I’ve been visiting Norfolk since I was about 5 years old on family holidays, always to the same place, near Hunstanton in North West Norfolk. So when a holiday near the Broads was suggested with friends and family I was keen to see a different side of this now familiar county. We stayed at Sea Palling, a little way down the coast from Bacton, where I’d learnt at the age of 11 that the North Sea gas is pumped ashore.
I slunk silently out of the cottage at 4.30 am and made my way slowly down Beach Road, whilst apparently still enjoying many of the benefits of sleep. As I approached the concrete incline up to the beach I was startled out of my reverie by the brightness in the eastern sky ahead of me. The beach looked to be wreathed in some sort of ethereal mist, and the air was redolent with the smell of smouldering bonfires and the tang of fresh saltiness. I could hear the harsh crying of the gulls and the wailing calls of the other sea birds, against a background of steadily insistent waves lapping against the shoreline.
As the sun languidly emerged from the steely grey sea I shivered inadvertently, completely alone except for my thoughts. The early sunlight blazed a golden path across the ocean, gradually illuminating the beach. Each trough in the sand was clearly silhouetted, each bit of detritus thrown into sharp relief. I’d never seen a sunrise over the sea before, and the early dawn light appeared harsh, in contrast with the mellow golds and reds of more familiar sunsets. Each grain of sand twinkled as it caught the light, as the sun’s bright orb blazed in the pale early sky. As the beach became slowly suffused with early sunlight, the colours appeared different to those in a sunset, sharper and more refreshing than sunset’s ochre hues, all against the ceaseless lap of the waves and the splash of spray.
With my 10 in 10 Charity walk for the MS Society only a month away, I’d planned on doing some serious walking during this week in Norfolk. So far nothing much had materialised in that department, whilst at the same time I’d consumed roughly my own body weight in nice food and beverages, so now it was time to redress the balance. Accordingly I announced to a lounge full of comatose children and adults that I’d be walking to Horsey Windpump, instead of joining them in the car. No cries of joy greeted this statement so I set off alone, with plenty of water to combat the heat and some peanut butter sandwiches for sustenance. I struck off along the beach, shadowing the sea wall initially as the tide was up and the keen easterly wind had whipped the surface of the sea into an exotic looking froth which spread across the beach like some bizarre Balearic foam party.
I cut down towards the sea as soon as I was able, and saw what I thought was a dog swimming. It seemed to bob around for a bit on the surface, and then became submerged for some considerable time. I was just wondering if it was in trouble, then came the realisation that it was just a cheeky seal playing a game of hide and seek with me. There were to be many more of these friendly seals as I walked, only scared off by an ill- tempered hound that sprinted over to bark and snarl at me. The owner apologised, but did nothing to restrain his unruly canine, so sadly the morning peace was shattered by me yelling at him to get his dog under control. Despite such unwelcome distractions I was setting a good pace, and wondering which of the many gaps in the sea wall I needed to head up to get to Horsey. After a few false starts I found it, and headed through a sandy opening, thinking it best to follow the main road as I hadn’t brought a map and was relying on the crap map app on my phone and an unreliable 3G signal. Always take a map!
I was passed on the road by some members of the advance party in the car, who had arrived only to discover they’d forgotten their lunch.
Horsey windpump was very picturesque, even though the week we visited it was minus its sails which had been removed for maintenance. We walked up to the top of it via some very steep narrow ladders, which the 7 year old in the party seemed to cope with a lot better than I did. I elected to walk back as well, after a brisk turn round Horsey Mere itself, this time borrowing Matt’s map, just in case.
This has the dubious honour of being the ‘highest’ point in Norfolk. I’d ascended its dizzy heights before, in 2012 but Matt hadn’t and wanted to officially ‘bag’ it on @socialhiking for posterity, so I decided a return visit (this time with technology) was in order. There was the usual faffing with phones etc in the car park, with Matt practically disappearing into the sea so he could start at the lowest point. A thick sea mist had descended, and visibility was practically zero as we headed up the road from West Runton beach. This took us through the town, and then into some familiar woods where offspring were duly told off for getting covered in mud. Then the clearing in the trees, and the metal post where the trig had been, all overgrown with grass and brambles, but we’d bagged it nevertheless.
The Weavers Way
Thursday came, and with the 2 kegs of Adnams I’d purchased vanishing rapidly & the spectre of the 10 in 10 hovering ever closer over us, it was decided that a ‘proper’ walk was in order. About 20 miles on the flat we reckoned, as an absolute minimum, to make up for the sad lack of ascent that Norfolk had to offer. Amanda kindly dropped us off in Acle, & drove back to photograph Happisburgh lighthouse, and we attempted to get GPS fixes as we headed out of town towards the path alongside the river Bure. The complete flatness of the landscape was accentuated by disembodied sails silently floating along, seemingly through the grass itself.
The day was clear and the sun blazed in an almost cloudless sky, with the prospect of heat later on. The initial condition of the footpath was excellent, with well-trimmed vegetation and thoughtfully signposted for tourists like ourselves. White painted wooden riverside dwellings, with wall flowers in the tiny gardens and climbing roses around the doorway. Almost idyllic, but with the stillness of the day and the heat these flowers were to prove problematic.
After about the 20th sneeze I realised I’d not taken any hayfever tablets, and a fresh round of sneezing from my companion indicated that he’d forgotten his, too. A cursory inspection of rucksacks revealed that we hadn’t brought any with us, either, so I pinned all my hopes on the yachting supply shop in Potter Heigham. The path wasn’t helping either, not so well trimmed now, with stinging nettles and pollen laden grassheads whacking against my bare arms and legs with every step. At Potter we had a lunch of fish and chips, followed by a trip to the marine suppliers by me in search of antihistamines. Sufferers of every ailment imaginable were catered for, from headaches to haemorrhoids, but nothing for such seasonal afflictions as hayfever. Almost resigned to a miserable afternoon of sneezing, Matt checked his first aid kit to reveal a supply of his daughter’s hayfever pills. We downed several each to celebrate, washed down with a can of pop from the chippy and waited for the drowsiness to set in.
As we struck off away from the River Thurne towards Hickling Broad, the scenery changed from that of the riverbank to cool shady wooded areas alongside the path. After this pleasant wooded interlude the path turned into road, and our feet really started to smart. At Hickling Green we left the Weavers Way, and headed back coastwards towards Sea Palling.