Sunday 11 May 2014

Norfolk Coast Path - Day 4

Sheringham to Cromer - 6.50 miles

And so to our final morning, and the last few miles into Cromer. We rose early again, breakfasted, packed up our stuff and drove to Sheringham, where a trundle down the high street brought us to the sea front to rejoin the NCP.  

Sea front, Sheringham

We briefly followed the front, passing rows of unoccupied beach huts before cutting inland by the Wee Retreat - a crumbling former public convenience now converted into a stylish compact and bijou residence. Then began the arduous ascent of Beeston Bump, a pudding-shaped protuberance standing at a colossal 63m above sea level. 

Looking back over Sheringham from Beeston Bump

We stopped briefly at the trig point to gulp lungfuls of the rarefied air, and look back over Sheringham and along the coast. Next, in another unexpected twist, the path cut inland, crossing the busy A149 road and skirting the edge of Beeston Hall School. 

Quiet tracks

A series of quiet tracks led gently upwards towards the ridgeline. Gradually the countryside became more heath-like, and the route morphed from track into woodland trail as we wound our way up to the top of Beacon Hill - the highest point in Norfolk at a whopping 102m - whilst the sun shone briefly and birds twittered in the trees all around.  

And shady trails

Beyond Beacon Hill, the path threaded it's way between a patchwork of caravan parks and camping sites. The rural facade began to slip as we neared Cromer, and before long the trappings of suburbia could no longer be held at bay. From field, to houses, to main road - in a flash we were in the town.

We found a bench, drank coffee and ate Creme Eggs. Then it was a final trundle through the streets to the pier, and the end of the walk. Like many seaside towns on a gloomy out-of-season day, Cromer had a slight seen-better-days atmosphere to it this morning. As we took our final few paces, the sunshine faded and a light drizzle, blown by the wind, brought a lugubrious air to the place - a metaphor that was not lost on us.

The end!

After a quick photo to record the end of the walk, we turned on our heels and headed for the train back to Sheringham. It felt quite peculiar finishing the walk so early in the day - it was barely 11.30am - and stopping altogether would have seemed somehow unsatisfactory. So we had a celebratory Crab sandwich lunch in Sheringham, the headed back to Cley for a gentle amble and some more birdwatching.

Overall, we'd really enjoyed our jaunt along the north Norfolk coast. Despite being predominantly flat, there are enough changes of scenery, varying underfoot conditions and regular pretty villages and harbours to maintain the interest throughout. For those with an interest, the birdwatching is great, too: in spring, this coastline is one of the best places in the UK to go. And it's ideal for a long weekend - with time to complete the route and travel there and back in just 4 days.

We are already considering our next trip to Norfolk. By combining the NCP with the Weaver's Way, the Angles Way and the Peddars Way, it is possible to circumnavigate Norfolk, and I reckon it'll not be long before we are out this way again.   

Friday 9 May 2014

Norfolk Coast Path - Day 3

Morston to Sheringham - 15.00 miles

Despite a broken night's sleep, another early-ish start found us back in Morston for around 8.30am, suitably wrapped against the chill and sporting full waterproofs. A breakfast-time deluge had more than hinted at an uncomfortable day ahead, but there were only a few last drops in the air as we re-joined the path, although the skies remained leaden.

From Morston Quay, we skirted the edge of the salt marshes for the mile or so into Blakeney. For some reason, I seemed unable to shake the rhyme about The Scarlet Pimpernel (Sir Percy Blakeney) from my mind, although to the best of my knowledge there is no link between village and character.

"They seek him here, they seek him there .... "

After a brief stop, we continued along the NCP with the Blakeney National Nature Reserve off to our left. Apart from the odd marker or tidemark of loose reeds, this was the first point at which the damage caused by the previous winter's flooding became evident. Sections of the path had been completely washed away, with breaches the causeway allowing high water to flood through.

