211. Holkham to Brancaster

March 2011

Another winter has passed since my last walk along the Norfolk Coast. The reason being once the clocks change, it is too far to get to for a day trip (it gets dark too early) and the weather is too unpredictable for me to want to commit to the time and expense of staying there instead.

However now spring has sprung again and I was looking forward to resuming my coastal walk. I made an early start, in order to get to Brancaster before it got dark.

I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube to London Kings Cross, a train from there to Kings Lynn and then the coast hopper bus from there to Holkham.

This latter part of the journey was a little fraught. Having experienced the overcrowded Coasthopper bus before I realised that the bus was usually full, or near full, on leaving the bus station, so by the time it reaches the railway station, most people getting on have to stand, which I wanted to avoid. I decided I had enough time if I walked fast to reach the bus station before the bus left there. It turned out I was wrong.

Because of the time taken to wait for the pedestrian crossing, so I could cross the road, I got to the bus station just to see the bus reversing away from the stop. Thankfully, because of the one-way system and the number of traffic lights, I was able to make it back to the stop by the rail station before the bus, but ended up almost at the back of the queue as a result. It was lucky I got there when I did as I was in fact the last passenger to get on, the driver then concluding the bus was then completely full and everyone else that got there after me was told to wait for the next bus. Not great customer service, but at least I was on the move without delay, even if I did have to stand as far as Hunstanton.

So I did make it to Holkham on time. I re-traced my steps from the road along the tree-lined Lady Ann’s Drive and then into the pine woodlands at the back of the beach. Little had changed since last Autumn apart from the fact the marshes either side of the path were much wetter.

Marshes at Holkham

Marshes at Holkham

The walk through these woodlands makes the beach here feel quite remote, a bit of an adventure just to reach it!

Footpath to the beach at Holkham

Soon I was back at the beach and the weather had improved, with some hazy sunshine.

I tried to take a picture of the beach.

Damn fly, Holkham, Norfolk

Oh.

I brushed the fly off and tried again. That’s better.

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

As you can see the beach is a little unusual, a new line of sand dunes seems to be forming further out, causing the beach at the back to become a bit muddy and almost marsh.

I headed for the shore line and the waves, and then turned left.

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

It was lovely to be back beside the sea.

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

The official coast path meanders around somewhere in the dunes, so I ignored it and stuck to the firm sand on the beach. The only thing was that I had to be careful to leave the beach at the right time, as there is another marshy harbour ahead, so later on I would have to head a bit inland to get around it.

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

Whilst the beach at Holkham was quite busy (for March) it was only after a few minutes walk that I’d left everyone else behind and now had the beach to myself.

The beach at Holkham, Norfolk

The route was easy, just follow this lovely beach for 2 miles or so.

Holkham National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

Holkham National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

As I headed west I spotted the point I was meant to leave the beach. I say meant to because I didn’t. I had another marshy muddy harbour to get around (Burnham Harbour) ahead, but I was enjoying being beside this beach and didn’t want to leave it. So I decided to continue to the far end of the beach (Gun Hill), which was basically a dead-end, and then turn back again to join the official coast path in order to head inland to get around the marsh.

Holkham National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

So I headed west. There was soon less hard sand and more soft sand, mixed in with pebbles and shells, making the going a bit harder.

Scolt Head from Holkham National Nature Reserve

New dunes seemed to be forming in the mounds of sand, with just a few tufts of Marram grass on the edges of the little hills, or perhaps that was last years dunes having been covered with sand from winter storms.

Holkham National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

I continued until the I met the water from the River Burn flowing out into the sea (I did wonder if I was in Scotland if it would have been called the Burn Burn, given that streams and small rivers are usually called Burns there).

Scolt Head from Holkham National Nature Reserve

Across the river I could see another clump of sand dunes. This is actually part of a tidal island, Scolt Head Island. I think like much of the Norfolk coast, marshland had formed at the shoreline, and dunes further out. As the marshes have grown, the water channels that criss-cross it cut off the dunes, to make this island.

It is dangerous to walk over the marshes to get to the island, but I later found out it is actually possible to safely get to the island, as a ferry runs during the summer months. Unusually this is not marked on the Ordnance Survey maps (they normally mark every ferry, vehicle or passenger, seasonal or year round, but seem to have slipped up here and missed it). However I was too early in the year for it to have been running anyway. So all I could do was look across.

Now it was time to re-trace my steps along the beach to the point where the official coast path leaves the beach.

The Norfolk Coast path near Holkham

Thankfully it is well marked and as you can see from the sign it was 1 and a half miles to the next road, at the village of Burnham Overy Staithe (a bit of a tounge-twister of a name, that).

The Norfolk Coast path near Holkham

The beach near Holkham, Norfolk

Time for one last look back, as I leave behind that glorious beach.

The beach near Holkham, Norfolk

The path onward followed a man-made sea wall around the edge of the marshes. It is a familiar landscape of the east coast, salt marsh.

