This was my first day of a 3-day trip to the coast of Norfolk, so I was heading to the coast from home. I was driving up because it wasn’t possible to get to Happisburgh from home by public transport without an overnight stay on the way! I had a long journey ahead of me and planned to arrive at Cromer in time to get over to Happisburgh by bus (there was a very limited service), so that I could then walk back to my car at me leisure.
I had a fairly good journey via the M25, A12, A14 and then the A11. That last stretch had a single carriageway section over Thetford Forest (it’s since been upgraded to a dual carriageway). As expected I got a bit held up here, but only for around 10 minutes or so. I then had to negotiate Norwich. The ring road in Norwich was a little confusing, as it seemed at most junction there were traffic lights, which briefly widened to two lanes. Sometimes, the left lane was left turn only, sometimes, the right lane was right turn only, so it was difficult to know which lane to get in to in advance to go straight on. Arrows were painted on the road, but as the traffic was usually queuing it wasn’t possible to see them before needing to pick a lane. My luck ran out when I guessed wrong, had to go the wrong way, make a U-turn and try again. I was pleased to escape Norwich onto the A149 to Cromer!
By now, I was conscious of the time. I didn’t have a lot to spare. I made to Cromer on time and tried to park at the station. Here I discovered the big car park that surrounds the station is actually the Morrisons car park and so the car parking is time limited. I managed to find another car park close by and get back to the station in time to await my train. I was relieved to have made it, because if I missed that train, it would throw my whole plans for the weekend out.
I took the train to North Walsham from where I could take one of the infrequent buses to Happisburgh, in time to start the walk. This bus ran to time and so I arrived at Happisburgh just after midday. Later than I’d like, but it was summer, it would be light until late and I just had to walk back to my car now, so I was looking forward to getting started.
Happisburgh was a small but very pretty village with some thatched cottages, a lighthouse and a large manor house I could see over the fields.
As I approached the cliffs, it soon became clear that Happisburgh suffered badly from coastal erosion. Attempts to control it clearly hadn’t been very successful and I could see the beach was a mess of mostly ruined attempts at coastal defence. What a mess!
The road simply dropped of the cliffs, but there were steps down to the beach from the campsite (where I was booked to spend the night). So I headed through there and used the steps down (I believe they have since been lost to erosion, too).
I should have checked in at the time, but with my car (full of my camping equipment) miles up the coast I decided to do it on my return (which turned out to be a mistake since the reception was closed when I came back).
The Norfolk Coast Path now reaches Happisburgh, but at the time I did this walk it didn’t. There was a footpath along the coast for some of the distance, but not most of it. With the pace of coastal erosion I was not sure the paths marked on the map would actually exist when I got there anyway.
So my plan (and I had checked the tide times first) was to simply walk all the way there on the beach. The map suggested it was sandy beaches the whole way. That was round 13 miles of beach walking I estimated.
Having made my way down to the beach steps had been provided over the coastal defences. In front of them there was little sand between the waves. However as I headed north west with the shore, the beach got wider and so there was soon plenty of firm sand.
In a little over a mile I had reached Ostend, which was a surprise. I always thought it was in Belgium, and I didn’t recall crossing the channel. But no, it turns out there is an Ostend in Norfolk too.
I didn’t see a lot of it from the coast. The only real difference is that there was briefly a concrete sea wall and the tops of houses visible on the cliff top.
However Ostend seems to merge into Walcott, which merges into Keswick (isn’t that in Cumbria?), then Bacton and finally Bacton Green. In short there were lots of little villages that seemed to have merged into one.
However from the beach I didn’t really notice them.
At the end of this strip of villages there was then a gas distribution station, a surprising area of industry on this otherwise rural coast. There wasn’t much to see of that from the beach either, I’m pleased to say, just some bits of metal.
Soon it was back to rural, unspoilt and largely deserted beach. This continued until I reached Mundesley.
Mundesley is a small town, or a large village and the first place of any size since leaving Happsiburgh.
Here there was a small promenade, lined with brightly painted beach huts, some pleasant flint covered brick cottages (that reminded me of Sussex) and some wooden groynes.
It was a pleasant little town from what I could see from the coast. When the promenade ended however I was back to the wooden coastal defences running parallel with the coast, as at Happisburgh. This isn’t something I’d seen much of until I’d reached Norfolk – I’m not sure that it is very effective.
I continued on the beach in front of it but further west the beach narrowed and so I ended up going behind it.
This quickly revealed another problem with this design. It means that the beach behind the wooden “wall” doesn’t get washed by the sea much. Here I found all sorts of rubbish had collected. Bizarrely there was even a stretch of old railway tracks down here.
Quite where the tracks had come from I wasn’t sure since since there are no lines to Mundesley. There used to be, but the line was closed in 1964. Could these tracks really have been here since then? It seemed unlikely and they looked to be narrow gauge anyway. It was most odd.
Soon the narrowing beach had started to become a problem. The route behind the wall was hard going. Moving in front of the wooden wall I was pleased to find that now there was a low concrete wall in front of it. The sea was lapping at the coastal edge of it, but it made for an easy (and dry) walk along the top.
When this ended there were steps down to the beach which I was pleased to see was wider again.
The cliffs along here were high, very soft and clearly eroding quickly (though also quite beautiful). It reminded me a little of the south coast of the Isle of Wight.
I was always a little nervous to keep in mind the last point I’d been able to access inland as I was always mindful that ahead I might find a land-slip or section of erosion had blocked the way and have to turn back.
The beach became narrower and I was getting a bit nervous of the tide. It was coming in now, and I still had quite a way to Cromer. I could see that at high tide, the waves reached the cliffs.
