Writer and philosopher ALAIN DE BOTTON shares his passion for the North Norfolk coast and explains why the sea is good for the soul. Interview: Alex Reece
I first discovered the North Norfolk coast when I was invited to stay with friends while I was at university in Cambridge, and their parents had a cottage near Cromer. I was amazed by the beauty and the way it felt unlike inland Britain – roomier and full of possibility.
When I go there now, I stay in one of the Living Architecture houses, called The Long House. It’s near the village of Stiffkey and was designed by the architects Michael and Patty Hopkins, who built the Velodrome for the Olympics. It’s a house that’s sympathetic to the local area. It uses the same local flint as many buildings do but it’s light and comfortable, with all the benefits of modern architecture.
For me, it would be mixing pleasure and work to be writing by the sea, so I tend to go there to relax. The whole North Norfolk coast is full of great places to eat and little churches to admire and it does feel like a sort of playground. Holkham Beach is fantastic and it feels totally empty even when there are lots of people on it, because it’s so vast. I’ve got two children and we live in London, where it’s quite constricted, so they just enjoy the space and being able to run around.
I think holidays are about gaining a new perspective on things and nothing does that faster than the sight of the sea. It’s the opposite of our daily realities, which for most of us unfold on land and with relatively restricted horizons. The sea also makes us feel like we are just little grains of sand in the middle of nothingness, and alleviates us from the pressure to worry so much about our own egos.
A memorable holiday should at some point have a moment when you think of moving to wherever it is. Probably you shouldn’t ever, but it is also important to have a good old daydream about how nice it would be if only you did.
Alain de Botton is Creative Director of Living Architecture, an organisation that commissions leading architects to build modern holiday homes for the public to rent. For more, visit living-architecture.co.uk.