Looking back towards Blakeney, damaged path visible
in the middle distance

Repairs to the path and the sea defences are ongoing, but much has been done during the spring. Boardwalk has been laid, and the path re-routed in places to avoid the worst bits. Tourism is a key employer and source of income to the area, with walking and (especially at this time of year) birdwatching being two of the major attractions, so the efforts made so far are having a positive benefit for both businesses and visitors.   

Further section of damaged path

Cley-next-the-Sea is an attractive village, slightly quaint, with a great-looking deli, crafty shops and a showcase windmill. It's quite touristy, as you might expect, and it's the only point on the whole walk we got lost! Not our fault, I hasten to add: the path had been re-routed slightly compared to that on the map, and not particularly well signed, so we missed it on the first pass.

Windmill at Cley

What Cley also has is a great visitor centre for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts and cake-lovers alike, and we took a short detour to sample all three. For those of us a little hazy with our coastal bird ID, there's plenty of information on recent sightings to help, a huge picture window from which to watch, and enormous scones of both the greater spotted (fruit) and golden (plain) varieties to be twitched. Birdwatching. In comfort. With cake. What's not to like?

Shingle beach

Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is one of the best spots on the entire coast to watch birds, and we spent a little time indulging. Not that we needed to look too hard: there were birds in their droves, just waiting to be seen. My day was well and truly made by coming across this chap for the first time ever. 


Nor was it was the last one we spotted. They were all over the place, along with numerous other birds. Over the course of the weekend we notched up multiple sightings of Avocet, Snipe, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Brent Geese, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Coot, Moorhen, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow and .... Pigeon (the little blighters get everywhere, don't they?). Oh, and a Marsh Harrier, too, just for good measure.  

Another Avocet!

The beach on this section is shingle, and the going quite slow. Like most unconsolidated substrates, the correct gait and pace has to be found to make much in the way of forward progress without unnecessary waste of energy. The breeze was still chilly, so we hunkered behind a shingle "dune" to eat our sandwiches - a nice way to spend an Easter Sunday lunchtime.

Part of the beach was cordoned off to protect the nesting sites of 
ground-nesting birds. I wonder what these will hatch into?

Cold and breezy it may have been, but in compensation there were some sizeable rollers breaking on the beach. The wind whipped spray from the crest of the waves, driving it into our faces, and the noise and power were an impressive reminder of just how elemental a force the sea can be.

Queen Canute

Give us a wave

The four-and-a-half mile stint to Weybourne follows the narrow shingle spit, with the sea close at hand to the left and Cley and Salthouse Marshes to the right. Sandwiched between to two, the path eventually picks up an arrow-straight course along the top of the shingle bank. 

Keeping on the straight and narrow

We had thought about ending the day at Weybourne, but we had made good time, and just as we arrived ... the sun came out! So it only took a moment or two to decide to carry on, and we were soon climbing up on to the cliffs for the next three miles into Sheringham.

Looking down from the cliffs

We arrived in Sheringham at a pace. Not because we were fighting fit and still full of energy, but because we suddenly realised we were likely to miss the last bus, and we didn't know where the bus stop was! Panic over, we arrived with three minutes to spare.

Approaching Sheringham

It was another great day: plenty of variety, and lots to see. It seems this walk knows just when to offer up a change of scenery, so interest is always maintained. And the birdwatching today was superb, with a couple of first-time spots to add the icing on the cake. Cake and icing in the day and eggs for Easter Sunday, so obviously Fish and Chips for dinner was a necessity. Good job the walking had earned us a few calories.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Norfolk Coast Path - Day 2

Burnham Deepdale to Morston - 17.50 miles

Next morning we were back at Burnham Deepdale by 8.30am, ready for the next stretch. It was slightly overcast, but the rain was holding off and the forecast encouraging.

Sail boats and abandoned barge

Heading out round the edge of Deepdale Marsh, we could see the low bump of Scolt Head Island (another National Nature Reserve) ahead.

