This is very much a walk of wildlife and beautiful beaches. Once again, almost a year has passed since the date of my last walk along the Norfolk coast. I had been walking the coast but largely picking new bits of coast I hadn’t been to and where I could get a cheap rail ticket, so I’d not been doing the coast in order.
However the section of coast between Hemsby (where I got to in my last post) and Cromer was simply too remote to be viable as a day trip from home by public transport, as the obvious places midway between them, Happisburgh and Walcott had such limited public transport that there was no service at all on Sunday and the last bus the rest of the week was just after 1pm. I tried hard to work out a plan to do it for the day, with various combinations, but it simply wasn’t possible.
Therefore I opted instead to make a long weekend to complete this stretch of coast and drive there. Accommodation too had proved limiting as most of the places along the coast here are small villages. So in the end I had settled on camping at Happisburgh as it was right on the coast and broadly midway between the Hemsby and Cromer. The campsite I had selected there (the only one, actually) was right on the coast, Manor Farm.
When I called to book they had insisted I pay a £10 deposit to secure my place, so I had sent them a cheque as asked (they didn’t have a website, at the time). About 18 months before I’d had to buy a new car. My previous car, an ageing but reliable Peugeot 106 had been written off in an accident after a dog (off the lead) had run out in front of me when I was driving on a busy A-road passed some woodland. Whilst I made an emergency stop and narrowly avoided it, the car behind me did not stop in time and crashed into the back of my car. Thankfully it was not my fault (as the other driver admitted and both mine and their insurance company agreed) and I was not injured. However I had to buy another car. As I was working in London at the time and so not using my car much if at all during the week I’d opted for another small and cheap car, a second-hand Fiat Punto. Yes yes, I know now that it’s not a good car (and as my work colleagues joked, didn’t I know that Fiat stood for “Fix It Again Tomorrow”?).
It gave me no end of problems and just before this walk I had to take it to a garage for yet another repair (and an expensive one at that, the gearbox, which had leaked oil and been damaged beyond repair). The garage where I took it too then told me they couldn’t get it to start after the repairs (they had had to disconnect the battery and after re-connecting it, the immobiliser would not switch off, preventing the engine from starting). They couldn’t fix it (telling me I had to take it to a Fiat garage, the nearest being in a different town), so I had to get it towed there. I couldn’t get that done until Monday (this was a Thursday) and I had planned my long weekend to start the following day (Friday).
So with no working car I wasn’t able to make my planned weekend. I rang up the campsite to explain and asked if I could move my booking two weeks later. The rather unsympathetic man at the other end of the phone told me that was fine, but that I’d have to pay another £10 deposit, as I’d failed to arrive in accordance with my original booking. Well there was nowhere else to stay, so I agreed and dispatched another £10 cheque to them.
The day of this walk was actually my second day of this trip. The previous evening I had arrived at the campsite after another walk, at around 6:30pm. There were no staff around, and they hadn’t mentioned to me on the phone when I’d booked what time I needed to arrive by (and I hadn’t thought to ask). Nor were there any signs saying what to do, other than you must check in first. The campsite had no website at the time and although I rang their telephone number, there was no answer. By this time, another camper in their touring caravan had come over and asked me if all was OK. After I explained he told me “Oh just set up where you want and sort it out in the morning. We’ve been coming here for years the owners are very relaxed and they won’t mind”.
So I’d set up on a nice spot near the cliff edge (but not too near, as there is a lot of erosion here). The next morning when I woke I headed to the reception before setting out on my walk to pay the rest of the balance. I entered the reception to be greeted by a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing from who I took to be the owner of the site, sitting at the reception desk (so much for the smoking ban, which was supposed to be in effect by now!) On explaining he just replied “well didn’t you phone to say you were going to be late?”. Well not having been told what time I was meant to arrive, I hadn’t realised that I was late! The owner insisted I would have been sent their “terms and conditions” when I booked which would have explained that I needed to arrive by 6pm (I hadn’t been). So he then checked and said he had a booking for me but “you haven’t sent a deposit”. I insisted I had (twice, in fact) but he showed me their booking system (a book, kept behind the desk) where there was no tick in the “deposit” column next to my name. He insisted they couldn’t possibly have made a mistake. No tick in the deposit box meant I hadn’t payed the deposit and that was that. Reluctantly, having already stayed the night I didn’t really have a leg to stand on. So I paid another £10 deposit along with the rest of the balance. I was then given a tag to attach to my tent (to prove I’d paid) and left to enjoy the rest of my stay. (When I got home, I checked and both deposit cheques I’d sent had been cashed, so my deposits clearly had arrived). I telephoned the site again to explain and was asked to send (by post, naturally) proof of this. I sent the cheque stubs along with a (part redacted) copy of my bank statement showing the same cheques had been cashed, but weeks later had no reply. I telephoned again to be told my letter had never arrived and told to send it again. At this point I gave up, it wasn’t worth perusing for the sake of £10, but it was clear to me I had been deliberately overcharged. Perhaps this was my penalty for being “late”.
