This article first appeared in the book, Salthouse the
story of a Norfolk village,
a Limited Edition published by Salthouse History Group in July 2003.
If there be one physical feature which is unique in the parish of Salthouse
it is its marshes. Their history shows a continuous encroachment of the sea, and
one can but hazard a guess that in the course of a couple of centuries they will
be no more.
It is definitely known that in the past 275 years the sea has encroached quite 275 yards, and has all but completely wiped out of existence the Salthouse Main Channel up which the sea-going craft of British, Roman, Angle, Norman, Plantagenet and Tudor days used to sail or pole to Salthouse, Kelling and Weybourne Hards, to load and unload the produce and imports of the countryside.
The stream at Weybourne turned due west on the beach where now there is a pond filled with reeds, the water from which is now compelled to percolate through the piled-up shingle to find an outflow.* This Weybourne stream in its westward course then met (in about half a mile) the little Kelling Beck, and as one stream it then flowed—and still flows, or rather stagnates—as the ‘Salthouse Main Channel’ to the southward of Gramborough Hill, round which it curves till it can take a straight course for the Rocket House on Great Eye. To the eastward of Great Eye there was in Elizabethan days — and long since — an islet called Flat Eye
which has almost if not entirely been engulfed by the sea and by the shingle. The Salthouse Main Channel then curved south-westwards between the Great Eye and Tubb’s Hill, and can still be traced in its almost due north course between Great and Little Eyes. The remainder of the Salthouse Main Channel has been virtually swallowed by the sea until we come to abreast Walcey Hills in the extreme north-west of the parish, where it used to take a southerly bend just to the east of what is called Cley East Bank.
The Salthouse Main Channel in its flow westwards then joined up with the Cley Main Channel, and so into Blakeney Harbour and the open sea at the spit there. With modern ideas of seagoing craft it is difficult to imagine how at any time such ships could have sailed up channels which have now become obliterated, and which must have been very tortuous, narrow and tidal. In those far-off days the more difficult a harbour was to approach, the safer it became from Vikings, pirates and such other marauders. Also the vessels were flat-bottomed tubs requiring little water to float them, for it was not till the time of the Tudors that ‘beating to windward’ was discovered, necessitating finer lines for the hulls and a consequent deeper draught.