This National Trail runs 93 miles (150km) through Norfolk. Or it least it did when I walked it. It’s now been extended 40 miles / 64km, so that it (nearly) reaches the county boundary south of Great Yarmouth.

As its name suggests, it is in reality two paths, of very different character: the Roman Peddars Way, practically dead straight across the lowlands of rural Norfolk; and the coastal path, wiggling round creeks and doing its best to avoid coastal erosion.

Blakeney

Blakeney

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Dave Travers and I walked the path in 1999 and 2000. We took the Peddars Way on occasional Saturdays, and the North Norfolk Coast as a three-day excursion in June 2000, to the trail’s then terminus in Cromer. The extension south from there opened in two stages, 2014 and 2016. Maybe I’ll go back and try it some day.

As well as the usual route information, this page give you information on bird life for the coastal stretches.

Towns and villages

The point about the Peddars Way is that there aren’t any. Well one of any size directly on the path, Castle Acre, which is quite touristy cos of the, er, castle. There are a few more a short diversion away which as you see we sometimes made use of. But along the coast there are more settlements, albeit punctuated by miles of glorious solitude. Hunstanton and Cromer, either end of the north coast section, are significant holiday resorts even now. In between Wells-next-the-Sea has an important little harbour and Sheringham is something of a twin to Cromer. Several other villages crop up, of which Blakeney is the most notable. South of Cromer, I only know from the map, but near the trail’s end you’ll pass through the major port town of Great Yarmouth.

Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe

wells

Wells-next-the-Sea

Transport

There is a small car park at Knettishall Heath, the official start of the path, just inside Suffolk. The nearest town is Thetford, with trains on the Cambridge to Norwich line, four miles away. There is no bus service direct to the start of the walk.

Things don’t get better quickly. Stonebridge, where we had lunch on day 1, has two or three buses a day to Thetford and that’s nearly as good as it gets on the Peddars Way. Back in 2000 when we were at Castle Acre, it had a regular service to Swaffham; now, thanks to ‘austerity’ and its unrelenting drive in the service of rural isolation, it’s down to just two or three buses a day. Swaffham, not far off route, has reasonable services to King’s Lynn and East Dereham. Great Massingham, a mile to the east of the trail in the middle of our day three, and the A148 a little further north, both have about three buses a day between Fakenham and Kings Lynn.

The position is better on the Norfolk Coast. Hunstanton has a good bus service from King’s Lynn. Then there are decent bus services along the A149 Hunstanton to Cromer road, linking almost all the villages of the Path. You might be able to use them to be based in Wells next the Sea for the three or four days it takes to walk that part of the Path.

At the western end of the Path, Sheringham and Cromer both have a roughly hourly train service to Norwich, which we used to return home.

Accommodation

Start with the ‘Plan your visit’ section of the National Trail website, though notably (as of 2020) it’s barely been updated south of Cromer. A bit like the buses, there’s very little on the Peddars Way but plenty on the north Norfolk coast. In the walk below we had a couple of overnights, one in Burnham Overy Staithe and another in Cley – both closed pre-coronavirus!

Along the trail

Dave Travers and I walked the Peddars Way on occasional Saturdays in 1999 and 2000, using a two-car shuffle, and the north Norfolk section over three days with the overnights mentioned above.

8 May 1999: Knettishall Heath to Little Cressingham, 15 miles

This section runs through Breckland, the driest place in England and one of the driest in Europe. It drizzled. Breckland was formerly heathland, though much is now forested, and on this walk you will see the tank tracks from a local military base. But much of the older habitat will still be seen.

22 January 2000: Little Cressingham to Castle Acre, 13 miles

We started by sheltering from a brief snow flurry. It is not perhaps the most stimulating stage of the Peddars Way, with much of the walk being on the verges of public roads, but a great compensation is the village of Castle Acre. One of the highlights of the trail, the village occupies a strategic position by the Nar, one of Norfolk’s principal rivers. Here are ruined priory and castle, both Norman, with the old castle ramparts especially worth exploring. There were two good pubs (but only one now), plus eating places and interesting shops.

4 March 2000: Castle Acre to Fring, 13 miles

Set compass for 335 grid north, walk for 13 miles, end. Perhaps the straightest walk since the days of the gladiators. Not without interest, for all that. This day traverses slowly rolling countryside in one of the least populated parts of southern England; there is a genuine feeling of remoteness, with no more than three or four houses actually passed on the walk, and the one village nearby – Great Massingham – barely visible. We parked up at Fring church, just off route. It’s remarkable how churches are still great navigation points, especially in country like this.

