Friday 11th July 1997 - stage four of the Wiltshire Walk of Britain is about to start. This year we feel even better prepared than before. We have plotted and planned and schemed. We have even done some training walks!
This year our route poses some big problems. They are called the Wash, that vast area of mud; sand and water, and the Rivers Witham; Welland; Nene and Great Ouse. Hunstanton is about 15 miles across the Wash from Skegness. By land it is 85 miles by following the coast and diversions up stream to the lowest crossing points on each of the rivers! We cannot face the thought that after 5 days walking; our start point will only be 15 miles across the water. Also there is a distinct shortage of places to stay along the coast. With some reluctance we abandon our plan of staying as close to the coast as possible.
We decide to make Boston, the lowest bridging point on the Witham, our target for day one. We will follow the coast for about half the day before swinging inland & heading for Boston.
On the second day we will cross the Welland at Fosdyke Bridge and get as far as possible towards Sutton Bridge, where we can cross the Nene, which we plan to cross on day three. Then it's on to Kings Lynn to cross the Great Ouse. The only drawback to this plan is that over half the distance will be on the road.
As the stages will be quite lengthy we decide to book the first three nights accommodation in advance. We select Boston; a small village called Fleet Hargate, just over half way between the Welland and Nene; and Kings Lynn. After Kings Lynn we will revert to our normal plan of walking and finding digs where we can - which gives that element of uncertainty and so adds the fun!
Our researches reveal that although there is only one bus a week from Boston to Kings Lynn, they run every hour from Fleet Hargate. If the road is too busy or boring we can always cut our losses. There is a ferry over the Ouse from West Lynn to Kings Lynn. We both find this somewhat romantic and agree it is THE thing to do!
Friday 11th July arrives and we leave home. Kath, Sarah and Helen will be spending the week in and around Lincolnshire, but Karen; Lisa and Mark will stay at home. Mark has not finished school and the trip to Skegness for the weekend is deemed too far.
We meet Brian at Wetherby and drive across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to Mablethorpe. We have booked a caravan and this will be Kath's base for three
Saturday 12th July
The walk begins! At 8.10am we set off by car for Wainfleet St Mary, a small village on the Boston Road out of Skegness. We are not starting at last year's finishing spot, Gibraltar Point, because the lowest bridging point over the Steeping River is several miles inland. There is a bit of a sea fret but we can feel the heat of the sun already.
At Wainfleet we take a narrow lane leading down to the coast and by 9.15 we are booted up and setting off. The sun has burnt the fret away although a remnant hangs over the sea. It is already very warm.
During the morning we have the coast to ourselves. We meet one lady walking her dog; see a boat softly chugging up the coast and a few birds and butterflies. We pass some bombing ranges but the RAF have stayed at home. The only excitement is when we have to detour round a small herd of cattle. We are not sure which will be the most dangerous if they take a dislike to us - the cows protecting their calves; or the bulls. We decide to make sure they like us.
At the end of the fourth stage, near Leverton, we stop next to a memorial to one John Saul, a local landowner and farmer who died in early February 1997, aged 70. Some locals out for a stroll tell us the story. John Saul was a local landowner and farmer who built a new sea dyke and so reclaimed the area of land in front of us. The memorial is a huge slab of granite from Aberdeenshire, standing over six feet high and four feet wide. After his death his ashes were scattered on the old sea dyke where he used to enjoy walking.
Despite being flat, easy walking country the next stage is hard work. The sun is beating down and there are no cooling breezes. The local farmers use the sea defences as pastures whilst growing their crops in the fields below. As a result we have a succession of gates and stiles and cow pats to negotiate. Each stile seems steeper and higher than the last. Eventually we give up the dyke to walk on the parallel road.
At Butterwick Low mud flats we leave the coast and head inland towards Freiston. We pass some cottages - the first time we have been close to habitation all day. I take the opportunity to fill up my water bottle. We get invited in for a sit down and chat, but, with six or more miles to go, we decide to press on, not without a tinge of regret though.
When we reach Freiston we find the pub is open and we are due our second long stop ...... serendipity I guess.
