Breakfast: eggs benedict with smoked salmon + full English. I left the bacon (something I have very rarely had to do) as it was too tough. King William IV proved to be a relatively expensive stopover – £194 for B&B with evening meal + packed lunches. We felt that the standard of fare was too mediocre for such an outlay.
The morning was dry, but cloudy as we headed east on the B1454 to regain the Peddars’ Way. We soon reached the long straddling village of Ringstead (sounds as if it ought to have an airport). We found a general store, and bought a newspaper, and we visited the church of St. Andrews.
Heading north, the sun soon broke through as we approached Holme-next-the-Sea, and the end of the Peddars’ Way. We crossed a golf course, and there it was – a simple signpost, giving us the option to take the North Norfolk Coast path west to Hunstanton, or east towards Cromer.
The completists path would have been to turn left and make for Hunstanton. But this would have involved retracing our steps back to Holme. We had already decided that we were going to hang a right and head for Thornham.
Our end to the Peddars’ Way and beginning of the Norfolk Coast leg was in bright sunshine, and the rest of the day remained fine. The major difference between the two walks was apparent immediately: there were many people on the coastal path – not only dog-walkers but rambling-types like ourselves! And there were twitchers aplenty with their outsized binoculars and cameras. For a while, we fell into step with a couple from Shefford in Bedfordshire, who were spending the weekend walking; they knew this area fairly well as North Norfolk is the coast closest to their home.
We were walking on boardwalk across marsh; on the landward side was land administered by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust; on our seaward side, the marsh merged with dunes and shingle bars, the sea only discernible in the distance.
On reaching Thornham, we made a slight detour to visit The Lifeboat Inn for a celebratory pint – we had conquered the Peddars’ Way – a task that it would seem that very few have bothered to complete. The Lifeboat gave off the vibe of being a seafarer’s pub with low door lintels and small rooms, but the inn is in actual fact just one facet of a large establishment which includes accommodation, restaurant and meeting rooms. It isn’t cheap, and its prices jump up at the weekend. Therefore, we were not staying the night in Thornham!
From Thornham, we headed south away from the coast, steadily climbing for about a mile or so. There were good views to the North Sea with a flotilla of wind turbines gyrating their arms – a synchronised swimming display. On descending from this point of vantage, we turned left off the road onto a track crossing arable land. We sat under trees to enjoy our packed lunch. The weather had remained sunny and warm; it was quiet – presumably this section of the coastal path is just too far from the sea for most people. Another factor which might deter those travelling by foot is that the route from Thornham to Brancaster on this stretch of the Norfolk Coast path is about four miles, compared to about half that distance between the two villages on the A149.
On descending the lane into Brancaster, we were passed by a car inching down the rough track; it stopped; the window wound down and a gentleman asked us if we were familiar with the lane; he told us that maps from over 200 years ago (were these produced by William Faden in the 1790s?) were almost identical to contemporary maps – the lie of the land and its human imprint – the lane, dwellings, etc – are much the same as in the eighteenth century!
From Brancaster, we proceeded east to the next village, Brancaster Staithe: salt-water marshes to our left, and sea-facing houses to our right. Much of this short stretch was over narrow duckboard. This lead to some delicate dancing when meeting people coming the other way, particularly when a boisterous dog tested our powers of improvisation.
At Brancaster Staithe, we decided that we’d had enough. We dropped onto the A149 and caught the much lauded Coasthopper ‘bus on to Wells-next-the-Sea. En route, there was a duckboard moment when the ‘bus met its occidental equivalent on a narrow lane near Holkham. Both buses edged slowly forwards. The chassis of our ‘bus, at one point, was no more than a centimetre from the other! But thanks to the skill of both drivers, the buses didn’t even kiss.
We were spending two nights at Wells in the YHA, taking the Coasthopper back to Brancaster Staithe the next morning. On alighting from the ‘bus, we discovered that we could hardly move; mind you, we subsequently discovered that we had walked over 15miles for the day – that’s more than enough for elderly meanderers! The YHA is an old converted school, clean and sparse. It’s a self-catering establishment. Our room was filled by a double bed with a single bunk above. A grubby skylight was not enough to lift the gloom. The establishment was enlivened by the presence for the weekend of The All Saints Church ladies’ walking group from Newmarket. We sat with a couple of them in the common room swapping rambling yarns, and comparing aches and pains.
It proved difficult to find somewhere to eat in Wells on a Saturday night; the Crown Hotel and the Globe Inn were fully booked. We were squeezed in at Ollie’s, an eatery attached to the Edinburgh Hotel. The hotel had a rough and tumble bar, but the adjoining Ollie’s was cheerful and popular. The staff were being kept busy by the All Saints ladies who were also dining at the establishment. Their wine secretary, whom we had met earlier on, made frequent forays to the Edinburgh bar to replenish stocks. The menu was no-nonsense; we both went for the sea food platter with shrimps, crayfish, salmon and smoked mackerel. Having completed the main course, a craving for bed outbid the delights of the homemade puddings board.
In bidding farewell to The Peddars’ Way, as a parting shot, we must mention that the morning’s walk, before reaching the coast, revealed more fungi:
And we passed our final Norfolk Songline Sculpture!