If you enjoy a bracing walk by the sea, Norfolk’s coastline risks spoiling you for any other. There’s traditional resorts where the beaches are home to sunbathers, deserted miles of sand backed by tufted-dunes, and sheltered rock-pools formed from the foot-beds of cliffs. Many of the counties beaches are popular with beachcombers who are attracted to the ancient stories embedded within the rapidly changing coastal landscape. You might recall that a caravan of King John’s treasure was lost to a rising sea in 1216 while he was attempting to cross The Wash between King’s Lynn and Long Sutton. The treasure supposedly includes crown jewels, jewellery and gold coins. Farther down the coast, the cliffs have given up the fossilised remains of elephants, the foot-beds of fifty human footsteps preserved in clay and a multitude of other strange and mysterious creatures. Here’s my list of favourites and please do leave a comment if there’s any you think I might have left out.
Hopton on Sea, a curve of white-sand beach south of Great Yarmouth in South Norfolk, the beach is divided by large groynes, a sea defence system and backed by maram-covered cliffs that provide shelter from the winds. Flights of concrete steps offer a safe ascent. Popular with riders, kite flyers and walkers, the Scroby Sands offshore wind-farm is visible from the beach and local boat trips will take you out to see it up close, a sight that takes the breath away. Also common are the seal colonies, their slippery-sleak heads popping up like buoys to accompany your boat. Hopton is part of the ‘walk4life’ campaign and information display boards between Hopton and Gorleston beaches have details of timed walks.
Bob Hall Sands I will probably be taken out and shot for publicising this truly secret Norfolk beach among the salt marshes near Wells-next-the-Sea. A thorough knowledge of the tide timetables is required because that tide needs to be going out to enable you to motor through the marshes which remain passable 3 hours each side of high tide (under normal wind and pressure conditions). You must also beware the low lying fog which can be very disorientating and once on the marshes, you’ll have to leave your vehicle and walk. A mile or so of sand between the dunes and the sea is thus revealed. The terrain is deserted, and in winter becomes the roost of thousands of pink-footed geese who soar over the broad terraces of sand-flats that are exposed at low tide. Let your eyes rest on the expanse of mud and sand where shallow channels of silver-water rush to return to the North Sea.
Weybourne has banked and pebbled beaches- the start of the cliffed region of the Norfolk coast extending all the way to Happisburgh. Weybourne is a fishing resort situated in the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it makes a fantastic start or end to a day here if you travel via the North Norfolk Railway, spend some time in the village itself (very attractive) and watch the sea fisherman, huddled against brisk onshore winds. Surrounded by farmland, woodland and heathland, the area is excellent for walking too. Nearby Kelling Heath is dark skies territory and a popular gathering point for astronomers and star gazers with several events planned over the year. A nearby campsite provides accommodation, food and company for those not wishing to spend the night on the beach.
Overstrand draws plenty of admirers of the amazing views of beach, sea and horizon from the cliff top path which is eroding rapidly, Offering panoramically lovely walk to Cromers along the top, about one and a half miles away, there is a path down to the beach which is a lovely spot for sunbathing. When the tide is out, the sand is perfectly flat and very compacted down making it good for ball games, running and walking although the tide comes in right up to the promenade so do check the times before departing. There is a cliff top car park with a small cafe, toilet facilities and ice cream van in the warmer months
Hunstanton, two miles of Blue Flag Beach in the locally nicknamed “Hunny”, the Sea Life Centre, a comprehensively equipped swimming pool, donkey rides, rock shops and amusements keeps Hunstanton firmly up there in the best trad resort stakes. However walk a little way and you’ll arrive at Old Hunstanton with its beach pockmarked by rock pools and shelteed by red sandstone cliffs- famously striped as a result of layers of fossil-studded sediment, they are breathtaking at sunset and sunrise. The only west-facing resort on the east coast of England, this melange of classic Victorian resort and modern attractions can be seen in its entirety by riding on the seasonal land train. This carries visitors from Searles Leisure Resort to the Lighthouse and back again for a small charge. The driver has been very amenable to emergency pit stops for children’s loo breaks, the purchase of ice creams or to take photographs. There are large soft dunes, miles of golden sand both providing the kind of background to a traditional seaside holiday. However the sea comes in slowly and provides enticing shallow waters for kids to explore and play in: because of this islands can form and care should be taken that you and youngsters don’t become cut off. (There are no lifeguard patrols here as there are on the main resort beach.)
