I was privileged to join the Christ Church Bedford, Beach Party group who left at 9.00am by coach for Hunstanton on the Norfolk coast, some 90 miles from Bedford. We drove through fields of ripening corn dotted here and there with red poppies. Swathes of white,
yellow and magenta wild flowers brightened the roadside verges. Wild cherries ripened
and dog roses spilled out of the hedgerows in places, between the cream panicles of elderflowers and brambles and crab apple were starting to fruit.
We turned off towards Kings Lynne and drove through the flat farmlands; lone homesteads and barns squatting amongst the flat acres of ripening wheat. Irrigation ditches and canals bisected the fields with the arms of windmills standing sentinel over the ripening crops of potatoes, spring greens and barley.
Norfolk is Nelson’s country; he was born in Burnham Thorpe in 1758. We passed Kings Lynne, a market town and seaport originating in the 14th century as a port of trade. Wisbeck Chapel founded by non-conformists in 1638 was also along this route. We drove alongside the River Ouse, which exits into ‘The Wash’, a rectangular bay on the North Sea where the estuaries of the Nene, The Great River Ouse, Witham, Welland and Glen all come together and pour out into the sea.
Hunstanton, welcomed us with a bright stand of poppies, yellow and white daisies and blue cornflowers as we entered this coastal town on the banks ofthe ‘Wash’. They reminded me of the artificial flowers my Granny Smith used to put on her straw hats. The majority of folk wanted to get to the seaside, but three of us wanted to go to the Norfolk Lavender Farm, so when everyone was offloaded we continued another 10 minutes to the Farm.
This was a wonderful sensory experience with the heady scents of the herb and lavender gardens. Magnificent heads of scented roses almost two feet across smelt divine. After our fill of these refreshing smells, we headed back to join the Beach Party who had pegged their claim on a section of the pebble beach.
The tide was out and the sea was incredibly far away, you could hardly see it for all the sandbars as the beach is so flat. People could be seen paddling about a mile away. There was an Amphibian boat to drive far out to the open water if you wanted to get right out to sea. It was a beautiful, still calm day. This was a strange experience for me who is used to the crashing waves along the coast off Cape Town.
I walked along the Promenade up to the Coloured Cliffs,a geological feature where the exposed strata of the reddish brown Carstone, the brick red Hunstanton Red Chalk and white and grey colours of the Fernby Chalk formation showed
their distinctive layers. This richly fossilerous formation dates from the Cretaceous period. I slowly meandered back along the promenade, I was determined to do the seaside thing and have fish and chips. They were exceptionally greasy and tasted like they had been fried in diesel oil; I left most of them to the seagulls. I walked back past the shellfish wagon, which had an array of sea ‘goggas’, that would have offended my Zimbabwean
taste buds, jellied eels, whelks, cockles, crab sticks, ocean pinks, peeled shrimps and prawns. Another sea side ‘must do ‘ is to have an ice cream, so we found one of the many ice cream vendors and had a delicious, chocolate biscuit ice cream cone, the best food of the day!
There was a sandcastle competition for the children back at the beach party. The vicar, Richard Hibbert told us the legend of evil King John who after signing the Magna Carta and escaping from the barons lost the crown jewels whilst crossing The Wash. King John then ate an oyster that was off and died of dysentery two weeks later!
A tired, hot and sunburnt, grumpy group of people and fractious babies climbed back on the coach for the 3 1/2 hr journey home. We were surprised to see hundreds of families of rabbits feeding and frolicking in the late afternoon sun in a traffic circle; as we passed Sandringham Estate the rhododendrons were just fading. We arrived back in Bedford around 8.30 pm. This was quite a different experience from the glorious open and sandy Cape beaches with crashing waves, but I enjoyed it and better understood the English culture of a visit to the seaside described in literature and paintings!