A Walk Along the North Norfolk Coast Path

Finally, after two years of hard work my A-Levels were finally over. I sighed a massive sigh of relief. Now a wonderful summer lay ahead of me – over 12 weeks of freedom and adventure. In two days time I was already off for my first trip. My mum has been walking the coast of Britain for many years now, but after an operation on her foot a couple of years ago, and because I have a growing interest in walking and exploring the outdoors, I said I would accompany her. We chose to walk the North Norfolk Coast Path. Flat terrain which was good for my mum and fantastic wildlife for me.

Day 1: Hunstanton to Thornham

Arriving in Hunstanton on the first day of the walk, the sky looked dark, gloomy and fairly foreboding as it stretched far into the distance. This was definitely not what I had hoped. I put on my raincoat in preparation and then we set off down the path. Within minutes, I started to feel faint, cool drips on my skin. The drips stopped as soon as they had started. A sigh of relief. It warmed up again. The darker clouds seemed to fade to a paler grey. Skylarks rose and sang over the dunes, oystercatchers called far out of the mudflats and gulls soared on the breeze – all seemed dandy. But then again, the clouds moved back in, this time with vengeance. The cool drops were followed by faster, colder, larger drops, that battered down on the sand. The oystercatchers flew back inland, the small birds dashed into the cover of the bushes. All went quiet apart from the spattering of the rain and the howls of the wind. It was an exhilarating start to the walk: powerful, memorable and very, very wet. During the rest of the afternoon the weather cleared up a little. I observed the surrounding wildlife more closely. In a pool in front of us, a Shelduck family with 5 little chicks were venturing out of cover to feed. As I sat in the pub that evening, over the first pint that I’ve ever brought for myself, I was extremely eager for the days that lie ahead.

Day 2: Brancaster Staithe to Wells–next –the–Sea. 

Despite the absence of the rain, the second day was freezing. It felt like February: not the middle of June. However, there was a long walk ahead so, layered up, we set off along the path. For the mornings walk, the path ran alongside Scolt Head Nature Reserve. The marshes were extensive, stretching out far into the distance. Channels of water twisted and wound their way through the sandy mud, creating a complex system of pools and creeks. This was a haven for wildlife. The bird life was utterly fantastic. My ‘twitch list’ was growing fast throughout the morning. Curlews skulked along the waters edges, their mottled brown plumage camouflaging them against the mud and marshland plants, and their evocative calls resonating through the expanse. Avocets were scattered across the landscape like salt and little chicks, their beaks not yet fully upturned, followed their parents across the mud in the distance. Linnets, Pipits, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings flitted across the pathway, which was bordered by bright yellow rape. A glowing line lead into the scene ahead.

By lunchtime, we had reached Burnham Ovary Staithe, where a good rest was certainly needed before the afternoon stretch. During the afternoon the path headed into the sand dunes of Holkham Nature Reserve, and followed close the sea on one side and a large coniferous woodland on the other. Walking on the sand was quite hard-going, and the various paths created by hundreds of  walkers criss-crossed and overlapped like a network cables. By the time I had reached Wells-next-the-Sea I was exhausted – but thrilled by the awesome day that I had just had.  Eating Dutch pancakes upon a ship in the habour, I totted up the ‘twitch list’ for the day – 40 birds in total!

Day 3: Blakeney Point Seal Trip and Wells-next-the-Sea to Blakeney

In the morning we caught a Coasthopper bus to Morston and took a Beans Boats seal trip to Blakeney Point. The weather quickly turned warm and fine. Perfect for the Grey and Common seals to do what they do best: chill on the sand and bob about in the water. Alongside the seals live 4 species of tern: Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Little Tern and Sandwich Tern. It was somewhat difficult to identify each species of tern, as they are quite well camouflaged against the shingle and the boat was swaying on the gentle waves, making it hard to focus with the binoculars. Even so, I could tell the Sandwich terns by their arrow-like streamlined shape and the dash of yolk-yellow on their beaks, and the little terns by the racing stripe across their eyes.

Grey Seal at Blakeney
Grey Seal at Blakeney

That afternoon we took the bus back to Wells-next-the-Sea and continued the walk. The walk still appeared to be far inland, as the mudflats and marshes stretched underneath the massive blue sky. It may not be as breath-taking as the dramatic cliffs and rock formations that my mum is used to on her walks, but it is amazing to think that whole large area is Nature Reserves.

Little Terns at Blakeney
Little Terns at Blakeney

Day 4: Cley to Sheringham

Cley Nature Reserve was somewhat spectacular. Before I even got to the hides, I knew that it was going to be a treat. Through my binoculars I watched a Reed Warbler sing its heart out: a loud, long and complex song. It appeared to be ventriloquizing some its notes. A moment later, in the tree behind the Reed Warbler, a Sedge Warbler perched, curiously observing. Its dark eye stripe and slimmer physique distinguished it from the Reed Warbler. Two warblers: one field of view. Perfect!

Onto the hides. A treat awaited. Stood in a row, like a line of white bowling pins: Spoonbills. 9 of them! They were resting, their bills hidden behind under their feathers, and their legs bent in a somewhat ungainly fashion. It wasn’t long before one revealed itself. That long, black, smooth, rounded orange- tipped bill – CORR!

Spoonbills at Cley

Before I even had a chance to take this in, a bird with large, broad dark wings flew overhead. A few gentle wing-beats carried it over the scrape and it soared over the reeds. A gorgeous Marsh Harrier, looking for a meal. Then something unexpected happened. A kamikaze bomber, a fast jet of a bird raced towards the harrier, swooping up and then dashing down. It was a Lapwing. Others joined. Avocets had a go too. Arial battles of the David and Goliath.  The Harrier had learnt that chicks provide a good food source. The Harrier had learnt to double-bluff. The Harrier had learnt that by heading towards the avocets and lapwings, they would take flight and leave their chicks to mob her. Once the birds had dispersed, this would allow the harrier to go in and take her prize.

Other highlights of Cley included a Ruff – which I wrongly identified as a ‘scruffy lapwing’ (How could I be so rude!?) and a Ringed Plover on the beach. Watching the Plover as it ran along the shingle was like playing hide and seek with a master of disguise. They blend in so incredibly well.

The walk in the afternoon was fairly exhausting. Long shingle beaches are a challenge to walk on, and wear you out in no time. The walk finished upon the cliffs of Sheringham, which seem to tower over the rest of the flat landscape. I sat down on a bench at the top, knackered. I looked back across the ocean and down along the coastline I had just walked. 40 Miles and 58 Bird Species. I was sad that my walk was over, and already thinking about where I may walk next.

View from the Cliffs at Sheringham
View from the cliffs at Sheringham