Scolt Head Island, at just under four miles long, has one of the most inaccessible and beautiful stretches of sand in the district, namechecked by those Norfolk folk in the know as one of the best places to escape to. High dunes and soft sands tufted with Marram grass lie at the end of a walk from the quayside on the east side of the creek, all the way along the raised sea wall and offer shelter from the sea breezes. If you have little ones with you, the ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe, operates either side of high tide and is a great way to see the coastline from another perspective- that of the famous seals that make this their home. The beaches are littered with shells, lovely to hunt for and admire. The island belongs to the National Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust and is a non-intervention reserve where coastal processes are allowed to naturally occur without any interference from man The west of the island is shut off to the public during much of the summer season so that breeding birds are not disturbed.
Brancaster’s strong tides makes this pretty coastline of salt marshes and intertidal flats not the safest for swimming and it has seen its fair share of tragedies over the years. Sadly members of my own family joined the official search for a family of children who sadly drowned here some years ago so please do take care. However, the soft sand is perfect for sandcastles and at low tide it is rippled with coastal lagoons which are safer for children with their warm water and sealife waiting to be discovered. The beach is backed by a golf course (what a view as you tee off!) and at low tide the 1940s shipwreck of the SS Vina emerges from its sandy, watery grave, barnacle-covered bilges and superstructure fully exposed. Avocets, oyster catchers, terns and seals lounge and bob about making this a nature-spotters paradise. For hungry people, ice cream is sold from a booth on the beach and there are decent pubs nearby too.
Holme next the Sea marks the start of the long distance footpaths along the North Norfolk Coast, running all the way inland to Thetford called the Peddars Way and Norfolk Wildlife Trust manages the Holme Dunes Nature reserve. Located on the counties northwest corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea, Holme Dunes is superbly located to attract migrating birds (over 320 species) as well as other wildlife species including natterjack toads, butterflies and dragonflies, many visible from the three bird hides. The little village perched on the far north west point of the county has a small pub and church but boasts a sandy beach popular with holidaying families seeking that classic bucket and spades holiday. A second Bronze Age wooden circle discovered on a Norfolk beach at Holme has been dated to the same year as its neighbour, known as Seahenge. Archaeologists have been testing wood from the second henge and believe it was also built using trees felled in 2049BC. You will have to pay for a daily membership to the Wildlife Trust but you can then drive a mile down to the Wildlife Centre and wander through the reserve forest to access the beach further down- the golden sands will be pretty much deserted.
Horsey is home to thousands of wintering seals on a beach accessed via a gap in the very necessary sea defences in this flat part of the region. The famous National Trust owned Horsey Windpump is worth a visit as is Horsey Mere, a wildlife watery reserve open Spring to Autumn. A voluntary beach closure is in place until the end of January – by which time it is expected that most seals will have left – to help keep them safe. In warmer months there is a kiosk at Staithe car park selling a range of drinks and snacks. Behind the beach you will find a trail along fields and dykes to Horsey Mere, one of the few expanses of water in the Broads owned by the National Trust. Carry on along the path and you will arrive at Horsey Windpump where you can admire views over the countryside and beach after climbing to the top. There is a cafe too.
Cley, a long stretch of stones and shingle, diverse bird life (another twitchers paradise this) and a beautiful walk from the village with its landmark windmill. The sea is deeper here so it is for competent swimming as opposed to miles of paddling in the shallows. Not the place for resort type facilities, this is where to come if you don’t want the kids to be pestering for ice creams, donkey rides and amusements because there aren’t any. The beaches are backed by miles of wild and uninhabitated marshlands, home to many species of birds and it isn’t just the beach that is a haven for paradise. Divers have discovered the remains of a prehistoric Oak forest just 300 metres off the Cley coast. Eight metres under the sea, the forest could have been hidden since the ice age and stretching as far as the continent. It now provides a safe environment for a multitude of creatures and a great diving experience.
Cromer, like its neighbour Sheringham, is a blue-flag beach. The famous pier with the even more famous End of the Pier show is the towns landmark and deservedly so. A great place to drink hot chocolate and admire the skies of Norfolk or drop a crab line or two, the pier is the icing on the cake of a well-managed, sandy beach. Lifeguards and water sports zones ensure that bathing is as safe as it can be. No dogs on the beach from May to September though. West beach (left of the pier) is a mix of sand and stone and tends to be less busy, especially towards East Runton. Swimming is best at low tide because of the expanse of hard compacted sand which is exposed- much kinder than the stones upbeach! You’ll see the rock pools all the better too. Avoid swimming east of the pier under and around the first breaker because of a strong riptide. Huddled below the historic town is East Beach, stretching below the 62 metre high cliffs and with those views of the historic old buildings ranged far above.
