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My Norfolk childhood

PUBLISHED: 08:13 12 May 2014 | UPDATED: 08:13 12 May 2014

Children's sandcastle building competition on Cromer beach.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Children's sandcastle building competition on Cromer beach. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Space to think

Scott Handy was three when his parents bought a tumbledown cottage in Bressingham.

Today he is a film, stage and TV actor, based in London, but he still thinks of Norfolk, and the much-renovated and extended cottage where his parents live, as home.

During Scott’s childhood the house was a holiday retreat and he loved visiting the nearby steam museum with his sister, Kate. Now his children, Leo and Nephele, aged seven and five, and their cousins, are equally smitten. “They all have their favourite horses on the merry-go-round!” says Scott.

“I love Lopham Fen too. It’s just great being able to walk without having to look at your feet! And everyone in Norfolk knows about the quality of the light. It’s both softer and more illuminating than the light anywhere else!”

Scott, 45, who has worked with Woody Allen and Patrick Stewart and who appeared in the films Shadowlands and A Knight’s Tale, is about to start filming the second series of BBC drama The Village in which he plays the Methodist minister. Married to actress Agni Scott, he says: “Norfolk is a very special place. If we’ve ever got any big decisions to make we always come up to Norfolk.”

His father, Charles Handy, is a world-renowned expert on employment and business, but Scott remembers: “My dad used to do this thing where just before bedtime we all had to look up at the stars because you can see them so clearly in Norfolk. We used to think it was a bit silly but now I want to do that with my kids!”

Beach boy

Evolutionary biologist and presenter of BBC series Secrets of Bones Ben Garrod grew up in Great Yarmouth where his parents were publicans.

“Mum and Dad were very busy and didn’t have much time off, but I was lucky to have grandparents living nearby and it was from them that I developed my love of the natural world. One of my granddads used to be a mole catcher and he loved taking me on the beach. From a young age, I loved looking in rock pools for little creatures and finding things on the beach. I was a pretty precocious kid and my granddad says I would ask him endless questions – and if he didn’t know the answers he would make up funny names.

“I think the defining moment for me, when I really felt the force of that connection with the natural world was when I got a dog, aged about 11. First thing every morning I would walk along Yarmouth beach towards Caister and I would often be completely alone. It became my special place and I quickly learned how the mood of the beach changed across the seasons.

“It remains one of my favourite places today. You get lots of interesting stuff washed up, such as dogfish and little jellyfish; there are snakes in the dunes and all sorts of birdlife, including the most incredible colony of little terns. There are so many natural wonders in Norfolk and part of me wants it to stay a secret. But the other part of me wants to tell the world what an amazing place this is.”

Rainy days and rugby

Brothers Ben and Tom Youngs play premiership rugby for Leicester Tigers and England, and grew up near Holt.

Ben Youngs: “I have really fond memories of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to live by fields and woods and had the freedom to just be able to run around. Coming from a farming family I had to do my little bits on the farm as well – I remember potato grading clearly. It was pretty tedious but I got pocket money for it – the absolute minimum wage!

“I spent countless hours when I was really young in the garden, running around and playing with my cousins. We’d just have a rugby ball and irrigation pipes made into posts in the garden. Me and my cousins were always playing rugby and football, kicking conversions or doing one-on-ones. Whether it was raining or sunny, we’d be out there and it was great fun.”

Tom Youngs: “I really loved growing up in Norfolk. I loved being outside. I wasn’t an indoor-type person. Even if it was raining, I’d have my waterproofs on and go outside. I’d be on the farm with Dad or playing with cousins.

“I think growing up in Norfolk was a big influence on my future. There are some really good rugby clubs, such as North Walsham, Norwich and Holt, where I started. I’d play rugby with my cousins in the garden and it didn’t matter what age or size you were, whether you were female or male, you played rugby – and you weren’t allowed to cry or go running to Mum and Dad.”

Olivia’s stomping ground

Since her acclaimed role in ITV drama Broadchurch last year, Norfolk-born actress Olivia Colman has become one of Britain’s biggest stars. From gritty dramas to iconic comedies, she has enjoyed huge critical success - winning two BAFTAs in 2013 and this year being nominated for a Royal Television Society Award.

But despite her hectic schedule, she still finds time to return to Norfolk to visit family with her two children. Growing up, she lived all over the county but it is north Norfolk which she describes as her “stomping ground” and “spiritual home”.

Olivia, whose first job was at The King’s Arms in Blakeney, talks wistfully about the idyllic childhood she enjoyed – revising for her A-Levels on Holkham beach or just being able to open the back door and go off the whole day.

“My favourite childhood memory was going crabbing with my family,” she says. “We used to sit on a muddy bridge with a string and a bit of bacon and catch crabs, then do a crab race at the end. It was important just because nobody was working, we were all mucking about, we all got on and we had fun.”

Olivia sponsors a child through ActionAid, a charity which helps rebuild the lives of children in war-torn countries. “I have supported ActionAid for about eight years because I like knowing the child that I’m helping. I like to know that it’s making a difference in someone’s life and I think it’s an important thing to do.”

For information about ActionAid and sponsoring a child, www.actionaid.org.uk/child.

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