Paul Macro is a talented and passionate artist – a man driven by a burning desire to capture the beauty of Norfolk in stunning photographs. It was a huge honour to be asked to write the text for Paul’s two beautiful books, which feature breathtaking photographs of the Norfolk coast, from Hunstanton to Gorleston. My task was to research and write about some of the towns and villages, lighthouses, churches, and nature reserves that make Norfolk such a special county.
Early Humans in Happisburgh
Happisburgh is an important site in the study of ancient human species. In recent years, evidence of the earliest known human settlement in Britain was discovered at Happisburgh, dating at around 800,000 to 900,000 years ago. These animals were probably Homo antecessor (Pioneer Man), the earliest known species of the genus Homo to have inhabited northern Europe.
Archaeologists have been studying dozens of flint tools that were found at Happisburgh, and palaeontologists have been examining the fossil remains of plants and animals from the site. Evidence suggests that the Happisburgh site was located on an ancient route of the River Thames, that the climate was colder than it is now, and that rival predators included sabre-toothed cats and hyenas. There were also large herbivorous mammals around, such as rhinos, horses, and mammoths.
Another clue to the age of these artefacts was to be found in the sediment in which they were entombed. The minerals indicated a reverse in the Earth’s magnetic field at the time they were laid down. The last polarity reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, and this points to the likelihood that these tools are at least that old.
In 2013, several sets of Homo antecessor footprints were discovered at Happisburgh, dated at 800,000 years old. These were the oldest human footprints to be found outside Africa. The tracks were soon re-covered by sand, but scientists had taken a record of every detail of the prints for their studies.
The Red Poppy
In the summer months, Norfolk’s fields and verges are bright with Papaver rhoes, also known as the common poppy, the corn poppy, or the red poppy. This blood-red gift to photographers plays a starring role in Norfolk’s tourist industry, its image featuring on all kinds of souvenirs. Papaver rhoes is, of course, Norfolk’s county flower.
The moniker “Poppyland” was coined by the influential writer, Clement Scott (1841-1904), whose affection for Norfolk – Overstrand in particular – inspired much of his poetry, including his famous poem, The Garden of Sleep:
“Brief days of desire, and long dreams of delight,
They are mine when Poppy-Land cometh in sight.”
The red poppy thrives in disturbed soil, such as cultivated fields of crops. Seeds that have lain dormant for years will come to life when they’re touched by sunlight. As thousands of soldiers were killed in the fields of Flanders in the Great War, the disturbed soil of freshly dug trenches gave life to thousands of red poppies.