Cromer has no harbour, so the fishing boats are pulled onto the shingle by the cobblestoned Gangway which is close to a fabulous shop selling the eponymous crab that is justifiably famous because of that extra-sweet flesh, attributed to their slow growth on the chalk reef just off the coast. Nearby is Cromer Pier with the historic Pavilion Theatre and cafe selling good hot chocolate at its end. There’s great walking here too- start off at the Esplanade and walk east towards Overstrand, or west to the large beaches of the Runtons (where elephant bone fossils have been found by beachcombers). Or climb the 200ft high Beeston Bump, beyond which is nestled Cromer’s sister coastal town of Sheringham and The Mo, another seafront museum.
Waxham, just to the south of Sea Palling is home to nearly as many seals as human visitors and they often bask on the sand; a likely site should you decide to walk between the two resorts. The resort (if you can call it that) is hidden away amongst trees and sand dunes, has no regular car park (just park along the side of the road) and no amenities close to the beach, making it a bit of an insiders secret. Part of an AONB, the views stretch for miles. A restored barn-cum-cafe keeps people fed and watered and enjoys a sheltered location behind the grass tufted dunes. The village is tiny and houses the Old Hall inn with a separate kids dining area should you wish to use it. Lobster and crab are seasonally available, there is a beer garden and several bedrooms to stay in should you decide to make a weekend of it.
Mundesley Beach with its decent sized waves attracts surfers and other water sports fanatics but that’s not all. A beautiful sandy stretch of coast backed by beach-huts with lifeguard cover and shallow waters at low tide make it popular with families too. Only twenty miles from Norwich gives it added flexibility for a quick trip and this long stretch of sandy beach continues to Bacton and Walcott along the coastal road between Cromer and Caister. Although Victorian Mundesley lost its railway, it still retains the charm of those times, avoiding the excesses of other resorts. On Walcott beach cliff top you’ll also find high quality ice cream van for miles; Mark’s Lamarti van is always there serving homemade ice creams with a great selection of toppings.
Winterton on Sea was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is another pretty, sandy beach backed by dunes and nature-reserve grasslands that are also home to the Natterjack Toad and a colony of around 30 to 40 seals. Only eight miles from Great Yarmouth, the beaches are kept safe by an active coastguard lookout tower which has been moved onto the dunes as a result of erosion and is part of the Sea Safety Group that has five stations across East Anglia, all manned entirely be volunteers 365 days a year. Populated by a wide variety of birds including terns, the beach seldom seems busy and back onto an AONB which helps temper any attempts to busy things up. There’s a small cafe nearby though with a sea-view terrace.
Gorleston Beach is another triumph of the Victorians: 3km of resort with every amenity a person could want. Gorleston’s two beaches – north and south – sit in a bay between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, overlooked by promenades that ascend the cliffs. North Beach has that Victorian feel with immaculately-kept gardens leading down from the hilltop and the beach is backed by a rock armour-protected concrete sea wall with timber groynes. Built in 1927, there’s a paddling-pool and a large boating-lake, reflective of a time when yachting was a popular hobby for children. South Beach is is an unspoilt and wide beach, part sand, part shingle, quieter and part of the ‘trim trial’, with its system of timed walks. The beach has a manned RNLI lifeguard lookout tower due to its strong current and pretty large, rolling waves.
Great Yarmouth’s pleasure beach and Golden Mile offers that classic British mixture of sand, sea, beach-front promenades and its amusements, a mixture of high-octane rides, penny arcades and family fairgrounds spread over more than nine acres. The Greater Yarmouth coastline stretches along 15 miles of beautiful sandy beaches backed by dunes and pierced by the two piers. At the northern end the Britannia Pier is built above the beach and has donkey rides departing on the sands below it. The Wellington Pier is located further down Marine Parade towards the southern end of the strip and trips to see the seals at Scroby Sands leave from the shoreline between the two piers. The Central Beach is a another sandy beach between Britannia and Wellington Piers adjacent to Marine Parade; all have life guard cover.
