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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Walk 44 Thornham to Heacham (NW Norfolk)

Walk 44          Thornham to Heacham (North West Norfolk)

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

Map: L/R 132
Distance: about 9 miles or 14 km.
Difficulty:  quite easy, mostly flat
Terrain: paths partly following the Peddars Way and some sand dune walking
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Coasthopper buses go to Thornham and Heacham – there is a mile walk or so from the sands at Heacham to the bus stop at Heacham Lavender on the A149.

 Follow the Peddars Way out of Thornham and on to the edge of the marsh and sands that lead to Holme next the Sea. The dunes and salt-marshes form a protected nature reserve - special plants grow here that can survive in salt water when the area is flooded. The coast along here is known as Shingle Bay and is a refuge for many birds. Near here and at Gore Point the tide evidently reveals the birds’ food stores. Strange zig-zag fences have been placed near to the sand dunes presumably as some sort of protection. I witnessed a glorious sunset near here and according to locals the evening sky is different and equally attractive most days.
The coast near Holme next the Sea is the site of the fairly recent discovery of ‘Seahenge’. Evidence of a circle of Bronze Age trees uncovered by the tide has resulted in discussion about its purpose. I understand a reconstruction of the site can be seen in Kings Lynn museum.

A choice can be made for the next part of the walk into Hunstanton. Either take the path through the dunes (which I did as I prefer to keep as near to the sea as possible) or follow the Peddars Way. Either way, do not miss the lighthouse just past Old Hunstanton. The lighthouse, which is now a private residence, was used from 1665 until 1921. In its early days the lights were called Chapel Lights after nearby St Edmunds Chapel. In 1776 it had the World’s first parabolic reflector - the current building was erected in 1840.

The former coastguard lookout which is next to the lighthouse was originally a Marconi listening post in both World Wars. It was instrumental in plotting the position of the German fleet prior to the Battle of Jutland in World War 1.

A little further along are the remains of St Edmund’s memorial chapel. Edmund of East Anglia was king of this area from 855 until 877. Legend has it that the chapel was constructed on this spot in 1272 to commemorate the Anglo-Saxon Edmund landing here in 855. After reigning peacefully for several years he had to defend his kingdom against the invading Danes. He was beaten in a battle at Thetford, taken prisoner and died a martyr’s death when being tied to a tree and killed with arrows. Later, his shrine at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk became a place of pilgrimage and he became the first patron saint of England. The chapel in Hunstanton was used by monks for about 400 years before falling into neglect.

Be sure to look at the ‘hedge’ sculpture of a wolf and a nearby representation of a severed head. This recalls the local legend of Edmund’s beheading after he was killed and it being subsequently guarded by a wolf. The animal held the skull between his paws until it was claimed by locals and laid to rest. Near to this point is a bench remembering Edith Cavell (the First World War hero) who was a Norfolk nurse. 

The seafront buildings in this part of Hunstanton give it a more gentile appearance than some of the parts further along. Very attractive gardens have been laid out here for over a century and a nearby memorial remembers 31 victims of the floods in 1953.

The walk down the hill takes you into the livelier part of the resort with its numerous amusements, fairground type attractions and fast food outlets. ‘Sunny Hunny’s’ claim to fame is that it’s the only east coast resort where you can watch the sun setting over the sea (because it faces west over The Wash).

Leaving Hunstanton the hubbub dies down and there is a flat walk to Heacham alongside beach huts, caravans, bungalows and a few amusement parks. Heacham’s origins stretch back many years and there is a 13th century church to admire. Thomas Rolfe (mentioned in the Gravesend walk) the husband of Pocahontas came from here.

Snaps show: St Edmund's Memorial Chapel, Hunstanton; the sculpture of the wolf near the chapel at Hunstanton; Hunstanton front; Holme Marshes

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Walk 43 Burnham Overy Staithe to Brancaster (Norfolk)

Walk 43    Burnham Overy Staithe to Brancaster (Norfolk)

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

Map: L/R 132
Distance: about 6 miles or 10 km.
Difficulty:  easy, flat
Terrain: paths mainly following the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coastal Path
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Coasthopper bus runs in the summer to both ends.

Rejoin the walk at Burnham Overy Staithe. The path goes north for a bit before turning westwards alongside Trowland Creek. To the right, across the marshes is Scott Head Island a National Trust reserve. As the walk continues, to the left, inland, the village of Burnham Norton, birthplace of Nelson, can be seen in the distance. The track along this stretch is reputed to be a route used by smugglers.

Before reaching Burnham Deepdale I saw a derelict houseboat which looked as though it would be still OK for restoration – would be interested to know if it is still there. The Domesday Book listed seven Burnhams in this area, of which five remain - the three mentioned so far plus Burnham Thorpe and Burnham Market. All of these are small unspoilt villages typical of North Norfolk.

It is only a short distance to Brancaster Staithe. Two hundred years ago this village would have been surrounded by industry and activity. There are a number of dilapidated buildings to look out for on the walk through. The calm, quiet quayside was once occupied by an enormous malthouse built in the 1700s. In his 1929 History of Norfolk, John Chambers described it as one of the most remarkable curiosities in the county. The building was 100 metres long and stretched into the village, it was demolished between 1850 and 1870. Up to 120 tons of grain were processed into malt here each week but no malting takes place now. The quay was used by fishing and cargo boats until the 1900s. Fishermen now use a newly constructed quay which can be seen on the walk through – their catch includes mussels. The mudflats and saltmarshes around this area are protected by the National Trust. In Roman times a fort existed here garrisoned by troops from Dalmatia (now Croatia and Montenegro).

Further along reeds can be spotted growing near to the footpath. There is a history of reed cutting going back centuries in this part of Norfolk. It played an important part in the local economy providing much needed employment at harvest time especially when seas were rough and dangerous for fishermen. Most of the reeds are used for thatching.

The path continues to Brancaster. I feel it is worth breaking from the coastal path here to walk along to Brancaster Beach – a path follows the road for most of its length (I would not recommend the narrow road in busy times!) The vast expanse of sands becomes more impressive at low tide when the sea goes out a mile or so. To the west of the beach crabs can be found living in the fossilised remains of an ancient forest. About 1800 years ago the area was a Roman naval base. At that time the soldiers mainly collected oysters whereas local fishermen now mainly catch whelks and mussels.

The walk back to the village of Brancaster could finish with a welcome pint in The Ship Inn – named after the Victory and local hero Nelson.

Snaps show: Burnham Overy Staithe; Brancaster Staithe; Old boat and dilapidated buildings.