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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Wak 42 Stiffkey to Burnham Overy Staithe (Norfolk)

Walk 42     Stiffkey to Burnham Overy Staithe (Norfolk)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 132
Distance:  about 11 miles or 17km
Difficulty:  fairly easy, mainly flat with some sand walking which can be tiring
Terrain: paths following the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coastal Path
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Coasthopper bus runs in the summer to both ends.

Take the path north out of Stiffkey to rejoin the Peddars Way/Norfolk Coastal Path. The path follows along the edge of the marshes but is rather exposed as I found out to my cost when a violent thunderstorm erupted.

It is about 6 miles to the outskirts of Wells-next-the-Sea. This attractive resort with a bustling front is known locally as Wells. It derives its name from the spring wells which rise through the chalk. The North Sea is over a mile away because of the silting up of the harbour. Nearly all the whelks sold in Britain originate here. The attractive quay was much used in the past to load up with malt, corn and barley. The granary store is a prominent landmark on the quayside it retains the original exterior but has mostly been converted into flats. The extended top floor allowed sacks to be loaded directly on to the boats. There were once three brewers and four maltsters in the town satisfying the demands of the (then) forty local inns. It is recorded that some of the workers in the maltings were occasionally paid in beer. The area around here was regularly used for locations in the TV series Kingdom starring Stephen Fry.

On the west side of Wells the path goes northwards out towards Bob Hall’s Sand (could not find out why it is called this). However, during the season when the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway is functioning, it is well worth catching the train for an enjoyable ride alongside the path. Purists might say this is cheating. The 10.25” gauge railway was completed in 1982 due to the enthusiasm of one local man – Lt Cdr Roy Francis.

The sands along this section of coast are extensive - the tide goes out for over a mile. Beware – I was warned that the water comes in very quickly and there is a serious danger of getting stranded. Check the tides before going as much of the walk is along the shore. The walk heads inland from here to Holkham Gap and passes among a large number of pine trees. These trees were planted at the end of the nineteenth century in an attempt to stabilise the sand dunes (once these were sandy islands called 'meals') and protect reclaimed agricultural land. In later years, birch, oak and willow have been planted to provide a better environment for birds including the rare yellow browned bunting.

At Holkham Gap the walk continues along the sands – it is a matter of guess work where the path goes and I walked some time before finding the correct track inland to the east of Gun Hill. There appears to be no path markers on or near to the beach. I understand that the walk along the sands is particularly attractive in autumn as the dunes turn red with samphire – a plant which can be eaten and is sold in local shops as a delicacy.

The walk now goes inland alongside the River Burn towards Burnham Overy Staithe. The Staithe (a loading wharf) was probably established at the end of the middle ages when it was no longer possible for ships navigate the river into what is now Burnham Overy town. Look out for signs of Lord Nelson including a pub called The Hero. It is likely that Nelson took his first sail near here having been born in nearby Burnham Thorpe.

Snaps show: The sands near Wells; Stiffkey Marshes; Wells sea front; the small train to Wells Beach.

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