So it wasn’t the best of starts to the day! At the time (as now) there were just two buses a day to Happsiburgh on a Saturday and I planned to catch the first of these, so I could then walk back to the campsite without needing to worry about the time. I didn’t need to drive anywhere at all today. I headed down to the bus stop to find the bus already there and waiting. Things were looking up!
The bus was going to Norwich. I got off at Stalham. From there I could change onto another bus to Great Yarmouth, where I got off at Caister-on-Sea. When I got there I had to change onto a third bus. This one was only going as far as Scratby. Rather than wait for another one to Hemsby (where I got to last time), I decided to start the walk from Scratby. As I found last time, it is nearly a mile from the bus stop in Hemsby to the coast anyway, about the same distance as from Scratby so it didn’t make much difference.
So I got off at Scratby and headed down to the beach. The journey from Happsiburgh had taken me over 90 minutes by now, so I was keen to get going. At least now I just had to walk back to the campsite.
The beach was very quiet. I retraced my steps from last time to head north back to Hemsby. It was a nice walk on this wide beach backed by dunes and low cliffs.
I saw only a few dog walkers until I reached Hemsby. Here the beach was a bit busier, but it was hardly crowded.
Checking the map there was a path in places along the cliff top but in other places there wasn’t. I had my doubts that the path would exist in practice, given the rapid erosion in the area.
On the other hand the tide was well out and the map suggested beaches all the way, so I stuck to the beach.
Hemsby has been in the news in recent years after homes were destroyed or slipped down the cliffs during storms overnight. Many of the houses to the north of the centre seem to have been constructed on what is little more than a big sand dune and so very quickly eroded. It is a shame, but a reminder of the power of the sea, something I’d be seeing a lot of on this walk.
I continued north on the lovely sandy beach, enjoying the sound of the sea, the smell of the coast and the fresh air, it was a lovely walk. I couldn’t see much of Hemsby from the beach, but I suspect that is no loss.
Hemsby merges into Winterton-on-Sea (it is hard to tell where Hemsby ends and Winterton begins).
However soon I had left Winterton too and so the beach was deserted again.
It is nice to find these long, beautiful and empty sandy beaches even during the peak summer months – it shows you don’t have to walk far from the nearest car park to escape the crowds.
A few battered wooden groynes dotted the coast, but they were easy to step over and didn’t really hamper my progress.
I continued north along the beach, which in places had a few pebbles, but was mostly sandy.
After a while the waves proved too tempting. I took my shoes off and continued walking along the waters edge barefoot. The firm sand by the waves made for easy walking and the cooling sea was very refreshing on my feet.
Soon I realised I didn’t in fact have the beach to myself. I had been joined. My company was in the form of a friendly seal. The seal was swimming in the waves a few metres to my right. It seemed curious and followed me along the coast, regularly looking my way.
Soon it was joined. Looking to the right I could now see 3 seals heads above the waves.
It was wonderful to see these beautiful and clearly curious creatures, that seemed to be enjoying the coast just as much as I was. It was lovely and I enjoyed their company. I stopped on a quiet stretch of the beach around here to have lunch.
The seals stayed with me until I approached Horsey Gap. There are no real buildings here, but there is a car park and a campsite, which bought with it people.
Though again the beach was far from crowded.
I didn’t have to go far beyond here and I was alone again.
Intermittently the dunes formed low cliffs. I climbed up onto the them to enjoy a slightly better view from the top of the dunes.
I didn’t see any sign of a footpath though (since doing this walk, the Norfolk Coast Path was extended south to Great Yarmouth, so there is a proper coast path now).
It wasn’t long before I was again joined by seals (not sure if they are the same ones or not). I didn’t hear them, just suddenly noticed their distinctive dark brown heads poking up above the waves, briefly watching me then swimming just below the water.
I returned to walking in the waters edge for the next couple of miles. It was a lovely walk.
After a couple of miles I reached Waxham, where again there were people again, after well over an hour without seeing anyone.
From here onwards rocky islands had been built out in the sea I presume in an attempt to control the coastal erosion, which as I soon saw, is extremely rapid here.
This caused the beach to form into little sandy bays. This along with the fact the tide was coming in now, meant there was little firm sand to walk on, so the going was a little harder.
Soon there was also a concrete sea-wall too, so the beach was now quite narrow again and dotted with boulders that I suspect had been washed off the “boulder islands” that had been built out to sea. In the battle between man and the sea, it’s clear that the sea always wins eventually!
I continued past Sea Palling where these rocky islands ended, to be replaced with groynes. Mostly these were wooden but some were rather ugly metal sheet piling.
Boulders were also piled up at the back of the beaches and below the cliffs in places. I continued along the beach now passing another village, Eccles-on-Sea, where there were more coastal defences. Looking back I could soon see why.
These are the houses perched on top of the cliffs. I suspect these have either got closert to the edge or fallen off already sometime in the last 8 years.
Another mile or so along the beach and I was now approaching Happisburgh, where I was camping.