The bar is cool after our six/seven hours in the sun. The locals are friendly and give us the phone number of the local taxi as well as suggesting an alternative route into Boston. Before we leave we phone our digs to tell them we are en-route. This proves to be useful as we find out they are not in the place we thought they were. We knew they were over a mile from the town centre, just past the hospital. This is confirmed by our landlady who adds they are right next to the level crossing. The only level crossing on our map is not "just past the hospital".
The last two stages into Boston are on the road. The secondary road we have been advised to take is quiet and the walking is fairly pleasant. The suburbs of Boston seem endless though. We eventually arrive near the centre and have our tea in a super fish & chip restaurant before going out to the digs. In view of the uncertainty of their location we decide to take a taxi. A wise move! The digs are a mile and half from the town centre on the direct route, which does not go past the hospital. Taking the directions we had been given would have added another half mile at least!
Our landlady nearly faints when she sees us. It is not only our good looks but the fact we are two fellahs. She said she was expecting a couple and so the family room, which had twin beds & which we said we wanted when we booked, has been let to someone else. We have been offered a double, and although Brian and I are good friends .... Eventually we swap accommodation with them and spend the night sleeping in their caravan, whilst landlady and hubby have the double bed. Our landlady is so embarrassed.
We spend a pleasant evening in conversation with our hosts. Before the lottery draw we discuss what we would do if we won. The ideas range from the mundane to the exotic, but we are promised an extra sausage if our landlady wins. The draw is made - she wins - a tenner! So it's extra bangers for breakfast!
Today has been a good day; 16 miles in 5 hours 47 minutes walking time at an average of 2.77mph. Total time 8 hours 35 minutes. We have walked to a pattern of 45 minutes on/ 15 off today. At every third stop we rested for 30 minutes. The idea was to stop before we got too tired. A tired body and brain can make mistakes. This pattern has worked well for us today, but we found we were ready for each of our long breaks after 3 hours on the go. We will continue this pattern.
We have coped very well with the heat and the distance, much better than we anticipated. There are two flies in the ointment however as we bask in a
glow of satisfaction. The weather forecast for the morrow is warm with the risk of thundery showers, and Roger has only three cheques in his cheque
Sunday 13th July.
We duly get our extra sausage and two pleasant surprises. We are offered a lift to the edge of Boston and get a couple of quid off the price!
Today will be a test of our patience. We will not be following the coast, but staying inland all day, and we will have to walk on roads for most of the day. We do have the luxury of walking across the fields to start; before taking to the lanes to some old sea defences which will take us to Fosdyke Bridge. After that we will walk along the main A17 road before taking some secondary roads through Holbeach Clough, Holbeach, & so to our destination of Fleet Hargate.
Our host takes us to Tytton Hall where we pick up the footpath over the fields to Frampton. We get lost in the first half mile! Instead of bearing to our right across the field we carry straight on & so miss the proper exit. We reach the road at Frampton and take our first break of the day. No sooner are the backpacks down than the rain comes down as well. It just doesn't fall, it hoses down. We dive into our rucksacks for the waterproofs which have not been used since day one 4 years ago. By the time we have finished our 15 minute break the rain has eased off somewhat. We set off down the lane in the drizzle. Walking in waterproofs is not much fun. They are more restrictive than our normal gear, and because its raining the spirits tend to be a little lower. Still tramping down the road in the rain is a little more comfortable than crossing the fields in similar conditions, but we prefer the sun.
Of course the rain stops after five minutes or so, but we need to keep the waterproofs on to dry them off. We pass through the hamlets of Skeldyke and Bucklegate. Once again we meet few people. At Skeldyke the peace & calm of Sunday morning is shattered by a burglar alarm going off.
We eventually reach the old sea dyke near Fosdyke Villa. The path is overgrown with shrubs and long grass. To make matters worse the crop at the foot of the bank is corn. Of course everything is soaking wet after the rain, so it's back on with the leggings. The next mile or so is like wading through snow as we do battle with the flora. We take it in turns to blaze a trail through our thigh high jungle. We try the foot of the bank and the top - but nature is unrelenting. Finally the top turns out to be marginally better than the bottom so we battle on. Eventually the crop to our right changes to beet so we drop down to this side of the bank and progress is much easier.
