It has to be said that The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom, a quirky and nostalgic novel set in the 1930s, has divided its readers right down the middle if online reviews of the book are anything to go by. The story concerns a professor called Swanton Morley who engages a young assistant, Spanish Civil War veteran Stephen Sefton, to accompany him and his daughter on a tour of the country with the aim of producing a series of 'County Guides'. Some people loved the novel, but others found it boring and pretentious. For my own part, I started out eagerly anticipating a jolly jaunt around the delights of Britain, but was slightly disappointed when the journey failed to materialise, being prematurely aborted in Blakeney, where the local vicar has been found dead and Morley and Sefton find themselves drawn into a real-life whodunit. However, I still enjoyed the book, which paints an amusing picture of life in 1930s rural Norfolk with some wonderfully eccentric characters.
The scene of the tragedy is St Nicholas, the Anglican parish church of Blakeney, which is described by Morley as "a typical example of fifteenth-century Perpendicular architecture". Morley also points out the fact that the church, unusually, has two towers, "like an aft mast and a main mast". The tower at the east end was used as a beacon, and in fact churches with tall towers are a common feature of settlements along the coast of East Anglia. It is believed that they were once used as 'lighthouses' to alert shipping to the proximity of the shore, no doubt helped by the flat landscape of the area.
|St Nicholas Church, Blakeney. Photo by Ian Capper, via Wikimedia Commons|
Going back to the novel, at one point in the story a cinema ticket is discovered in the dead vicar's pocket, arousing speculation on whether he indulged in unsavoury activities. The detective Ridley, who has arrived at the scene, points out "he was a vicar", to which Morley retorts "so was the vicar of Stiffkey". The author does not explain this remark, but it is a reference to a former vicar of nearby Stiffkey who was defrocked for his predilection for young girls. You can find out more about this from my other blog Postcards From The Edge.
Blakeney is one of a number of charming villages along the North Norfolk coast. It was a thriving port until the 17th century when the land was turned over to grazing and saltmarshes. As well as the aforementioned church and the typical flint cottages, the village is famous for the grey seals who lounge around on Blakeney Point, a 4 mile long sand and shingle spit reached by boat from neighbouring Morston (or on foot for the more energetic). The colony appears to be thriving, with numbers of pups reportedly at an all-time high - 2,425 at the last count.
|Seals at Blakeney Point. Photo by Roy Turner, via Wikimedia Commons|
Map of the area.