Walking the Norfolk Coast Path
Just about every plan that I made in 2020 was foiled due to Covid. So when I had a long weekend just before Christmas, I cast about looking for somewhere I could go that was also a Tier 2 zone at that time, wasn't the other end of the country and was a multi-day walk that I could return to a base everyday to reduce Covid risks as opposed to staying in multiple places. Oh, and it had to be somewhere I wanted to go.
Norfolk was the answer - the Norfolk Coast Path to be precise. At the time, it was tier 2 like York, and ticked every other box. I didn't have the time to do all of it as it's 84 miles running from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea, but I did a good chunk. Using the Coasthopper bus, you can pick a base somewhere along the route and always make your way back again. Two points on the bus:
Day 1: Sheringham to Cromer (4.5 miles)
I arrived after lunch so couldn't go for a long walk before it got dark, so as I was based in Sheringham, I did the short 4.5 mile walk along the coast to Cromer. Sheringham has a lovely promenade decorated with an art trail. Seaside scenes are painted along the length of the promenade, creating an outdoor art gallery on one side and beautiful views along the beach and out to sea on the other. The sandy beaches in Norfolk are broken up with groynes (wooden fences that stop beach sand being washed away by long shore drift - I only know this because I once had to help my 10 year old do a geography project and I've always wanted to share that valuable knowledge again).
Anyway, besides row after row of groynes and idyllic views out to sea, with wind farms far offshore, there isn't much of note on this short walk other than Beeston Bump. And here I will quote directly from wikipedia or similar: 'Beeston Bump is a part of Cromer Ridge, a range of low hills left behind when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago. The hill was used as the location for a top secret ‘Y’ listening station during World War II and the concrete remains of this can be seen on top of the hill.'
So there you go. You'll also walk past quite a few not very pretty caravan parks and an area of scientific interest where the fossils of an extinct elephant, twice the size of current African elephants, was found. Who knew?!
Cromer itself is a bustling town with a pier, pretty church and plenty of places to get something to eat or drink. However, I caught the bus and returned back to my base as it was getting dark. I had hoped to retrace my steps but I didn't fancy walking through semi-populated caravan parks alone and as much of the path was along a steep cliff edge, that didn't seem sensible to tackle in the dark either. Oh well, I'd make up for mileage on day 2.
Day 2: Sheringham to Stiffkey (16 miles)
Not wanting to get caught out by the lack of light again, i set off early. 7.30am just as the sun was rising - glorious. The early morning walk gave beautiful views once again along a cliff top. The path then drops down onto a pebbly beach and despite having the beach to myself - bar some anglers early on - it was tough going. Walking on pebbles kills the ankles but the serenity made it worth while. I sat on the beach having a coffee and watched a seal frolic in the sea in front of me - magic! Slightly less magic was the series of military buildings that run above the beach with large guns pointing out to sea and a weird beeping noise coming from somewhere.....
I left that behind and made my way along the beach, with military buildings being replaced by marshland, a bird watcher's paradise. And indeed I saw many of those. I felt rather out of place not wearing green camo and without a long lens camera to hand. But the twitchers were having a fine morning admiring the birds.
I made my way to Cley-next-the-sea that has a rather marvellous windmill and an even more marvellous coffee shop that sold giant scones and very good cappuccinos. Having refuelled, I set off again following the river Glaven out to sea before the path wove itself in and around marshland until Blakeney. From there, more marshland which at times looked like a boat cemetery teaming with birds.
A handy sign saying Coasthopper showed me where to head up towards Stiffkey (pronounced Stookey just to fool people). I had really wanted to continue onto to Wells-next-the-Sea and I had daylight, just. But I no longer had phone battery and didn't want to get lost out on the marshes without it. So I headed into Stiffkey and passed the time waiting for the bus in the Stiffkey stores, which are definitely worth a visit. Lovely gift shop and I could have bought myself many Christmas presents had I had a bigger backpack. They also sell coffee!
