Sense of place

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Special Qualities of the North Norfolk Coast


The influence of the sea

The influence of the sea provides a unifying theme for all the landscapes of the coast, with the variety and interrelationship of dynamic coastal features such as saltmarsh, sand dunes, shingle and eroding sand/gravel cliffs especially important. The links between land and sea are an essential part of its unique character – the quality of coastal landscapes, looking to, from and along the coast, the dynamic coastal landforms and processes, ecological interdependencies, biodiversity and cultural, architectural, economic, historical and archaeological character.

Holme to Weybourne

The coast from Holme-next-the-Sea to Weybourne has a wilderness quality rare in lowland England, distinct from but complemented by the rising backdrop of largely agricultural land, which includes open chalk downland, quiet, secluded river valleys and the woodlands and heath of the Cromer Ridge.

Human influence

There is a wide variety of landscape character and local distinctiveness, including variation in the character of coastal settlements, buildings and settlement patterns. There is a strong contrast between the coastal communities and those in the hinterland.  The area is rich in archaeological and historical sites, with remains and features covering all periods from the Palaeolithic to the Second World War giving a strong ‘time depth’ to much of its landscape.  Its important heritage of Ice Age landforms contributes another depth dimension.

Importance for wildlife

The many nature conservation designations testify to the area’s national and international importance for wildlife. Coastal and intertidal habitats (cliffs, shingle banks, sand dunes, lagoons, saltmarsh, mudflats, sandflats and freshwater marsh) and the birds and other wildlife they support (particularly the wildfowl and waders in the areas of the North Norfolk Heritage Coast and the Wash), together with some inland habitats such as heathland, are particularly important.


The area has geodiversity features of national importance, including outstanding examples of coastal, glacial and glacio-fluvial landforms such as eskers and outwash plains, as well as geological sites.

Remoteness and tranquility

The area’s qualities of remoteness, as an area apart from the pattern of life elsewhere and of tranquillity – it’s quiet and peaceful atmosphere and relaxed pace of life – are qualities reflected in art and literature, and are often mentioned today as those that people particularly value.

Landscape, biodiversity and geodiversity

The Norfolk Coast is richly diverse, with distinctive landscapes, wildlife, settlements, geological features, building styles and materials, communities, history and culture. The area is essentially unspoilt with a strong feeling of remoteness, peace and tranquillity.

The coast has a strong feeling of wilderness and of being exposed to and shaped by the elements. In general, there is a managed approach to achieving a more naturally functioning coastline, which is increasingly valuable for its habitats and the species they support, including breeding, migrating and wintering birds. Where it is deemed necessary to maintain coastal defences, this is done in the most sensitive way possible in terms of sustainability and visual and wildlife impacts.

The landscape shows many links with history, with features and patterns created by past cultures and land use, and with its geological past through large scale features and individual sites. There are wide skyscapes, seascapes and dark night skies that show the richness and detail of star patterns. All parts of the area support a rich diversity of characteristic wildlife and habitats associated with natural variations and management, including species and habitats of national and international importance.

Human history

Flint tools made by hunter-gatherers are the earliest evidence of human occupation and use of the area, dating back to around half a million years ago. More recent archaeological evidence, following the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, is more plentiful. Artefacts and sites from the Mesolithic period (about 10,000 to 6,000 years ago) and Neolithic period (about 6,000 to 4,000 years ago) have been discovered. The Bronze Age (about 4,000 to 2,700 years ago) is well represented, with numerous burial mounds and the famous timber circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, discovered in the late 1990s. Iron Age forts and treasures, Roman forts and villas and Saxon settlements and cemeteries enrich the picture, which continues through medieval times with the development of fishing and trading ports.

Built environment

Traditional buildings make a strong contribution to the distinctive character of the area through the use of local vernacular materials, particularly flint in the eastern sector, and chalk and carstone to the west. Villages, consisting largely of modest 18th and 19th century cottages, are clustered along the coast road, most markedly in the chalk downland area where the hinterland is noticeably empty of settlement, punctuated with an occasional isolated farmstead. In the eastern half, small settlements are found inland amongst a network of narrow, winding country lanes. Flint churches, mainly with square towers, are often prominent features in villages, particularly where they are sited on ground rising from sea level, as at Salthouse and Morston. A number of surviving windmills form landmarks in the coastal villages. Traditional farm buildings of flint and soft red brick are common, particularly in the area east of Holkham. Barns and other agricultural buildings often form characteristic blank boundary walls within villages.

Historic parks shape a significant part of the landscape and contain country houses of great variety (Old Hunstanton, Felbrigg, Bayfield, Sheringham, Holkham, Sandringham). There is also a strong Arts and Crafts influence on the design of a number of early 20th century country houses found between Holt and Mundesley.

In addition to their visual contribution, these historic buildings are important for providing wildlife habitat, in particular for bats, barn owls, swallows and house martins. Traditional lime mortar also provides habitat for lichens.


Fishing still has a key role to play in the area’s natural beauty. Now based mainly on shellfish and much reduced in economic importance, local fishing activity has shaped the character of coastal settlements. It still contributes to that character in many cases, through activity at harbours and beaches, and through quays, boat and building styles. The area is widely recognised for the quality of its local seafood.

Local communities

The interaction of people with their environment, resulting in living, working landscapes that respond to environmental, social and economic changes, has made the area what it is today.

As well as clear differences in the character of buildings and settlement layouts, different local customs, festivals, historical associations and language all contribute to the area’s distinctive and diverse cultural character.


The area has long had a strong attraction for visitors based on its qualities of tranquillity, its sense of remoteness and wilderness (for parts of the coast), the character and charm of its landscapes and settlements, and its wildlife. Historical and cultural attractions such as Sandringham, Holkham Hall, Felbrigg Hall and the North Norfolk Railway add to this attraction, as does its growing reputation for high quality local produce and eating places.

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail provides a key access route through the area from Sedgeford to Cromer, and other local and regional trails provide further opportunities. The Norfolk Coast Cycleway runs through the area, forming part of the Sustrans National Route 1 and Regional Route 30.

Parts of the area, particularly the North Norfolk Heritage Coast, are heavily used for a wide range of recreational activities, by local people and those who live within easy travelling distance as well as visitors from further away, either on day visits or longer stays. These activities benefit the health, well-being and quality of life of those taking part, as well as helping to support the local economy in many cases. Those using the marine environment are especially important and well established, in particular sailing, but also including other forms of boating, windsurfing, wildfowling and angling. The area is also popular for more informal activities such as short walks, walking dogs, cycling, browsing in villages and scenic drives, by both local residents and visitors.

Walking and cycling

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail provides a key access route through the area from Sedgeford to Cromer, and other local and regional trails provide further opportunities. The Norfolk Coast Cycleway runs through the area, forming part of the Sustrans National Route 1 and Regional Route 30.

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