It was a couple of months since my last coast walk, but I’d have a difficult time since then. A week before this walk I’d suddenly found myself unemployed having being made redundant from the job I’d had since leaving University 9 years previously.
The rot had set in about 3 years previously when the company I worked for took over another company. I worked for the UK office of an American-owned company and around this time the CEO of the company sent all employees an email informing then that effective immediately everyone’s salary would be cut by 5% and the company would no longer be making pension contributions. In addition staff were asked to volunteer for an additional 5% pay cut “salary sacrifice” in return for share options. Thankfully, this isn’t legal in the UK (though we were still pressured to agreeing to a “salary sacrifice”, an offer I declined), but it gives you an idea of the way the business was run and the value it placed on employees.
The company that was taken over had an office in Poland. My manager at the time was also Polish, and so he immediately began travelling regularly to Poland to recruit staff there. You can probably see where this was going, but pretty soon most new staff were only taken on in Poland, whilst the rest of the offices were hit by frequent rounds of redundancies and pay freezes. I was even sent to Poland in order to train what I had begun to realise where my replacements. When the recession hit in 2008, things got worse. By the time I was made redundant the office in London was down to about 1/3 the size it had been when I joined. In truth I’d stayed there too long. It was badly run, but I hadn’t known anything different and hating job interviews had stuck it out largely through inertia. It was only a few weeks before that I’d seen the writing on the wall and applied for a new job elsewhere (though I didn’t get it).
When the end came it was sudden. A few years previously an employee put on notice of redundancy had stolen customer data from the company. As a result of that, a change in policy was enacted meaning anyone who had been notified their job was at risk was immediately sent home, with their computer accounts all locked, to prevent a re-occurrence. I had seen that happen many times before, and now it was my turn to collect my things and leave. I returned only for a “consultation” meeting. At the consultation I was presented with a list of vacancies in the company, most of which were in Poland and nothing suitable in London, and asked if I wanted to apply for any of these jobs. Well the answer to that was no, and so that was the end of my employment there, but at least this policy meant I didn’t have to work my notice period, but still got paid for it.
Thankfully things worked out well for me. Due to the length of time I’d worked there, my redundancy payment was good (into 5 figures) and I got a new job in less than 1 month. My new job was not in London, was closer to home (so with a much shorter and cheaper commute), the working hours the same and the salary was higher. All of which meant that I ended up happier, better off and with more free time. So a good result in the end. In fact if I’d known I might have been tempted to stay out of work a little longer and do some more coastal walking!
However at the time of doing this walk I’d only been told of my redundancy a week previously, and so I hadn’t yet got another job and didn’t know how long I might be out of work for. As a result I was very reluctant to spend money on anything that wasn’t strictly necessary, including coastal walking. However I’d booked the train tickets (from London) for this walk before I knew I was to be made redundant. Since the tickets were not refundable anyway it made sense to go. I hoped a day at the coast would ease the stresses of the last couple of weeks.
I took the train to London, the tube to London Liverpool Street, the train from there to Norwich and lastly another train from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. Thankfully my journey went smoothly and I didn’t have any drunken passengers to deal with this time (unlike my previous walk).
I arrived at Great Yarmouth around 11:30am and it was a nice sunny day and quite warm for October.
I’d debated what route to follow. Part of Great Yarmouth is on a narrow peninsula, with the river Yare on one side and the sea on the other. I could cut across the peninsula and continue north along the coast. However that would mean missing out a small section of the coast south of the town. I was tempted to do that, because most of this area was industrial (as I’d seen from the other bank of the river on my previous walk). But in the end I decided that to do so would be cheating, so I would walk around. This meant the first 3 miles or so of this walk would be along a busy A-road (the A1243) through an industrial area, not a welcome prospect.
So from the station I crossed the footbridge over the River Bure, another small river that flowed into the Yare here. This soon took me to the road (a B-road, initially). It did have a pavement and I continued a short distance to the bridge over the river Yare (Haven Bridge), which I’d crossed last time.
From now on the road ahead was now the A1243, so there was more traffic. I soon passed a grand building, which turned out to be the Council offices.
The area was a mix of residential, business and light industry, and soon the buildings on my right ended, so I had a view of the river.
There wern’t any buildings on the right of the road now, meaning I had a view of the river to my right and the streets were cobbled. It was turning out better than I’d expected from the map.
I passed an old boat now moored up that a sign told me was the largest “Steam Drifter” and was on the National Historic Ships Register. The sign also told me it was open to the public May – October and admission was free (donations welcome). However a hand-written “closed” sign was pinned to the board, so I wasn’t able to look inside.
Continuing south there were soon bigger and more industrial ships moored up beside the quay, though there were still grand buildings on the land side.
One was the “Great Yarmouth Port Authority”, and the building next to it the “Port and Haven Commissioners Office”. Clearly this was quite a busy port.
Most of the ships were empty, one large one said it was from Mumbai.
