210. Blakeney to Holkham

October 2010

This walk was along the North Norfolk coast but this was a section that was mostly alongside marshes, rather than beaches. It was a long journey to get to the start of this walk. At the time I did this walk, the Norfolk Coast Hopper bus ran all the way between Kings Lynn and Sheringham, both of which have railway stations.

To get from my local station to Sheringham costs £63 for a day return if you don’t book in advance. To get to Kings Lynn instead costs a £30.65. That’s quite a price difference! So despite the longer journey, I opted to travel via Kings Lynn. I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube to London Kings Cross and then a train from there to Kings Lynn. This also reminded me that I’m making progress round the coast. Walking the coast of Essex, Suffolk and the bits of Norfolk I’ve done so far, when I travelled by train it was from London Liverpool Street. Now I’ve moved around to London Kings Cross instead.

The train was quite crowded as far as Cambridge, but quieter after that. From Kings Lynn I took the bus from just outside the station to Blakeney. I’d done this journey a few times, as I’d not walked this part of the coast in order. So I was expecting the Coasthopper bus to be busy, as it always seemed to be. So it proved, and whilst I did get on, I had to stand as far as Hunstanton. There about half the passengers got off, and it was a more pleasant journey after that, as I could sit down. However it was almost 12:30pm by the time I arrived, after all the travelling.

Sadly the weather for this walk was not great. Grey and overcast, though at least not cold. Arriving here in the autumn though made quite a difference, as it was quiet, in contrast to my last visit, 3 months earlier.

Blakeney

From the harbour, I turned left and kept with the harbour wall, as it turned away from the road. The coast path ahead looked like it was heading up someones drive, but I continued as it was signed this way and soon emerged onto the marshes. Between me and the open sea was a large area of marshes, Morson Salt Marshes.

Salt marsh near Blakeney

These stretch north for about half a mile and beyond that is the channel of water (Blakeney Channel) that separates Blakeney spit (where I walked last time) from the mainland. The sea itself is well over a mile away! The path itself followed what I think is a man-made sea wall.

It reminded me of my walk around the coast of Essex (and parts of Suffolk), where I seemed to be walking alongside Salt marsh most of the time. It was rather un-interesting on this dull October day and it was also quite boggy underfoot.

After about half a mile, a bridlepath was signed left to Morston Downs but it was also a dead-end path to the right. This dead-end path to the right required you to cross Morston Creek without a bridge. With no sign of this path on the ground (other than a sign pointing), I continued on the official coast path.

As I neared the next village, Morston, this creek ended up alongside the path so it began to feel more like a coastal walk.

Salt marsh near Morston

However the tide was out, so the creek was mostly filled with mud, on which the boats were grounded.

Morston

The boats seemed to be arranged in a more or less random way at the edge of the marsh. The village of Morston is set back a bit from the coast, as along the coast all I really saw was a large boat yard and a car park that serves it. However lined up at the banks of the creek were these begs of shells of some kind.

Morston

I assume these had been collected by boat and dumped here, presumably awaiting someone in a van to come and pick them up. Despite my love of the coast I’m not a big fan of seafood so I’m afraid I didn’t bother to identify what they were (cockles?).

Stiffkey Marshes

From Morston the coast path was now a byway (though I didn’t see any vehicles use it) and ran along the landward side of another area of marshland, this time Morston Greens. The path was indeed as wide as a road and mostly gravel, though with the odd muddy section!

Stiffkey Marshes

It did look like it might flood at high tide so I was glad now that the tide was out.

Stiffkey Marshes

Half a mile or so after leaving the village, another byway was off to my right, over the marsh but it was very wet and boggy and a dead-end so I didn’t follow that one either, though I could see a few people out in the distance who I presumed had followed it. I was not sure if they were bird watchers or perhaps fisherman, as they seemed to be standing still!

