Norfolk Coast Path #2 – bus, car and boat

What is it about hostels? There is always a loud snorer. I booked a double room to myself yet still heard somebody sawing wood next door in the night.

Disturbed sleep is the least of my problems. My right knee isn’t going to take me to Wells today. So much for all the planning but I’ll have to make the best of my circumstances. After porridge (somebody in my cafe ordered mussels for breakfast!) the ironically named Coast Hopper (you could say the same about me) bus service has me back in Hunstanton in 20 minutes where I can pick up my car & drop off the rucksack.


A brief tour of Sunny Hunny as it is optimistically known leaves a favourable impression. Despite the ubiquitous charity shops there are plenty of small local business – butchers, bakers, stationery, electrical etc – and few chains. My favourite is the Norfolk Deli where I pick up some spicy winter squash soup to go.

Roadside curiosity
Roadside curiosity

The drive south back down the A149 coastal road is dotted with tempting diversions including farm shops, delis, fresh fish and welcoming country pubs with open fires. There are also several shops selling telescopes and binoculars which makes sense with RSPB Titchwell and other bird watching spots in the vicinity.

The perfect escape from the daily grind?
The perfect escape from the daily grind?

There’s lots to see enroute. The Tower windmill is rented out as holiday accommodation by the National Trust. It’s a surprise not to have seen more windmills so far. Or is that an East Anglian myth?

In the footsteps of Nelson
In the footsteps of Nelson

Onwards to Burnham Overy Staithe, synonymous with local lad Nelson who learned to sail here. This famous little harbour has a strong presence to it, sail boats beached on the brown muddy banks under a charcoal sky.

Perfectly peaceful
Perfectly peaceful

A fellow photographer enthuses about the light here. He prefers the peace at this time of year to the hectic summer months.

Tis the season to put lights up
Tis the season to put lights up

Burnham Market inland fully merits its reputation as a little Chelsea. The are no charity shops to be seen here, just fashionable clothing outlets, estate agents and premium cars more typical of West London. It’s undeniably pretty but at what cost?

End of an era
End of an era

I’m drawn to a quirky book shop – labyrinthine in layout and run by a charmingly eccentric lady. I like the idea of books more than the practice of actually reading them but some of the 100+ year old titles would have me glued cover to cover.

Car maintenance 1915 style
Car maintenance 1915 style

The sun sets as I pull up in Wells Next The Sea (one supposes Wells A Mile From The Sea was rejected by the town committee).

Home on the water
Home on the water

My bed tonight will be below deck on the former Dutch merchant vessel Albatros moored permanently in the harbour.

Spacious by London standards
Spacious by London standards

It’s not exactly comfortable inside but it will be memorable. In the 90s I stayed on a sailing vessel called AF Chapman in Stockholm harbour. The fond memories remain so for me there’s something special about sleeping over water.

Shiver my timbers, etc
Shiver my timbers, etc

I order a perfectly kept pint of Woodfords ale from the Albatros bar and enjoy half an hour chatting in the sole company of the deck hand who shares his gap year dreams with me.

Bar in the cargo hold
Bar in the cargo hold

I’m likely to be the only customer tonight but he assures me that the weekends can be very busy.

Silent waters
Silent waters

Landside the harbour is utterly silent under tar black skies, so much so that a distant barn owl echoes down the Staithe Street as I search for a worthy eatery. The Golden Fleece serves great food. In the absence of WiFi or a phone signal the Dereham & Fakenham Times comes to my rescue.

Pubs gearing up for Christmas
Pubs gearing up for Christmas

The news is dominated by a predictable shortage of affordable housing. In other news Bradenham Reserves went down 7-2 to Gayton Utd, there will be refreshments and plentiful parking at Hindolveston craft fair and Shipdham Wives Group listened to Richard Dawson talk about his life with bagpipes.


One of the reasons I like to walk is to discover things at a human pace. While that may not have been possible the day has been full of discovery. Today I have followed the footsteps of Nelson, walked with owls and will sleep aboard Dutch maritime history. Not bad for a Plan B.

Here’s today’s failure to walk in point form…

In a nutshell
– you can’t walk when only one knee works

High point
– soaking in the still night in Wells with only an owl for company

Low point
– realisation that I wouldn’t be able to walk

Looking ahead
– maybe a short walk, knee permitting…

The route I was meant to take…

Mean Time In Greenwich

When my visit to London was at a formative stage one of the hotels I was looking at was situated in Greenwich so I did a little surfing to find out about the locale. In the end I opted for a scandalously cheap deal in the heart of the city but a seed of interest had been planted in Greenwich so I availed myself of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to find out more. It’s almost worth it for a trip on the fabulous DLR – a driverless transit system first conceptualised in meccano by my uncle in 1962.