The bus stop is right outside the store, making it easy to get home.
Day 3: Wells-next-the-Sea to Burnham Deepdale (12 miles)
This was a very, very wet day. Torrential rain and wind that blew it sideways into my face - but that's the kind of walking that makes you feel alive. While I really wanted to walk that missing gap between Stiffkey and Wells, as the buses require a change at Wells, I decided it would have to be missed. I drove to Wells instead, parked on the quay side, got a coffee to stave off the cold and headed off.
From the quayside, there is a long walk along a causeway down to the sea. When you get there, instead of heading onto the beach, you follow a woodland path that runs behind the sand dunes. It's pretty and peaceful but I wanted to see the sea. At last, you pop out at Holkham Gap (incidentlly there is a visitor centre here and loo.....because you know, the coffee you started out with.) And here you at last walk along the beach with views out to sea. You can also walk along more forest, just as pretty but I wanted to feel the wild sea wind blowing my face off. You track this section for what feels like a long time, with the scenery changing again, this time grass covered dunes. I was entirely alone in amongst them and felt like I was the last person on the planet. No pandemic or risk of infection - just me. Alone.
After stopping for a little rest on the beach, I trekked along a raised dyke across marshland, with plenty of birds to look at as I went. I arrived at Burnham Overy Staithe and was tempted to call it a day due to just how wet it was. My waterproofing had given up and was now causing seepage. But I hadn't travelled to Norfolk to give up because I was damp.
I soldiered on. I almost immediately regretted that decision. The bit from Burnham Overy Staithe to Burnham Deepdale is a long, long, long trek across marshland where there is very little to see in any direction. In fact I'd go so far as to say it felt a bit scary being quite so stuck out in the marshes miles from everyone. I know in reality it wasn't that far away, but it felt it. What made it worse was the mud. Every step taken forward meant a half step slide back or sideways. It was an epic work out, particularly when I realised that I had just 40 minutes to make the next bus or have to wait in the rain a full hour for the next. So I attempted to run. You try running in heavy boots on slippery mud....
Anyway, I made it with five minutes to spare looking like a drowned rat. I caught the bus back to Wells, got my car and got back to my base to heat through.
I had hoped to walk from Burnham Deepdale to Hunstanton, the last bit of 10 miles, but I had to get back and be a mother. I did however drive the route and a lot of it looked similar to the marshlands of the day prior, so I felt I'd seen enough of that for a while.
In short, it was a lovely mini multi-day walk with scenery that really does change every few milies. Who knew there were so many different types of shore lines? I do now.
If you would like to do a walk like this but want company, join the Glamoraks App or Facebook group (it's free) and find like-minded women to walk with.
In late August/early September 2020 I was meant to do the Tour du Mont Blanc. But the global pandemic had other plans. With time off work and in need of an adventure, I decided to walk the Northumberland Coast Path solo, carrying what I needed on my back. I didn't fancy camping and lugging all that kit with me, opting for any available accommodation. This proved tricky as accommodation was in very short supply and so I couldn't follow the itinerary suggested by the official route.
The Northumberland Coastal path runs from Cresswell in the south up to Berwick-on-Tweed in the north, a total of 62 miles or 100km of coastal walking, littered with castles and history. If you've never been to Northumberland. then you need to add it to your list of places to go. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful with plenty of little coastal villages to explore or take refuge in when in need of tea/cake/chips/wine. And given some of the weather I faced, refuge was certainly needed at times.
I decided to tag a bit onto the beginning, by starting at Newbiggin-on-Sea to enjoy the newly created stretch of the England Coast Path route.
The East Coast Main line runs up and down from London to Edinburgh. The closest train stop to Cresswell or Newbiggin is Morpeth. From there I took a taxi to Newbiggin, which meant I started walking at about 11am. You can catch a return train home from Berwick-on-Tweed.