6 May 2000: Fring to Holme and on to Hunstanton, 10 miles

Strictly, the end of the Peddars Way and the start of the North Norfolk Coast Path, the latter taken east to west; we would later take the rest of the coast path west to east. This was a beautiful late spring day, with a good pub midway – the White Horse at Holme next the Sea, still there in 2020 – and an excuse for an ice cream at the seaside town of Hunstanton.

Boardwalk

Dave on the boardwalk

1 June 2000: Holme next the Sea to Burnham Overy Staithe, 13 miles

First, through the dunes to Thornham, the boardwalk helping. Look out for the sign bewaring of local nudists. The path then diverts inland which at least permits a wider view of the coast. From Brancaster, a wild stretch looks out to Scolt Head Island between the Burnhams Deepdale and Overy Staithe, where we stayed overnight. This is Nelson country; Horatio Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar and with Drake England’s greatest naval hero, was born just inland at another of the Burnhams, Burnham Thorpe.

2 June 2000: Burnham Overy Staithe to Cley, 17 miles

A tremendously varied walk that shows off this great coastline to best effect. Any number of highlights: before lunch, the beach of Holkham Bay, backed by pine dunes, before the small town of Wells next the Sea, where we diverted into the town for lunch. There are long stretches of salt marshes around Stiffkey, before the busy little tourist village of Blakeney is reached. From there, there’s a sea wall walk to Cley, looking out to the shingle spit of Blakeney Point. The relative lack of humanity’s traces make this a great area for other fauna, with seal colonies around Blakeney Point (ferries from Morston as well as Blakeney) and bird life in abundance – see Dave’s birding notes below, made across the three days but principally this section.

Social history note: it is difficult for those in the local low-wage economy to buy houses, as prices have been forced up by those looking for a second home. Perhaps in Blakeney this is no recent thing; a housing association specifically for locals was set up in 1946 to provide affordable housing for local people, which it still does, with 39 houses and cottages in Blakeney and neighbouring villages.

Cley

Cley

3 June 2000: Cley to Cromer, 13 miles

To the highest point of Norfolk, Beacon Hill! All of 105 metres (346 feet). But first, some of the most arduous walking in southern Britain – seems strange to say, for a three mile coastal stretch. But this is the notorious shingle beach from the coastguard lookout at Cley to Weybourne Hope. You can choose whether to walk on the bank or the beach – I chose the former, Dave the latter – it’s still like walking in porridge, sucking back your boots. And all the while, the hypnotic roar of surf breaking on stone.

The low cliffs to the small resort of Sheringham are something of a relief. From here to Cromer, the path runs inland, much through woods, to the high point viewpoint. Signs hereabouts warn of adders, Britain’s only poisonous snake. Cromer was a good end point; a Victorian resort that still has great character, including one of the most famous pleasure piers in England – as distinctive a finish as one could wish.

Birder’s notes

Dave was a keem ornithologist, and he contributed these notes of some of the species seen along the coast. Thanks to Ash Midcalf for permission to use his scans of the mid 19th century work of Yorkshire vicar Rev Francis Orpen Morris, catalogued on birdcheck.co.uk

skylark

The song of the skylark was our almost constant accompaniment

cuckoo

Every village seemed to have its own cuckoo

herons

On the marshes around Thornham and Burnham Overy Staithe, we saw many herons …

avocet

… and heard the territorial cries of the avocet

whitethroat

At Holkham Gap, we heard a whitethroat singing from a prominent twig of a bush …

linnet

… groups of linnets on rough ground …

sedge warbler

… the sedge warbler …

reed bunting

… and reed bunting.

godwit

Approaching Wells-next-the-Sea: godwits on the mud flats

black-headed gull

Stiffkey marshes: noisy colony of black-headed gulls

swift

Cley-next-the-Sea: swifts screaming around the buildings as the sun set

tern

Salthouse marshes: small groups of terns fishing just offshore

fulmar


Cliffs between Weybourne and Sheringham: fulmars patrolling, gliding effortlessly on stiffly outstretched wings

sand martin

Sheringham: large colony of sand-martins nesting in the sandy cliffs just by the border of Sheringham Park