(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).
Map: L/R 134
Distance: about 10 miles
Difficulty: fairly easy some low cliff walking
Terrain: paths, pavement, beach
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Bus number 1 goes about once and hour, Monday to Fridays only, linking both destinations. Check timetables before using.
This walk starts at the car park just north of the Nelson Monument near the South Sands, Great Yarmouth (marked on the OS map). There is parking in the road and a nearby car park but using public transport involves a mile or so walk south down the front before starting the walk back.
Most of the area around the South Sands was inaccessible when I went due to coastal protection work – this may have changed. Nelson’s monument can be easily located and rather oddly is situated at the entrance to an industrial estate. Britannia, who is at the top of the column, faces inwards towards Nelson’s birthplace at Burnham Thorpe, also in Norfolk. The story goes that the superintendent of works, had expected Britannia to be facing the sea and killed himself - in reality he died when inspecting the nearly finished work at the top. Nelson’s trips to Great Yarmouth included visits to injured seaman recovering in hospital after the Battle of Copenhagen.
A charter in 1272 by Henry 11 made Yarmouth ‘Great’. The town suffered in World War 2 with many of the older parts destroyed.
Great Yarmouth has a lively front. Amusements, including the Yarmouth ‘eye’, are plentiful. The Britannia Pier is a popular venue for comedians, at the time I visited Joe Pasquale, Roy Chubby Brown, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Carr and Cannon and Ball were due to appear.
Further along is the elegant Wellington Pier. This was opened in 1853 as a memorial to the ‘Iron Duke’ (Duke of Wellington). It was very popular until the 1970s when, like many seaside attractions, it struggled to survive and the council planned to demolish it. Public protests caused the council to consider new ideas. Jim Davidson, the comedian, leased it in 1996 and gave it up in 2002. It now houses various types of family entertainment.
The large glass construction of the Winter Gardens is impressive and has an unusual history. It was originally located in Torquay (Devon) but had not proved a success. It was bought cheaply then dismantled and transported to Yarmouth pane by pane. Since 1904 it has been used for entertainment and currently houses a children’s adventure ‘jungle’, a bar and a bistro.
The vast sandy beaches are now a family attraction but the success and growth of the town was originally based on the herring trade. It once had the largest herring fleet in the country and produced the famous Yarmouth Bloater (slightly salted smoked herring). In the town are a number of narrow parallel alleys called the ‘rows’ which housed workers in the herring trade and small businesses that relied on the success of the catch. One or two of these are kept in their original format; they are owned by the National Trust and can be visited. If you have time I strongly recommend a trip to the very interesting Time and Tide Museum which is housed in an old herring works. The smell and atmosphere of the fish and smoking is still strong in the preserved buildings.
The walk to the north of Great Yarmouth passes well cared for gardens adjacent to the promenade. Further along is a caravan park and behind this Yarmouth horse racing course. Out to sea is a large wind farm (Scroby Sands) generating enough energy for 40,000 homes. From here the walk continues along the sand until Caister-on-Sea. A pub with the rather odd name of ‘Never turn back’ marks the walk inland.
Caister was originally a walled town encompassing a Roman fort. The port silted up leading to Great Yarmouth becoming the main port. From Caister the walk goes north either on the beach or footpaths until a settlement called California is reached. This place owes its name to the discovery of 16th century gold coins found on the beach in 1848 – it was at the time of the Californian Gold Rush in the USA. Nearby Scraby has a beach/water favoured by surfers.
The walk continues northwards on the sand or through the dunes until Winterton-on-Sea. Daniel Defoe writing in 1722 recorded that half the village was built of timbers from shipwrecks and that 200 coal ships had been wrecked here on one winter’s night. It is one of the most dangerous areas for shipping in the UK. Flooding is also a problem. Grass was planted to develop dunes but some of these have been eroded and the area is still vulnerable to floods with a siren used to warn residents. Look out for the Hermounus Holiday Camp which has distinctive roundhouses inspired by the original owner’s trip to a place of the same name in South Africa.
Snaps show: roof of fast food outlet Great Yarmouth; California; Wellington Pier, Great Yarmouth; Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth; Never Turn Back pub; the sands at Caister on Sea.