For such a small island it’s remarkable just how different each part of Britain seems to be – a fact highlighted by my drive down to Norfolk last week. Northern mill towns fading away in Manchester’s resurgent shiny orbit meld straight into bleak moorland almost in the blink of an eye, the arduous M62 weaving its way over the Pennines as Lancashire becomes Yorkshire. The industrial heartlands of the north in turn give way to agricultural Lincolnshire and then to the relative backwater that was my destination county.

Norfolk is one of the very few parts of the country that has more runways than it has motorways. In fact it has no stretches of motorway at all, yet its winding roads lead to a plethora of now disused RAF bases. I know – I’ve followed those said roads to those said bases for a covert nosey around and appreciated the distraction. But architecturally once you’ve seen one airmens’ dormitory and officers’ mess you’ve generally seen them all…

So entering Norfolk you’re largely at the mercy of the driver in front, and as the roads get smaller that person will generally be driving like they have eleven points on their license – or a tractor. Dragging out the tail end of a six hour drive when you really don’t need it. I’d stopped for a quick lunch at a Burger King on the A1 in Nottinghamshire, pleasantly surprised by the affirmative answer to my quest for a flat white coffee and more than a little dismayed when I was then served a standard black coffee and pointed in the direction of the milk… stuck in traffic, the journey couldn’t end soon enough.

But traffic aside Norfolk doesn’t appear to have anything stressful about it once you’re actually there, and different though it may be to any other county, it also offers up a considerable variety within its own boundaries. Blue skies with fluffy clouds and fields of rapeseed dancing in the breeze gave way to charming old villages, windmills, harbours, and old seaside resorts. Its relaxed atmosphere harks back to a bygone era where shops closed at lunchtime on Wednesdays and didn’t open at all on Sundays, though in truth it seems that here they don’t operate to any fixed timetable at all, simply opening and closing as they feel and see fit. The only other place I’ve found remotely like that was Mull, with its ‘gone fishing’ signs in the windows and lack of regard for any passing trade.

Weybourne, Norfolk

If this is how Norfolk does things you get the impression that the rest of the country is missing a trick, fast heading for burnout while slavishly following a routine; a means to an insatiable end. The pace of life is so much slower that while stopping to take afternoon tea I honestly didn’t think we would ever get served at one point – the first two tea rooms we tried had been closed for unfathomable reasons and the third seemed almost oblivious to the waiting customers. But when it came it was all rather nice – you just have to bear in mind that this is the way everything is done here. Slowly. This is one place that will either relax you and make you more patient and tolerant as you casually while away your days, or it will likely kill you.

I continued to enjoy this intermission from my own reality, wandering in and out of tea rooms, galleries and craft shops, picking up a few sought after items from local antique shops along the way. I now have an original ‘Protector’ miner’s lamp having been looking for something similar since I started exploring the country’s mining heritage a couple of years back (see ‘Nothing to See Here‘ for that story). I also picked up a slightly tatty but nice-to-look-at hundred year old Kodak camera, which reminded me why I came down here in the first place. I needed to get out and do some landscape photography…

And so it was that I arrived at Cromer, a traditional English seaside town that was almost devoid of activity on this Saturday evening. The pier is its most notable and dominant feature and being on the north coast is one of very few landmarks in the country that you can silhouette against both the rising and setting suns on the same day simply by alternating sides. I was lucky – the sky was filling up with dark clouds uplit by the setting sun, the wet sands underfoot reflecting the scene. For a supposed low tide the water was rushing in remarkably close to the shore, reminding me why I always carry a pair of wellingtons in the car – and also that if you crouch down in running water you’re likely to get unexpectedly wet regardless of wearing them. Metering for the brightness of the setting sun darkened the wider scene and enhanced the drama of the shot, resulting in the main picture on this page. It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I set out but I’ll certainly take it.

I left Norfolk pretty much as I’d arrived a few days earlier – in a tailback behind a tractor. I’ll be back though…