Norfolk Coast Path #4 – Cley to Cromer

The sea always wins in the end

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.

Hygiene Faulty Towers style
Hygiene Faulty Towers style

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.

Bird watching in the warm
Bird watching in the warm

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.

Its Collins but I can borrow it
Its Collins but I can borrow it

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.

Freeezing!
Freeezing!

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?!

Shingle - 2 steps forward, 1 step back
Shingle – 2 steps forward, 1 step back

My planned walk included over 4 miles of arduous going on this shingle. I’ve had a lucky escape.

A ghost ship needs a ghost tractor
A ghost ship needs a ghost tractor

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.

The sea always wins in the end
The sea always wins in the end

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.

We do do duvets
We do do duvets

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.

End of the day
End of the day

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.

Picture postcard view
Picture postcard view

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?

Haunting old streets
Haunting old streets

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

High point
– Realising that the planned 14 mile route would have been exhausting over shingle

Low point
– 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…



Epilogue

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.

Norfolk Coast Path #3 – Wells to Cley

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be a good day. I slept remarkably well as solo guest beneath the decks of the Albatros and a breakfast of Dutch pancakes with Apple, cinnamon and maple syrup is amazing!

View from the wheelhouse
View from the wheelhouse

Genial captain Ton Brouwer informs me that despite a permanent mooring the ship remains seaworthy, requiring just a days work to prepare her for ocean going duties.

Capt Birdseye ready to take her out
Capt Birdseye ready to take her out

If he ever wants a skipper I’m available. The Albatros is a beautiful craft from a more aesthetically pleasing time.


With any meaningful walking still out of the question my first stop today is the tiny village of Morston to join a seal watching boat trip. It’s perfect timing with
record numbers of grey seal pups reported this breeding season.

On course for Blakeney Point
On course for Blakeney Point

Buried under 5 layers I’m able to stay warm as the Temple Seal Trips boat Four Sisters chugs away from the quay out into the harbour.

Lucky for some, number 7. Shout when you have house...
Lucky for some, number 7. Shout up when you have house…

A commentary explains how the process of longshore drift has led to a massive expansion of the dunes at Blakeney Point over the years. This is the flip side to the coastal erosion we tend to hear more about.

Curious visitor
Curious visitor

In no time we have the company of inquisitive mature seals! I find them adorable despite the maintenance guy on the Albatros telling me what brutal savage hunters they are.

Can I take one home? Pleeease?
Can I take one home? Pleeease?

We get as close as we can to the dark grey adult seals without disturbing them but the real stars are the new white pups laid out further up the beach in the soft dryer sand.

More formidable in the water
More formidable in the water

The adults have more energy than the pups. These massive creatures look incongruous out of water as they follop along the shoreline gouging out deep channels in the sand behind them.

A safe haven for breeding birds
A safe haven for breeding birds

It is easy to forget that this is a very special place for birds. They also breed in the dunes and the area is restricted for human access in order to protect the eggs.


Following a fine lunch at the popular Anchor pub I decide that, despite my injured knee, I’m going to attempt some sort of walk dammit.

Roadside mussels for sale
Roadside mussels for sale

With no rucksack to carry and a short flat stretch of coast path to negotiate I set off back to Morston Quay knowing that I can bide my time and catch the Coast Hopper bus back once I’ve reached my limit.

Marsh to the horizon
Marsh to the horizon

The raised embankment commands good views over the salt marshes in spite of a grey haze that gradually dissolves the horizon into the skyline. This well maintained stretch of path is speckled with flint so valued by our ancestors.

There are so many birds to be seen and heard. I’m no expert but can identify terns, linnets and oystercatchers as they wade into the silty shallows.

Heading for warmer climes?
Heading for warmer climes?

Huge flocks of geese create amorphous shapes overhead, splitting and rejoining the main pack in a mercurial dance.  How this mesmerising spectacle culminates in the inexplicable feet of migration is beyond me.

Erect any post and a bird will land on it
Erect any post and a bird will land on it

Blakeney materialises from the haze after a mile and a half. My knee is stiff and sore but manageable so I’m going to soldier on. There’s a pretty little inlet here with craft of all sizes.

Just how high was the tide when this was moored up?!
Just how high was the tide when this was moored up?!

It’s hard to understand how so many boats have ended up so completely stranded away from any navigable water. The marshes appear to be breeding area and graveyard for them as much as for the birds.

End of the boat life cycle
End of the boat life cycle

Cley (pronounced Cly) windmill dominates the skyline as the coastal path heads inland from Blakeney Eye. A great expanse of rushes fill the foreground – this must be a tremendous sight beneath a golden sunset.

Like an image from a writer's imagination
Like an image from a writer’s imagination

The windmill is a hotel and you can dine there by candle light! Less prominent but equally unmissable is the Cley Smokehouse in the high street where you can pick up a tempting range of smoked fish.

The acceptable face of pebble dash
The acceptable face of pebble dash

Most of the buildings in Cley are attractively clad with large round pebbles, a tradition I assume stems from an excess of available stone plus the need to robustly weatherproof buildings in these parts.


My knee really isn’t happy. I’ve walked 4.5 miles at a decent lick and will have to be content with that. The Coast Hopper returns me to my car and I drive back to The Three Swallows pub in Cley for an evening of recuperation.

Further walking tomorrow remains highly doubtful but I got to see seals today! Norfolk continues to surprise and delight.

Today in point form…

In a nutshell
– Seals, a windmill and even some walking!

High point
– A seal watching trip to Blakeney Point

Low point
– That knee at the end of the walk…

Looking ahead
– Walking seems unlikely but there’s plenty to see on the way to Cromer

Daily Stats
Stage  3 – Wells next the Sea Morston to Cley next the Sea
Distance  4.6 miles Speed  3.0 mph
Lowest  30ft Highest  100ft
Ascent  141ft Descent  128ft

The full route (I only walked from Morston to Cley…