212. Brancaster to Hunstanton

April 2011

This was my last walk along the Norfolk coast path which ends at Hunstanton, my destination for the day and I was sad to be coming to the end of this lovely trail. I also knew that for my next walk I’d be finding my own way again, so I was looking forward to having easy navigation on this walk. I was also looking forward to this walk because it promised to be a beautiful section of coast and I had enjoyed all my previous sections of the Norfolk coast path.

I took the train for this walk, first to London Waterloo, two tube lines over to London Kings Cross and then the train to Kings Lynn. My train into Waterloo got delayed on the way and arrived late, but a smooth connection on the tube meant I made the train I intended to catch from Kings Cross without about 30 seconds to spare!

On reaching Kings Lynn I waited at the station for the coast hopper bus. I expected a crowded journey and my experience last time had taught me not to try and rush to the bus station. So it was a pleasant surprise when not one but two buses arrived at the scheduled time. It turns out having faced increasing demand for this service, the bus company had laid on two buses. One would only go as far as Hunstanton (and so anyone going there was directed to that bus), whilst the other would continue all the way to Cromer. Obviously I opted for the latter. It was busy, but with two buses it means I actually got a seat all the way! At Hunstanton the two buses waited so anyone that had got on the wrong one could transfer across.

The bus got me to Brancaster on time. Last time I had caught the bus from near the church, so that is where I got off this time.

Brancaster

Brancaster

Now rather confusingly at Brancaster by the church the Norfolk coast path west is signed inland, away from the coast.

Here it turns south to end up about 2 miles from the open sea, then heads west for just over a mile and then joins the road in Thornham where it then continues north back to the sea. I am not sure why, but I suspect it is an attempt to avoid a section of walking along the A149, part of which lakes a pavement.

Well I’m meant to be doing a coastal walk and I didn’t fancy walking miles inland if it could be avoided, and I had worked out a plan that meant I hoped it could be avoided. Well actually I had a plan A, B and C! I had come prepared, today. Plan C was to follow the official route, but that was my last resort.

My first resort was to follow a footpath beside the road that led to the club house of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club. From here I planned to (eventually) follow the coast west. So I turned back along Broad Lane, where I had walked last time (a bit of traffic dodging here, as the pavement ends part way along it).

Soon I reached the coast path sign, which signed me onwards to turn back the way I had just come, or to the right, the way I walked last time. So instead I ignored both and continued north along the road. After about 200 metres I came to a footbridge off the road to the left, so I could join a footpath running parallel with the road. Here I quickly realised that whilst it was sunny, it was also very windy!

I could follow this path parallel with the road until I joined the car park for both Brancaster beach and the golf club (there was also a beach shop here). Here I headed down to the beach. It was a beautiful and unspoilt sandy beach, backed by dunes.

The beach at Brancaster

Just wonderful, and the tide was out too, which was good, because it should make my walk easier.

So my first plan was in fact to turn right initially. This was a dead-end, I knew that from the map. However the official coast path misses out this stretch of coast, heading on the marshes behind, as I had last time. However, there is a spit of sandy beach that runs east for about a mile and a half from here to the edge of Brancaster harbour, and I wanted to explore it.

It was beautiful, but the tide was so far out I could barely see the sea!

The beach at Brancaster

Unusually the receding tide here had left behind little holes, all filled with water (as you can see above). I did wonder if this was to do with the fact it was windy and the waves were larger than normal or something else. It made the walk slightly trickier, as I had to keep stepping over the holes to keep dry feet.

Still plenty of people were enjoying the wind, as there were lots of people kiteboarding (I think that’s what it’s called anyway) in the sands.

Brancaster

Soon though I had left most of the people behind and the beach was largely deserted, though the wind was blowing the fine sand about, making interesting patterns, but covering much of my lower half in sand!

The beach at Brancaster

The beach at Brancaster

I was soon joined by a group of horse riders, overtaking me. It is a lovely place to ride horses and I’m sure they enjoy the freedom of this large and empty beach.

The beach east of Brancaster

I continued on the beach for about a mile until I was alongside the water that marks the edge of Brancaster harbour.

The beach east of Brancaster

Brancaster Harbour

Looking across the water, there was more sand beyond on which it looked like there was a shipwreck. I’d quite like to have explored it, but it meant crossing the deep muddy water from Brancaster harbour, which looked to dangerous, so I made do with a photo (it’s near the top right below)

Brancaster Harbour

Climbing up to the dunes, I could see a boat moored in the mud and sand of the harbour ahead.

Brancaster Harbour

I continued to the end of the spit for a closer look. Sadly the mud and water meant it was impossible to cross, so I soon had to return the way I came.