About a mile short of Fosdyke Bridge there is a pull over and we climb to the top of the dyke. The vegetation has been cut! The remaining stroll into Fosdyke is very pleasant, even though a few spots of rain start to fall as we pass through a leafy arbour just before the road. We manage to cross the bridge and reach the pub just before the rain starts to fall heavily again.
We now start the section we have been dreading - the A17. Fortunately the rain stopped before we set off and there is a footpath for the first half mile or so. The walk is not quite as nasty as we feared, although we soon leave the footpath behind. The grass verges are wide and the traffic is not as heavy as it might be. We cannot relax though, every time a large lorry or coach passes we have to brace ourselves against the turbulence. The noise is unrelenting as well.
At Vickers Farm however nature is fighting back. There is a high hedge along the roadside and in the all too brief lulls in the traffic we hear the voices of hundreds of birds raised in song. We take our break on the opposite side of the road and find the bird song a marvellous break to the rush of wind and the roar of the infernal combustion engine.
We also suffer from the vagaries of the British weather. In one 10 minute spell we stop to put the waterproofs on; stop to take them off and stop a third time to dig out our sun hats and put on sun block!
The A17 proved to be as boring and sapping as we feared. I was totally cheesed off with it, and I think Brian was not far behind me. Fortunately Saracen's Head came just in time to save our sanity. We left the A17 behind and the change in scenery and the relative peace & quiet lifted our spirits. As we passed through the delightfully named Cackle Hill we were passed by a lad on a bike. We had a pleasant chat & learn he is a Venture Scout who has done some long distance walks. We suggested he might like to carry our packs on his bike, but he declined. We crossed the A17 prior to walking into Holbeach proper and shortly after we met our boy scout again. He still wouldn't carry our packs.
The remainder of the walk was in pleasant sunshine to Fleet Hargate. We find our digs at the Willow Cafe where we have a hearty meal before strolling down to the pub for a couple of pints of the local brew. It's a great shame that this is only the second day of the walk - the beer is bootiful and the company friendly. We hear a mix of accents, one being particularly difficult to follow.
15 miles in 6 hours 6 minutes averaging 2.46mph. Not as fast as yesterday but we did have some hard slogging through the underbrush plus stopping to
put the waterproofs on & off in the afternoon. Not a bad day's work. In total 8 hours 20 minutes on the road.
Monday 14th July
Yesterday's experience led us to change our plans. Our original intention was to go direct to West Lynn along the roads and take the ferry into Kings Lynn. By taking B and C roads through the villages we can avoid the main A17 except for a mile or so at the start. Somehow we do not have the stomach for it.
There is an alternative; a designated walk around the Wash - the Wash Coastal Path. Unfortunately it will add over 6 miles to the direct route and make for a very long day. We decide to "cheat" and take the bus to Sutton Bridge and start walking round the Wash from there.
The walk along the River Nene is very pleasant. It is a perfect Summer's day - blue skies; fluffy clouds; gentle breezes and a warming sun. The trees along the river add their own brand of charm and remind me of an Impressionist painting I have seen. About 11. o'clock the RAF start practising over the ranges. The show is further away than last year's but we can see the flashes on the targets as they complete their attack runs. Even so they are so noisy!
The Wash Coastal Path follows the sea defences around the Wash. One welcome feature is that the grass has been cut recently. The cloud cover has increased but the temperature has risen dramatically. Also the trees are a thing of the past. There is no shade. The walking is steady, but monotonous. The path is essentially straight for hundreds of yards at a time. There are no prominent features near by to measure our progress by. We see few birds and our view is either mud flats or fields of corn & vegetables. Two features of interest are the two man made islands out in the mud of the Wash. They have been colonised by sea birds and are designated as nature reserves. Once again we meet few people, only a couple walking the path like ourselves.
At lunch time I notice that there is a hole in my trousers. The big question is - will they remain decent till the end of the walk, or even the end of the day.
