The East Norfolk coast
Plenty of these signs on this bit of coast!
I couldn’t in all conscience claim I’d walked the whole of this National Trail after it was extended and I was still active. A weather-and-convenience window opened in winter 2023, and I was off.
Tuesday 31 January 2023. Cromer to Bacton, 11 miles.
This was one of January’s sunny spells, though with a stiffish wind from the north-west today – no bad thing, it helped push me along.
And it was pushing a quarter-century since I was last here, but it doesn’t feel like it. What’s really missing is Dave, of course; he would have enjoyed the resumption.
For the first few miles the coast path plays hide-and-seek with the Paston Way, which runs from Cromer to North Walsham in honour of Margaret Paston (1422 – 1484), noted chronicler of mediaeval life.
At Cromer’s outskirts, the coastal path descends to sea level as far as Overstrand, after which it’s cliff-top walking to Trimingham, on a headland path which wobbles this way and that to avoid the eroding edge.
It was at Trimingham that I came across my first discovery point, one of eleven now strung out between Weybourne and Cart Gap. These little seating areas with ample information boards give a fascinating insight into the history, and prehistory, of this part of the coast.
Looking back to Cromer
The Trimingham discovery point
Beyond Trimingham, neither the cliff-top nor the beach are accessible for a while, so there’s a diversion to the heady 220ft height of Beacon Hill (yes another one), notable now for a radar golfball. Hang gliders are warned not to linger in its vicinity, for fear of what it could do to their insides.
Next up, Mundesley is one of the larger settlements on this part of the coast, but I needed to have wits about me as one or two of the coast path waymarkers had been twisted to the wrong direction. Normally, a hazard of much more urban walking.
I was soon back down to beach level, and with the Paston Way back on hand as well – the Pastons’ home village is only a mile away, but these days it’s behind the terminal where North Sea gas comes on shore.
The oddly-named Poachers Pocket pub in Bacton was my base for the night, and it’s right on the path, always a good thing.
Wednesday 1 February 2023. Bacton to Great Yarmouth, 21 miles.
The Poachers Pocket breakfast is ‘any time from 10’, which is not really breakfast at all. With a long day and an early nightfall, that was no use to me.
Thankfully there was a little shop just down the road so a sausage roll got pressed into service as emergency sustenance.
I was on my way now to Happisburgh, where the effects of coastal erosion – prevalent all along this coast, and have been since mediaeval times – are most notable. Houses are lost in many years; and this relatively new path has already had to be shifted inland, less than ten years after it opened.
After Eccles on Sea, the route takes to the beach. It was low tide, so I struck out towards the surf, and checking my digital map, was surprised that I was walking on water! Maybe I should start a new religion.
But if Happisburgh is being left to crumble, there’s a concerted effort to save Sea Palling, with a series of nine offshore rock reefs (only just offshore – I could have walked to the first.)
Looking back to Happisburgh. Notice the lighthouse, safely inland.
Rock reefs at Sea Palling
I took a break at a Sea Palling beach café, for a bit more breakfast. There’s a plaque to a Dutch tug master here, who died in the placing of the reefs in 1996. It’s notable this was an international effort – Russians amongst them …
Dunes start to appear, low at first, but increasingly dominant. The path stays behind them after Horsey Gap, which is a frustration, but that’s because the beach here is an important seal sanctuary. At a safe place, I went up to have a look.
The seal count (a bit out of date) …
… and some seals
From Winterton Ness, the path heads straight through the dunes for nearly two miles, to the settlement of Winterton-on-Sea. They are very much a highlight of the trail; they don’t peter out until Hemsby, which is pretty much the start of the Great Yarmouth seaside sprawl.
Looking out to sea, between Hemsby and Caister
I enjoyed more beach walking through Caister, when surprise, more dunes! They are rather low, though do have the merit of stopping that sprawl, but for the walker it’s prom time, all the way to my bed for the night.
Thursday 2 February 2023. Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft, 11 miles.
First, a quick tour of the many faces of Great Yarmouth.
A bit more of the prom, past (in fact under) its pleasure pier, then turn right through the town centre, passing the splendid former College of Art and Design and other civic buildings of the town’s apogee, and over to the South Quay, once the hub of the town’s maritime industry.
Crossing over the River Yare, there’s a dull mile along Southtown Road before the river can be regained. A new bridge is being built here, so maybe the coast path will divert along it – it was due to open later in 2023.
To get down to the river, there’s a little public park, relic of a house built for one of Nelson’s lieutenants; its view of Yarmouth’s Nelson Monument is protected, rather like the views of St Paul’s in London.
It will have been clear from the boat yards of Southtown Road that Yarmouth’s maritime industry is still key to the town. From the just-off-road path by the river, several ships were tied up, most strikingly the Trafalgar Sentinel, which seems to be both fisheries patrol and oil industry supply ship.
Two sides of Yarmouth: the Britannia Pier …
… and its maritime present
The end of the Norfolk Coast Path
By now, Yarmouth is merging into Gorleston in much the same way as Brighton merges into Hove. There’s a sandy beach and plenty of green, and a prom to make good progress along.
When Gorleston ends, it’s back to the beach. I had to stay behind the wooden barrier though, on account of the tide, which felt a bit constricting. Still, it got me to the official end of the Norfolk Coast Path at League Hole.
There’s a little bit of Norfolk left, and some contradictory signs as to what to do next. Is there a path by the beach, or on the cliffs, or not? I asked a local sea angler. He ‘thought’ you could get ‘most of the way’ to Corton, the next settlement, but wasn’t sure.
That wasn’t for me to risk then. I plotted a road alternative. In summer, the road would have been thronged by holiday cars, but I only had a few to avoid. Clearly, the England Coast Path people are going to have problem sorting this one out.
Still, Lowestoft wasn’t far now, and the nature reserve of Gunton Warren is a nice way to approach it. The final mile is prom; and the final point is Ness Point, a commemorative circle noting the most easterly point of the British Isles. With a Birds Eye factory belching steam just behind, it’s a bit anticlimatic, but it’s worth a pause for respect; not least for the name of the circle, Euroscope, in one of the most Brexity towns in Britain.
The Euroscope at Ness Point