Marshes and salt creeks that line a shore snatched from the sea
Heading eastwards, shingle banks and salt-marshes give way to low cliffs, and then to the twin resorts of Sheringham and Cromer, with their fine beaches. A clifftop path takes the walker eastwards as far as Overstrand. But this coast is treacherous as well as alluring, and for 150 years the sailors who live here have risked their own lives to save others, venturing out in lifeboats to rescue the victims of North Sea storms.
A lane leads down from the village to a tidal creek, which runs almost dry at low tide. In 1973 the National Trust bought 540 acres of Morston Marshes, together with Morston Quay – an extensive foreshore of hard sand, from which local boatmen by arrangement ferry visitors across to the bird sanctuary on Blakeney Point, with longer trips to see the seals basking on the sandbanks off the Point. Boats can be launched from the foreshore.
A spick-and-span, popular sailing village, Blakeney lies at the end of a channel which almost dries up at low tide. The original village, called Snitterley, was long ago swallowed up by the sea. The High Street runs steeply down to the harbour; many of the houses have walls made of rounded flints, and brightly coloured doors and window frames.
The vast and impressive church of St Nicholas is on the main road, south of the village. At the east end it has an unusual second tower, which is far smaller than the main west tower and was probably built as a beacon for shipping. In the disastrous floods of 1953, Blakeney suffered along with the rest of the coast: a house on the corner of the High Street has a plaque marking the flood height, which is a good 6 ft above ground level.
Boats can be launched from the wide, hard foreshore, where there is a concrete slipway, plenty of parking space, and a sailing club. There is a good walk from the harbour, along the sea embankment to Blakeney Eye, and back to Cley next the Sea.
A nature reserve since 1912 and now owned by the National Trust, Blakeney Point marks the end of a long shingle beach running 9 miles westwards from Sheringham. On the landward side, the shingle gives way to dunes, mud-flats and salt-marshes, where the sea drains away at low tide, leaving a narrow channel to Blakeney harbour.
Blakeney Point can be reached by boat from Blakeney or Morston, or by a hard walk of 4 miles or so along the shingle from Cley Eye. It is a paradise for botanists and birdwatchers. Typical plants are thrift, sea lavender and samphire, while common terns, little terns and Sandwich terns nest between May and July.
Just east of the village pond, where swans sail with their cygnets, a lane leads to a shingle bank with limited parking. There is a notice warning visitors of the danger of unexploded mines. Roadside notices in Salthouse advertise local crabs, cockles, shrimps, whelks and samphire.
CLEY NEXT THE SE
Cley was a busy fishing port in the Middle Ages, but the sea retreated, and there is now half a mile of marshland between it and open water. The village is built on a dogleg bend, and the main road traffic squeezing through hardly allows room for pedestrians to walk, let alone space to park a car. Its chief landmark is a noble 18th-century tower windmill, built right on the edge of the marsh, and looking across the River Glaven, which flows sluggishly northwards and then turns sharp west, blocked from the sea by the shingle barrier of Cley Eye.
Between the A149 road and the sea are the Cley and Salthouse Marshes, where the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust runs about 650 acres as a nature reserve. Cley Marshes, bought in 1926, was the first property acquired by the Trust. Just east of Cley, on the main road, the NNT has a visitors’ information centre. Breeding species on the reserve include bearded tits, bitterns and common terns, while shore larks, snow buntings and many wildfowl can be seen in winter.
At Cley Eye there is a small car park below
Half a mile north of Weybourne village is Weybourne Hope, a shingle beach which slopes so steeply that invading ships could come close inshore – hence the old rhyme: ‘He who would old England win
Must at Waborne Hoop begin.’ In 1588 it was considered of enough strategic importance to be garrisoned against the Spanish fleet. There is good fishing on the beach: flounder and bass can be caught there in summer, whiting and cod in winter. Above the shingle are low cliffs which are private property, with no access to the west.
Weybourne station, 1 mile south of the village, is now the western terminus of the North Norfolk Railway, formed by enthusiasts in 1960. The line, once part of the Midland and Great Northern Railway, runs for 3 miles to Sheringham. During the summer there are several trains a day in each direction.
This busy little resort is centred on a bustling High Street, which has a neat clock tower at one end and the seafront at the other. The railway arrived in 1887, and squares of holidaymakers’ houses soon sprang up round the old fishing village, some of whose cottages survive at the seaward end of the High Street. Sheringham still has a small fleet of fishing boats, which go out after lobsters and crabs. When not at sea, they are drawn up on the beach alongside the old lifeboat shed. The modern lifeboat is kept at the western end of the promenade.