A distinctive feature of Happisburgh is the red and white striped lighthouse built on the cliff top a bit back from the edge (given the rate of erosion, that is just as well!). It is quite a landmark and I had become quite fond of it, in the short time I had been in Happsiburgh, watching it’s comforting light regularly sweeping over the waves the previous evening.
A short distance beyond that I could see the houses of Happisburgh.
The road here, Beach Road, gets shorter every year and I had already noticed from my look around last night that it simply dropped off the cliffs, protected only by a couple of cones and a “Road Closed” sign.
I think more or less annually, the most coastal houses at the end of the road are either demolished or left hanging over the cliffs after storms (and later demolished). So each year the road gets shorter.
Properties are cheap here. I read one women purchased her bungalow in 2008 for £25,000 because of the expected limited lifespan of it, due to erosion. A few years later she was offered £50,000 for it under a Government compensation scheme, which she refused. It was demolished 5 years later after it was left hanging over the cliff edge and she moved into a caravan on what was once part of her garden. I noticed a couple of places in the village where people were living in caravans on what I suspect was once their garden, their homes having been lost to erosion.
The pace of erosion in Happisburgh certainly is frightening.
There have been attempts to control erosion. In places a line of wooden groynes has been built, this time parallel with the coast in an effort to stop the waves reaching the cliffs. However it seems locals have taken matters into their own hands.
In amongst the debris left on the beach from houses that have been demolished or fallen into the sea locals seems to have taken to dumping all manor of rubbish on the beach presumably in the hope it will reduce the rate of erosion.
I doubt it will, but it certainly left the beach looking a mess.
I continued along the beach as I could see the remains of gardens and fences falling down the cliffs, and it was clear it would not be long before the houses went too, though it looked like the one closest to the sea was already abandoned and awaiting it’s fate.
It’s a funny place Happisburgh. It’s beautiful, especially the beach, but it is also quite sad, watching peoples once much loved homes and belongings gradually fall off the cliff, one by one.
Nearing the campsite, the failed attempts to control erosion continued.
In the photo above I can see 3 lines of defences. Nearest the sea, the wooden groynes built parallel with the coast had largely been destroyed.
Further back the metal sheeting and boulders were being washed away (and rusting away too, in the case of the metal sheeting) whilst behind that, the concrete sea wall was breaking into pieces. It is clear that attempts to stop the erosion is a losing battle here.
I do wonder how long Happisburgh itself will still exist.
At the time (they have since been lost to erosion too) there was access from the beach to the campsite where I was staying. These were a metal flight of stairs rising vertically, set back from the cliffs and then joined to the cliffs with a horizontal platform which presumably could be extended as the sea eroded away.
In any case they took me back to the campsite where I ended my walk. After relaxing for a while and having a shower I headed to the (only) pub in the village to get dinner. Sadly I was disappointed as a sign outside informed me that the pub was closed to the public that evening due to a wedding party. There was nowhere else to eat in the village. So I drove north to the village of Walcott where I had a takeaway, not wanting to spend ages looking around for something else before returning to the campsite at Happisburgh. It was nice to go to sleep listening to the sound of the waves below, though having seen the erosion, I was glad it was not a stormy night and I’d not camped right at the cliff edge! Oh and if you were wondering (because I got it wrong), Happisburgh is pronounced “Haze-Bruh”!
This had been a wonderful walk. True, it had not been very varied, but I really enjoyed walking for miles and miles along beautiful unspoilt and mostly deserted sandy beaches, often with my feet in the waves. The seals were an unexpected and uplifting bonus and only added to the joys of this walk. When you tell people you are walking the coast they often imagine that all the coast is like this. But as I’ve found most of the coast is not beaches and so miles and miles of sandy beaches like this are a rare treat, which I had very much enjoyed.
(As a postscript to this walk the owner of the caravan and campsite I stayed at was refused planning permission to relocate the site further inland so I imagine it does not have much of a future either. Though after the way he treated me I hope you’ll excuse me in being slightly less sympathetic to his plight than I otherwise would be).
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. You will have to take 3(!) buses to get between Happisburgh and Scratby. Route 34 from Happisburgh to either North Walsham or Stalham. Bus 6 from Stalham or North Walsham to Caister-on-Sea and route 1/1A/1B from Caisteron-Sea to Scratby or Hemsby. The details of these buses are below, but check the timetable carefully to try to avoid a long wait.
Sanders Coaches route 34 : North Walsham – Swafield – Knapton – Mundesley – Paston – Bacton – Walcott – Happisburgh – Lessingham – Ingham – Sea Palling – Sutton – Stalham. 6 buses per day Monday – Friday. 2 per day on Saturday. No service on Sundays.
Sanders coaches route 6 : Cromer – Roughton – North Walsham – Bengate – Smallburgh – Stalham – Bastwick – Caister-on-Sea – Great Yarmouth. 8 buses per day Monday – Friday, 7 per day on Saturdays. No service on Sunday.
First Eastern Counties route 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.