Cromer, Norfolk

Cromer is a magical place. Approaching it from the heights of Roughton Heath, you suddenly see the town way below against a backdrop of slate-blue sea – all red pantile roofs, cedar trees, pinnacle Victorian and Edwardian houses, flamboyant verandas on the edges of the old town, and then the great flint church of St Peter and St Paul, flaunting Norfolk’s highest tower at its heart.

CromerCrab stalls are everywhere, and steep steps and zig-zagging pebble-walled ramps lead down to East and West Beach, which curve away in a long slow arc of golden sand from either side of the pier.  Despite its spectacular position, Cromer is no longer the playground of the phenomenally rich that it once was. Gone are the days when the cream of London society dipped down from the sojourns, when Elizabeth of Austria took a wing of Tucker’s Hotel, when the Maharajah of Cooch Behar resided on Cliff Avenue, when Edward VII is whispered to have stayed with Lillie Langtry in the Hôtel de Paris, when local landowner Lord Suffield made a golf course for the top brass, and Norfolk’s richest families – the Barclays, Hoares, Hastings, Buxtons and Gurneys – built holiday houses here. ‘The certain fashion at this pretty little waterside place is religiously obeyed,’ a visitor to Cromer wrote in 1886. ‘It is the rule to go on the sands in the morning, to walk on one cliff for a mile in the afternoon, to take another mile walk in the other direction and at sunset to crowd upon the little pier at night.’

Pierre le François, the son of a French baron who had fled to England to escape the Revolution, saw that Cromer was lacking in classy establishments, bought a private villa on the seafront and ran it as a boarding house, the Hôtel de Paris. It was an instant success. When the railway came in 1877 and brought the promise of more visitors, the highly inventive Norwich architect, George Skipper, got the plum jobs – the Town Hall, the Grand Hotel and the Hotel Metropole – but his rebuild of the Hôtel de Paris is his lasting monument to Edwardian individualism. It towers ruby-red above the silvery walls of Jetty Cliff at the apex of the seafront, and commands a dead-on view of Cromer pier, the last in the land to stage a live show every night in its Pavilion Theatre. From the end of the pier you can watch the crab boats coming in as they have done since the town’s first beginnings. Cromer crabs are the best in the world.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / DS Pugh

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