Scratby Beach near Great Yarmouth is a wide curving, ochre-coloured, quiet sand and shingle beach found at the base of low sand cliffs, protected by a row of huge boulders there to protect the sand dunes from erosion. Popular with dog walkers, sunbathers and families, the northwards walk along the cliff tops offer panoramic views over the sea and of the cliffs covered with indigenous plants, and the many windsurfers who are especially prevalent in the winter months. The beach can be reached via a slope and steps and there is parking and public toilets on the cliff top.
Caister is another popular holiday destination for families with its own independent lifeboat-station which marks the start of the resort’s South Beach zone. Wide dunes lead down to a glorious, golden-sandy beach with views of the Scroby Windfarm. Drinks and ice-creams are sold from a beach-cafe and a large free car-park is behind the lifeboat station. Another Winter surfing destination, the offshore southwesterly winds make it particularly popular. The North Beach is near to Great Yarmouth and has a long concrete esplanade and sand-dunes leading to another sandy, golden beach. There’s a small free car-park alongside the beach along with public & disabled toilets and wheelchair access is easy on the esplanade although further access onto the beach is limited.
Happisburgh Beach was the location of the first known occupation of Britain, a Paleolithic marvel which has yielded all manner of fossilised clues to the creatures that roamed this ancient place, including us, man. Standing sentinel is its famous lighthouse, all candy red and white stripes (which can be climbed, affording amazing views). Locals recommend going a little way beyond Happisburgh to Cart Gap where there is a car park and easy access to the beach. It’s similar to Sea Palling with wide sands that are perfect for picnics and sandcastles plus pools of blue seawater at low tide for children to splash in. And those spectacular views have to be seen to be believed! Stay aware of the cliffs which are subject to sudden falls and slips: layers of brown clay can slip away to reveal the claggier blue which is hell to remove from clothes, hair and shoes. Just down the beach from Cart Gap lie the last remains of Eccles, one of Norfolk’s lost villages, whose ghostly remains could once be seen on the beach at low tide and where tales are told of the church bell ringing under the waves. The Dunwich of Norfolk, so to speak.
Sheringham Beach is an old fishing village that developed into a resort when the railway arrived in late Victorian times. It has a lovely safe beach for small children which holds the European Blue Flag award for cleanliness and all the amenities of a resort town with a colourful annual carnival and festivals celebrating local seafood. Wonderful views of the coastline and surrounding countryside can be seen from a trip on the North Norfolk Railway between the town and Holt. The surrounding woods of Upper Sheringham (including Sheringham Park), have views over the sea, and miles of bracken-covered undulating uplands, smothered with gorse and purple heather.
Trimmingham Beach is just east of Cromer and is reached via a cross country stroll through fields and woods followed by a bit of a scramble down a slope that might be best done after a period of dry weather. Drive towards Trimingham, heading towards Cromer and keep an eye out for a large hill with a military base that has a dome resembling a giant golf ball. Before you reach this and half way up this hill there will be a small right turning called Vale Lane. Follow this down and then take a sharp left at the interception to a Tarmac Road. This will eventually take you down to the beach with a large amount of parking space at the bottom. The beach is truly deserted and local speak of a shipwreck here years ago and of lost treasure. Trimmingham has the youngest chalk substrate on the United Kingdom mainland and a few shells can be collected from the small cliff face. The chalk has actually been tilted and folded by glaciation, and is a geologically important site.
East and West Runton Beaches, the latter is most well-known for the Elephant, or woolly mammal, which was discovered in 1990, dating back to the Ice-Age and one of the oldest fossilised elephants to be found in the UK. The remains were found in the cliff-face which is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and now, for this reason, an important Norfolk beach. As you’d imagine, the beach is a big favourite among fossil hunters and low tide reveals lovely hard sand, excellent for walking. You can easily walk from West to East Runton (about a mile), but only at low tide and keep an eye on it, otherwise you’ll get stranded as when it comes in, the corner is cut off. You can also walk to Sheringham, but again, beware of the tide. The rolling nine-mile-long glacial Cromer Ridge that runs beside the coast is responsible for the less than flat contours of the countryside and its apex, at Beacon’s Hill, is just a 15-minute walk south from West Runton, and rises to 338 feet above sea level.
Snettisham Beach backs onto the Coastal Park with reedbeds, scrub and marshland behind the shingle beach, and is also adjacent to the RSPB Snettisham Reserve. It sits on the Wash and is composed of shingle and, although the tide does go out quite a long way, it leaves mudflats, as opposed to hard sand, making it something of a feeding ground for coastal birds and site of amazing sunsets. Snettisham Coastal Park was established in 1984 and is owned by the Ken Hill Estate, comprising heathland, marshland, reedbeds and scrub. It extends to Heacham and is a popular wildlife walk. A wooden bridge takes you from its carpark onto the walk proper, over a pretty bridge. October 2014, saw a new public right of way added to Snettisham Beach and you can walk along the sea-bank from the beach car-park heading left towards the RSPB Reserve.
