Last weekend, seven days ago today, we had some visitors from London. Nothing remarkable about that I know, but it happens rarely in Beetley. It is a long way for London and Southern friends to travel, and it is nowhere near a station, if they wish to arrive by train. In fact, the closest one is almost twenty miles away. Since we have lived here, we have had a few visitors, but not as many as we might have liked.
My friend Roland, and his girlfriend Christine, had occasion to visit Norfolk. She was originally from this county, but like many others, she left for better opportunities, and wider experiences, once she turned eighteen. She settled in North London, where she still resides. They were going to visit some of her relatives, about thirty miles West of here, and suggested that they come to stay afterwards. I have known Roland since I was 17, so was very pleased that he could make his first visit to our new home here. As I had not seen him since my Mum’s funeral over two years ago, he had never met Ollie either, and he is a dog-lover. We had not met Christine previously, but were sure that anyone who got on so well with Roland would be good company, and likeable. And she was.
As they were having a long lunch with her family, we settled on a cold buffet, to be ready for around 8pm. We had been pleased to hear that they could stay over, and had booked a restaurant for the Sunday, and decided on a trip during the day, where Ollie could accompany us. They arrived on time, and we settled into an evening most convivial. When you have known someone for forty-five years, there is no necessary adjustment when you meet after an absence. It is as if it was a few days ago, rather than years.
The next day after breakfast and the usual preparations, we left a little late, and headed to Walsingham. This small village is home to two of the holiest shrines in England, both Catholic, and Anglican. It has been a place of pilgrimage since before the Norman Conquest, and is home to the famous Priory ruins, the original buildings having been destroyed by order of Henry Vlll. It has a quirky appeal, due to the religious nature of its very existence, and the various architectural styles of the buildings. At least half of the few shops there are selling religious artifacts and shrine souvenirs, making for some unusual window displays. There is even a tiny Orthodox Church, with a metal-covered onion dome. Many people in ecclesiastical dress parade about the village, and lots of nuns are also in evidence. As someone with no religious belief, the place has a theme-park feel to me; yet it is not commercialised, and nothing like Lourdes, despite similar associations. As Roland is a photographer by profession, he was delighted with the photo opportunities afforded by Walsingham, and although Christine knew the place well from her youth, she was happy to see it again. We finished our visit by calling in to the excellent Farm Shop, before heading off to the coast.
As the weather was exceptionally good last Sunday, we made the five mile trip to Wells-Next-The-Sea. I have written a lot about this harbour town previously, and it has become one of our favourite places to visit, since moving here. We went straight to the beach car park, and used the stairs to access the part of the beach where dogs are allowed. Although I say part of the beach, it is actually miles of vast beaches, with the sea some considerable distance away. It was unusually crowded that afternoon, because of the weather no doubt. However, there is room enough for all, and a few hundred yards past the attractive beach huts, we were walking virtually alone, Ollie running around, being chased by Roland. After an hour on the sand, and paddles in the pleasantly warm water, we turned across the dunes, and wandered into the pine forest that runs alongside the beach.
This strip of forest is tranquility itself. Away from the breezes on the beach, crunching the fallen pine cones, and marvelling at the unusual trunk formations, it was like being in a living cathedral of wood. Add the sound of the sea, unseen now to our left, and it is almost the perfect place to spend some time. We wandered back towards the car, reaching it in just under an hour. On the way, we stopped to admire the expanse of inland marshes, and the huge skies, so characteristic of Norfolk. To get to our restaurant along the coast, we took the often narrow coast road, the A149. This road hugs the coast, running through nice countryside on the right, with dramatic sea and marshland views to the left. It creeps through tiny villages, and opens out into seaside towns, famous since Victorian times. At Stiffkey, we had a slight delay, as the local bus tried to negotiate the narrow bends alongside the flint-walled houses on a road hardly big enough for a coach and horses, and totally unsuited to modern traffic. We arrived in good time for our reservation, even allowing for a sedate drive, to take in the views across the bird sanctuaries.
The Dun Cow at Salthouse is a traditional English village pub, well-known in the area for serving good food, and having terrific views across the marshes, out to sea. Anyone who watched the news coverage of the tragic US helicopter crash recently will be familiar with this area, as all filming was done from the pub car park. As we were early, we had ample time to enjoy a drink in the walled garden of the pub, a peaceful area, where children are not allowed. Despite the sunny skies, it was approaching 4pm, and a cool breeze from the sea made us happy to retire inside, to take our seats in the almost empty restaurant. On Sundays, it is traditional to eat quite early, so our choice of a later booking made sure that we could enjoy our meal in total peace. The food arrived looking very appetising, and the portions, as usual in Norfolk, were very large. Ollie sat quietly on the rug in the restaurant, enjoying the snack we had brought for him, and was no trouble at all. As we knew he would be.
After the food, and feeling sun-kissed, a little chilly, and somewhat sleepy, we drove home via the coast road. This meant we could take in the rest of the route, passing through Sheringham and Cromer, before turning South, towards Holt, and home. Julie and Christine were soon dozing in the back, and Ollie was sleeping happily on his bed in the rear section. I pointed out places to Roland as we drove along, and we were back within the hour, ready for a rest. The evening was spent quietly. There is no need to entertain old friends, as being together is sufficient. They decided to stay over until Monday morning, to avoid a tired drive home in the dark. Everyone went to bed quite early that night, and peace reigned in Beetley.
That was what I call an exceptionally good weekend.