Cley next the Sea
Cley next the Sea (to give it its proper name) is a village and one time port on the east bank of the River Glaven close to its mouth.
Its population is around 420, less in winter and more in summer. It sits on the main A149 coast road roughly halfway between Wells next the Sea and Cromer and is located within the North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is about two hours by car from Cambridge, nearer three hours from London and the Midlands, not impossibly remote but far enough to feel different.
What is in and around Cley
The Surrounding Landscape
The marshes to the north of the village are a world renowned wildlife reserve owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust whose stylish new Visitor Centre is on the eastern edge of the village.
The beach continues to the west to become the Blakeney Point, also a wildlife reserve, owned by the National Trust. The Norfolk Coast Long Distance Footpath passes through the village which has two pubs and two cafés to cater to thirsty hikers.
Eating and Shopping
Cley has an award-winning Deli, an Art Gallery, a Pottery, a Smokehouse and a second hand Bookshop. Accommodation is available at the Windmill, the George Hotel, and the Harnser as well as at the numerous places offering B&B. Details of all these are available on the Glaven Valley website.
The nearest town is Holt, an attractive former market town some four miles to the south.
There you will find all the necessities of modern life – well most of them anyway. The nearest railway station is Sheringham, six miles east of Cley. There is also an excellent bus service, the CoastHopper (www.coasthopper.co.uk), that runs along the coast from Cromer to Hunstanton and King’s Lynn for those who wish to abandon their cars for the day (or week).
Car park and recycling
There is a large, free, car park behind the Village Hall (signposted from the main road) where there is also a recycling centre for glass and textiles.
The Village Hall hosts various local functions and organisations such as a flourishing WI branch. Plus, of course, the Parish Council…
“Cly” or “Clay”?
Most modern guide books state that the name should be pronounced Cly, rhyming with shy, though it has not always been so. It seems to be derived from the Old English word ‘claeg’ meaning clay or clayey (similar to the modern word ‘clag’) though the Domesday Book rendered it as ‘Claia’.
Early modern maps tended to use phonetic spellings. Speed’s map of 1611 used the spelling ‘Clay’ and that was religiously copied by many who came after him, though by the eighteenth century ‘Cly’ was more common: Daniel Defoe, writing in 1712, used the spelling ‘Clye’ which seems fairly definitive.
By the early twentieth century ‘Clay’ would seem to have been back in favour once more, only to be usurped again by ‘Cly’ after the war when many, largely middle class, newcomers settled in the village. Where that leaves the pottery shop ‘Made in Cley’ is a moot point.
Occasional flooding had long been a part of life for the inhabitants of Cley but there had rarely been anything as bad as the major tidal surge that swept down our coast on the night of 31 January 1953. It caused major damage and loss of life on both sides of the North Sea. While some damage was done here in Cley, fortunately no one died. The surge tide was so ferocious that it burst through the 1824-built bank and flooded the whole valley as far as Glandford Mill over a mile upstream. While the tide was up the Glaven Valley resembled its medieval self when sea-going ships reputedly berthed near the church.
As a result of this devastation a concrete wall was built around the main part of the village and this successfully repelled a number of very high tides, the last of which occurred in 1996 just as the finishing touches were being put to the new earth bank with its tide gate that you see now.
This is designed to protect the heart of the village from a ‘once in 200 years’ event – even worse than 1953. The 1996 flood was due to a breach in the shingle bank which allowed flood waters to cover the marshes and the coast road, and to lap at the doors of the lowest-lying cottages. No houses were damaged though damage was done to the bird reserve.
Since 1996 the shingle bank has been allowed to find its own level and profile the idea being that, though it might be overtopped more often, it would not be subject to catastrophic breaches. New and much enlarged sluices would drain off any water that came over the top. The Environment Agency has drawn up a map of what it considers to be flood risk areas; essentially they drew a line along the 7 metre contour and proclaimed anything below it to be at risk, regardless of actual existing flood protection measures.
This has resulted in about half of the village being designated as a flood-risk area. In reality most properties are safe from everything bar a tsunami, while the handful of houses under Hilltop are at minor risk only. The massive surge tide of December 2013, the worst for 60 years, which again flooded the Reserve and all the other marsh areas also flooded a few houses on the Coast Road – those not adequately sandbagged – but no structural damage was done to them. The risk of fluvial flooding from the River Glaven can be discounted.
Further information about community response to flood risk can be obtained via this link Flood Info