As I continued south the buildings on the left now were houses. However soon after this, there was industry on my right, blocking views of the river and soon industry on my left too. This part was pretty rim. There was nothing attractive to see and the road was dusty and dirty. At least it did still have a pavement.
I walked quickly, keen to get out of this area and back to the sea. As I neared the south end of this peninsula, the pavement ended. Thankfully traffic had not been busy (I had feared it would be), because it was the weekend and most of the businesses down here were closed.
At last I reached the end of the peninsula and turned left with the road briefly heading east, and then turning left again heading north now on the eastern side of the peninsula, with the sea to my right. The name of the road changed too, now it was “South Beach Parade”. A look at the map suggested I should be able to get onto the beach here. But it was all hidden off, behind high temporary fencing, secured in place with concrete weights. I was annoyed at this, because I could see a nice beach behind, but I couldn’t get to it.
I read a planning notice which told me the beach was now being turned over to industry, with a new port and harbour being built on the beach. So this beautiful beach was about to be concreted over (which has since happened) to allow for an expansion of the port. It seemed very short-sighted to destroy part of the thing that the town (being a major resort) largely owed it’s existence too – the beach.
None of this was shown on the map I had (though it is now) so I had no idea how far the beach was closed off for. In the end it was about 3/4 of a mile and the pavement was also blocked off behind the barrier, so I was forced to walk in the road. Again there wasn’t much traffic but most of it was lorries and vans. It was not pleasant and I was very glad when at last the barriers ended and I could head down onto the beach.
Ahh that’s better. Now there was a lovely (and largely deserted) sandy beach, backed by dunes, though I could see the rides of a fun-fair not far ahead.
I walked along the beach now enjoying finally being past all that industry. The amount of industry in Great Yarmouth had surprised me. I knew it as a resort and had not expected to find it so industrial, but at least that part was behind me.
I continued along the beach soon passing the rides of the pleasure beach (though I did not leave the beach to investigate them) and beyond that Wellington Pier.
The pier was a bit pathetic to be honest. The main building didn’t even reach 1/3 of the way over the dry sand at the back of the beach. Beyond that were the wooden supports which presumably once supported the rest of the pier, but no longer did. I was surprised they had not been removed, it was a bit of an eye-sore.
Just past the end of the pier was a nicer looking glass pavilion type building, though I couldn’t see what it was used for from the beach.
Just beyond this pier was another dis-used and derelict pier.
I’m not sure what this was but signs warned “Dangerous Structure, Keep Out” whilst most of the under side was fenced off, to prevent you walking underneath it. Thankfully the tide was far enough out I could just about squeeze round the end of it without getting wet feet from the waves (this pier has since been demolished). So far I wasn’t seeing much apart from the beach that was great about Great Yarmouth.
A quarter of a mile further on and I reached another pier. This one is Britannia Pier.
This pier was slightly longer – the waves were just lapping at the very end supports of the pier. It was full of rides and so because of this it was quite wide and so I didn’t fancy walking under it and so headed briefly to the promenade to get around it.
The entrance to the pier was very gaudy.
There was also a theatre on the pier. I found when I was at Blackpool that it was once considered the best possible booking for a celebrity to get a booking for the end of pier theatre for the summer season in a major resort (like Blackpool or Great Yarmouth). Now the names were mostly has-beens it seemed. Prime billing seemed to be The Chuckle Brothers (to me, to you), with other names including Jim Davidson, Roy Chubby Brown, Cannon and Ball, Joe Pasquale, Jimmy Carr and an Elvis tribute act. Times have certainly changed!
I did however walk to the end of the pier where I could enjoy views of the coast to come and where I had walked already.
The pier largely seemed deserted. The rides not running with the attendants looking bored waiting for the next customer that didn’t seem to be coming.
After passing the pier, I returned to the beach, which was now a mixture of sand (mostly) with a little bit of shingle in places.
There were a few people about, but it was far from crowded and I didn’t have to go far from the pier until I was the only person on the beach and my footsteps the only ones in the sand.
It was clear I was leaving Great Yarmouth now. The beach was nice, but there wasn’t a lot else great about the place. The beach was soon backed by dunes and I could no longer see any buildings, and the beach was largely deserted. This was more like it, and I was enjoying the walk now.
It was however quite windy and the sunshine from earlier was gone, replaced by fast moving clouds, which were beginning to look rather threatening. A heavy shower passed just out to sea, narrowly avoiding me, after which the sky began to brighten up again.
I soon reached a lifeboat station at the back of the beach and checking the map I could see this was the first building of the next town, Caister-on-Sea. I’d never heard of it so I didn’t think there would be much to see there, so I continued on the beach.
With the town came wooden groynes along the beach. Thankfully these were low enough I could just step over them and of an unusual zig-zag design I’ve not see anywhere else.
Sadly as I got further south the coastal defences became more obstructive, where large boulders had been put on the beach, forming much larger groynes. I could just about squeeze past these on the beach, but I had to time it right between the waves to keep dry feet.
Soon I’d reached the end of Caister-on-Sea and I had the beach to myself again. The dunes had become higher and were now forming low cliffs.
