Once again for this walk, I’m going from North to South, though on this occasion. That means I’m actually starting from a different county from my previous walk, Norfolk (rather than Suffolk), and I’ll be passing the most easterly point of Britain on the way. So this walk means I both complete a new county (Suffolk) and pass a new compass point on the coast. A walk of 2 milestones!
I was travelling by train for this walk. Once again I’d booked cheap “Advance” tickets outward to Great Yarmouth and returning from Lowestoft. Given it’s August, Saturday, the school holidays and a sunny day as well you might expect these tickets to be expensive but nope, £7.10 each way from London. I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube to London Liverpool Street, then a train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich. At Norwich I changed onto a train to Great Yarmouth.
The rail lines eastwards from Norwich are called the Wherry Lines. One of these lines goes to Great Yarmouth and the other to Lowestoft, so I’ll be using them both today. However unusually there is also a section of track further east, that connects the line to Lowestoft with the one to Great Yarmouth. This allows trains to set off on the line to Lowestoft but turn north and instead reach Great Yarmouth. Most trains don’t go that way, but the one I happen to have caught does. There is a single station along that section of track, called Berney Arms.
It’s unusual for two reasons, it’s one of a very small number of railway stations that has no road access and it’s also one of very few railway stations named after pubs. Not surprisingly, few people use the station and every day apart from Sunday only two trains each way are scheduled to call (and it is a request stop). Curiously on Sunday the service is more frequent than the rest of the week. No trains call after dark, because there are no lights.
There is very little at Berney Arms. At the time I did this walk there was the pub (it has since closed), which could only be reached on foot, by train or by boat along a river (part of the Broads I think) and was apparently popular with boaters and walkers (though clearly not popular enough, given it’s now closed). The other attractions is the Berney Arms windmill. This is owned by English Heritage but sadly is only open to pre-booked groups only. Thought the station is close to the Wherryman’s Way, a long distance walk. There is a farm, and that’s it. No other buildings are close by.
So I was surprised to find that the station had been requested and the train I was on did indeed stop there.
There were quite a few people waiting to get on and I did manage to get a picture through the very dirty windows (I’m not sure what that man is doing, though!), they looked like they had been walking.
I did in fact go back a few years later and get off there and go for a walk, finishing in Reedham (which is less remote). You can see how remote the station is from photos I took on the day.
It was a lovely walk, but it did make me wonder what happened if the train was cancelled. That actually happened to a family a couple of years ago (in May 2016) when the train they wanted to catch home was unable to call at Berney Arms due to a points failure. Now normally that might lead to a rail replacement bus being laid on, or perhaps a taxi. But when a station has no road that is not an option. In this case, the family ended up calling the police after several subsequent trains failed to arrive and ended up being rescued by the lifeboat! Not what you might expect when waiting for a train.
The passengers joining at Berney Arms got onto an already extremely crowded train. I guess that is the problem of coming to a popular coastal resort on a sunny August weekend, lots of other people want to go there too. That means the train was very full with all the seats taken and people standing by the time it left Norwich. I did get a seat, but had the misfortune to get an already extremely drunken man sit next to me. He spent most of the journey telling me about his plans for the day, which involved visiting various pubs in Great Yarmouth. They are very cheap he told me enthusiastically and that he did this most weekends (I could well believe it). Having asked about my plans, he suggested that I could “meet him at the pub later for a few drinks”. I guess he didn’t really understand that I was walking to Lowestoft and that Lowestoft is not in fact Great Yarmouth. Therefore I won’t be back in Great Yarmouth at the end of the day. He couldn’t seem to grasp this (probably due to his very drunken state). Despite this, he insisted on writing down his telephone number on the back of my train ticket so I could call him later if I fancied a drink with him (I agreed that might be nice, whilst thinking that it would be anything but!).
I was relieved when the train pulled into Great Yarmouth and I could escape the crowds and the very drunken man! Great Yarmouth is on the river Yare, which flows out to sea at the south of the town. The station is by the river, which is half a mile from the sea. So to walk south along the coast from Great Yarmouth means walking south along the beach for a little over 2 miles to reach the river mouth then turning back alongside the river for another 2 miles to reach the bridge by the station. Rather than do that today I decided to do that next time, as I didn’t have time to do that as well and get to Lowestoft in time for my train home. So instead I’d leave the town by heading south along the landward side of the river instead.
The river Yare around the station seemed to be surrounded by a lot of industry, a lot of it seemingly derelict and disused.
Before heading south along the river though I wanted to at least see the sea in the town. So I followed the roads east from the river passing a couple of nice old buildings, to reach the sea.
Great Yarmouth had a large sandy beach, two piers and a cinema that was now rather garish and looked as if it might once have been a theatre or concert hall.
Having had a view of the coast I headed back to the river, to the south most bridge over it, noticing this time that there was also a large thatched barn beside the river, in amongst more modern industrial buildings, it looked rather out of place!
