(Walked on 25th April 2015 – 16 miles + 1 mile)
At 7.30 the following morning – glistening with sun-cream, full of toast and anticipation – Jim and I hopped off the bus at Blakeney to continue our walk along the Norfolk Coast Path. Today would be the second third of our planned three-day walk.
Strolling down into the village, we passed the handily date-stamped Kings Arms – a pub I’ve wanted to sup in for years. Sad then, that whenever I’ve walked past it’s been shut. Never mind, as fond of a pint as I undoubtedly am, breakfast is still a tad early even for me.
After a short wander about the mostly deserted village, we exited stage left to rejoin the NCP on a packed-earth path, along marsh front.
An almighty storm had hurled a succession of boats high and dry; or else someone had enjoyed a very drunken boating party.
I know next to nothing about all things boaty and worried how these vessels would be salvaged and re-floated … if very relieved that it wasn’t my problem.
As we pulled away from Blakeney, and I shot it a final glance, the weather was as good as the day before and just as full of salty promise. Do you often have a feeling of regret when leaving somewhere you’re fond of? And wonder, wistfully, whether you will ever visit there again? No? That’ll be just me then.
We had missed a mile or so of the official route by following the road yesterday from Cley and then picking up the path again in Blakeney. But don’t tell anyone.
Salt-marsh and seashore would serve up a rich trove of bird-life today:
this dapper redshank
was an early, goose-stepping taster. Redshank is a simple name but how much more satisfying is it than redleg would have been?
I do appreciate being told when something was built – as on this second date-stamped building.
And I also appreciate a good boat name. All of these met with my approval and Larry Grayson would have been well chuffed with the blue one.
A couple of hours after leaving Blakeney, the village of Stiffkey beckoned to us for morning coffee. Studying the OS map, we headed inland along Bangay Green Way on a small diversion for cake; and found it in a wryly expensive cafe. Were I a wry local, I wouldn’t be a regular.
Revitalised with sugar, pumped up with caffeine, we trooped into, around and quickly out of an expensive antique shop (I don’t think two self-employed gardeners were their target clientele);
and, within an hour or so of leaving it, we were back on the westward path toward Wells-next-the-Sea.
The Norfolk Coast Path is amongst the gentlest distance footpaths I’ve walked. If you have yet to embark on a multi-day, yet short path this is an easy introduction: beautiful scenery, mostly on the flat, regular potential tea/beer stops and with no shortage of accommodation.
We stopped briefly to watch a little egret, but it didn’t come so very close. These birds are common nowadays but I never saw them as a child. I wondered why and checked the RSPB website which has this: “(they) first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996.” Now I know why they still seem exotic to me. In 1989 I was more interested in the delights of London’s West End than salt marsh.
At 11am we approached Wells-next-the-Sea, a small town I know quite well. Until the 1950s it was known as Wells-on-Sea but then the older name was readopted – and good job too. It isn’t on the sea – it’s on an inlet. I suppose it ought to be called Wells-on-an-inlet but that would please no-one, except me.
If it is always busy, with its fair share of tacky shops selling tat, Wells is still a working town too and not as precious nor neat as some seaside resorts.
I stopped for a little window shopping but nothing caught my eye.
And then I stopped again as a couple of men capsized their dinghy and battled to right it. With a crowd of onlookers, they were more red-faced than their exertions might have justified.
We passed under the massive gantry of the old Granary;
now converted into apartments, many of which are holiday lets and second homes. Wells may not retain its ‘working town’ feel for very much longer.
With Jim leading the way, we dived into the holiday throng and found a pub for lunch. I like Wells and after a couple of days of country walking it seemed a heaving, bustling megalopolis. Almost.
After a fresh crab sandwich and a pint, we walked north on Beach Road along that inlet. Birds, accustomed to files of tourists ambling past, allowed me to get close:
an intent oystercatcher,
a cruising cormorant
and a group of Brent geese.
These are the dark-bellied race and, in April, were spending their last few days in England. Soon they would leave, migrating east to breed in Siberia before returning in October. There is a pale-bellied race too but they breed in Canada – obviously – and are more likely to be seen overwintering in Ireland. Now you know as much about Brent geese as I do.
Shortly after leaving Wells, the path turns sharp left to follow the line of the coast once more across Holkham Meals. This line of sand dunes has been planted with Corsican pine to prevent their erosion, though other species have joined the throng, creating a pretty stretch of woodland. And if owners cleared up after their dogs it would be prettier still.
After that brief sylvan interlude, we emerged from the pines and trekked out on to the sands of Holkham Bay.
At low tide, the beach is enormous – and soft underfoot.
It was a long tiring trudge into a headwind
made longer by diverting for the irresistible necessity of wetting our boots.
We were almost at day’s end and if this felt like the grand finale, it wasn’t quite.
We expected to return to the beach the following day for the final third of the Norfolk Coast Path to its finish at Hunstanton. But tomorrow, the weather turned and we abandoned the last day to next time.
Wooden walkways, a relief after deep soft sand, led us toward Bunham Overy Staithe – from where it was another mile to tea.
It’s a fairly long trek though to the village – past more inlets and salt creeks – with plenty more wildlife: here a greylag goose, the species from which many of our domestic geese are descended;
and this black-tailed Godwit … another wonderfully named species to tick off in my non-existent bird-spotting-notebook.
We’d walked about fifteen miles and if it had been over undemanding terrain, without heavy rucksacks, in near perfect weather, with plenty of laughter and stops … I was bushed. It must have been the sea-air and soft sand rather than my age, of course. Finishing a walk – with ‘home’ a mile or two still distant – can sometimes feel like reaching out for an elusive glass of wine dangling at the end of a very long bamboo cane.
At last, we approached one of many Burnhams in the area but first I spotted a remarkable bird.
Have you ever seen a spoonbill in the UK? They’re uncommon here but I have encountered them twice before.
I’ve seen them in Newhaven and, as a boy, near Colchester but they still look decidedly out-of-place in an English creek. I wondered how many of our fellow walkers on the path even noticed this exotic visitor.
We walked on through Burnham Overy Staithe to a weary halt by a weir, stretched our legs, our backs
and shortly afterwards sighted our black holiday home, to the right of the large tree, on the outskirts of Burnham Market. That glass of wine was almost within grasp.
Since we walked from Cromer to Burnham Overy Staithe in the spring of 2015, the family holiday home we stayed in has been sold. With its free use denied us, we have no immediate plans to return and complete the final leg of our walk.
But when we do, I’ll be sure to let you know.