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Posts Tagged ‘Peddars Way’

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.

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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 up 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…

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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…

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Today’s the day. It starts with a B&B full English breakfast of remarkable mediocrity. Fuel not fun. I have a bone to pick with all those B&Bs claiming to have the best FEB. Only one can be the best so statistically you are all lying. I wouldn’t mention any of this if the landlord hadn’t crowed about his when it comprised the cheapest ingredients cooked badly. Enough said.

My hosts are nice people though even if they think my walking plans are mad. Landlady tells me of a deceased adult seal washed up on Hunstanton beach this week. It reminds me there are now supposed to be many newborn seal pups flopping over the sands at Blakeney Point down the trail.

Outside its tipping it down. I mean those huge raindrops that individually soak you. Dressed for the weather I stroll down to the sea front. There’s scant visibility. The Norfolk coast path soon heads off into the dunes where a village of locked up wooden beach huts conjures up faded dreams of summer. 

Until next year...

Until next year…

The regulation convoy of dog walkers dries up and it’s just me, the rain and the sound of the surf carried on the wind. The sea becomes increasingly distant as an expanse of wetlands forms a wedge between us. I can hear a lot of bird chatter but I’m not seeing that much.

Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

Whenever I come across a group of bird watchers they always appear to be in an agitated state of excitement as if witness to a dodo. I ask what they have seen but it’s routine stuff. Then I ask about the sparrow sized bird I saw with a white underbelly. Everyone turns and focuses on me…  Did it have white wing tips?! No. There’s a collective sigh and eyes return to lenses.

Cromer - 4 days walk or 45 minutes by car

Cromer – 4 days walk or 45 minutes by car

At Holme the Peddars Way national trail links up with my route. The coast path is well signed although “Cromer 44 miles” isn’t heartwarming. It’s easy walking though and as the sea “returns inland” I can see what looks like a fine sandy stretch of beach.

Miles of sand

Miles of sand

The Wash gives way to the North Sea and the path deviates inland again on a man made embankment that has for some reason angered the weather gods.

A gauntlet of wind and rain

A gauntlet of wind and rain

A host of new bird activity heralds the return of the mudflats. It’s here that I see various waders including a curlew that pokes an improbably long bill into the shallows in a hunt for food. Would that hold currency with the bird watchers?

Another charming sign

Another charming sign


I can smell Thornham before I see it. When I get closer the warming aroma of smoke from an open fire is seen to originate from a fittingly quaint cottage with the year 1682 emblazoned above the door.

Movable feast?

Movable feast?

The rain has finally ceased and in the absence of better options I break for lunch in a bus shelter noting how quickly I could reach my destination if I simply jumped on the next one.

Sandwich consumed the post-lunch route takes a disappointingly superfluous detour inland a mile south, east and then north. A seemingly vast tract of farmland is broken only by the odd pile of harvested root crops.

Crop surplus

Crop surplus


Normal service resumes at Brancaster. Duck boards make for dry feet and far reaching views of reeds that I believe are harvested for roof thatching.

Keeping my feet above water

Keeping my feet above water

It’s not far now to my overnight stop. Brancaster Staithe Quay used to be a major port for malt shipments. Today it serves as a base for shell fishing vessels.

Looks better than it smells

Looks better than it smells

There’s a stench of rotten mussels but that won’t put me off eating them later.

Waiting for the tide

Waiting for the tide

Brancaster is renowned for mussels. A couple of outlets on the main road sell the days catch.

Fresh catch

Fresh catch

Burnham Deepdale backpackers lodge is a modern professionally run outfit. After a shower and change of clothes I’m human again but at a physical cost. Aside from the deep cut in my thumb obtained while slicing parmesan for today’s lunch (a decidedly middle class walking related injury) my right knee doesn’t want to bend. This is a worry – I need it tomorrow!

Until then I can only hope that ibuprofen, Brancaster Mussels and Brancaster Brewery ale at the White Horse will have a remedial effect…

Here’s today’s walk in point form…

In a nutshell
– A walk through the wetlands, kingdom of the birds

High point
– When the rain stopped

Low point
– Aches & strains that could become a problem

Looking ahead
– A drier hike to Wells

Daily Stats
Stage  1 – Hunstanton to Burnham Deepdale
Distance  12.5 miles Speed  2.9 mph
Lowest  0ft Highest  318ft
Ascent  600ft Descent  705ft

The route…

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