Looking towards Scolt Head Island NNR

The path here, as in many places, follows the top of a raised bank, making for easy going and giving good views over the marsh. We swapped greetings with the occasional dog walker or jogger, otherwise the early morning quiet was interrupted only by the sound of wildfowl and the swish of Goretex. 

Windmill near Burnham Overy

After leaving the embankment, we crossed a field to reach the road at Burnham Overy Staithe, and found this rhyme chalked on a board beside the Hero pub. These words come from the poem Linden Lea, written by 19th Century poet William Barnes and subsequently set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It encapsulates a perfectly reasonable view on life.

Verse of the day #1

Linden Lea by William Barnes

Within the woodland, flow'ry gladed,
By the oak trees' mossy moot;
The shining grass blade timber-shaded
Now do quiver underfoot;
And birds do whistle overhead,
And water's bubbling in its bed;
And there for me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

When leaves, that lately were a-springing,
Now do fade within the copse,
And painted birds do hush their singing,
High upon the timber tops;
And brown-leaved fruit's a-turning red,
In cloudless sunshine overhead,
With fruit for me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

Let other folk make money faster;
In the air of dark-room'd towns;
I don't dread a peevish master,
Though no man may heed my frowns.
I be free to go abroad,
Or take again my homeward road
To where, for me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

With no dread in our hearts for masters peevish or otherwise, we moved on through the village and down to the harbour, where we sat and watched the world go by and let other folk speed about their money-making. 

Burnham Overy Staithe

Looking back over the Okavango Delta, pods of Hippos browsing water plants
among shallow pools, and herds of Wildebeest roaming the vast plains.
Or is it the view across Overy Marsh?

Moving on, we headed out into Holkham NNR along a causeway path. The sun was gradually breaking through, but it was still cool in the brisk breeze. Before long, we reached the dunes, climbed to a low crest, and there it was: the Actual Sea!

The Actual Sea!

The next couple of miles or so to Holkham Gap simply followed the beach: blue skies, fluffy clouds and a landscape capable of reminding humans about their place in the Universe.

Big sky country, small people

Four horsemen: no immediate threat of apocalypse

Today is obviously literature day. This verse by Algernon Swinburne is definitely evocative of the landscapes of north Norfolk.

Verse of the day #2

From Holkham, the path followed a line on the land side of the dunes. The sun came out. With the increased shelter from the dunes, the temperature climbed, so we stopped to shed layers and eat lunch.

Behind the dunes

The next section, through Wells-next-the-Sea, was busy. Understandable, I guess, on a sunny Bank Holiday, but even though the path is not necessarily characterised by solitude it came as something of an intrusion. We followed the long straight path into town. This section, exposed to the full blast of the northerly breeze, was freezing, but that didn't stop us from passing a trail of under-dressed families heading the other way: in typically British fashion, it was sunny and they were near the sea, and they were damned well going to wear the T-shirt and shorts they had optimistically packed. 

Looking back to Wells-next-the-Sea

But soon we had negotiated the scrum, and were heading past the salt marshes towards Stiffkey. It's an unusual name for a village, but thankfully not pronounced as written: in local parlance one of the consonant sounds is unvoiced (stop sniggering at the back) and it is pronounced "Stoo-kie".

Our walk for the day ended a couple of miles further on at Morston, where we caught the bus back to Wells. Tired after a long day, and still in need of rest after several busy weeks, we scoffed a quick Chinese meal before heading back to the hostel, and were both fast asleep by 8.30pm. 

We were rudely awakened later on, though, when the fire alarm went off. In pitch darkness, bleary-eyed, and with boots flopping on our feet and fleeces hastily thrown on against the cold, we stumbled downstairs to assemble outside for roll-call. Fancy being woken in the middle of the night! 

It was only slowly that we realised we were the only ones out there in pyjamas, and everyone else was fully clothed. Surely they hadn't stopped to get dressed before evacuating the building? No: that was when we found out it was actually 9.45pm .........