Having slept better, we awoke to an azure sky.
The forecast promised high winds, but at 8.30a.m. all was still. We walked up Church Plain, High Street, and Staithe Street to reach the quayside and the Norfolk Coast Path. On the corner of Staithe Street, French’s was open for breakfast. Fuelled up with a bacon & egg sandwich, and poached egg with avocado, we continued our easterly progress.
It really was a lovely morning without a hint of wind. Wells-next-the-Sea looked postcard perfect as we looked back for a final glimpse. We had returned to walking on the line between salt marsh and meadow.
A couple of miles east of Wells we came across a concrete path running in a perfect circle, about 60 metres in diameter. We bumped into a young man, who had overtaken us earlier in the morning, who explained that this was in fact a circular runway! The Americans, during the early 1950s, were based at nearby RAF Langham, and launched 12-feet long model aircraft known as RCATs (radio-controlled aerial targets). These could be flown, remotely, to imitate the movements of an attacking jet fighter and trainee gunners honed their skills by shooting them down. The RCATs accelerated up to take off speed, 85mph, around this circular runway, while tethered by a cable to a pole. This was known colloquially as a whirligig, and this was the only one in the UK. By peering through the brambles, the central pole could still be seen.
Towards the end of the morning, the weather changed quite abruptly. The promised westerly wind arrived; simultaneously, the clouds rolled in, and the temperature dropped. By this time, we were close to Morston Quays, where the National Trust have an information centre. Here we sat briefly at one of their picnic tables, huddled and cupping hot drinks.
From here was but a short walk to the village of Blakeney where, we had noted, there were a handful of places which might provide lunch. The walk, once more atop a sea defence, took us directly to the village’s quayside, and from here it was but a stone’s throw to the Kings Arms. This was another low-beamed public house, anxious to preserve its nautical ambience. We didn’t stay long, as no one seemed interested in serving us! We bought stamps for our postcards at the village post office, an integral part of the Spar store, before returning to the quay and climbing the High Street to The White Horse. By contrast, this is a pub with a bright, welcoming feel. The staff were most obliging, providing us with soup, sandwiches, and beer.
Our afternoon promised to be a stroll – about three miles following the arc of the sea wall (on the map, it looks like three-fifths of a circle) from Blakeney to the next village, Cley-next-the-Sea. The sky was weighing down on us, but once again, luck was on our side, and we avoided a soaking. The last mile of the day followed the River Glaven inland, the views dominated by the impressive Cley Mill.
The Norfolk Coast path landed us in the middle of Cley, a busy junction, on one corner of which sits a delicatessen, a low-ceiling maze occupying the old village forge. Nearby is the Cley Smokehouse, which we felt looked a good bet for sandwiches for the morrow, and an establishment known as “Made in Cley”. As we hail from The Potteries, we felt obliged to wander in. Besides ceramics, they also make jewellery. I think that it would be fair to say that they catered for the well-heeled end of the market.
Our overnight stay was just up the High Street. The George Hotel looked like a solid, old-fashioned brick edifice. But inside, it was modern yet comfortable, retaining many of the hotel’s more established features. Our room was spacious with views over The Glaven and the marsh. The George was being managed by Ashley; in actual fact he was also barman, receptionist, and waiter. He explained that his summer retinue of staff had flown off to colleges and universities; recruiting in rural Norfolk during term time was nigh on impossible.
Having acquainted ourselves with The George, we walked through the village; back to the junction and continuing inland along the quiet, leafy Church Lane. This lead to the magnificent St. Margaret’s Church. Set on a hillside above the village green (and pub), it seems incongruously enormous and peripheral. Its enormity is explained by the fact that Cley was an extremely well to do port in the Middle Ages. The church’s patrons had grand plans, which were started during the fourteenth century. Hence the nave and southern porch are ostentatious in comparison to the stumpy tower and modest chancel, which hail from an earlier era. What look like the ruins of the north and south transepts were probably never completed. Bubonic plague decimated the local population in 1348, and scuppered further investment in the church. The church’s site in relation to the modern village is explained by the slow silting up of what is now the River Glaven. I presume that Cley’s quays extended along the tidal river as far south as the church, and possibly beyond. With silting, the quays move northwards and seawards; and with the quays went the workers and their homes.
We enjoyed our evening meal at the George. We shared the starter: scallops, black pudding and a pea purée. This was followed by crab salad and beef and ale pie. Monday is pie night at The George! Although today’s walk was our shortest leg of the holiday, we still managed to meander for 11 miles. The morrow promised to be somewhat tougher; our Trailblazer guide described the four mile stretch from Cley to Weybourne, along the shingle beach as “tiring”. We felt the need for some serious sleep.