In Cromer we are very lucky. Not just because of our lovely little micro-climate that makes us just that little bit warmer in winter and just that little bit cooler in summer – which every child in Cromer absolutely hated; taking jumpers to the beach in summer and rarely having enough snow to go sledging down Lighthouse Hills. Nor just because of our lovely beaches, which are indeed lovely. Not even just because of our picturesque town, full of balconies and Victorian splendour. No, what makes us really lucky in Cromer is our crabs. Of course, Cromer has been famed for crabs for donkeys’ years, but why? Well, until four years ago, anybody who gave you an answer to this was either fibbing, guessing or happened to have stumbled on a truth that was only discovered in 2010: The North Norfolk Chalk Reef.
The North Norfolk Chalk Reef is the largest chalk reef in Europe. It extends from Wells-Next-The-Sea to Bacton and ranges from 0 to 200 metres deep. It is on the Marine Conservation Zone’s list for the second tranche of protection, which was consulted on at the beginning of 2015. Because of its unique geological make up, it is home to hundreds of different kinds of species that either have thrived excessively in its sandy, chalky shallows, or wouldn’t normally inhabit the North Sea, at all. One of these is the Cromer Crab, another is the Squat Lobster, which has been the premier performer on our menu over the last six months.
Catching crabs and lobsters has long been a way of life in this part of the world. People who live by (next to) the sea, live by (from) the sea. You don’t have to ask around much to realise that all the locals are descended from fishermen. In reality, before the Victorian gentle-folk made Cromer a mecca for second-home owners, much like the Burnhams are today, there was little else to do. People fished and when it was rough they rescued others from the sea.
Working the lifeboats and sea fishing has always gone hand-in-hand. The current coxswain of Cromer lifeboat, John Davies, goes out in search of crab and lobster most days of the week, as his father and grandfather and great-grandfather before him did, they were also all coxswains of Cromer lifeboat. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that his great-uncle was, too; Henry Blogg. John catches crabs and lobsters for The Grove. Our emphasis on fresh and local food is epitomised by this relationship. Lobster season isn’t quite upon us yet, but when it is, we ask for guests to order lobsters 24 hours in advance, we then ask John; and they magically appear on the plate 24 hours later, just like that. The hard work is really done at 5.30 in the morning when the boat sets out on the tide; that’s why our crabs and lobsters are not the cheapest, but they are the freshest. And for that, we count ourselves incredibly lucky.