Cromer, Norfolk

Catch a stunning show as both sunrise and sunset appear by a pier at Cromer in Norfolk, says Mark Rowe

 

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You don’t have to climb a mountain to enjoy sunrise and sunset shows of great drama. The pier at Cromer can offer that too. Due to the slightly disorienting geography of north Norfolk, Cromer’s pier sticks out north by north-east into the North Sea, so you can see the sun both rise and tumble towards the sea. Time your visit for a clear day and windless day and you are in for a treat.

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Perhaps only the hardiest will get up (or stay up) for the true dark of 2.30am to see the full sequence of change from night to half-light to daylight. 4.30am will do. By then, in midsummer, the sun will have begun its journey across Norfolk’s skies. On a global scale, the North Sea is tiny. The rising sun makes it seem like a vast ocean. 

Squabble of seagulls

Much is made of the woodland dawn chorus at this time of year, but the coastal chorus is striking, too. It’s perhaps a little eerie, with those gulls not yet paired up raucously breaking the silence. Newly fledged sparrow chicks line up plaintively on the pier railings, hopping and scuttling chirpily after their parents.

There are other reasons for liking Cromer’s pier: you don’t pay for the privilege of stepping foot on it, as you must at so many other piers around the UK. Come morning, families are happily fishing and dropping lines for crabs, and at its far end, rather than an amusement arcade, there’s a lifeboat station. 

From the railings of the pier you can see the undulating four-mile coastal path that heads west to Sheringham, Cromer’s neighbour and rival for the seaside tourist shilling. This walk can be a lovely way to pass the hours between dawn and dusk and also gives the lie to the myth that Norfolk is spirit-level flat. You can either walk back to Cromer the same way, or hop on the branch line.

Lighthouse & lifeboats

There’s a charm to Cromer that lifts the spirits even without the intervention of the sun of high summer. Art galleries lie in wait with their evocative seascapes, there’s a lighthouse and the Henry Blogg lifeboat museum. Named for Cromer’s revered coxswain and the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboatman, it has a 1930s lifeboat and genuinely impressive displays. The Rocket House cafe on the top floor is great too, though they miss an opportunity by not opening beyond 5pm. 

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As the sun begins to slowly sink behind Cromer’s yardarm, it steadily fills the Wash with a staggering gold sheen, as if molten metal were being dispensed from a pot. Come along on the right evening and
it really does seem as though the sea is on fire. Then the half light returns, and then darkness, for just a few hours.