In fact in places muddy sections of the old cliffs poked up above the sand, a reminder how quickly this coast is eroding.
The wind and waves had carved some interesting patterns in the soft cliffs. At this large landslip I could see a sort of wave pattern in the cliffs.
Thankfully the tide was low enough I could make it along the beach to the next town, Overstrand. As I approached it, these parallel wooden groynes began again.
Sadly things quickly became awkward. Soon behind this wall had been piled up shingle, making a high bank of shingle that was hard to walk on. So I had to keep on the sea in front of it.
As I neared the town centre the shingle was replaced with big boulders and the sea was lapping in front of the wall. I had no choice but to begin climbing over those big boulders.
Thankfully I could see that they didn’t last long and then behind them there was beach again. It was a relief to be passed that. Just beyond this, a promenade started.
The tide was getting quite high now and the sea was splashing up over this promenade though only right on the sea edge of it, it was drier nearer the cliffs.
This soon ended and it was back to the parallel wall of wooden groynes that was becoming a familiar sight on this part of the coast.
These too soon ended and then I was back to natural sandy beach backed by cliffs.
As soon as the groynes ended the beach was wider again and there was plenty of room between the cliffs and the waves for me to walk. The beach was becoming a bit more shingle though, but there was still enough sand it wasn’t a problem to walk on it.
Ahead I could spot Cromer pier, so my destination was now in sight.
Just as the beach had become mostly shingle, rather than sand, the promenade began. I was glad that this time there were no rocks and groynes to negotiate!
I was a little surprised that the promenade was reasonably high up the cliff and unfenced. In this days of health and safety I’m surprised it hadn’t been deemed necessary to either install railings or close it off (but grateful that it hadn’t been).
Cromer was a lovely town. As I neared the centre the beach returned to sand. Fishing boats had been pulled up on the softer sand in front of the promenade and it had a pretty and seemingly well-maintained Victorian pier.
As I continued to the town there were steep roads up to the right, as most of the town is on the cliff tops, which continue through the town.
As I neared the pier I could see that the end of the pier was still a theatre, rather than the more usual amusement arcade and I was pleased to see that.
As I got closer I saw the acts though. Yes it’s Cannon and Ball again, just as I saw advertised at Great Yarmouth – they must be doing a coastal tour or something!
Rather than hurry back to Happisburgh I headed to the end of the pier, so I could enjoy the views back to this pretty town.
The pier too was lovely with a wide and well maintained deck with cafes and the theatre at the end.
It was a beautiful town which had a lovely feel to it, I liked it straight away. It was also a working pier too because at the end I found there was a lifeboat station, so I popped in there to take a look.
It is always a reassuring sight to see these. I hope I will never need them, but it is always reassuring to see these boats here, ready to spring into action if someone does get into difficulties.
Back on the promenade I could see the tide was now high, lapping at the edge of the wall and most of the pier having water beneath it.
I then climbed up the steps to the cliff tops, where I could look down over the pier and promenade in front of it. It was nice to see such a well cared for resort, after the likes of Great Yarmouth that I’d passed previously.
I was also pleased to see I’d now reached what was then the start of the Norfolk Coast Path, where I saw a sign “Hunstanton 47 miles”.
It meant the next few walks promised to be easier to plan, what with a proper coastal path and also a good bus service along the coast (“The Norfolk Coast Hopper”), and I was looking forward to it.
Now I left the coast and headed into the town to the car park. I liked the town inland too. There was a pretty church and many more old buildings, many in the same style I’d seen earlier of brick with flint on the front.
I followed the signs to the station where I could find the car park I had parked in earlier and my car. From here I drove back to Happsiburgh.
As I mentioned in my previous post, by the time I reached the campsite there were no staff about. The telephone wasn’t being answered. Another camper assured me they were a regular visitor and the owners wouldn’t mind if I just set up and paid them in the morning (which turned out not to be entirely true), so that is what I did. I had already paid a deposit that covered the first nights cost, anyway.
I had bought food to cook and it was a fine evening so I had dinner at the campsite.
Despite all the coast walks I’ve done it is surprising how rarely I actually end up staying right on the coast, so I was enjoying being so close to the sea. As the sunset I headed down onto the beach to enjoy the last few moments of light of the day.
I managed to get some photos I’m quite pleased with, it seemed I was lucky with the light conditions that my photos seemed to be coming out so well.
Wandering along the beach though was a further reminder about just how rapid the coastal erosion here is. Here the road is tumbling down the cliffs.
Further along it was clear this house had gone over the cliffs, with what I took to be part of the floor part way down the cliff face.
At the base of the cliffs was lots of rubbish, some of it fallen off the cliffs and some of it I think dumped in a largely futile attempt to control the erosion.
I was glad I had not camped too close to the cliff edge!
This turned out to be a very enjoyable walk. It is true it was again not the most varied, being entirely along the beaches. However I was glad that had been possible, as the alternative routes would at times have taken me quite far from the sea. I loved walking next to the waves, listening to the sound of the water and my footsteps and little else. It was nice to see proper big cliffs again, after so much flat walking in Essex and Suffolk. It had been a very relaxing walk, but the attempts to control the erosion were a reminder that the sea is a constant threat to this part of the coast. It was lovely to visit, but it was clear that you don’t buy a house on the cliff tops here as a long-term investment!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
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.
Greater Anglia trains The Bittern Line : Sheringham – West Runton – Cromer – Roughton Road – Gunton – North Walsham – Worstead – Hoveton and Wroxham – Salhouse – Norwich. Trains run hourly, seven days a week.