I didn’t sleep particularly well, waking during the night feeling excessively hot and sweaty. I had to open the skylight with a pole, hooked at one end for the purpose. Despite my fractured sleep, we were both awakened by the seven o’clock chimes of St. Nicholas just opposite the YHA on Church Plain. And so we were up and away to catch the 0820 Coasthopper back to Brancaster Staithes. We were the only customers as the ‘bus slowly edged westwards through this well-heeled part of the world.
At Brancaster Staithes, it was overcast and dark. It felt as if rain was on the way. We continued from where we left off the previous afternoon walking east on the border between salt marsh on one side, and more substantial earth on the other. It was but a mile and a bit to the next settlement, at which we had noted there was a cafe. Burnham Deepdale was our planned breakfast stop. The cafe was heaving with relays of waiters and waitresses keeping everyone replenished. It was not cheap, but then nothing on this stretch of Norfolk Coast undersells itself. Julia and I had taken to referring to it as La Costa Capitalista.
On leaving the cafe, we noted that St. Mary’s Church to our right, has an unusual round tower. This is apparently Saxon in origin. The rain had come, albeit in the form of an intermittent drizzle as we climbed onto a path atop the local sea defence. This took an arc of some three miles to just beyond Burnham Norton. I reflected upon the effectiveness of these earthworks. If the glaciers and ice caps continue to melt, they are likely to be as efficacious as Cnut’s exhortations. Judging by local house prices, any breech of these defences is forecast for 3,000 rather than 30 years hence. But who knows?
About a kilometre out from Burnham Deepdale, I discovered that I had forgotten my Trailblazer Guide to this walk. Although it was out of date, and provided little information beyond what we could glean from a map, it had the knack of telling us ere we could find food! So, we retraced our steps, my mood as dark as the sky.
On leaving Burnham Deepdale for the second time, besides the pleasure of adding two kilometres to our day’s tally, we discovered that it had stopped raining. There were times during the morning walk when we could see the clouds caressing land and sea with damp intention. And yet, almost miraculously, we remained dry for the rest of the day. Our path took us to Burnham Overy Staithe, a hamlet with a quayside overlooking the muddy creek. After a brief rest on a bench, making coffee from our Thermos, our path took us along the Overy Creek, edging seawards.
We climbed over the dunes of Gun Hill, and there it was…….Holkham Beach and the SEA! Call me old-fashioned, but I think that a coastal path should include a good proportion of walking within site and sound of the sea. Although it was hard going, it was a pleasure to feel the fine, soft sand beneath my feet. The slap and suck of the gentle waves – a rhythm which somehow is always with me; I don’t need a conch.
It was a good two miles to Holkham Gap, a small inlet to which a path descended through the pines and dune. It was now beyond three o’clock, and we were hungry, and if the truth were known, a little bit irritable! As luck would have it, at Holkham Gap, there was a refuelling wagon – a mobile kitchen. The proprietress’ garrulousness was matched by her charm. She served us hot drinks, sausage roll, and chocolate brownie. Simple and effective.
We were nearing the end of our day’s walk, with little over a mile to the beach at Wells. We passed a stretch of water on our right, which the map refers to as a boating lake, and suddenly we were amidst humanity: campsite, car park, shops and cafes. At this point, we climbed to the path running along the top of The Bank (another sea defence). But instead of turning right towards the town, we turned left to have a look at the beach. This proved to be a gem. By now, although the sun wasn’t out, the clouds had lifted and it was a bright late afternoon. It was the first day of October, but the beach was alive with kids playing and parents corralling. I sat on the stumpy upright of a groyne, whilst Julia took photos of the multicoloured beach huts.
The walk from beach to town at Wells-next-the-Sea is about a mile; it’s as straight as an arrow and can be covered by road or miniature railway as well as the pedestrian path. There were times when we doubted that Wells was getting closer – probably a symptom of our weariness. Wells itself is a lively little place, its centre, behind the The Quay, a maze of narrow streets and passageways; its array of small shops testament to its egalitarian vibe.
In the evening, we went around the corner from the YHA to the Globe Inn. First impressions were inauspicious; its bar was brash and bright. But the restaurant was a spacious, warm room, and reassuringly busy for a Sunday evening. Crab salad and venison burger finished off with ice cream. The food and service were excellent. Only two days to go now, and the morrow promised to be our shortest leg – on paper at any rate.