Day 1: Newbiggin-on-Sea to Amble (14 miles)
Frankly I'm not sure why I decided to add the extra miles on as Newbiggin-on-Sea isn't going to win any prizes in a beauty contest. It was a grey day and a bit of a plod to start along an urban seafront and past a not very attractive power plant. But the path was clearly signposted with new England Coast path signs and I was pleased to be walking a stretch of this newly created route. Once I reached Cresswell and officially picked up the Northumberland Coast path, the scenery improve massively. The path stretched for miles along stunning Druridge Bay, with gorgeous sand dunes and a nature reserve just inland. Approaching Amble, you will see Coquet Island out to sea, an RSPB nature reserve, housing a monastic cell and medieval tower. I like little bits of history along the way.
I arrived at Amble with sore feet unused to walking 14 miles, a lot of which was on sand. Amble has a busy quay with little shops and spots to get something to eat. Sadly, the only place available for me to stay - the Amble Inn - was another mile out of town. I was very pleased to have my comfy bed and tasty food when I got there.
Day 2: Amble to Embleton (18.5miles)
I had a lot of miles to cover this day and the forecast was WINDY! But it promised two spectacular castles and stunning scenery so I was up for the challenge. After a hearty breakfast, I headed back into the heart of Amble and out the other side, walking alongside Warkworth harbour before climbing the hill into Warkworth. Atop the hill sits Warkworth castle, one of the few Northumbrian castles I hadn't previously visited. I didn't have time to go in but gave it a wave before walking through the very pretty village of Warkworth with its even prettier bridge, which spans River Coquet. From there it was miles of gorgeous sand dunes (the path itself running behind the dunes so wasn't heavy going underfoot). I had to play dodgems with flying golf balls as links courses dot the path. There are handy bells to ring to let golfers know that you're passing through.
I then reached the River Aln and the lovely village of Almouth. I stopped for a bite of lunch at the Alnmouth Village Golf Club (the oldest links golf club in England) where I was the youngest person by about 50 years. But they did a good sandwich and they had a loo and everyone wanted to know where I was walking to. From there I had to climb a hill above the golf course, and kept following the coastal path until it dropped down to the sea. The walking got tough for a while as it was a pebbly beach, which hurts the ankles but the scenery made up for it.
The wind picked up as I headed along a long cycle path towards Boulmer and then even windier as I walked along the path overlooking wild seas crashing on rocks as I headed for Craster, famous for its smoked kippers. By the time I reached the Jolly Fisherman Pub, I was very ready to rest my feet. By chance I bumped into friends there so had a welcome catch up in the sun before tackling the last 4 miles.
The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle is one of my absolute favourites and if you're ever after a short day walk, add this one to your list. I however, had to walk past the castle, making sure I took in the backwards facing views and did my final push to Embleton. I stayed at The Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel, but frankly I could have been staying under a hedge. I simply wanted to put my feet up after a very long, windy but utterly gorgeous 18 odd miles.
Day 3: Embleton to Bamburgh (11.6 miles)
While a significantly shorter day, this day was still quite hard going for two reasons. 1) The weather 2) a long stretch of roadside plodding.
It starts with some of the most stunning scenery of the entire walk along Embleton Bay, with views back over Dunstanburgh Castle. Little seaside cottages dot the dunes and I would very much like to have one of those. The route then followed another links golf course running next to Beadnell Bay. The wind had again picked up at this point and by the time I hit Beadnell, the rain arrived. Sadly, the stretch from Beadnell to Seahouses is a long tarmac plod alongside a busy road. I was sorely tempted to stick out my thumb and ask for a lift. I didn't and instead fought my way against the gale and face-on rain until I arrived in Seahouses, where I collapsed in a seaside pub and watched the rain beat against the windows.
After psyching myself up, I did the last push from Seahouses to Bamburgh, which veers away from the sea and crosses fields, which included a field of bullocks. Sigh. The adrenalin got me across that field and views of Bamburgh Castle gave me my point of reference to work towards. I could have walked along the beach if I'd wanted to - and you could do this although it is not technically the coast path route. I didn't because walking on sand is very tiring and the wind was so fierce, the sand would have taken the top layer of skin off my face, and I was looking haggard enough.
