A diary of hiking the Norfolk Coast

On the bank holiday weekend in early May we set out on a hike along the Norfolk coast path, with the hope of camping and finding adventure. We tried to keep a diary. Here is episode one, episode two is here, and episode three is here.

We are lying on a grassy bank beside the coast path at Burnham Deepdale, warming in the sun, listening to the birds and waiting for the cafe to open for breakfast.

Our adventure started yesterday, walking out from our front door in Blakeney on a fine spring morning. Friends had stayed the night before and we breakfasted on the cake they brought, some fruit, toast and cereals – a big breakfast to see us on our way.

Bonzo, before he realised how many miles we were walking
Bonzo, before he realised how many miles we were walking

We met some of the neighbours in the driveway as we left. Bonzo’s rucksack, into which we stowed his food, was much admired. It was presumed to be American and attracted a great deal of attention. This theme was to continue throughout the day.

Bonzo, however, seemed less impressed and decided the rucksack disabled him such that he could no longer trot around and sniff as usual, but rather must march behind wearing an injured look.

The first section was familiar territory, taking the coast path to Morston, with a strong south westerly on the nose, big clouds and breaks of blue sky. The sky seems to draw the eye to the size of the landscape when it is defined by such clouds, giving a sense of scale that is absent when it is simply clear and blue.

From Morston we walked on to Stiffkey and, passing the little bridges on the marshes, found ourselves on new ground for the first time. The section between Stiffkey and Wells feels as much rural as it does coastal, with a wide grassy path and cow parsley replacing the yellow gorse.

On a couple of occasions Bonzo slipped out of his rucksack, but gave the game away by bounding enthusiastically down the path, thereby alerting us to his new found freedom. We told him to go back down the path to fetch it and duly re-shackled him.

We arrived in Wells with the tide and realised we had never seen the harbour with water in it. It sprang to life as it filled, with the larger yachts starting to come and go, while the sailing club launched sleek, varnished, wooden dinghies.

We bought ham, tomatoes, olives, apples and spiced broad beans for lunch from the Arthur Howell Delicatessen on the high street. The rain came just as we reached the shelter of the eaves at the Harbour Office. We sat, very English, watching the rain and the tourists eating their fish and chips. It was the only rain we saw all day and the sun soon returned.

Channel into Wells Harbour
Channel into Wells Harbour

Indeed, as we walked alongside the Beach Road towards Holkham Pines, Michelle remarked it looked ‘almost tropical’.

We took the trail through the pines rather than along the beach, as we had not walked that way before. Just before turning into the woods, we sat and watched the boats in the new outer harbour, built to supply the offshore wind farm.

The pine woods ran alongside the marshes. The reeds and pines were both dappled with afternoon sunlight. It was yet another different environment in the space of the 10 or so diverse miles we had traveled along the coast path. The wind sighing through the trees was a novel and relaxing soundscape.

The Holkham Pines behind the dunes
The Holkham Pines behind the dunes

We had tea and the last of the cake, which Bonzo had kindly carried for us in his saddle bags, sitting on top of a small hill in a sunlit woodland glade. We sat beside the path for a while before we set off again, resting in the sunshine and watching the weekend walkers coming through.

Rejoining the beach at the Holkham Gap, we walked barefoot across the vast expanse of sand. Bonzo was relieved of his rucksack and, no sooner was it off, than he found new reserves of energy and ran in circles, digging his paws into the soft ground as he likes to do.

The beach between Holkham and Burnham Overy Staithe
The beach between Holkham and Burnham Overy Staithe

Making for the gap in the dunes where the path leads into Burnham Overy Staithe, we walked through some our favourite sand dunes and down to The Hero for dinner. It was our first visit and we were impressed by the soup and bruschetta with ricotta for starter, followed by a fish pie and a game pie (complete with lead shot, as any good game pie should).

Evening in the harbour at Burnham Overy Staithe
Evening in the harbour at Burnham Overy Staithe

Our decision after dinner was whether to press on towards Burnham Deepdale, another few miles through the marshes, or go back on ourselves and camp in the sand dunes near the beach. We decided to forge ahead and were rewarded with the most beautiful pink, orange, purple and blue sunset out in the middle of the marshes between Burnham Overy Staithe and Burnham Deepdale. There isn’t a more Norfolk view than a windmill overlooking backlit reeds, with the sea air in your nose.

Sunset over the Burnham marshes
Sunset over the Burnham marshes

Night was falling as we pitched our tent right on the path in the middle of the marsh and Bonzo fell fast asleep, almost as soon as we were snuggled down inside. In the middle of the night the stars were out, spectacularly bright away from any light pollution, and a red crescent moon hung low in the sky.

Episode two is here, and episode three is here.

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