Brancaster Harbour

Brancaster Harbour

This time I was walking into the wind, which meant the sand was blowing towards me, which was less pleasant. I headed down to the waters edge, where a thin line of shingle lined the water leading from the harbour, which meant there was less sand blowing about.

Brancaster Harbour

IMG_6963

Now I was closer, I could see the water was too deep to have got across without swimming, and I wasn’t about to do that.

The beach at Brancaster

The beach at Brancaster

So I returned to Brancaster, the golf course and club house and the kite surfers.

Brancaster

I’d spent about 90 minutes so far and was back where I had started but I had enjoyed it, so it was time well spent.

Now it was time to continue west. Again, I ignored the official coast path which headed inland and continued along the beach.

Again this was lined with extensive dunes, and I did not have to go far before I had it largely to myself.

The coast west of Brancaster

There was another decision to make now. There is an area of mud and marsh ahead (actually mostly marsh, but marked as mostly mud on the map). Here a path heads inland to go around it, and heads back to the shore. Or another path heads inland from it to the road (Gipsy Lane). I decided to take neither and continue along the beach.

Though there was the odd muddy patch, it was fine. However that meant I was now going to have to get around more streams and water channels flowing off the marshes inland.

I had another half a mile or so along the beach. The beach got wider, with the remains of some wooden structures sticking through the sands, and some bits of concrete (perhaps left from something from World War II).

The coast west of Brancaster

Soon I reached the main water flowing out from the marsh. There were areas of mud mixed in with the sand alongside it, to add to the problems. However it was not deep and I walked up and down a bit until I found an area where a couple of firm “mud banks” had formed either side of the stream, and a couple partly within it. I could use these as little stepping stones and make my way over the water channel to the sandy beach beyond.

Having made it across now, I knew I was safe, as another footpath heads inland just beyond here.

My plan had worked (my plan B had been to head inland along Gipsy Lane, follow the road through Titchwell and then return to the shore along this path).

Now I had about half a mile to go along the beach. There were more concrete remains on the beach here, I suspect some sort of relics from World War II.

The coast west of Brancaster

The coast west of Brancaster

There was a large concrete structure (I think an old pill box) embedded in the sand ahead, I expect it had been built on the dunes originally which had since eroded.

Further ahead were more marshes and more areas of water flowing out to the sea. This time however there was a lot of mud marked on the map and I didn’t fancy trying my luck at this as well. So I stuck with the original plan to turn inland on the footpath here. In fact this was a nice board walk path, as it linked to the car park for the RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve. You can see the start of the boardwalk below, and the concrete remains further out.

The beach at Titchwell

I continued on this track over the marshes, past the access road to the visitor centre and car park and to the road beyond, the A149.

Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

Here there was a very narrow (and quite overgrown) pavement beside the A149, which I could follow. At least it kept me out of the way of the traffic (and there was a wide verge next to it, should I have to take evasive action).

This continued all the way to the next village, Thornham. I continued along the main road for about 200 metres, passing the phone box and just beyond that there was a more minor road heading right back to the coast, which I took and it took me past the village green and some nice houses beside it.

Thornham

I followed the road left here and then took a track off it to the right, which joined a footpath on the edge of the marsh. A byway headed out over the marsh here, but I could see from the map it was a dead-end, which ended at a stream you cannot cross, so I didn’t bother to follow it.

At the west end of this path it turned inland a bit with the edge of the marsh and back towards the road. Here I had a fine view inland to the village, with it’s very large church.

Thornham

Now I had rejoined the official coast path for the first time since I started the walk!

Thornham

Marshes at Thornham

I followed this back north towards the shore and the little Thornham Old Harbour.

Thornham Old Harbour

I think like many of the harbours on the north Norfolk coast, it has silted up and not really used any more. The coast path now follows a raised wall along the edge of the marsh heading back to the sea.

The marsh to my right gradually gave way to sand, and sections of the path headed through dunes on board walks.

Thornham

The Norfolk Coast path at Thornham

Soon I was back beside the sea again. This is Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve and it is beautiful. With no road or car park near I had it to myself, too.

The beach at Holme Dunes

The coast path heads through the dunes, but I headed instead for the firm sand alongside the waves. The wind had whipped the sea up a bit, creating a bit of foam.

The beach at Holme Dunes

To my left, soon the dunes gave way to a small area of pine woodland, with some wooden sea defences in front of them. I do like beaches where the trees head right down to the shore.

