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Weird Norfolk: The curse of No Man’s Friend at Weybourne

PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:05 26 May 2018

Weybourne beach. Picture: Ian Burt

Weybourne beach. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

A field close to Weybourne Hope – which has always been considered to be England’s Achilles’ Heel in terms of enemy invaders – hid a dark secret until it crumbled into the sea.

Known by locals as No Man’s Friend, the field to the west of Kelling was said to cause those who worked on it to fall into a slough of despond from which they were unable to escape – one man is said to have, from out of the blue, hurled himself off the edge of the cliff into the sea which was slowly claiming the field as its own.

From the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, this stretch of Norfolk’s coast has been known as one of the country’s weakest links in terms of providing invaders with an ideal anchorage: “He who would all England win, should at Weybourne Hope begin,” went the saying. In the First World War, troops camped there to help defend the coast.

Weybourne itself is believed to take its name from the Old English Wearg-Burna, which means ‘felon’s stream’ and suggests, somewhat gorily, that the area may have been a place where criminals were taken to be drowned, like the later recorded Wreigh Burn in Northumberland. Criminals were executed by drowning, their hands tied behind their knees in rivers, tidal streams or quagmires.

For periods in the Middle Ages, those who had the power of administering laws in their respective districts possessed such “drowning pits”. Close to No Man’s Friend field lies the Quag, a marsh directly behind the shingle bank near Kelling Hard – could it have been the site of medieval executions? Did an echo of what happened in the area remain ingrained in the land for centuries?

In the Eastern Daily Press on May 19 1964, a contributor wrote: “A recent reference in the Eastern Daily Press to place names has put me in mind of a field on the North Norfolk coast known in the neighbourhood as ‘No Man’s Friend’. Its outer boundary is the crumbling sea cliff which faces the Pole and whole sections of it are continually breaking loose and sliding down to the beach where, within living memory, stood a row of forlorn cottages long since engulfed by the hungry sea.

“Flinty and hard as cement, it is embellished by a carpet of purple violas, wild pansies, so that on warm days it is a-flutter with Red Admirals and Peacock and Painted Lady butterflies while in winter snow buntings assemble on it in multitudes.

“Many a time it has changed hands, but never to the advantage of the purchaser. Men say it brings bad luck and it is a fact that one of its owners, overtaken by the curious melancholy not uncommon amongst tillers of the Norfolk soil, would crouch for hours over his fire, summer and winter alike, shedding copious tears and refusing to be comforted…

“There is, there would inevitably be, a tragedy associated with a field with such a sinister name. The story goes that once upon a time a farmer, sane, to all seeming, in mind, sound in body and flourishing in estate, walked out of his front door on a fine June morning and, resolutely treading the violas of No Man’s Friend, threw himself over the cliff and into the sea.

“There happened to be a spring tide that day and deep water covered the foreshore. That spot, in fact, is said to be the only place between the Humber and Richborough where an enemy destroyer might edge in to less than a stone’s throw of the land. Winston Churchill is believed to have made a special journey to inspect it in the dark days of war.

“More recently, two paddling boys were caught in a mysterious swirl there and vanished. Their bodies were found far away in the Cromer direction. The superstitious might well imagine that the field’s malignant influence extends to the bed of the sea into which it is fast disappearing. When at long last the Ordnance Survey maps cease to record its existence, there will be few to mourn its passing.”

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