The mass of flashing lights and buzzing noises which blaze out from the amusement arcades lining Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile illuminates the town’s position as one of the country’s top seaside resorts.
But this loud and brash façade overshadows the town’s compelling history. Its location next to the sea has been its lifeblood and led to it becoming England’s fifth richest town during the 1400s.
In the past, the coast off Great Yarmouth was one of the best places in the world to fish for herrings, which were then shipped to places as far flung as Africa and India.
In Victorian times, Great Yarmouth’s standing as a holiday resort started to become as important as its herring industry.
Again, the town had its seaside location to thank for this influx of visitors who were daring enough to hoist up their heavy dresses or roll up their trousers to bare their ankles and paddle along the seashore.
Although many tourists travelled to the town by train, by the mid-1800s the General Steam Navigation Company ran two return trips a week from London to the resort on paddle steamers.
The Giraffe and Rainbow would dock at the jetty and let off passengers who wanted to escape the smog and grime of city life to breathe in the fresh sea air and bathe in the salt water.
|Nelson once sailed to the Jetty|
Today, the sea off Great Yarmouth is home to the country’s joint biggest offshore wind farm. The turbines anchored in Scroby Sands supply energy to 41,000 homes.
If you’re looking at the huge turbine blades turning in the wind, imagine you’ve gone back more than 200 years.
This time, the wind is caught in the sails of a battleship which is making its way back to the town after the Battle of Copenhagen. A victorious Admiral Nelson is leading his crew back to the safety of his home county after destroying the Danish fleet.
Set back behind the seafront, you’ll find the yellow-bricked Naval Hospital which has been turned into apartments and houses.
This was built in 1809 to replace the dilapidated hospital, close to the site of Sainsbury’s supermarket, which Nelson is said to have visited to boost the morale of his men wounded in the battles of the Nile and Copenhagen.
After tensions between England and its rivals simmered down, admissions to the new Naval Hospital dipped. Instead it became a military lunatic asylum until WWI and is believed to be the basis for the old saying, "Gone to Yarmouth."
The Ice Age
From the jetty, the ocean stretches beyond the horizon for around 125 miles to the Dutch coast, but imagine the plug has been pulled out of the sea and you’re back in the Ice Age.
You could now walk to Holland as England is connected to mainland Europe by a ridge, with Great Yarmouth in the middle of this land link.
There would have been a cold, treeless plain in place of the sea. Herds of reindeer and woolly mammoths would have roamed this icy landscape, eventually providing food for tribes of early Britons who hunted them with long spears.
At the town’s Time And Tide Museum (point 3) there is a display of mammoth bones which were dredged by a trawler from the seabed off Great Yarmouth.
Animal remains from the Ice Age still litter the depths of the sea around the Norfolk coast and continue to be found.
So let’s head to the Windmill Theatre on Marine Parade. Walk straight back to the seafront, turn left and it’s a short stroll to the theatre.