Cromer is different. It strikes you as soon as you get off the train, or descend into the town along any of the four main roads that end here. Seaside resorts can be either brash, screaming places where the word vulgar must inevitably be on the town's coat of arms, or sedate backwaters in gentle decline, populated largely by the elderly, and with the mood of a party where virtually everyone has gone home. Cromer is neither.
'Norfolk is flat', everyone assumes. Not at Cromer. 'There are no decent pubs at the seaside,' seems to be the general belief. Not at Cromer. 'There's nothing to do in the evening after you leave the beach.' Not so at Cromer.
This vibrant town - almost as lively in the winter as in the more traditional seaside season - is the perfect place for a break, whether you are young, old, or somewhere in between. A break for all the expected reasons - delightful clean, beaches, great walks, excellent restaurants - but also a break from the blandness and uniformity of everywhere else. Granted , there is a Morrisons by the railway station, but so many of the dull features of bland, corporate, identikit Britain are absent from Cromer. There is no Macdonalds in Cromer, there are no big chain coffee shops, and not an inch of dual carriageway.
All the things that other towns of this size , and seaside ones especially, have long ago given up as impossible, thrive in Cromer. The theatre on the pier is now nationally famous for sticking to its traditional variety programme - which it does extremely well, and there can be no other town of this size that supports a thriving independent cinema like Cromer's Movieplex.
Perched high on cliffs, the town centre is separated from the beach by only the cliffs themselves - there is no main road making a boundary between town and promenade as is the case almost everywhere else. Steps and slopes wind down to the promenade, where there is a small fair of children's rides throughout the summer months.
Cromer is justly famous for its crab-fishing, and to the east of the pier fishing boats set out daily from the beach by the bottom of the Gangway, a picturesque slope, up which all sea-borne cargo was borne in the centuries when Cromer was a small commercial port, with ships beaching them selves for unloading between high tides. At the top of the Gangway, freshly-caught crab is sold from the cottage of the Davis family who have been crab fishing for generations.
Another difference between Cromer and other resorts is one that may come as an unexpected bonus - the richness of its architecture. Dominated by one of the finest parish churches in Britain (whose 160ft tower is the tallest in Norfolk and which for a small fee and a long climb provides visitors with an exhilarating, white-knuckle experience), the original town follows a medieval street pattern.
Beyond Church Street and west of Prince of Wales road, the streets are wider and laid out more regularly, having been developed in the late 19th century. Some very old buildings remain - notably in Jetty Street, with a sprinkling elsewhere, especially in Garden Street - but most of the town centre is a feast of the very best of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The vigorous optimism of the period is evident in every flourish and embellishment, from mosaic thresholds and stained glass windows to rumbustiously ornamental brickwork. A number of the buildings are the work of the celebrated architect George Skipper, whose piece de resistance in Cromer is the magnificent Hotel de Paris, which provides the focal point of the town's seaward face.
Cromer offers a special attraction to the family with young children. The delights of the beach and promenade are accompanied by a boating lake in the open area at the corner of Prince of Wales and Runton Roads, while just 300yd inland the playground at The Meadow (at which point open countryside begins) will detain anyone under 10 with energy to burn off.
If sandcastles and the sea, plus the climb to the top of the church tower, leave anyone in the family with energy to spare, there are delightful walks from Cromer in every landward direction. Heading directly inland, you can climb up Arbor Road and then strike out along the path called Lovers Lane to the Roughton Road. A few hundred yards further on, Roughton Road station lets you take the train back into Cromer. West of Cromer, there is a scenic walk from Sandy Lane across heathland to Runton Road, while on the east side of town there are breathtaking views on the cliff-top walk to the village of Overstrand, which passes through Warren Woods and the delightful Happy Valley on the outskirts of Cromer, close by its lighthouse.
The pubs and hotels of Cromer are many and of high quality, with the Red Lion and the Wellington being particularly well known for the variety and quality of their beers. Whether you are a resident or not, the hotel bars provide a warm welcome, which is typical of the friendliness the town. A long list of admirers, from Sir Winston Churchill a century ago, to the actor Stephen Fry today testify to the fact that Cromer embodies all that is magical about the British seaside resort, the town truly deserving its longstanding epithet - 'Gem of the Norfolk Coast'.