It seems fitting to write about Cromer on World Poetry Day. If you are new to the blog, please don’t be baffled by this! Regular readers will know that Cromer is the adopted home of Salt Publishing, which is becoming ever more renowned for its fiction. Last year it achieved international fame with The Lighthouse, Alison Moore’s debut novel, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize. (Its crime list includes In the Family, my first crime novel, and will shortly also feature Almost Love, the second in the DI Yates series.)
However, Salt built its reputation for literary excellence on its superb poetry list; in my view it is the greatest current British publisher of contemporary poetry. Some Salt poets are poets’ poets, though most are very accessible. I believe that perhaps, of all its achievements, Salt’s greatest has been to develop its ‘Best of’ lists, especially the Best of British Poetry series, and the Salt Book of Younger Poets. Now widely adopted by undergraduate courses in English literature and creative writing, these books bring contemporary poetry alive to a new generation, as well as supply more mature readers with an impeccable selection of great poems. The Best of British Short Stories series achieves a similar effect in a different genre. And, not to spare his blushes, Chris Emery, the founding inspiration behind Salt, now publishes his own poetry under the Salt imprint. If you have not yet read The Departure, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Back to Cromer. I was there for a long weekend because, as I mentioned on Sunday, I was asked to play a small part in the Breckland Book Festival. I stayed at The Barn, one of the cottages owned by The Grove Hotel (itself steeped in history – parts of it are eighteenth-century and its original owners were the founders of Barclays Bank). I called in on Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery after the Breckland event and my husband and I were kindly invited to have dinner with them. They were brimful of ideas as usual and delighted that Chris has been appointed writer-in-residence at Roehampton University, as well as looking forward to celebrating Jen’s birthday today (that it is on World Poetry day is a poetic thing in itself!).
The rest of our time in Cromer was spent exploring the beaches and the streets of the town. Twice we walked along the beach in the dark and, on Monday morning, we took our dog for a very early morning run there. Even in bitterly cold weather, the town itself is enchanting. Developed in the mid-nineteenth century to cater for the emerging middle classes, who could for the first time afford holidays away from home, it seems to have been preserved intact from any attempted depredations by the twentieth century. There are not even many Second World War fortifications in evidence, though a pill-box languishes in the sand of the west beach, its cliff-top site long since eaten by the sea. The pier retains its pristine Victorian originality – it is well-maintained but has not been ‘improved’. Some of the hotels, again ‘unreconstructed’, are quite grand and all serve superb food at reasonable prices, as do the many cafés and restaurants. It is true that some of the shops seem to exist in a time warp. My favourite is the ladies’ underwear shop that does not appear to stock anything designed after 1950; it even displays ‘directoire’ knickers – much favoured by my grandmother – in one of its windows.
Cromer has a literary past, too. Winston Churchill stayed there as a boy and Elizabeth Gaskell was a visitor, as the pavement of the seafront testifies. (Churchill apparently wrote to a friend: ‘I am not enjoying myself very much.’) That Tennyson also came here, even if I had not already decided that I loved it, alone would have served to set my final stamp of approval upon the town: Lincolnshire’s greatest poet, he is also one of my favourites. (I’ve always considered James Joyce’s ‘LawnTennyson’ jibe to be undeserved.) I know that Tennyson would have been fascinated by Salt if he had been able to visit Cromer today. I can picture him perfectly, sitting in Chris’ and Jen’s Victorian front room, sharing his thoughts about poetry – as one fine poet to another – in his wonderfully gruff, unashamedly Lincolnshire voice.
And so, Jen, Chris and Salt, have a very happy Cromer day, listening to the lulling rhythm of the rolling, scouring waves and painting salty pictures in the sky.
10 thoughts on “In love with Cromer…”
Ladies’ underwear shop! What are you like!!! My favourite poets are Carol Anne Duffy – especially Demeter, a poem about her daughter. And Seamus Heaney. Oh, and very occasionally, a modern poet called Lynn Gerrard.
I rather like Duffy’s ‘Valentine’ and love Heaney’s poetry generally. Gerrard properly arrived for me with her live reading of ‘Kid’, which really brought her stony profile into focus; she has a great voice. That underwear shop is something else! 😉
I spent a week in Cromer last year, during the wonderful summer we had. Lots to do in the area as well, did some walks along the coast, I love the cliffs and the way they launch bats from the beach.
In that case, I’m glad to have revived your happy memories! We like the coast in all seasons and all weathers; Cromer is lovely even in the cold!
The North Sea has potency. I was shocked by how many wind turbines lurked off the coast though. When I was there in the late eighties there was nothing like that.
You’re right; now you’ve reminded me that, as we flew back at night over the East Anglian coast from the continent last year, the lights on the turbines showed vast sea areas populated by them, all in uniform rows. Thanks, Jim, for your double comment.
Ah yes, Cromer was a big part of my childhood holidays! Also Wells-next-the-sea just down the road. Very lovely.
North Norfolk generally very much part of mine. I can’t stop going back! 🙂
Lovely photo and a great post on Cromer! North Norfolk is so beautiful, today quite chilly, to say the least…brrr… 🙂
Warm greetings from Cley next the Sea
What a coincidence! I have just visited your hedgerows and windows and left a comment to convey my appreciation. We were at Cley last year, walking the sea path after leaving the car there. The day was bright, with a brisk wind, but we had wonderful views of avocets, which, as I’m sure you know, nest there on the shingle (if ‘nest’ is the right word, for the eggs are protected only by camouflage). It is a birdwatchers paradise, though we are not ‘twitchers’, but lovers of what we find in various habitats. Thank you for your follow, visit and compliment. 🙂