Walcott sits right on the edge of the coastline, with a main road running parallel to the beach and is the only Norfolk village where this is the case. A tiny village on the far point of the east coast, it is pretty quiet and has been repeatedly attacked by the forces of the North Sea -badly damaged in 1953, 2007 and 2013. In 1953 The North Sea flood resulted in the vast majority of the village being lost to the sea and in bad weather the road is not passable. There is a particularly good local fish and chip shop too. Not the most spectacular of beaches but worth a drive past and a look.
Morston Quay and Blakeney Point- Morston is around 1 mile west of Blakeney – a lovely walk along the coastal path and its quay is situated just within the shelter of Blakeney Point, a wonderful backdrop to the quay area with its salt-marshes in the foreground. Seal spotting boat trips depart from here year round alongside a small scale seafood and fishing industry and there are all kinds of water-based activities based here too. Blakeney Point is a nature-reserve, an impressive 4 mile long stretch of coastline home to a fantastic spectrum of wildlife which lives on its sand and shingle spit, salt-marshes, dunes and surrounding sea. Common and grey-seals live and breed here too. Visitors can walk out along the shingle-spit towards Blakeney Point from Cley Beach- about a three and a half mile walk but very exposed to coastal winds and the cold air. Tidal flooding can also affect the area. Parts of Blakeney Point are closed for portions of the year to visitors on foot to protect wildlife and this is the time to access it via boat from Morston Quay. Toilet facilities at the Life Boat House on Blakeney Point are generally closed October to April.
Salthouse -The small village of Salthouse is set beside a high ridge above the salt marshes that border the North Norfolk Coast. In times gone by there would have been salt pans and large piles of salt crystals ready for transport, although no more. The beach is a large pebble bank with little shelter from the penetrating north winds and severe weather. The village contains the attractive church of St. Nicholas, a post-office/shop and a lovely pub overlooking the marshes. Worth a visit for Cookies Crab Shop which has been selling quality shellfish for over 3 generations and serves seafood based meals and snacks in its gardens overlooking the marshes or for eating on the beach.
Rimmed by deflective sea-defences and graced by dunes and glorious sand, the greatest and most mysterious aspect of Eccles beach lies underneath it- a lost village which has been overwhelmed by the deposition and erosive action of the might of those North Sea waves. All that is left of Eccles is the Bush Estate – a collection of pre-war bungalows and caravans tucked behind the sand-dunes and on January 25th 1895 St. Mary’s church finally tipped into the sea. Those of us who visited the beach in the 80s will remember the tower stump of the church which appeared at low tide but the subsequent building of an off-shore rock reef by the Environment Agency resulted in an elevation of sand levels, thus obscuring it. However, pieces of flint masonry from the tower can still be found along this section of coast and in Norfolk Life, Lilias Rider Haggard (1892-1968) recalls visiting Eccles when she was a child and witnessing the gruesome sight of skeletons exposed in the sea-washed graveyard. The line of lost villages and the land they sat upon starts from Hopton and continues past Winterton on Sea but for now, what we have left is a lovely and wild stretch of coastline which, when the summer holidaymakers fly back to their winter grounds, becomes ours again to stroll, birdwatch and enjoy picnics on, well wrapped up against the winds which are responsible for those lovely dunes.
A Norfolk Wildlife Trust site with dunes, freshwater pools and marshes which are home to more than 320 bird species including Avocets and Oystercatchers. Located on Norfolk’s northwest corner, where The Wash meets the North Sea, Holme Dunes is superbly located. The visitors centre is open daily from April- October’s end and at weekends for the other times of the year. The coastal footpath runs through the site, bordered by silvered clumps of Sea Buckthorn ablaze with orange berries as the summer draws to a close. Interest young children by telling tales of the military remains from WWII that can be seen around the reserve, including the remains of a target-railway used to train artillery. The half-hidden relics of our past date back even further too and include Roman pottery and, in 1998, a well-preserved Bronze Age timber circle, which became known as ‘Seahenge’. The circle was uncovered by strong tides, having been hidden for some 4,000 years (no longer at Holme, the structure was removed for preservation purposes by archaeologists).