Crossing the bridge, there is no footpath alongside the river, so I have to had a bit further inland along the road, a few hundred metres inland from the river and through an industrial area.
From what I’d seen so far, Great Yarmouth did not seem all the great.
The road soon had houses on one side, with industry on the river side. After a mile or so I could finally reach the banks of the river.
There wasn’t much of a view really, industry on both sides. I hadn’t expected so much industry here, I’d always thought this was a resort rather than industrial area.
Looking ahead too there where wharfes, tanks cranes and boats – more industry.
I continued intermittently beside the river, as it was often blocked from sight by more industry. I passed a message sprayed onto a metal fence beside the river, presumably alluding to French fisherman.
The industry continued for another mile or so to the river mouth.
After 2 miles of pavement pounding through industry it was a relief to be clear of the industry, and the surrounds almost instantly changed from industry to resort.
Now I’d reached Gorleston-on-Sea and was at last almost back by the sea.
It seemed quite a pleasant place with this unusual brick lighthouse and I could watch a large tanker leaving Great Yarmouth and heading for the open sea.
Time for one last look alongside this industrial river.
Ahead I could see the “Sea” part alluded to in the name of the town, as the breakwater beside the river ended ahead.
Soon I had reached the beach. It was a lovely sandy beach and it was very crowded – well it is August I suppose.
I passed a pleasant little fountain and lake behind the beach. I liked Gorleston-on-Sea it felt a bit more upmarket than Great Yarmouth and more peaceful.
I soon headed down onto the beach and began walking south along the beach. As usually happens the crowd on the beach soon thinned out.
I continued along the firm sand near the waves as the beach became increasingly large and less crowded and I stopped for lunch on a peaceful stretch of the beach.
I then continued south as I soon left the town behind and the beach began to be backed by grassy cliffs.
Soon there was only one other person visible ahead and sandy beach as far as the eye can see.
When people hear about walk around the coast of Britain they often seem to think that most of the coast is like this (perhaps because beaches are the only places they visit on the coast). In fact, as I’ve found, it isn’t, but that makes me appreciate these lovely stretches of beach all the more.
It is always a nice to find a quiet sandy beach on a fine August weekend, it just shows you don’t have to go far from roads and car parks to find a deserted stretch of coast, even at the busiest of times.
I took my shoes off and continues barefoot along the beach. There were a few wooden groynes about that I had to climb over but they wern’t high enough to cause me a problem.
After about a mile, I began to see people again, as I had now reached Hopton-on-Sea. This seemed to be a place mostly devoted to tourism, with a vast caravan park behind the beach.
I continued along the beach through Hopton-on-Sea.
As I headed further south the beach narrowed (I think the tide was coming in), until ahead the sea was splashing up the sea wall. So that was the end of my walk along the beach here.
I put my shoes back on and headed up onto the promenade behind instead, intending to follow that instead. I didn’t get very far until I came across this.
Ah. This is more of a problem. Especially the rather vague “Please use alternative route” (wouldn’t it be nice if they could find room amongst all those warning notices to put up a map of the alternative).
Normally when faced with such a sign, I ignore it. But here sturdy fencing had been built, making it very difficult to get past (as it is the sort of wire that is hard to climb). So I had to turn back the other way but thankfully after a short distance there were steps up from the promenade up the grassy cliffs to the cliff top, where I found there was a footpath. That was a relief – but why not put up a sign at the bottom indicating that?
Now I was following a footpath alongside the edge of a golf course. The sea wall that was closed abruptly ended and below me were natural cliffs. However, about 20 metres from the base of the cliffs had been erected a long wooden wall parallel with the cliffs.
I assume it was to act as coastal defence for these clearly very soft cliffs. However it was very ugly and it meant there was no access to the sea from the beach behind this wall (assuming you could get down to it, anyway) and the beach looked dirty, with debris and mud from the cliffs which presumably didn’t get washed away by the sea because of the wall.
Inland, and looking back, I could see a ruined church with the tower still standing, but daylight visible through the windows. This is St Margarets Church according to the map, but I’m not sure how it came to be ruined.
I continued south on the cliff top path. Now below me the wooden sea wall had ended, to be replaced by boulders dumped on the beach, leaving no sand visible at all.
I suppose this helps prevent the erosion, which I suspect would otherwise be very rapid, but it’s certainly not pretty. Somewhere along here I had also crossed from Norfolk to Suffolk (perhaps where the boulders began).
I continued south along the cliff top path to reach the small village of Corton, where the path ended and I had to head along the road a little back from the coast.
Initially I had to follow this road, but soon there was a path left, down some steps at the sea wall and onto the beach.
The beach was again covered with boulders (perhaps there is some sand at low tide), and the remains of wooden groynes. Weirdly, in amongst this were some much larger boulders. I’m not sure if these are part of the defences, or part of the cliff that has broken off.
I turned right along the sea wall, but I didn’t get far, before debris from the cliff had fallen down onto the promenade, blocking it.
