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Blakeney

The charming village of Blakeney lies on the North Norfolk coast between Morston and Cley. It was once an flourishing sea port but, over the centuries, its harbour silted up and today only small boats can enter. In his poem Blakeney -  Thomas Thornely (1855-1949) - laments the decline of the town's trading links:
 

Those days are gone. There sound no more
The capstan song, the welcoming hails,
As some stout trader, fraught with bales
From Eastland marts, draws near the shore.
For not to Anglian ports today
Turns England with her swollen needs


Jack Higgins (1929 - )

Higgins did the research for his novel The Eagle Has Landed (1975) while staying in the Blakeney Hotel. The book tells the story of a group of German paratroopers who land in England during WW2 and attempt to assassinate Winston Churchill while he spends a weekend in North Norfolk.


The Blakeney Hotel

Blakeney Hotel

The novel begins in the churchyard of St. Mary and All Saints in the fictional village of Studley Constable. Higgins (the narrator) is here looking for the grave of a 17th Century sailor called Charles Gascoigne but instead comes across the hidden burial site of Colonel Kurt Steiner - a paratrooper - who was killed in action in 1943. This provides the catalyst for the rest of the novel's dramatic story line. Studley Constable church was probably modelled on Salthouse or Cley - as both have headstones with spooky engravings. Here is Higgins' description from the book:
 

'I worked my way through methodically, starting at the west end, noticing in my progress the headstones he'd mentioned. They were certainly curious. Sculptured and etched with vivid and rather crude ornaments of bones, skulls, winged hourglasses and archangels.'

In 1976 the novel was made into a film - directed by John Sturges and starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Donald Pleasance and Robert Duval.

The North Norfolk coast has always been at risk of invasion through out the centuries - particularly at Weybourne Hope where there is deep water close inshore. Today the cliffs and beaches are still littered with WW2 pill boxes and tank traps.

During WW2, Winston Churchill used to stay at the Sea Marge Hotel in Overstrand - and this may have provided Higgins with the inspiration for his novel.

Richard Mabey (1941- )

In the late1960s, the nature writer Richard Mabey used to visit Blakeney - staying with friends in a converted lifeboat moored in the harbour. He became fascinated by the salt marshes and the muddy creeks here and later rented a cottage in the village. Expeditions to gather edible plants such as samphire, fennel and wild spinach inspired him to write his iconic book Food for Free - which was published in 1972. Mabey has been quoted as saying: 'A lot of the book was written up there......It's very much a Norfolk book.' It was also returning to Blakeney later in his life - when he was suffering from severe depression - that prompted him to move permanently to Norfolk - leaving behind his beloved Chiltern hills.

In another of his books - Home Country (1990) - Mabey summed up his feelings for the north Norfolk coast as follows:
 

'I sometimes wondered if the closeness of these unstable edges of the land was part of the secret of Norfolk's appeal to us, a reflection of a half-conscious desire to be as contingent as spindrift ourselves, to stay loose, cast off, be washed up somewhere unexpected. Down among these shifting sands the world seems to be all possibility.'


Patrick Hamilton (1901-62)

The novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton had his ashes scattered at Blakeney Flats. Hamilton died of an alcohol-related illness at a house called Martincross in Sheringham.
 

Links:

More Blakeney photographs

 

 

 

 

 

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