Strange carvings at sunny Winterton

Winterton can be a bleak place, as the name might suggest. Placed strategically on Norfolk’s east coast at a point where the coastline finally decides to take the plunge and turn north-west, it is exposed to fierce winds, tides and storms, beating in from the North Sea.

The beach is open, and the village protected by an ever-shrinking line of dunes, sometimes transforming into a soft cliff, behind which hides a precarious but excellent cafe and open ground which serves as a car park. Oh, and some stern black fishermen’s huts – substantial and strong against the wind.

It is good walking country, those soft grass and sandy paths, and I have walked it for many years, going back to childhood holidays at the neighbouring village, Hemsby, more than half a century ago.

Bleak, yes, but often benign too. Last week, in the middle of many days of unpleasant weather (often very cold, often very wet), we woke to sunny skies and decided to drive from Norwich to Winterton – mainly to check on the damage caused by a recent storm.

We arrived to find that the expected wind was almost non-existent; what there was came from the ideal quarter – south-west. The January sun verged on the warm as we paid in the cafe for car parking and walked down on to the beach, avoiding the half-hearted tapes across the main paths.

We had seen pictures; so we knew what to expect. A recent storm had somehow created a wall of sand halfway up the beach, turning it into small cliff. Below the cafe, huge blocks of stone had been exposed, and holes carved out of the sand around and behind them. It was a startling picture because it was hard to see how it could have happened, but the power of wind and water can do strange things.

A mile or so further south the dunes have been gradually eroding, and holiday bungalows have fallen from their perches on to the beach. Like many beautiful places, it is fragile, on the edge.

We walked north for a while along the beach, and eventually the damage disappeared. Everything was back to normal: the sea dark but calm, with large gulls bobbing near the shore. Turning inland, we quickly reached the coast path and returned to the cafe for one of those excellent rolls and a surprisingly good cup of tea.

And we wondered how long it could all last.