Thoughts on Thornham.

Fans of the Norfolk coast will doubtless be fans of Thornham, for this magical place has all those qualities that make the Norfolk coast so special. Yet somehow it still has the feel of a secret place. Not because it is hidden but because it is a place at the edge, protected by the barriers of unconquerable marsh, unstoppable tides and Norfolk’s instinctive resistance to intrusion or change.



Thornham harbour seems to embody all the charm of the North Norfolk landscape, exemplifying its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity. A ramshackle collection of wooden jetties set in dark, aromatic mud. An assortment of patient, wooden boats. A sense of older times, forgotten histories and smugglers tales shrouded in mystery. A wild borderland between the world of man and that of nature where lonely creeks are etched into the earth. A land where man has only a slippery foothold and can do no more. Perhaps this is why the air is cool and clear. The whisper of the reeds and the cries of wading birds, redshank, godwit or curlew, may be the only sounds you hear, and on a good day the visitor will feel the peace of solitude.

The salt marsh is not a hostile environment, so long as the wanderer understands the terms on which he is there. Man is not master here. The rhythms of the moon and nature dominate. Even with one eye on the clock and a clear sense of tide times a sense of trepidation can creep in, especially at a place like Stiffkey where the marshes are extensive and creeks may be crossed. The photographer must be a little wary of trying to reach that distant wreck or other point of interest to make his shot. The incoming tide will not come towards him, as it might on a sandy beach, but rises beneath his feet and behind his footsteps.

The need for a distinct focal point in a landscape photograph is certainly a challenge in the Norfolk marshes. Coal Barn is Thornham’s famous landmark, but if a rough line is drawn from Holme church to Brancaster golf club Coal Barn is the only visible brick built structure for a stretch of some four miles. Hence it is something of a magnet to photographers. As is the old wrecked boat on the marsh, which must surely be the most photographed boat in Norfolk! There are no hills for rolling heights, few trees, no boulders and no babbling brooks. So, along with a few old boats, the photographer has to rely on skies and water, two commodities that Norfolk fortunately has plenty of.



Thornham has a special light. Perhaps because there is no landmass between North Norfolk and the Arctic, perhaps because the air is still free of pollution, and perhaps because of the reflections offered by stretches of water, either the North Sea or within the marshes. Pick the right evening or early morning and there is a chance of capturing that bewitching atmosphere. If conditions are kind the photographer may come away with a fragment of this special place in his camera, a single moment from the ebb and flow of Thornham harbour. There will also most likely be a caking of mud and wet boots to contend with, but the soothing air will hopefully have calmed the mind sufficiently to ensure a sound nights sleep.

This piece was published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine October 2010.