The forecast for this final morning of my Norfolk coast path exploration is as follows: Dry and mild for the time of year with light knee discomfort, stiffening up towards noon. So much for a triumphal 14 mile trek from Cley to Cromer. My walking is done.
It could yet be worse. A cat has jumped onto the adjacent breakfast table and is licking the plate of a departed guest. On seeing this a member of staff clears the dishes away but neither shoes the cat away nor wipes the table. Food poisoning anyone?
With perhaps hours left before I succumb to illness it’s all the more important to make the most of today. I’ll drive towards Cromer and attempt to absorb as much as I can of the route I would have experienced on foot.
Travel by whatever medium is more fun when you are looking for opportunities to stop and explore. Barely have I departed Cley and the first one arises. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes Visitor Centre is a new looking wood and glass building that occupies an elevated position next to the A149.
There’s a nice looking café here and I join a line of sipping and nibbling bobble hatted birdy types who are sitting at the large glass windows and survey the large colonies or bird life in the salt marches. A friendly member of staff asks me what birds I’ve seen today. Too embarrassed to say “blackbird” I provide an elusive reply. He tells me that despite appearances the building is 8 years old and construction work next door will yield a grant funded learning centre where people of all ages will be able to find out more about birds.
You don’t need to be a hardcore twitcher to appreciate the beauty beyond the glass. Complimentary binoculars and bird identification literature allow anyone to have a go. Ducks and seagulls? Once again it’s best for me to keep quiet.
The little village of Salthouse grabs my attention for the quaint shop selling fresh crab farmed – and famed – at Cromer (the crab season officially ended a month ago). The intuitively named Beach Road enables me to sample the walk as would have been. A vicious cold wind snaps in from the sea leaving me to wonder how the fisherman encamped here avoid hypothermia. What are they wearing?!
My planned walk included over 4 miles of arduous going on this shingle. I’ve had a lucky escape.
The village of Weybourne would have provided my next encounter. The beach is shingle again and it’s hard to imagine having much fun laying on this in the summer. A sign warns prospective bathers of the dangers of the Weeverfish whose spikes contain a very painful poison that can be neutralized with heat. Or you could just heat the weeverfish up in the first instance and eat it as a proactive defence.
Sheringham is a reasonable sized coastal town where you can watch the sea battering the rocks below. I’m left with a palpable sense of the ocean’s power. An adult grey seal nonchalantly bobs around a short distance out as if to differ.
There’s a market on today and the streets are packed with shoppers on the lookout for an early Christmas bargain. I like Sheringham. There are the small local family business that I keep banging on about (sorry) and a launderette sign proudly advertising the largest duvet machine in North Norfolk but most of all I’m impressed that they will not be switching on their Christmas lights until December.
From here the Norfolk Coast Path heads to Cromer via an inland diversion which is another reason I’m less distressed about missing out on it. Verging on a diabetic coma resultant of an insanely huge chunk of flapjack I walk out along Cromer pier to catch the last rays of the day. A lone surfer ploughs a liquid furrow down below.
The pier has suffered from the usual storm/collision pier afflictions in its 200 years and yet still it stands. More so it thrives, as befits a structure so firmly bedded into the identity of the town. The pier pavilion was reopened by Stephen Fry 10 years ago and today marks the beginning of the festive season of performances. I’m delighted to discover a fine view of the pier from my B&B bedroom window.
Cromer appears to fall short on dining options but I find a Pie & Mash joint and mull upon the fact that I never made it to one during my 6 months in London earlier this year. Anyway, the night is young. Are there neon lights and saxophones to be found here on a Saturday night?
Actually no, and that wouldn’t be right for Cromer. Eerily deserted night streets carry the echoes of surf crashing in at the cliff foot, punctuated only by distant laughing and strains of music from nearby hostelries. Through the misty windows of the grand Hotel De Paris a compère entertains an group of elderly folk wearing paper Christmas hats.
One last breath of that cold salty night air … and then a warming brandy in one of those hostelries…
Today in point form…
In a nutshell
– A day absorbing the essence of this stretch of coastline
– Realising that the planned 14 mile route would have been exhausting over shingle
– The end of a rewarding voyage of discovery in which I saw beautiful things, met fascinating people and even walked a bit.
The route – if I had walked it…
Needless to say I’m disappointed that my thoroughly planned and much anticipated 4 day walk was cut short by injury. That said I did walk a third of the distance and I got to experience many facets of this striking stretch of coastline.
A few of my learning points that other walkers may find useful:
- Learn from your mistakes. Following my Cleveland Way rain trauma the waterproof trousers and gaiters I packed this time made all the difference when the weather turned bad in Hunstanton
- There really is no need to carry a full rucksack on this coastal stretch. I’m kicking myself really because a combination of car and Coast Hopper bus would have done away with my load.
Eg: from Burnham Deepdale (1) walk to Hunstanton; get bus back; stay over (2) walk to Wells; get bus back; drive to Cley & stay over (3) walk to Wells; get bus back; stay over (4) walk to Cromer; get bus back. Doh!
- Keep a Plan B up your sleeve in case injury or weather prevent you from walking. Research in advance places or events you could turn to and leave clothes/apparatus in your car as a back-up. I wish I had left camera lenses and a tripod in the boot.