An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
From dog-eared diaries to debut novel. Robert Greenfield
gives the inside scoop on running a boutique B&B in North
Upping sticks and relocating is a risky business by anyone’s standards.
An international fashion designer living the high life in London downing
tools and fleeing to renovate a ramshackle house on the sleepy North
Norfolk coast, however, takes guts. But that’s exactly what debut
author Robert Greenfield did with nothing but his partner, beloved
hound and campervan in tow. Lucky for us his adventure was a raving
success, for 10 years later the journey has now been documented with
heartfelt glee in an amusing, inspirational and at times eye-opening
read. Samphire Coast is a hilarious over-the-counter account of running
an upmarket boutique B&B.
Robert can now add talented author to his list of achievements too for
his descriptions of places in Norfolk are breath-taking and transport
you to idyllic scenes. I caught up with Robert to discover why this county so effortlessly won his heart. “It’s a land of great beauty and mystery with a wilder edge not seen in the Home Counties. I say ‘land’ because it feels like an ‘island’ in many ways, and it’s not flat at all but full of rolling landscapes punctuated with picturesque flinty villages and sweeping scenery. Great coastal stretches under great big seamless skies”. Put like that what’s not to love?
His book reflects a deep appreciation for his surroundings and community as a whole, but how did he find living with the locals? “My perceptions were shattered by living amongst Norfolk-ians”, he says with affection. “I found them on the whole to be very welcoming, very laid-back but very hard working. Extremely inquisitive and full of surprises. I sincerely hope that though written by an ‘incomer’, Samphire Coast is appreciated for its ‘candid’ approach to both sides of the coin, incomer and local alike.” London to Norfolk life must have been quite a shock though; “I had to learn to slow down somewhat” he laughs. His advice to anyone considering leaving a cosmopolitan lifestyle for a rural enclave? “You can’t change everything you wish to and sometimes for the sake of sanity its best to just go with the flow!”
The book is a soul searching journey as much as a day-to-day account; one that taught Robert a lot, not least that he can be a morning person after all. “I also especially learnt that patience is a virtue in the hotel trade.” Dealing with the public on a daily basis brought a stream of odd balls and ‘challenging’ clientele, many of whom are featured as laugh out loud anecdotes. So any ill feeling from unfavourable visitors? “No, all guests have their names changed and appearances well disguised, I was vigilant in so far as keeping schtum. Ironically a number of former guests have since contacted me saying they wished I’d mentioned them!”
Apart from a wonderful location and great pathos in the form of a human story of determination to succeed, the book owes much of its success to the character, passion, humour and personality that shines through. This is something that Robert was determined to achieve. “It was important to me to wear my heart on my sleeve; imbue the reader with an authentic and sincere account, and it seems to have worked because many readers have commented that my ‘intimate style’ makes them feel they’ve gained a friend.” Well you’ve certainly won us over at Finest of Norfolk Robert and we eagerly await the sequel to Samphire Coast - a ‘faction’ story with a ‘dark supernatural twist’ set in a mysterious boathouse, on the coast here, of course.
Although no longer at Holly Lodge B&B, Robert, his partner and ‘whippet’ Barnaby still live in Norfolk in Stiffkey now. “One of my favourite places to chill is Stiffkey Creek because it’s like stepping into a tranquil watercolour painting,” he says. Before he disappeared back to his writing desk I asked him to recommend any venues for our readers to enjoy. His eyes lit up as he described his joy of discovering new nooks and crannies in the region, particularly those found off-the-beaten-track. “Wild deserted Kelling Hard is a recent one for me and I frequently take Barnaby along the new river walk opposite the Red Lion Pub in Stiffkey.”
As for food establishments I could barely get a word in as Robert enthusiastically recited his list: “I love a traditional country pie at The Horseshoes in Warham; the newly made-over Dun Cow and the unique ‘Cookies’ in twitcher-land, Salthouse. The Gunton Arms at Thorpe Market is always a treat and on a sunny day I like eating at the Wiveton Hall Café; it’s evocative of the Med with its splendid sea views.” It’s clear to see from talking to Robert that his love for Norfolk continues to blossom with every new adventure and every new day, and I’m confident that after reading Samphire Coast, you too will fall under its spell.
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