(Walked on 24th April 2015 – 15 miles)
It was a wrench to leave the holiday home and walk the walk.
I could have stayed put all day – happily reading, eating and looking through its large windows at hares
waiting for a glimpse of barn owl;
or enjoying the antics of resident stoats.
I saw hunting marsh harriers too but they didn’t come close enough for a decent photo. It was only after we returned to Sussex that, within an hour of our departure, these rare raptors perched for long minutes in a tree right beside the same window. That annoyed me.
But we had come to Norfolk to ‘do’ the Norfolk Coast Path. So, tugging myself away from the garden’s wildlife, Jim and I walked into nearby Burnham Market and climbed aboard the very handy Coasthopper bus. (This service runs back and forth along the coast between King’s Lynn and Cromer: it proved perfect in carrying us to and from our daily walks).
At 9.30 on that sunny, bright morning we arrived in the seaside town of Cromer and first things first, and feeling peckish, ploughed into a café for a slap-up feed;
before strolling down to the pier
and the official start of our walk.
Dodging giant killer crabs, we walked through the town and maddeningly away from the seafront. (I had no guide-book and relied on the most recent 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map. This showed the path diverting inland for a few miles from Cromer. I didn’t realise at the time that a new coastal exit from the town had opened six months before).
The weather was perfect for spring-walking as we dived into the Norfolk hinterland on our unnecessary diversion;
with spot on timing for flowering Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) and blackthorn froth.
Early spring is my favourite time of year for going on an adventure:
with bright sun hopefully, but still cool enough to make traipsing a real pleasure. I did find it odd though to be starting a long distance footpath without a large, heavy rucksack and not wearing my usual all-black,
latex walking outfit. But carrying a small, light, knapsack was a delight; as was having Jim along for company (despite his incessant chatterings).
After a long haul up through woodland to Beacon Hill (at 103 metres the highest point in Norfolk), another Alexander-lined path took us directly back down again and toward the sea
on this rather pointless if charming diversion. At least I got a close-up of a male goldfinch in small exchange.
We passed a massive horse sanctuary with mounts enough to carry a cavalry regiment or two, crossed the main rail line and at last returned to what we had been promised – the coast.
As soon as we re-met the North Sea, we faced another climb up the very nicely named Beeston Bump.
Despite what you might have heard, Norfolk has bumps: it isn’t as flat as a pancake. Bits of it are pretty damn flat but if there are no very big hills, it is a softly contoured county and we had plenty of ups and downs this day, if nothing very taxing.
Unlike some of my walks, this was no empty-of-people landscape and we walked accordingly: speeding up to pass dawdlers; slowing down to allow faster noisy folk to pass on by; all with lots of mutual nodding and smiley hellos.
In no time, we were above the little town of Sheringham – a former little fishing village –
where, after a quick snooze (but then that’s The Telegraph for you),
we hunted down another café. It had been at least two hours since breakfast so, feeling peckish, time for our elevenses.
Temporarily sated, we carried on along a road to the lifeboat station and, frighteningly quick on the uptake, I realised immediately that we’d gone wrong. We ought to have been up there on the cliffs, not down here on the beach. Up there. There. A back-track, a stiff climb, some muttering from junior members of the team,
and our fearless party of two regained the true, righteous route westward. Isn’t that an inviting path?
And it was good; with pink thrift (Armeria maritima) in flower – enough to brighten up anyone’s day.
If Alexanders marked the early stage of our day, gorse took over flowering duty for the afternoon:
great golden splodges of it for mile after mile, filling the air with the scent of almonds.
I ignored the golf course (as is only right) and kept my eyes on the way ahead, the way back or out over the North Sea.
Near the village of Weybourne, and feeling peckish, we left the path and headed inland in search of lunch. We passed the handsome converted windmill I mentioned a moment ago;
to arrive at ruined Weybourne Abbey.
Even though we hadn’t eaten for over an hour, we paused dutifully to read the information board, educate ourselves and nod sagely before – dropping all pretence at deep interest – we hurried on and flopped down in the beer garden of The Ship Inn.
With my belly contented once more – and Jim a little tiddly after his first alcohol in several months – we followed the scent of salt north via a stunning flint and brick-built farm. (I’d have to re-instate that window).
We had six miles ahead of us still; mostly alongside and on shingle.
A lone, still body on the pebbles concerned me and, grabbing a stick with which to poke it, I went closer to check that she was alive. As I approached, her hands lifted and folded up behind her head. Relieved she was no corpse, I retreated and left her to enjoy a moment in red. Which is a little tale almost worth recounting.
We pressed on. Jim continued to chat away merrily until I unkindly brought up the subject of his pension provision which, as ever, shut him right up. Temporarily.
Need a picture of a dejected looking cow paddling in mud? Here you go.
The shingle stretched on for miles:
tedious to walk on and sapping too.
The gorse still shone but the sun faded away,
and in that flattened light, I almost missed a well camouflaged male wheatear. Maybe, he didn’t see me either … or else he was an extrovert. Either way, he allowed me to get pretty close.
We were both tired now, and feeling peckish, as we trod at the foot of a great wall of shingle on soft, spongy marsh.
To our left the extensive marshland kept buildings and development at bay and I wondered whether we might see any interesting bird life.
And then we did.
The avocet has been at the top of my must-see list since I was a little boy. It has been the emblem of the RSPB since 1955 but I for one had never seen one and thought them/think them terrifically special.
Which is why, trembling with excitement,
I continued to photograph this beautiful, little bird until after there was really no need. During the next half hour I saw another half dozen. A lifetime’s bounty.
High on avocets, weary of marsh, we struck out on faster-walking substrate along the foreshore … on an unfulfilled hunt for pieces of amber.
This was a smashing day’s walk. But you know how it is. Towards its end, and having seen a bloody avocet even, if no amber, I was ready for the finish. And feeling peckish.
We turned inland for the final time and an approach to the fabulously, succinctly named Cley-next-the-Sea,
and our second perfectly
preserved windmill – with added higgledy bits.
At Cley, we shook the NCP from our boots and leaving it behind for the day, trudged along the road for a mile or so to a bus-stop on the outskirts of Blakeney.
The reliable Coasthopper bus was right on schedule; and a bit sweaty, a bit salty, a bit achy-legged, a bit peckish, we climbed aboard for the journey home and a hot date with a glass of wine and a couple of stoats.