Here the path wasn’t closed and there were no warning signs (I suspect the Council were not aware of it, or I’m sure we’d have another sturdy barrier blocking it off). So I walked over it, to resume on the sea wall as I rounded the corner. Here the sea wall and coastal defences ended and I was now back on the beach, which was no longer covered with boulders.
There were more of those odd rocks out to sea, but it was now clear they were the remains of some sort of defence, probably the old sea wall, before this promenade was built.
I continued south along the beach this time keeping my shoes on because not only was it now mostly shingle, signs warned of “sharp spikes near groynes” which didn’t sound pleasant to stand on without shoes (and perhaps not with, either).
There was enough of a line of firm sand to make the walking easy, though.
Ahead I soon began to pass more remains of the old sea wall, broken up bits of concrete on the beach. It is clear erosion is a big problem on this part of the east coast and actions to control it only really buy a little more time, you can never really stop it.
I could follow the beach for about a mile where I reached the edge of the town of Gunton, This is a suburb of Lowestoft really, now. Here there was now a concrete sea wall again. I stuck to the beach below it for a short while, past more remnants of former sea walls. Sadly I soon had to abandoned the beach walking again as the beach was once again covered by boulders.
So I headed onto the sea wall, which had a path all the way south to Lowestoft. Looking inland there was an unusual lighthouse, built just below the top of the cliffs, it was quite a grand looking lighthouse.
A couple of hundred metres beyond this, the view inland had turned to industry. Another couple of hundred metres beyond this and I had reached the most easterly point of mainland Britain, Ness Point.
It was sadly somewhat underwhelming. You might imagine a wind-blown beach backed by dunes, perhaps with a lighthouse and some crashing waves. What in fact you get is a rather bleak concrete promenade mostly surrounded by industry, with a metal circle on the ground showing points to various other places.
From this I learnt that it is 106 miles from London (where I was, earlier in the day), 968 miles from Sarajevo, 490 from Berlin, 1070 from Minsk and 491 from Copenhagen. Some other points around the British coast, such as Dunnet Head (the most northerly point) were also marked (the latter being 472 miles, almost as far as Copenhagen, I learnt).
However it wasn’t really a place I felt like I wanted to linger, I was a bit disappointed. Looking ahead, I had this view. I think you can see what I mean when I say it’s a bit bleak?
Boulders covering any beach that might exist, ugly industrial buildings behind and to cap it all just ahead I could see the sea wall was blocked off by concrete wall and fences.
So I now had to turn away from the coast and follow roads through the industry. This took me down to the A12 and passed the docks. I had now reached Lowestoft and the station, my end point.
As I had a bit of time to spare before my train I continued the short distance south to the South Pier, where I went last time.
This time the “pop up” fountains where working and, rather bizarrely and for reasons I didn’t find out, surrounded by daleks. Well of course they were.
They were proving very popular with the children though, most of whom were in swimming clothes, but some in now sodden t-shirts and trousers.
I continued down to the beach beyond. It was quite busy, but nothing like as busy as Great Yarmouth. It was nice to end at a sandy beach here though, not industry.
I headed down onto the beach and had a refreshing paddle at the end of my walk and sat on the beach for a while, until it was time to head for the station and the train home.
I’d now joined the point I ended my last walk and (since I started in Norfolk), I’d now completed the coast of another county, Suffolk.
Now it was time to head to the station. My fear was the train was going to be very crowded and I might not be able to get on it. Thankfully, whilst it was quite busy, it was not overcrowded, unlike the train this morning (and I didn’t get anyone very drunk sat next to me on the way back).
It was a pleasant journey back to Norwich and onwards to London and my trains ran on time.
This had been a mixed walk. I was disappointed with Great Yarmouth. I had expected an attractive Victorian resort with a nice sandy beach. What I found instead was miles of run-down industry beside the river. However once past that it was a glorious walk along good sandy beaches, only spoiled by the coastal defences that had blocked the beach for a few miles, or covered it with boulders. Lowestoft too had been a disappointment, as had the most easterly point. It was bleak and industrial, but at least I’d been able to continue past this to the beach beyond, which was a far more pleasant place to end. It was also another milestone walk because this also meant I had completed the coast of Suffolk.
I’d quite enjoyed Suffolk. Looking back on Suffolk I’ll remember the exceptionally pretty villages, the remote and wild stretches of coast (especially Orford Ness). The numerous muddy estuaries to the south of the county, the fine areas of heathland and the pretty resort of Southwold. Whilst Suffolk has an official coast path, it was though a disappointment, too often meandering off inland, far from the coast (though I had mostly managed to find a more coastal route when it had done so). Still I was looking forward to seeing what Norfolk had to offer and I also knew that further north there was the Norfolk Coast Path (a National Trail, like the South West Coast Path) so I hoped this would make navigation and planning my walks easier.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
First Eastern Counties bus route X11 : Norwich – Bracondale – Acle – Great Yarmouth – Gorleston – Hopton – Gunton – Lowestoft. Buses run every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and take around 45 minutes between the towns. On Sundays the service runs hourly.