Docklands Light Railway
Docklands Light Railway

Sometimes you visit a new place with some expectations in mind. Greenwich with its prestigious World Heritage Site status is the home of the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark not to mention the small matter of the Prime Meridian. How typical of my travels then to spend a highly fulfilling day in the town without seeing any of the aforementioned. My intention was to visit each of these in turn but the bloody incessant rain and preservation work on the historic vessel led me towards some drier alternatives.

Greenwich has a long established maritime and royal history. The Danes sailed up the Thames in the 11th century and moored in the deep waters here before, understandably, invading Kent. Henry VII chose to site his throne here at the Palace of Placentia and Queens Mary and Elizabeth were born here. When this was eventually demolished the replacement buildings were intended to provide Charles II with his new palace but plan that fell through (the builders blamed the architect, who blamed the client, who blamed Kevin McCloud) and instead a royal naval college was established.

Royal Naval College
Royal Naval College

A University and a music college occupy some of the imposing waterfront buildings while two magnificent domed structures remain open to the public.

Domes of the Chapel and Painted Hall
Domes of the Chapel and Painted Hall

The interior of the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul surprised me with it’s extensive intricate detailing. Almost every surface seemed to be sculpted by master craftsmen and I would imagine it had fine accoustics.

Chapel interior
Chapel interior

I was equally impressed by the interior of the Painted Hall. This beautiful chamber with its huge painted walls, where Nelson’s body lay in state 200 years ago, was deemed too opulent for use as a seaman’s refectory as originally envisaged.

Top Table at the Painted Hall
Top Table at the Painted Hall

It served as naval art gallery for some time but today it is primarily a (free) tourist attraction although I can’t help thinking it would make a fine filming location for some posh period banqueting sequence. A little research reveals that the site has indeed served as a film set on numerous occasions.

Hogwarts banquet hall
Hogwarts banquet hall

A peek outside tells me it’s still raining cats and dogs. Any excuse then to visit the Old Brewery, bolted onto Tourist Information centre and home to the ingeniously named Meantime brewery. The poor weather has advantages after all.

Old Brewhouse
Old Brewhouse

The main draw for me today was always going to be the National Maritime Museum. I felt that there was a fairly good balance of display items and information covering a wide range of topics. Themes included the evolution of military ship design, historical navigation aides and nautical exploration above and below the waves.

The displays I found most engrossing were the nostalgic toy boat exhibition, the gloriously evocative 1960’s cruise liner promotional videos and the all-encompassing ship simulator where you could take the helm of a large vessel and gleefully ram it at full speed into the jetty.

Implacable, 1800
Implacable, 1800

A massive section of the Implacable dominates one of the ground floor walls. Launched by the French navy in 1800 she was captured by the British navy and saw action in the Napoleonic Wars. At the end of her active military service she served as a training vessel for 80 years until the 1940s.

Another eye catching highlight was Miss Britain III – sadly just a boat. But not just any boat – she was the first single engined power boat to exceed 100mph, reaching 111mph in 1933.

Miss Britain III, 1933
Miss Britain III, 1933

The museum has a lot more to offer and I could probably have spent half a day there. I won’t begrudge the basic catering facilities as an extensive new wing is due to open next year with radically improved facilities but I do question the total failure to mention two of Britain’s greatest seafaring captains. Perhaps this omission will be rectified by the new extension with dedicated galleries to Pugwash and Birdseye.

With my time in Greenwich drawing to a close I wanted to visit one last “attraction”. Perhaps this is common knowledge but I previously had no idea you could still walk under the Thames. In Greenwich in 2011 you can do just this in the space of 5 minutes via the Greenwich foot tunnel. For some reason the idea of walking under a river really appeals to me.

Greenwich foot tunnel
Greenwich foot tunnel

By the time I re-emerge from my riverside burrow the feeble sun has slunk beyond the horizon and a damp haze hangs moodily over Canary Wharf, dominating the skyline beyond the Isle Of Dogs on the far bank.

Docklands
Docklands

Greenwich has seen these days on many occasions and sailors of yore would head down the cobbled gas-lit streets towards welcoming hostelries like The Trafalgar Tavern, The Spanish Galleon or The Gipsy Moth. Tonight that’s not for me – I’m catching an automated glass space age ship towards that city of lights 3 miles and 300 years to the north.