon land. Much of it has been taken from us in the course of 1,000 years – by Nor­man in­vaders, by the es­ta­te­own­ers who fenced it in for their sheep, but the coast is be­ing opened up to us. Its own­er­ship is com­plex, but ac­cess for all via a na­tional coastal path is a won­der­fully sim­ple con­cept.

The Queen ac­tu­ally owns more than half of our coast­line, be­tween low and high wa­ter lines, with the Min­istry of De­fence (that’s us all re­ally) and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties (that’s us too) also hav­ing a big slice of the shore, along with the Na­tional Trust which buys coastal land to pre­serve it from de­vel­op­ment or modern-day en­clo­sure.

Blessed with one of the loveli­est and long­est coast­lines in the coun­try, open to all for free, all the signs are point­ing to a sum­mer of sun, sand and sea.

‘We can still leave foot­prints along much of our near 100 hun­dred miles of coast’

Getty

ABOVE: Sign of happy times

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