Stiffkey Marshes

The sea felt along way away now. To my right was marshes more or less as far as I could see, though what might look a bit like a boat on the horizon on the photo below seemed actually to be an island of perhaps gorse or low trees, though it did not seem to be marked on the map. I’m afraid I didn’t find this section very interesting. The view towards the coast was like this for miles.

Salt marsh near Wells-next-the-Sea

I continued west, with a marshy lake on my left about a mile after leaving Morston. Beyond this I was walking beside more marshes, but this time they were Stiffkey Salt Marshes instead.

Marshes east of Wells-next-the-Sea

There was a bit more wildlife activity on this area of marsh with quite a lot of birds feeding on the marsh (or the animals that live there).

Marshes east of Wells-next-the-Sea

Although if you head directly north I’ve now passed the end of Blakeney spit, it is hard to tell because there is so much marsh between me and the sea.

After muddy sections of path earlier, this part was mostly sand or firm earth underfoot, so the going was easier.

As I continued west the marsh got wider and wider until as I neared the next town (Wells-next-the-Sea), there was about a mile of marshes between me and the sea. Beyond it the mapped showed a fine sandy beach (Holkham National Nature Reserve), but getting to it over the marshes (criss-crossed as it is with numerous creeks and water channels), would be very hard. So I stuck to the coast path once more.

Soon I could see the buildings of Wells-next-the-Sea ahead.

Marshes east of Wells-next-the-Sea

Wells, as it’s generally known locally is the largest town on the North Norfolk coast and like all of them that I’ve been to it looked like it was going to be very pretty.

Soon I began to pass boats moored up beside the water channel next to the path. These increased in number as I reached Wells-next-the-Sea harbour.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Like Cley-next-the-Sea, Wells is fighting a battle to keep the harbour open, with the marsh threatening to silt up and block the access from the harbour to the sea. There is a very narrow channel of water that links the harbour with the sea but either side of it, the marshes stretch for almost a mile.

In fact Wells has now what is the last working harbour on the North Norfolk coast, though I believe it is a struggle to keep it open.

Wells-next-the-Sea

The quay itself was lined with numerous pretty and interesting buildings, clearly showing the towns heritage as a working port, even if most of the buildings had since found other uses.

Wells-next-the-Sea

I was particularly interested in this old mill (I presume) where some sort of corridor protruded from the upper storey of the building.

Wells-next-the-Sea

I assumed material (grain, perhaps) at one stage flowed along this into a boat waiting underneath. It was propped up with stilts crossing the road and no longer in use, but at least this interesting feature had been retained.

As I passed sadly there were no signs to tell me what it once was, only an estate agents board attached to the far end of the building claiming “Land and New Homes”, so it looked to have recently been converted from whatever it had been used for.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Other old industrial buildings I passed now houses shops on the ground floor.

Wells-next-the-Sea

I liked Wells very much, it was a pretty town packed with character.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Part way along the harbour, the coast path turned right to head north, away from the road. Once there was marshland on both sides of the narrow harbour channel, but the land on this west side was reclaimed by the Holkham estate in the 1850s, by the buildings of a sea wall, causing the land inland to dry out. This made the silting of the harbour worse.

As a result of the silting the town ended up a long way from the beach. As a result of this a miniature railway was opened in 1976 alongside the sea wall, the Wells Harbour Railway. This runs for around 3/4 of a mile from the harbour to Pinewoods station, a short distance from the sea and was primarily built to transport visitors to the town to the coast.

Alongside the railway there is also a minor dead-end road which also serves the beach. I wouldn’t be using either of these though as the coast path ran along the top of the sea wall and as I headed north along it, I got lovely views back to this pretty town.

Wells-next-the-Sea harbour

As I continued it really bought home how far the town now is from the open sea, as it became increasingly distant and hazy, as I looked back.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Wells-next-the-Sea

Soon, at last, I had reached the open sea. At the mouth of the harbour entrance is a lifeboat station which is very large and unusually seemed to be built directly on the sand.

Holkham

The coast here is a lovely sandy beached backed by pine woodlands, which stretch for around 300 metres back from the coast. To my surprise, the official coast path runs behind these woodlands, away from the sea.