Anyway, after reviving myself at the Victoria Hotel, I headed out in flip flops to air my feet and strolled around the beach near the castle. If you've never visited Bamburgh Castle, add it to your list. It looks exactly like a castle from story books and you couldn't get a better setting.
Once my feet were frozen lumps of ice, i headed back and had a large glass or two of wine.
Day 4: Bamburgh to West Mains (14 miles)
If I'm completely honest, you could probably just do those first three days to get the highlights of the Northumberland Coast Path as day 4 was a bit 'meh'. Technically I should have gone all the way to Holy Island to see Lindisfarne castle but the way the available accommodation worked out, it wasn't an option for me. Plus, if you go to Lindisfarne, you have to time it right to ensure you can walk across the causeway before the tide rolls in, otherwise you will find yourself having a swim instead of a walk.
I didn't have to worry about that, I simply had to walk 14 miles. The wind and rain of the last two days had been replaced with blazing sunshine. Glorious. Except today was a hilly day, inland, not much shade....did I mention the wine from the night before?
It starts off beautifully with views back towards Bamburgh Castle before taking in the stunning Budle Bay. Lovely. And then after climbing a hill, do a bit of road walking, pick up St Oswald;s way, you arrive at an intercity railway line that you have to cross. That's exciting! There's a telephone you have to use to call the signalman. He'll want to know how many are in your party and how long you estimate it will take you to cross the line. He then lets you know how long you've got before the next train comes barrelling along at 100 miles an hour. Despite having five minutes to make a 30 second journey, it still makes your heart thump. Luckily I'd had a little rest in a grassy field just before this, watching the butterflies flutter about while I aired my feet and rehydrated my body.
After the railway line excitement, you walk past weird, slightly spooky silos before reaching the village of Belford. Here I stocked up on a nutritious lunch of a scotch egg and can of soda from the Coop, before continuing on. After the beauty of the coastline, this all felt a big dull until getting to some woods, which were both pretty and cool respite from the sun.
Out the other side of the woods is a tiny village called Fenwick, which had I been going to Lindisfarne, i would have passed through, crossed the A1 and headed off on my pilgrimage like so many other pilgrims before me. But alas, the only accommodation I could find was in West Mains, which meant a trudge along a tarmac road, another interesting crossing (this time the busy A1) and then at last found my accommodation at the Lindisfarne Inn. This was definitely my least favourite day on the walk.
Day 5: West Mains to Berwick-on-Tweed (11.6 miles)
Another gloriously sunny day and I was up and out early. Despite tired legs and feet, I was ready to take on the last day of this walk. From West Mains, I dropped down to the coast line, picking up the coast path again at Beal Point, looking out over the causeway to Holy Island. From there it is a straight forward, relatively flat, easy walking stretch of beautiful coastline. I even managed to get an ice cream from a van along the way. Perfection!
I arrived into Berwick-on-Tweed way too early for my departing train, so I stopped on the promenade for some obligatory chips. Sitting with my boots off, my feet in the sea breeze, eating hot chips and smelling the sea air, I mentally high-fived myself for doing the 70 miles. What a lovely, leisurely (at times tiring) but beautiful walk. There is something about coastal walking that just releases tension, letting all your worries blow out to sea.
I reluctantly put my boots on, headed across the old bridge into the town, taking in the views from the old Elizabethan walls that prevented the Scots from invading the town, a nice extra bit of history before finally catching my train back to York.
In contrast to some of the more remote and hilly long distance paths, the Northumberland Coast Path is relatively easy. That said, 70 miles is still 70 miles and lots of it is on sand, some pebbles and some roadside, so don't underestimate it. But the incredible beaches and fairytale castles will keep you going. I highly recommend it!
And if you're looking for company to do it with, join the Glamoraks app or Glamoraks Facebook group and find like-minded women to go walking with.