Marshes near Holkham

As it usually seems to be when I walk next to marsh the tide was out, revealing large area of mud flats, though I did spot some birds here, Oystercatchers, I think.

Over Creek, Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Over Creek, Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Soon I was nearing the village, and I began to see boats moored up (or perhaps abandoned) on the mud and sand flats beside the harbour channel.

Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Like many of the towns and villages on this part of the coast, it is now some distance inland from the open sea, with a narrow channel to negotiate between the marshes to reach the sea, which is only navigable at high tide.

Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

It was a pretty village but the once busy quay was now quiet. Probably it was once a fairly busy working port, but the traffic declined as it silted up.

Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Heading west from the quiet quay I now had to rejoin the road for a short while. Initially this was a minor road, but soon I joined the much busier A149. Thankfully as the village ended the path was in a parallel field so I wasn’t having to traffic dodge. I also passed another lovely windmill (happily, with it’s sails intact), though with the low sun behind it, I couldn’t really get a good photograph.

Windmill at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

At the mill the path turned away from the road (which now headed a bit inland) to turn right and head on another sea wall back north towards the sea. It was a familiar landscape of marsh and water channels, though the change in direction meant I now had a good view back to the windmill.

Overy Marsh, Brancaster Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Windmill at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

As I continued north I got a good view of the whole village, now behind the extensive marshes.

Burnham Overy Staithe from Plantago Marsh

The marshes themselves were teeming with wildlife. I came across a large group of geese who I assume over-winter here.

Plantago Marsh

Soon the sea wall turns left, so I resume heading west. However between me and the open sea is still about a mile of marshland, so I only had a distant view of the sands and the sea over the marshes.

Plantago Marsh

The path I’m on is I think a sea wall that was built to reclaim the land behind me for agriculture, whilst more marshes has since formed between it and the sea.

Soon I reached a National Trust sign that told me I had reached “The Manor of Brancaster”.

Brancaster marshes

Brancaster is really two villages. The eastern of the two, where I am now, is called Brancaster Staithe whilst further west is Brancaster. This got me curious about the word Staithe, which I seemed to see quite a bit in place names here. Well it means “harbour” in Old English, which explains why I was hearing it so much.

Brancaster marshes

Oddly, most of Brancaster Staithe seemed to have turned it’s back on the coast, with the coast mainly being lined with the back gardens of houses that were built facing the road. It was only near the west of the village that I came to the small harbour.

Brancaster Staithe harbour

As it was now more or less low tide the harbour was devoid of any water, so the boats were resting on the mud and sand, though it did look as if here the boats were mostly still working fishing boats.

Brancaster Staithe harbour

This was more or less the end of Brancaster Staithe and I continued west along the path to Brancaster, about half a mile further west.

Brancaster Staithe

The path looked to have been recently upgraded, with long sections of boardwalk having been built.

The Norfolk Coast path

Given I was walking in early spring when paths are often muddiest, I was glad of them.

The Norfolk Coast path

It was quite an impressive bit of small-scale engineering, as the planks neatly twisted and turned with the coast. Soon the land either side was indeed boggy too, proving the worth of the boards.

Nearing  Brancaster, the coast was briefly lined with lots of daffodils, though it was a bit early for most of them to be in flower.

Daffodils near Brancaster

It was now approaching dusk, so I ended the walk here. Out over the marshes, I could see the flocks of birds returning presumably to sleep overnight on the marshes.

Brancaster Marsh

Like seemingly all the towns and villages on the North Norfolk coast, Brancaster too was very pretty, with a lovely old church and pretty stone-clad houses.

Brancaster

Brancaster

Brancaster

Soon I located the bus stop and waited for the next Coasthopper bus back to Kings Lynn.

Irritatingly, when I got back to the station, I found that the train I had intended to catch was cancelled. I had an hour to wait for the next one. That was a pain, but I made the best of it by having a little wander around the town of Kings Lynn, rather than hang around at the station.

I found a pleasant area beside the river, where there were some attractive old buildings and cobbled streets.

Kings Lynn

Kings Lynn

It looked like quite a nice town, from the little explore that I had. I managed to get a few photos in the fading light.

Kings Lynn

Returning to the station at least the next train was running, so I got home OK, albeit an hour later than I had hoped.

After the winter, it was nice to get back to exploring new area of coast once more. This was another varied walk, with the beautiful beach at Holkham and west from there the highlight. Although I also enjoyed the marshy sections after that too. Often I find these can get a bit dull and samey, but this time there was quite a lot of wildlife to be seen on the marshes, which made it more interesting and the villages I encountered were once again lovely.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Lynx bus Coastliner 36 : Kings Lynn – Hunstanton – Old Hunstanton – Holme-next-the-Sea – Thornham – Titchwell – Brancaster – Brancaster StaitheBurnham 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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