Toward the end we meet a man walking his dogs - 5 of them. We have now seen more dogs than people today. He tells us that the ferry is not far off, less than two miles. We are both intrigued and fascinated by the man's broad rural accent.
As we approach Kings Lynn the scenery changes. Factories sprout up on the far bank of the river, and on our side the path runs along a narrow field surrounded by tall hedgerows. The breeze is cut off and the temperature soars. We really don't need this. We cut through a gap in the hedge to the river bank where it is cooler, but the ground has been cut up by cattle so making it difficult to find a comfortable foot fall.
We have a 10 minute wait for the ferry, a small motor boat that will carry about 20 people. This is one of the highlights of the day as we gently chug across the river. When we land our first priority is to find a pub, buy a map for North East Norfolk, then get some money before finding our digs. We choose a town centre pub with a unique decor scheme. The walls and ceiling are covered with concert advertisements and fake gold discs.
We reach our digs just after 5.00pm. The evening meal would never win a prize for gastronomy but is incredibly good value at £3 each. Today has been another good day. We have covered 15 miles in 5 hours 16 minutes, average speed 2.85mph. In total 8 hours.
We both feel that our walk can now start. The last three days have laid the foundations, a chore that needed to be done. We have enjoyed parts of the course, and taken a great deal of satisfaction in our performance, but somehow we feel as though we haven't really started.
On the blister front I am doing remarkably well. I have only one whilst poor old Brian has several on both feet. Some research before we left revealed
that the best way to treat a blister is to pop it as soon as possible, then cover it with a plaster with the lint pad removed. Apparently the lint can cause
unwanted friction and additional pressure. The recommendation is also not to cover tender spots, but wait for the blisters to come.
Tuesday 15th July
Today will be a big day. Our target of choice is Hunstanton, some 13 miles as the crow flies, many more on the ground. We decide to shorten the walk by not retracing our steps on the East bank of the Great Ouse and along the coast. We will walk inland via North Wooten, then country tracks to the coast at Shepherd's Port. Our route will then follow the coast to Hunstanton via Heacham, which is our reserve target. To reach Hunstanton we will have to walk further in one day than we have walked before.
The first part of the walk out of Kings Lynn was along a cycle path built over a disused railway line. It made for very pleasant walking with no traffic noise at all. We then had a little road walking before taking a footpath across fields as we passed through North Wooten and out into the country side proper. As we approached the road junction leading to Marsh Farm we met two elderly walkers who gave us some disappointing news. Apparently the local land owners are not friendly. The two gentlemen had been asked to turn back the day before. They suggested an alternative route where the natives are more friendly. This adds about a mile to the journey.
We spend the next three hours walking on made up farm tracks. We are intrigued as to why the tracks are as they are. They are made from concrete sections and would have cost a fortune. They remind me of an air field perimeter track and we wonder if they were laid down by the military. They are certainly not essential for farm implements. However we saw no evidence of military activity either current or past.
The scenery is quite boring. The tracks are about half to three-quarters of a mile from the coast and run at the foot of some old sea defences which for much of the time block our view inland. There were several highlights though. There are three or four owl nesting boxes on the top of tall poles in the fields and we saw several owls out hunting. I was scared nearly to death on several occasions as large birds suddenly broke from ground cover as we approached.
We meet no-one during this time and true to form the day has become steadily hotter as the early cloud cover is burnt away by the sun. We see and hear the RAF practising over the Wash 10-15 miles away. Eventually we met some people just South of Shepherd's Port.
We are deafened by sea birds on the approach to Shepherd's Port as we walk alongside a bird sanctuary. It is the first time we have passed any significant number of sea birds this year. Shepherd's Port is a collection of forlorn and shabby beach huts and caravans. We were hoping to find a cafe here but we are destined to be disappointed, doubly disappointed in one way because we were due a break. One good thing is that the scenery has improved in the last hour.
We follow the coast for the next mile or so. Just South of Heacham we swing inland a little and walk along yet another sea dyke. Again we have to walk through a collection of cows and calves. Brian is still going strong, but I am feeling the pace. We are due a break but we (I?) decide to push on to a cafe we can see in the distance. I don't know why we are pushing on. My body is pleading to stop but something in my head tells me to carry on.
