Arriving at the shabby-chic North Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, I was taken aback by how little it resembles Great Yarmouth and spent a very pleasant day strolling the lovely streets and excellent beaches.
Great Yarmouth myths
While in Great Yarmouth, there were numerous comparisons to Cromer in North Norfolk being similar, with poverty, social issues and struggling. Norfolk friends would scoff and those from outside the county were a little puzzled as they could not remember Cromer being down at the heel. So I took the bus from Holt, where I am based for two weeks while I explore North Norfolk to see the town for myself.
Old Cromer photograph, shop window.
As the bus pulled in, Cromer looked clean but shabby. Looking up at some of the windows, it was obvious that there is poverty in the town, so my expectations initially leaned towards what I heard in Great Yarmouth. This swiftly changed however, and the more I walked the more I could appreciate why so many people, particularly those who grew up or holidayed as children in Norfolk, are in love with the town.
The schools are back, so the kids on the beach were infants with parents, paddling in the sea on a glorious warm sunny day. It was a day for creating childhood memories.
The first thing that struck me was how untouched the town has been by ugly developments and in all likelihood, was not bombed very much during World War Two. The mixed architecture resembles that of several Kent seaside towns. Whitstable houses and beach huts. Three floor Georgian houses in street rows at right angles to the sea, as found in Cliftonville and Ramsgate. Long sweeping paths from the top of the cliffs down to the seafront, as in Folkestone. Some of the housing is in need of TLC but not much that I observed would be deemed unfit for human living, as is the case right across Great Yarmouth. The town has living accommodation for all tastes it seems.
Keep it simple
Whether through lack of money and funding or whether it is by policy and design there is a noticeable difference in the approach to urban planning in Cromer versus Great Yarmouth. Cromer appears to have a more thoughtful approach to planning. No doubt irritating to local developers and people wishing to see change, the town benefits from allowing things to develop at a considered pace, not seeking to gentrify (although that is seeming to be happening in pockets), the town is self-regenerating, the best kind of change.
The children’s play area on the beach and wildlife exhibition (photos below) are prime examples of very simple yet highly effective public art, information and play spaces. All over the town there are small yet strong permanent or semi-permanent interventions that are informed, intriguing and easy on the eye. An old Ford tractor on the seafront, which I guess never moves, is a perfect example of creating a public intervention that will appeal to people of all ages that has probably cost little or nothing to install.
L to R: Public artworks and wildlife information on seafront paths with open access, Tribute to local hero, Ford tractor parked alongside other ageing vehicles and boats, attracting interest of people of all ages, Simple, beautifully designed and constructed children’s play area on seafront, free and open access.
Care and attention
There is no more damning evidence of the disrespect and lack of care in Great Yarmouth from borough council and outsiders than when taking a cursory glance at any building site in the town. The council itself does not enforce rules on its own sites or cares how construction takes place on other sites. The three photos below are just some examples of practices in Great Yarmouth that you just don’t see elsewhere. Coming across a clean building site with some block paving being laid in Cromer brought home the difference in approach and mentality to that found in Great Yarmouth.
L to R: Great Yarmouth Aldi refit (summer 2021), Man in flat cap and worker with trainers on demolition site on North Quay, Great Yarmouth (May 2021), Market square roof construction, Great Yarmouth council led project (September 2021), block paving and restoration, Cromer (September 2021).
Food and Drink
Cromer’s food and drink offer has been the best I have found in Norfolk, outside Norwich. Still not a huge choice but there are some very good coffee shops, nice new bars and The Red Lion pub has a wide and excellent selection of Norfolk ales. The local speciality is crab, which I did not try on this visit, and makes the town regionally famous. I opted to visit No1 Cromer, a Fish and Chip shop that I have only heard good things about. Chips were the first thing I tried on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in 2019 and with hindsight set the tone for my time in the town. Cromer No1 fish and chips were very good, and far far superior to anything available in Great Yarmouth town centre or beach front, however probably only on par with the White Swan in Great Yarmouth, an excellent fish restaurant deserving of national accolades.
L to R: First portion of chips in Great Yarmouth in 2019 (read more here), Fish and Chips from No1 Cromer, High St, Part of a wide selection of Norfolk beers available at The Red Lion.
Besides both being by the sea and in the same county of England, there is little else in common between Cromer and Great Yarmouth. The brash and uncaring approach of the council, businesses and developers in Great Yarmouth is amplified by the quiet, reflective and highly effective approach being undertaken in Cromer. Spending a day does not provide a deep insight into a town it has to be acknowledged, however comparing this visit with the first trip to Great Yarmouth in 2019 (here) provides a pretty good indication of the power of first impressions.