The beach consists of gently sloping sand, protected by groynes, below shingle. Swimming is excellent, and lifeguards are on duty every day in summer. There are two slipways, but access is restricted and parking near the front is difficult.
The station is now the eastern terminus and headquarters of the North Norfolk Railway, which runs to Weybourne. It has a fine display of steam locomotives, vintage carriages, and other railway relics.
At Upper Sheringham, a mile inland, Sheringham Hall is set in a fine park, with a spectacular display of rhododendrons in early summer. The park is open to the public on certain days.
The beach, in one of the few gaps along this coast, is reached down Water Lane. It is sandy with pebbly patches, and is generally safe for swimming, though swimmers should watch out for offshore rocks just below the surface.
South of the A149 a road leads up to the so-called ‘Roman Camp’ on Beacon Hill, at 329 ft the highest point in Norfolk. The National Trust owns 71 acres of the hilltop, which is heavily planted with trees; gaps between them give views of the sea. There is space for parking.
At West Runton is the North Norfolk Heavy Horse and Pony Centre, a collection of horses large and small, from the massive Shire to the tiny Shetland. The centre is open daily in summer; the horses are shown at work, and can be driven or ridden.
Outside West Runton, on the Sheringham road, a track beside a caravan park and over a level crossing leads to the fine church of Beeston Regis, standing isolated on a clifftop in the middle of a field. It has a magnificent 15th-century choir screen, painted with figures of the Apostles.
A steep ramp leads through East Runton Gap to the beach, which is sand below shingle, with safe swimming. At the foot of the ramp there are usually two or three crab boats, hauled up from the sea by tractors. Small boats can be launched in settled conditions, near high water.
At the end of the 18th century, smart houses began to be built for summer visitors around the cottages of the old fishing port of Cromer. Its importance is shown by the size and magnificence of its church of St Peter and St Paul, which has a Perpendicular tower, 160 ft high and the tallest in Norfolk. Cromer originally stood some way inland, but the town of Shipden was gradually destroyed by the sea during the Middle Ages, and Cromer look its place.
Nowadays it is best known for two things – the quality of the crabs caught by its crab boats, which are usually drawn up on shore, and the brave deeds of its lifeboatmen, who during the Second World War saved 450 lives. The most famous lifeboatman of all, Henry Blogg, coxswain from 1909 to 1947, is commemorated by a bronze bust, which gazes out to sea from North Lodge Park, not far from the old lifeboat house, now a lifeboat museum. The museum is at the foot of a steep road called The Gangway, which is paved with granite blocks arranged with their corners sticking up, to give a grip to horses’ hooves pulling cargo up from the beach. The modern lifeboat is housed above a slipway at the end of the pier. Behind the church, several cottages have been restored to create a museum that gives a picture of sailors’ homes a century ago.
The beach is sand, scattered with shingle, with shallow pools left exposed at low tide. Swimming is safe, and there are lifeguards in summer. Boats can be launched from The Gangway, but access is steep and difficult. There is a small zoo, and the Pavilion Theatre has a summer season.
East of the town the ground rises steeply, with the lighthouse at the highest point. Built in 1833, it is 58 ft high and its light has a range of 23 miles. It is open to visitors on weekday afternoons, and is reached either on foot from Cromer along the cliffs, or by the entrance to the Royal Cromer Golf Club.
The beach at Overstrand is good sand, with some shingle, and is protected by groynes. The village is large and mainly modern, with access to the beach from a car park above a 100 ft cliff, either by steps or a steep track with a hairpin bend halfway down. There is a clifftop walk of 2 miles to Cromer. Because of the dangerous state of the cliffs east of Overstrand, there is no access to the sea as far as Mundesley, 5 miles along the coast.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Blickling Hall (NT), 10 miles S ol Cromer, via B1354. Jacobean house Mos! days in summer.
Felbrigg Hall (NT). 3 miles S ol Cromer, oil A149. 17th-century house Most alternoons in summer.
Holt Woodlands Country Park. 6 miles S of Blakeney, off B1149, viaA148.
Kelling Park Aviaries. 2 miles SW of Weybourne Daily.
Mannington Hall Gardens, near Saxthorpe, 12 miles SE of Blakeney on B1149, via A148. 15th-century manor house. Gardens some afternoons in summer: house by appointment.
Glandford Shell Museum, 2 miles SE of Blakeney. Weekdays.