Some captivating photographs of Stiffkey saltmarshes at sunset
The village of Stiffkey nestles beside the river that bears its name. The pretty valley was carved from the underlying chalk during the last ice age.
To the South are wooded hills that overlook wide water meadows that contain the River Stiffkey on its journey to the sea. North of the village the land rises steeply and then opens out onto one of the largest saltwater marshes in Europe before shelving off into the North Sea.
The glaciation has produced a rich and varied geology within the parish boundary ranging from bare chalk hillsides, woodland and sandy shingle to river silt, salty muds and sandy sea shore. The ecology is equally diverse with many birds making a home here both summer and winter including the main flock of British wintering Pinkfeet Geese sometimes numbering over 120,000. The flora is also fine and perhaps the most spectacular is the sight of the salt marsh shimmering with sea lavender in the July haze.
Evidence for human occupation is widespread and ancient. Such a place could provide for all needs from water, wood, stone tools and building materials to grain meat and fish. Stiffkey was well established by the time of the Doomsday survey and had remained an agricultural settlement until recently. The grazing of sheep on the marshes for wool was extremely important for several hundred years and there was always fishing too although Stiffkey was never a large port like nearby Cley.
There are over twenty variations of the name Stiffkey but the earliest seems to have been STIVECAI. This has a direct meaning from the Old English of STUMP ISLAND. Certainly, with the present river course to the East and the pre ice age one to the West, Stiffkey would have been quite isolated when the tidal levels were over one metre higher than they are now two thousand years later.
Stiffkey and its localities are subject to many conservation designations for visual, ecological and geographical reasons. The main centre of the village is protected for its use of the vernacular building materials i.e. Soft red brick, Norfolk pan tile and fine flint cobbles of various types. There are about 170 dwellings of which about 30 are listed, as are some of the walls. Over half the buildings are now holiday or second homes.
The Old Hall was begun by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Privy Seal to Queen Elizabeth 1st and was completed by his son Sir Nathaniel J.P. Sir Nicholas was responsible for the consolidation of the manors of Stiffkey into their present form. Sir Nathaniel was heavily involved in the upholding of law both locally and nationally. His legacy was a prestigious collection of correspondence that gave insight into life in the late 1500s. He is commemorated by a fine memorial in the Parish Church.
The Church of St John is the survivor of two that once sat back to back in the common churchyard. The latter was dedicated to St Mary. There is still debate about which was which. The grave of the Rev. Harold Davidson can be found here. Despite his defrocking by the Church in 1932 for immorality. ‘Little Jim’ as he was known was extremely well loved and respected locally. He met his death in a lion’s cage in Skegness while preaching his innocence. An eccentric end to an eccentric character.