Now I had two options. There was a footpath marked on the map on the top of the cliffs (but experience had taught me that it might not exist), or I could continue on the beach. I opted for the latter. The path on the cliff top is now part of the Norfolk Coast Path, but at the time I did this walk it started from Cromer (it has since been extended south to Great Yarmouth). So the path on the cliff top certainly does exist now.
I continued along the beach until I reached the next village, a little under a mile further north. I found I’d now reached somewhere called California. Now I’d always thought California was a US state on the west coast of America. But it turns out it’s also a small village on the Norfolk coast too – who knew?
Well a quick look around told me it certainly wasn’t as glamorous as it’s American namesake. I found a run down looking (and closed) amusement arcade and a closed chippy.
So I quickly made a retreat and returned to the beach.
Boulders had been placed at the back of the beach, in front of the cliffs, in an attempt to control the erosion. Thankfully the tide was out enough I could walk in front of this, on the firm sand. It was clear from looking at the cliffs, they were still eroding pretty quickly. I could see houses very close to the edge, fences disappearing over the edge and garden sheds looking like they were imminently going to follow suit.
Definitely not somewhere to buy a house!
Part way along here I had left California (that didn’t take long) and reached the rather less glamorous sounding Scratby.
I was surprised to see a footpath had been built up to the cliff top from the beach, given how unstable the cliffs looked. Curiosity got the better of me, so I followed it to the cliff top.
I enjoyed the view from here, of the sandy beaches either side, and I could see ahead the rocks dumped at the bottom of the beach soon ended. I tried to walk along the cliff top, passing a car park but the road soon turned left inland, and there was no path ahead.
Rather than head back I continued around the corner with the road hoping I could get back to the coast, or find a path. However the first road on the right (more a dusty dirt track called The Promenade) had a sign warning “No Access to Beach” and a sign for vehicles “Access only”. It looked like it was a waste of time trying to go that way, so I decided the best option was to turn back and return down the steps to the beach.
Out to see there were some wind turbines and I could see a rain shower around them.
I was lucky again, that the worst of missed me, with only some light rain falling on the beach.
I continued north on the lovely sandy beach. Soon I’d left Scratby and entered Newport (no, not the one in Wales, or the Isle of Wight, there is one in Norfolk too, I found).
I continued on the beach as Newport seemed to merge, with no obvious boundary, into Hemsby.
Hemsby has made the news in recent years. The cliffs are soft and sandy (large sand dunes, really). Earlier this year (2018) homes to the north of the town were left teetering on the cliffs edge after a storm. Some later started to collapse and were subsequently demolished. A similar problem occurred in 2013 when several homes were destroyed or undermined during storms. Certainly not a place I would want to live, but it’s a reminder of how quickly the sea can erode the coast (and that it’s really not a good idea to buy a cliff top home on soft and rapidly eroding cliffs).
However I left passing the area that was worst effected by these storms for my next walk, as I ended this walk in Hemsby, as I planned to catch the bus back from here. At the lifeboat station slipway I headed up the beach to the main street in Hemsby. It was very clear this too is very much a holiday resort. The street was lined with gaudy amusement arcades and takeaways.
Between these were holiday parks of caravans and chalets. On the right I passed a very large and now deserted holiday camp. This was the large Pontins Hemsby holiday camp, which had closed earlier that year (2009). At the time of writing (2018) little has changed, though there now seem plans to re-develop the site into a mixture of houses and holiday accommodation.
I was not quite sure where the bus stopped. It turns out Hemsby is marked as once place on the map but it seems to actually be two places, Hemsby Beach at the coast and the older village centre (Hemsby) which is over half a mile inland. It turns out it is the latter place the buses stop at, and I eventually found a bus stop near the large church. From here I took the bus back to Great Yarmouth where I changed onto the train back home.
This was a walk of two halves really. The first half around all the industry at Great Yarmouth was not pleasant and I was glad when I could eventually reach the beach (later than planned). Great Yarmouth didn’t seem very great to me, and I was glad to leave it behind. From here it was a nice walk, mostly on the beaches further north past numerous villages which mostly seemed to be holiday villages of chalets and caravans. Having commented on how pretty all the villages (and towns) I’d encountered in Suffolk were I was a bit disappointing by the ugly villages on this part of the Norfolk coast. The beaches were lovely however, despite the odd intrusion from coastal defences. However I’d certainly seen why they were necessary given the rapid erosion of the cliffs here (though I suspect they just slow the pace of erosion a bit, rather than stop it). After all the stresses I’d had in the last few weeks, this was just what I needed, a nice long beach walk and I felt much better by the end.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
First Eastern Counties bus 1/1A (Coastal Clipper) : Martham – Hemsby – Scratby (1A/1B only) – Caister-on-Sea – Great Yarmouth – Gorleston – Hopton – Corton – Lowestoft. Twice per hour, Monday – Saturday (increasing to 4 per hour in the peak summer season). Hourly on Sundays (and twice an hour on summer Sundays). It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Hemsby and Great Yarmouth.