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Why Burnham Overy Staithe is big in Japan

PUBLISHED: 11:41 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:41 16 May 2017

Burnham Overy Staithe (photo: John Daynes citizenside.com)

Burnham Overy Staithe (photo: John Daynes citizenside.com)

(c) copyright citizenside.com

A chance encounter reveals tiny Burnham Overy Staithe is surprisingly popular in the Land of the Rising Sun, writes Rowan Mantell

It’s amazing, the things you learn on the Norfolk coast. Last month information boards filled me in on a range of subjects, from maltings to Romans. This month a Japanese girl emerged from a misty drizzle in Burnham Overy Staithe and, during a journey by bus and train back to Norwich, revealed that the tiny north Norfolk village of creeky boatiness and flinty cottages is big in Japan.

It might even be better known, 5,000 miles away in Japan, than it is in most of Norfolk. I had just finished walking another section of the coastal path, my head full of rolling dunes and glinting tidal marshes. The route had balanced high along twisting flood banks, dipped into sunken forest tracks, crossed vast sandy bays and picturesque quaysides, traced high tide lines of scattered shells and seaweed and was finally floating me back to land.

The Japanese girl first passed my husband and I, walking north out along the flood bank from the staithe. She reappeared as we waited for the final Sunday Coasthopper bus back to Sheringham. She was in England for a fortnight, and had visited Norwich Castle and Cathedral, Cromer and Sheringham – and tiny Burnham Overy Staithe, arriving at dusk because, perhaps expecting the speed of a Japanese bullet train, she had chosen to travel via Ely and King’s Lynn. First she told us of her love for the music of Vaughan Williams, hence the visit to Lynn, where he once collected folk tunes. Then she told us of the 1967 book When Marnie Was There, by Joan Robinson (who also wrote children’s books about Teddy Robinson.) It was set in Burnham, and made into an Oscar-nominated anime film in Japan in 2014, apparently keeping the haunting charm of the novel, although the village is relocated to Japan.

She told us all this while apologising for her English. We reciprocated by admitting our knowledge of the Japanese language ranged all the way from sumo to Sony.

There are other parts of Norfolk which are surprisingly well-known thousands of miles away. This summer Norfolk is welcoming Americans (back) to the county, exactly 75 years after they first arrived to help fight the Second World War. Bodney, Deopham, Hardwick and Tibenham are just four of the tiny agricultural villages transformed into international air bases.

Americans returning for a re-run of the Friendly Invasion will need to honour friends and relatives, but maybe they too will have time to head for the coast on a whim and feel at home in our very own California, near Yarmouth, named for a 19th century gold rush, when coins were found on the beach. And there is still plenty of gold to find on Norfolk’s coast, not necessarily sparkly metal, but an apparently inexhaustible supply of shiny new fascinating facts.

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