The Peddars Way

Dave Travers and I walked the Peddars Way on occasional Saturdays in 1999 and 2000, meeting at the end point, then using a two-car shuffle to get back to the start.

Saturday 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 be close to the tank tracks from a local military base. But much of the older habitat will still be seen.

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

We started by sheltering from a brief snow flurry, wondering if we should continue. But Norfolk is hardly the Alps, and it soon petered out.

This 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 as of 2020), plus eating places and interesting shops.

The map shows the path to Cromer as walked in 1999-2000. There have been significant changes since, in particular Hunstanton to Thornham, Cley to Weybourne, and Sheringham to Cromer.

The west gate of the ruined castle (2007)

Saturday 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.

Saturday 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. Note that the way in to Hunstanton is now on the seaward side, rather than the landward side, of Hunstanton golf club.

I was feeling so good about the day out that, homeward, I clocked my one-and-only speeding ticket at the bottom of the M11, at a camera I knew well and respected fully, or so I thought.

The North Norfolk coast

This was a three-day trip for Dave and I. Technically it starts from Hunstanton, but we’d done that bit a month before.


Dave on the boardwalk

Thursday 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. There will be a monument to him at Great Yarmouth, near the end of the coast path.

Friday 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, 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 homes, as prices have been forced up by those who feel they need two houses to live in rather than one. 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.



Saturday 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. I chose the shingle bank, Dave the beach – whichever, it was 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 trail ran 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.

Note that this part of the trail now takes an almost entirely different route. Walking on the shingle bank like I did is deprecated, lest it weaken the bank as a sea defence; the alternative is on the landward side behind the bank. Clifftop access between Sheringham and Cromer has now been secured, apart from a couple of holiday camps, so the trail now uses that rather than visiting Beacon Hill.

Two beach photographs: the author on Holkham Bay …

… and Dave Travers on the Weybourne shingle

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.

Gunton Warren

The Euroscope at Ness Point