Stiffkey – notable for cockles and a former village rector

Stiffkey – notable for cockles and a former village rector

Village sign at Stiffkey North NorfolkMind your wing mirrors! 

As you drive into the village of Stiffkey on the A149 coast road you will immediately notice one thing; the road is extremely narrow and is lined on both sides by brick and flint walls. In the height of the summer tourist season this can create a traffic jam as vehicles try to escape the confines of Stiffkey, making for the shining uplands of Wells in one direction or Morston in the other.

Stiffkey is in a narrow valley created by the river of the same name, which I would imagine at one time in the distant past was much more impressive than it is now. The river is bridged just into the Langham road and the river with its little confining valley is quite attractive during the summer months. The river flows through the village eventually making its way to the sea at Stiffkey Freshes.

If you would like to know more about Stiffkey’s history there is a wealth of information available.

Pevsner’s  The Buildings of England  makes particular note of Stiffkey Old Hall, which is close to the church. Building began in 1576 and what  remains of the original structure is still impressive.

Harold Francis Davidson

The nearby rectory was infamous during the 1930’s due to the activities of the incumbent Harold Francis Davidson. His neglect of his parish work, his family and his frequent trips to London to carry out his work as the so called “Prostitutes’ Padre” started local tongues wagging. In 1932 he was defrocked by the Church after being convicted by a Consistory Court in Norwich on immorality charges.

Davidson went on to make a new career as a performer to raise funds for an appeal. He even went to the lengths of sitting in a barrel on the seafront at Blackpool. Davidson finally met his demise at Skegness when he was killed by a lion after he entered its cage, as a kind of action replay of Daniel in the lion’s den. Sadly Davidson did not fare as well as Daniel.

Davidson still had many friends and they provided the funds for his funeral at Stiffkey. The church and the churchyard were packed with people and estimates at the time numbered the crowd at 3000+. The Marquess and Marchioness Townshend, from their stately seat at Raynham Hall near Fakenham, were among the mourners. In modern times Davidson has come to be regarded as a victim of an antiquated church legal system and his reputation has to some extent been restored.

Stiffkey Saltmarshes

National Trust sign at Stiffkey Marshes

At the northern end of the village is a long concrete road called Green Way that leads down to Stiffkey saltmarshes. It was laid by the army, as until the 60’s there was an army camp at the end of the road. The camp was used for training anti-aircraft gunners. The site is now used as a camping site and the original guardroom is still in use by the campsite owners.   There is a rough car park area at the edge of the marsh (on the Norfolk Coastal Path) belonging to the National Trust.  The marshes are cared for by the Trust and full details are available here.

If you walk along the track that crosses the marsh you will eventually reach the sands (20 minutes +). Visiting at low water will enable you to dig for the famous Stewkey Blues. These fat cockles are given the name because the shells do have a blue colouration. To be successful I suggest you take a garden rake and a pail. Pulling the surface of the sand away with the tines of the rake should reveal the buried cockles. If you are lucky and collect enough to cook, treat them as you would mussels. They are absolutely delicious.

The East Anglian Film Archive has an interesting documentary in its library relating to Stiffkey Marshes. It was made many years ago but is definitely worth viewing.

Parking in Stiffkey is very limited. The above mentioned National Trust car park is a long way from the village itself. There is a small parking area near the village sign at the Morston end of the village and limited on-road parking at Langham Road.

The village has a general store that contains a Post Office counter. There is also an antique shop in the village centre that is worth a browse around. For food and drink, the Red Lion at the northern end of the village has a good reputation, although I have as yet not eaten there. A situation I must address this coming summer.

The East Anglian Film Archive has an interesting documentary in its library relating to Stiffkey Marshes. It was made many years ago but is definitely worth viewing. To do so

7 thoughts on “Stiffkey – notable for cockles and a former village rector

  1. Thank you David for the information on cockling. We will try your recommendation in
    early September as l am informed that there has to be an R in the month when harvesting Also thank you for correcting my spelling of samphire regards John

  2. Hi John

    I have never been cockle picking at Wells but I believe those that do so go from the Holkham side of the town. I can tell you more about ‘cockling’ at Stiffkey because I did that with my family several times when the children were young. It was a treat for everyone and a good day out. Equipped with garden forks and a bucket or two we would collect plenty of the large cockles that Stiffkey is known for. They are known as ‘Stewkey Blues’ because the shells have a blue tint.

    There is a convenient car park at the edge of the marsh and a good path out to the cockle beds. It is a lengthy walk but a very pleasurable one. You will need to walk right out to the bank and cross it to get to the area where the cockles are to be found. Obviously you will need to check the tide times and walk out when the tide is falling. I do not know how abundant the cockles are because it is such a long time since I was out there.

    Regarding samphire. You will find that in numerous places, including Morston. You will probably be able to pick some when you are cockling.

    Hope you are successful and have a great time.

  3. Can cockle still be harvested from Well?
    I remember as young lad going with my parents
    cockling on the mud flats. I would like to take my grandson for the same experience if it still
    happens. If Stiffkey offers the same experience it could be an alternative. We also picked sandfer at Morston does this still happen or are there better areas to get sander. Regards John

  4. I have some photo taken Stiffkey one of which is a school photo taken c1925 in which Harold Davidson is present. Also others taken in the Great Yard. Anyone interested?

  5. Hi Mary

    I don’t have personal knowledge of this but it might be worth trying an email to Di Dann the Stiffkey Parish Clerk at She probably won’t know herself but she will have contacts that might.
    Good luck.

  6. Hello,
    I came across your website while looking for information about an artist.
    I have been given a small oil painting which I believe is of Stiffkey Marshes, signed J
    Would you happen to have any information about the artist, or be able to tell me where I might find out more?
    Thank you in anticipation.

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