Keep driving north across East Anglia and you'll eventually reach (any one of a number of Norfolk coastal settlements, but for the purposes of today's post let's assume) Cromer. A clifftop town, and a long-standing seaside resort, you'd more than likely prefer to visit Cromer in the summer. I visited in the off-season between Christmas and New Year, for four hours before my Dad's car park ticket ran out, and the place was busier than you might have expected.[photo]
The Esplanade: Author A C Swinburne described Cromer as "an esplanady sort of place" which, if nothing else, gives you a new word to use when playing Scrabble. The Esplanade runs for about a mile beneath the cliffs, accessible from the main town via zigzag ramps, vertiginous staircases or a steep slipway. At this time of year the ice cream shop is very closed, but you can buy burgers and candy floss from Starvin Marvin's trailer or nip into an illuminated shed that acts as an amusement arcade. Swinburne's words are etched into the paving beneath the clifftop, along with a rather less positive quote from a young Winston Churchill - "I am not enjoying myself very much". Perhaps he visited in December. [photo]
The beach: Cromer's beach is rather good - mostly sand but with a wide assortment of variegated pebbles dumped above the high tide mark. Dogs, and their owners, make the most of this damp playground during the off-season, splashing through the wavelets and leaping over the wooden groynes. The fishing industry lives on, although there's no harbour so the few small boats have to be pulled down to the sea by decrepit vintage tractors [photo]. No crabs emerged yesterday, but two fishermen laid their haul of open-mouthed fish on the quayside before returning to throw any small fry back into the water. A row of 60-or-so primary-coloured beach huts stretches off beneath the eastern cliffs, not a single one of them occupied, more likely sealed by a weatherproof padlock until Easter comes round again.
Cromer Pier: An abnormal pier, this, and relatively short, but much loved. At the landward end is Tides restaurant, which aims above the usual fish and chips but isn't quite cordon bleu. Opposite is the Footprints gift shop, the sort of place where you can buy gift mugs featuring your favourite breed of dog or a pink pinboard in the shape of a cupcake. The middle section of the pier is fairly empty, though an ideal place to dangle a line if the tide's in and the sun's out. And then the legendary Pavilion Theatre, one of Britain's very few offshore places of entertainment, which still reels in thousands of punters to its variety shows. The Christmas Seaside Special has been running all month, twice daily, to what I suspect is an audience of mostly coachloaded pensioners. There's still time to catch Olly Day and Jo Little (and the children from Cromer's own Marlene's School of Dancing) in their sparkly medley of wit and music before the curtain falls on Sunday. [nothing to see here][photo]
The Lifeboat Station: The RNLI raises more money in Cromer than anywhere else in Britain, which may be because they have two separate lifeboats and a museum. The offshore lifeboat is based at the end of the pier, beyond the theatre, while the inshore lifeboat runs from a boathouse on the beach. Alongside this is a tapering building erected six years ago to house the Henry Blogg Museum, a tribute to Cromer's George-Cross-winning coxswain. Obviously I was raring to visit, but opening hours are limited in December so I had to make do with a hot chocolate from the excellent Rocket House Cafe upstairs instead. The place was packed, as befits a contemporary locally-sourced venue, and my Dad recommends the curried parsnip soup (if it's ever on the menu again).
Xmas decorations: The few lights draped across the main shopping streets are nothing special. But outside the parish church stands an impressive-looking Christmas tree made of piled-up lobster pots and decorated with orange buoys. Only in Cromer.