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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Seaside stories: Cley next the Sea
Now the British seem to prefer foreign holidays, how are our traditional resorts coping? In the last of a four-part series, BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley looks at the price of popularity being paid in Norfolk.

Cley next the Sea, Norfolk

A quaint bolt-hole far from the fads and madness of London.

Rock is all the rage in Cley. Not the sickly-sweet, filling-cracking seaside confectionary, but flint - the stone from which almost every home in this part of north Norfolk is built.

A recently-sold Cley cottage
House prices in Cley have doubled in recent years
Indeed, so attractive are Cley's flint cottages that the village has been pitched into its very own property boom.

Prices have risen at an eye-watering rate. A two-bedroom house on the narrow main street sold for 80,000 in 1998. Today, it is on the market for 140,000. Not that an asking price means much around here.

Such is demand, goes village lore, that sellers can often play spellbound bidders off against one another to add 10 or 20% to the original figure.

Inflated appeal

Vicious house price inflation might be an accepted fact of life in London's "up-and-coming" boroughs, but for the people of this tiny settlement in the marshes, three hours from the capital, the rapid rise has been bewildering.

Cley (pronounced to rhyme with "eye") is one tip of a so-called "golden triangle" stretching along the coast to Burnham Market (Burnham Mark-up or Norfolk's Chelsea as the locals call it) to the west and then miles inland.

This area is a magnet for London money and businesses selling the kind of cosmopolitan luxuries rich urbanites feel faint without.

In miniscule Cley, there's no need to jump in your Volvo or pristine 4x4 to fetch handmade taramasalata or a wheel of brie. Gourmet goods are close at hand.

However, for those with simpler tastes (or tighter budgets) a tin of corned beef or a sliced white loaf are harder to come by. Cley's two general stores have long since closed down.

Though the area's builders are basking in brisk trade, the influx of "incomers" has not pleased the remaining locals.

"The old boy next door, he hates it," says one builder, gutting the interior of a newly-sold cottage to give it the "olde worlde" look incomers demand.

Saving grace

In this preservation area, the sudden rush of money has helped save some architectural gems. "See that house," the builder points a work-roughened finger up the road. "Its roof was made from old ship timbers. Rotten as a pear they were."

But for what purpose are the cottages of Cley being saved? As many as half of the village's 200 houses are now second homes, empty during the week or rented out to holidaymakers.

As the rich outsiders pounce on any house which comes available, young locals have found it impossible to compete.

A Cley cottage
Cley's flint cottages are irresistible to outside buyers
To get onto the property ladder first-time buyers must move at least 10 miles inland - where a starter home can be had at half the price it would command in Cley.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher once mused (admittedly at a 1999 party conference fringe meeting) that special zones could be created in which second homes would be prohibited. The suggestion was greeted with great interest by the Norfolk press.

The squeezing out of locals is not entirely new. The Blakeney Neighbourhood Housing Society was set up in 1946 to offer villagers good quality, affordable homes in the face of competition from incomers attracted to the coast by its sailing opportunities.

"It was an inspired idea," says Margaret Cork, who retired to Cley 16 years ago. "It meant young people didn't feel they had to go away. The society has several cottages in Cley, but it's reached the point where it can't raise enough money to buy any more."

Village people

With the departure of many local characters, Mrs Cork says Cley is no longer a "village" village. "Many of the new owners are delightful people, but they're only here at weekends."

In this part of Norfolk, feelings of belonging run deep. Despite the couple's long residency in Cley, Mrs Cork's husband Barry admits they are still classed as "incomers".

"There's a certain friction. There is the feeling that people have moved here and decided they can run this village better than it was run before'."

Margaret and Barry Cork
The Corks: Once an incomer, always an incomer
Kalba Meadow, who opened The Cafe @ Whalebone House in 1998, says recent arrivals who live full-time in Cley have brought fresh ideas to the village.

As well as championing sustainable tourism and organic food in the village, Ms Meadow and her partner John Curtis have also put Cley on the web.

Though as staunchly against their adopted home becoming "London-on-Sea" as those born in Cley, there is a real suspicion of the newcomers who largely occupy the end of the village closest the marshes and beach.

"The same locals who live further up the road have never set foot in the pub at this end of the village," says Ms Meadows. "They often ask our staff what goes on down here."

Thanks to its famed wildlife reserve, Cley escapes the downturn in business many seaside towns endure in winter.

However, drained of its local life, Cley could soon become a ghost of its former self, worries Ms Meadow - something no amount of money can compensate for.

Click to see more pictures of Cley

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Some of your comments so far:

I can sympathise with the people of Cley, it won't be the first village to be taken over by wealthy "weekenders", but there is one solution: if you want to keep your house "in the family" you have the choice to sell it at a price the "family" can afford. I know of houses in the North West of Scotland sold by locals and only marketed to buyers in London, the same locals who are now saying that their children can't afford to live in the village.
John Cooper, England

I have lived in this area all my life. The "weekenders" bring the only life there is to this area. While Tescos and Sainbury's force many local shops to close around the country, here the local butcher, baker and candlestick-maker are booming.
David Cobham, UK

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