In writing content for local businesses, I’ve had the pleasure of finding out so much about Norfolk. Quests for historical, geographical, and commercial local knowledge have led me down some fascinating paths of research that have enriched my own life. Of all the wonders of Norfolk, I find myself returning, again and again, to the north Norfolk saltmarshes.
In the Domesday Book, Lynn is described as a modest village with many saltings. The name probably derives from the Celtic word llyn, meaning ‘small lake’, which probably refers to the shallow saline pools, known as salt pans, from which salt was harvested. In the Middle Ages, when salting was the only reliable method of food preservation, salt was important to the local economy.
Salthouse – the House of Salt, as the village of Salthouse was called in the Domesday census – was rich in salt pans, and played an important part in the region’s salt production.
Big-Billed Night Singer (nightingale)
Today, Salthouse Heath is well known for being the summer home of the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). This little brown bird, unexceptional in appearance, has been a musical icon for centuries, featuring in literature, theatre, song, and folklore as the epitome of vocal perfection. Its name derives from ‘night’ (it sings day and night) and the Old English galan, which means ‘to sing’. The genus name, Luscinia, is Latin for ‘nightingale’, and megarhynchos is from Ancient Greek (megas, ‘great’, and rhynchos, ‘bill’).
A salt marsh is a perfect environment for Salicornia europaea (glasswort, or samphire). The genus name, Salicornia, means ‘salty horn’. The ashes of glasswort are a source of sodium carbonate, and from the late 17th century onward, this soda ash was used in the fast-growing glass-making industry in King’s Lynn.
Blakeney Marshes Nature Reserve is an area of salt marsh between King’s Lynn, to the West, and Salthouse, to the East. Part of the reserve is Blakeney Point, a narrow spit of land that stretches for more than four miles into the North Sea.
Blakeney Point fell into the protective hands of the National Trust in 1912, when professors at the University College London (UCL) organised a public appeal that enabled the purchase of Blakeney Point from the estate of the 6th Baron Calthorpe, whose heirs were harbouring plans for development.
The spit was then donated to the National Trust, and the UCL was able to continue its scientific study of Blakeney Point, which had begun in 1910 when the university leased the land from the 6th Baron Calthorpe for that purpose.
Tern, tern, tern
Blakeney Point is one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding terns. The Point is the summer residence of three species of tern: the common tern (Sterna hirundo), nick-named ‘sea-swallow’ because of its elegant long tail; the little tern (Sternula albifrons); and up to 30% of the UK’s breeding population of sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis). Each September, these noisy sea birds migrate to the southern hemisphere for the winter.
The salt marsh of Blakeney Point is a haven for Limonium vulgare (common sea lavender), which is one of 120 species of the genus Limonium (sea lavender, also known as marsh-rosemary). Despite its names, this pretty little plant is neither lavender nor rosemary, but a member of the Plumbaginaceae (leadwort) family. Any visit to Norfolk should include a taste of sea lavender honey – a product that rarely finds its way out of the county!