I don't fear change in north Norfolk - just keep what makes it special

Wells Harbour master Robert Smith. Picture: Ian Burt

Wells Harbour master Robert Smith. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

For this, my first column, I thought I would write about a topic that so many in our communities have a view on – change.

I constantly hear people say that the North Norfolk Coast is changing and I am sure that it is also said in many areas of Norfolk.

Some long-standing Norfolk families as so frustrated with the changes in their local communities, they are upping sticks and leaving.

I have even heard suggestions that there should be gates on the roads into many of our towns and villages to stop tourists from visiting.

Since before the Middle Ages, visitors from all over Europe have arrived on our shores, landing at small harbours, such as Wells, Blakeney and Cley.

But back then, these ‘tourists’ were called pilgrims, not the slightly condescending modern title of ‘incomers’ or ‘the welly boot brigade’.

A black and white picture of a busy Wells-next-the-Sea

A busy day in old Wells. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection/Norwich Heritage Projects

Looking at my own roots in North Norfolk, dating back to the mid-1700s, my ancestors would have continually witnessed a changing coast, when harbours were full of ships, evolving from sail to steam to motor vessels.

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Long gone are the cargos of coal, timber, animal feeds and grain, their industry being replaced by thousands of visitors crabbing over the harbour wall and eating fish and chips.

Change has been continuous and not all change needs to be perceived as negative.

For example, if you needed to travel to London, one option was a voyage by sea, taking up to two weeks.

Or you could take an uncomfortable, back-breaking trip by stage, taking two days on uneven potholed roads.

Actually, the potholes haven’t changed.

Nowadays, a two-and-a-half-hour journey, down the M11 by car, can take us to the capital.

With the coming of the railways in the mid-1800s, visitors arrived en masse from far and wide, creating many business opportunities for the coastal settlements.

But, long-term, that proved detrimental to the many small ports and their industry.

The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, with boats basking in beautiful sunshine. Picture: DE

The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, with boats basking in beautiful sunshine. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

Some people will always find it difficult to adapt to change, especially when their way of life is being threatened.

Norfolk has a relaxed, slower pace, where local people still take the time to stop in the street and say hello and gossip about everything and anybody.

They are very protective of this less hectic way of life and are not always trusting of new ways of ‘incomers'.

The meaning for ‘local’ in the Collins dictionary, is, ‘existing in or belonging to the area where you live.'

However, is there such a thing as a local in this present day? And does that title give you more rights than an incomer?

To the former, yes - people are still locals. But you don’t need three generations of your family in the local cemetery, like is suggested in Wells, to qualify as local nowadays.

I believe whether you are new to the area or a so-called incomer, once you are here you have become part of the community. You are a local.

Times have changed. We no longer live in a time when people rarely travelled more than a few miles from their town or village.

Incomers bring new skills, experience and objectivity which contributes to growth in our communities.

An aerial photo of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, taken from a drone by Mark Frary. Picture: Mark Fr

An aerial photo of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, taken from a drone by Mark Frary. Picture: Mark Frary - Credit: Archant

We need to move with the times, as standing still is not an option, otherwise the constant evolution of change will overtake us.

However, there needs to be a balance so we can manage change sensitively. If it’s handled correctly and not stifled by the red tape of bureaucracy from agencies and government bodies, it can bring many opportunities for the benefit of all.

We are privileged to live in such a special area of the country. The Norfolk Coast has been discovered.

People will increasingly visit and relocate here, so I believe the way forward is to embrace change with all its challenges.

By planning sensitively, we won’t spoil the very reason our coast is so popular.

Its unspoilt beauty and natural environment need not be negatively impacted by the evolution of change.

It’s not so much what we do, but how we do it, that will leave a positive legacy for future generations.

"Fresh Air & Freedom."