Clifftop tearoom teetering on the edge

As the mid-summer sun beat down on the front garden of a quaint tea shop and guest house in Happisburgh, nothing appeared to be amiss.

The all-too-close view of the pounding North Sea at the back of the Cliff House tea shop and guest house.

A gentle breeze and a friendly welcome greeted walkers and day trippers keen for a cuppa, a cream tea or a sandwich.

But for anyone invited to walk through Cliff House to the back garden, another story was told.

The gentle frontage of this cliff-top Victorian terrace on Beach Road gives way to an all-too-close view of the pounding North Sea, which has already put paid to the rear garage and is now eating into the garden.

This will almost certainly be the last summer of trading for the business run by Di Wrightson and Jill Morris for the past 25 years.

Their plight is a perfect piece of evidence of the power of the sea - and in many ways brings humanity to a high profile report in Tuesday's EDP about the dangers of climate change for the whole of the UK.

Once the gap between the cliff edge and the house has reached 10 metres, Miss Wrightson and Miss Morris will be forced to stop the accommodation side of the business. Miss Wrightson currently estimates the distance stands at around 18 to 20 metres.

And at some stage the two women will have to move out themselves and leave not only their business, but also their home. They will have lost a lifetime of investment, with no recompense - and they will move into rented accommodation in Northrepps.

But for now the message from Miss Wrightson is clear: "We are still open, but hurry up and come!"

The business, which offers four bedrooms and a tea room and restaurant, has been trading well this year, despite the decision not to advertise.

"We can't promote ourselves in the same way as normal, because we don't know when we will be gone - and we don't want to let people down," said Miss Wrightson, as around a dozen people enjoyed the Cliff House hospitality on Tuesday lunchtime.

"One of the worst things is deciding whether to spend money or not on the house.

"We can't justify paying for new carpets or painting as much as would like to, because it could effectively end up as money down the drain.

"After all, we have no idea if we will be here next year.

"We have lived like this for three or four years now, it is very difficult.

"It will take a lot of thought at the end of this season to decide what happens next year."

As if this were not enough, Miss Wrightson and Miss Morris face the bizarre possibility of moving out of the house and still having to pay council tax until it has been demolished.

"It seems that every way you turn it is terribly unfair."

Although there will always be anger at the Government for their refusal to compensate people losing their homes, or indeed to provide money for defences, the famous British sense of humour remains, even in the full face of adversity.

"At least the sea views are getting better and better as the months pass," said Miss Wrightson.