Holme Dunes

I continued in solitude along this gorgeous beach, with nothing but the sound of the waves (and wind). Out to sea, a sand bank had formed which loads of birds (I couldn’t identify them) were gathering. In fact, the sand bank was rapidly disappearing under the rising tide, so many of the birds were by now paddling, but they seemed quite happy.

The beach at Holme-next-the-Sea

Well I could see why this was a nature reserve, it was a wonderful stretch of the walk.

The beach at Holme-next-the-Sea

I continued to see large flocks of these birds, which would often all fly up off the sand together, it was quite a sight.

The beach at Holme-next-the-Sea

Somewhere along here I passed the access road to Holme-next-the-Sea. Like a lot of villages on this part of the coast, it is no longer right next to the sea (despite the name), but a little over half a mile inland, so the only clue was a few more people on the beach.

The beach at Holme-next-the-Sea

Ahead I could soon see Old Hunstanton. I began to see more people and inland from me was the golf course, though largely out of sight. Soon I reached the edge of Old Hunstanton.

The beach at Old Hunstanton

Here beach huts were dotted about in the dunes, rather than in uniform straight lines. I had only just arrived, but already I liked the place.

The beach at Old Hunstanton

Hunstanton is unusual for many reasons. The first is that it is the only west facing resort on the east coast. You might be puzzled by that (how can somewhere on the east coast face west?). But from just before Holme-next-the-Sea I had turned left with the coast and was now heading south west into the area known as The Wash. This means there is a brief section of the east coast of England (here), where I’m actually heading south in order to go north!

The beach at Old Hunstanton

However it wasn’t the only surprise in store for me. Soon there began to be cliffs ahead. I had to decide whether to stick to the shore, or go for the official path along the cliff top. I opted for the former, as although the tide was now coming in, it still looked far enough out that I could get around.

I was very glad I did, because I remember someone once telling me the cliffs were stripey here. I didn’t know what they meant at the time, but now it was clear.

The cliffs at Hunstanton

The cliffs here are incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it before (or since). The top part of the cliffs are white chalk. But the bottom is bright orange sand-stone, the colour of bricks. In fact I researched it later, the lower orange part is Carrstone, made of sandstone cemented together by iron oxide (rust) whilst the top layer is chalk. Though I’m still not clear why there are two types of rock in layers here.

Nevertheless it was a stunning sight. At St Edmunds Point I had a tight squeeze around the collapsed bits of chalk at the base of the cliffs.

The cliffs at Hunstanton

I was beginning to wonder if I would make it around or not, and if I should turn back.

However I was reassured that around the corner, the beach got wider and the sand at the base of the cliffs was dry, so I was above the high tide line here.

The cliffs at Hunstanton

As I continued south west, the white chalk part of the cliffs got narrower and the orange part higher, so the dividing line between the layers was getting further up the cliff face.

Further along I had more debris to climb over (perhaps another reminder that this was a risky route). I realised by now, I’d made a mistake walking at the base of the cliffs. The tide was coming in, it was difficult terrain to walk on and I was at risk of getting cut off by the tide. However I knew if I did get cut off there were dry areas of sand, so I’d just wait for it to go out again.

The cliffs at Hunstanton

However by sticking to the shore I could really appreciate this amazing cliffs up close, and I am glad not to have missed out on that. Continuing south I was soon safe again. Now there was a thin area of sand and lots of people about, which meant there must be easy access from a nearby car park.

Hunstanton

I followed the beach to reach the promenade and then headed up there for the bus back from Hunstanton.

I was sad to have finished the Norfolk coast path (although in practice on this walk I’d actually only followed the official route for about half a mile!). However what a climax to end here at Hunstanton with these astonishing and unique cliffs. I hadn’t expected to find them so impressive.

I didn’t really explore Hunstanton as checking the bus times one was due soon. If I missed it, it would be an hour to wait for the next bus to connect with a train. So I quickly headed to the bus station where I had only about 1 minute to wait for the bus. I knew I’d be coming back to Hunstanton next time, and would hopefully explore it more then.

The bus took me to Kings Lynn and from there I took the train to London, across to Waterloo and from there home.

This had been a wonderful walk. I was pleased to have found a more coastal route and got to explore the beautiful beaches that the official coast path misses out. The coast line was very varied, with marsh, beautiful sandy beaches and the stunning cliffs to end. Once again the villages too had been lovely, with nice stone-covered houses. I had very much enjoyed the North Norfolk coast and the coast path and I was also a little sad that it had come to an end.

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 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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2 Responses to 212. Brancaster to Hunstanton

  1. Beautiful beaches and stunning cliffs.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I loved the beaches in North Norfolk. I think Northumberland and Norfolk have the best beaches on the east coast. Both are beautiful and feel quite remote and wild.

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