I couldn’t see any obvious reason that it did so, so I didn’t bother with it and walked along the beach instead. This was more coastal and I suspected more pleasant too.

I was pleased with my choice, as soon the beach was lined with all sorts of characterful beach huts, painted in all sorts of varied colours schemes.

Holkham

Holkham

Unusually, they were raised up from the beach on stilts and accessed by little wooden ladders. I presume this negates the need to remove them in winter, as the sea can get underneath them.

The beach here was unusual in that “sand dune islands” seemed to have formed further out (you can see one at the right of the photos below).

Holkham beach

Holkham beach

The beach was proving popular and as I headed further west it seemed the sand seemed to be building up, because some of the beach huts seemed to have ended up part buried!

Holkham

The sand dune islands now seemed to have ended and the sea still seemed a long way away! Now sand seemed to stretch almost as far as the eye can see, but I could just see a sliver of light where the sea was on the horizon.

Holkham beach

As I followed the beach and coast west I began to turn south west with the coast and here a channel of water seemed to begin between the most inland dunes and the sea. This isn’t really marked on the map, and it seems to be forming another little area of marsh.

The beach at Holkham

Still there was still a thin strip of sand between the dunes and this muddy water and I could follow this to Holkham Gap.

The beach at Holkham

The beach at Holkham

Here I can follow the path that gives access to the beach to reach the official coast path once more, though you can see how the marsh is starting to form.

The beach at Holkham

The beach at Holkham

I decided to end the walk here as the next point along the coast where you can access the road is more than 3 miles ahead. Given the time and the fact it was now mid-October I doubted I’d make it that far before it got dark, so I decided to end the walk here and head inland to the road.

The route inland is along a pleasant wooded path called Lady Ann’s Drive. I’m not quite sure how it got it’s name but it runs for about half a mile to the road. Actually it’s more a road really since it doubles as the beach car park for Holkham beach with the cars parking on the (now somewhat muddy) grass either side of the track. Even though it was October this was proving popular, as there were cars parked almost the whole length of it back to the public road!

On reaching the road I turned left and only had to walk a few metres to reach the bus stop for the Coasthopper bus back to Kings Lynn station.

Holkham

I had about 10 minutes to wait and the bus arrived on time. Thankfully it was less busy than this morning and I had a pleasant ride back to Kings Lynn station. From there I returned home by train.

This was a walk of two halves really. The first part as far as Wells-next-the-Sea I’m afraid I found rather dull. A sea wall path (often muddy and boggy) alongside marshes, with the sea largely out of sight and seemingly not much of interest to see. However Wells-next-the-Sea was a lovely and interesting town and from there the walk improved greatly, as I could follow the path to the coast and finish at the beautiful Holkham Beach. The beach there felt really rural, backed as it is with natural pine woodland and it was a lovely place to have ended my walk (and it would be nice to return to it next time).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Sadly there is no longer a Coasthopper bus from Kings Lynn to Sheringham (as there was when I did the walk). The service was cancelled by Stagecoach. Now it has been split into two routes, run by two different companies and so now you have to change buses in Wells-next-the-Sea instead. There is generally a 15 minutes or so wait between the two buses.

Sanders Coaches Coast Hopper 4 : Wells-next-the-Sea – Stiffkey – Morston – Blakeney – Cley-next-the-Sea – Salthouse – Kelling – Weybourne – Sheringham – Beeston Regis – West Runton – East Runton – Cromer. Every 30 minutes, seven days a week.

Lynx bus Coastliner 36 : Kings Lynn – Hunstanton – Old Hunstanton – Holme-next-the-Sea – Thornham – Titchwell – Brancaster – Brancaster Staithe – Burnham Deepdale – Burnham Market – Burnham Overy Staithe – Holkham – Wells-next-the-Sea. Approximately every 30 minutes during the summer (late May to the end of September), approximately hourly during the winter.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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