We reach the cafe and collapse into the welcoming chairs. Teas and orange squash and ice creams are ordered and suddenly life seems much better. It is so good to hear human voices. The staff are very friendly.
This last stage was 64 minutes long, the first time we have deviated significantly from our plan of 45 on/ 15 off. Psychologically I believe that we had to continue. Undoubtedly it was hard going, but to stop in the cafe was important. We had a long break here, on chairs, with tea etc. It enabled us to think clearly about our plans for the rest of the day and make a rational decision to press on to Hunstanton, only two miles away. If we had stopped after 45 minutes, taken our rest, and then pushed on again I believe the trek into Hunstanton would have been much harder.
The next stage presented no problems. We knew we were tired and went at a steady, almost easy, pace. The sea dyke turned into a concrete promenade and we were suddenly in the sea-side town. We paused briefly by the fun-fair to admire Hunstanton's unusual "layer cake" cliff across the bay. We found a small licensed hotel that was a little more expensive than our previous resting places but appeared comfortable enough.
We have travelled 17.25 miles in 6 hours 42 minutes. Average speed 2.57mph; total time 9 hours 25 minutes. We feel well satisfied with ourselves, and well pleased with the way we handled a long and potentially tricky day. We take a deserved rest before dining at an Indian restaurant.
We return to the hotel at about 9.30pm. Our host is playing his guitar to an empty bar - mainly the Shadows greatest hits. We stop for a beer and end up
having several as mine host entertains. The bar slowly fills as the other residents return and a warm convivial atmosphere gradually builds. We toddle of to
bed much later than intended and see the end of a Police Academy movie. A good end to a big day.
Wednesday 16th July.
Breakfast is disappointing. Despite last night's excellent impromptu concert, this has to be one of the poorest places we have stayed. We get the impression that the management ethos is based on what is the least they can get away with rather than what is the best value they can give. We even had to pay a quid to watch telly.
Today is a "rest" day. We have our laundry to do and need to stock up on provisions. All goes well and we set off about 11.00am. Hunstanton is the meeting point of two long distance walks. The Peddar's Way, which comes from Thetford in the South and the Norfolk Coast Path which goes to Cromer. Over the next few days we intend to walk most of the length of the Coast Path. We do not intend walking the inland sections, electing to do some road walking. This will save us a few miles and keep us close to the coast. We have no clear targets for the next few days, but we both secretly hope we can reach Cromer by Friday.
Leaving Hunstanton we are on the first real cliff top since Yorkshire. The views across the sea from such a height make a pleasant change. We gradually drop down to sea level though as we approach the dunes by Holme next the Sea, which is nearly a mile from the coast. Our path doesn't take us through the village but through the golf club and into the dunes. There are several health warnings about low flying golf balls.
This section of the walk is a real delight. The dune and marshes make for interesting walking, and much of the area is designated as a Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary. We stop for a cuppa in the visitor centre set in a small wood, before heading on toward Thornham. Our progress along this section has been considerably aided by the boardwalks through the dunes; marshes and past the small lakes where the birds nest. There are lots of people out and about today which is another real change.
At Thornham we are due our first long break and as luck would have it we are outside a pub on the edge of the village green. We desert the Coast Path here to avoid a long detour inland. We follow the main A149 onto Brancaster where the Coast Path will rejoin us. This section of road is not as busy as the A17 of three days ago which is a blessing. Thornham and Brancaster are charming villages. Brancaster is a Mecca for those who like to go down to the sea in small boats. We see dozens of craft bobbing about in the water. At Brancaster Staithe there are many more. Again the path has been boarded for much of the way.
The path takes us on to Burnham Deepdale before swinging away to the left on a sea defence. The views from here are very good. Out to sea on our left there are marshes; creeks and Scolt Head Island Nature Reserve. To our right are the low North Norfolk Hills with trees and hedgerows; so very different to the landscape of Lincolnshire and the East Riding. Along this section we see lots of different butterflies and sea birds. Brian also spots several toads basking in the occasional sunshine. I nearly step on one.
Late afternoon draws on and we have to decide where to stay. We decide to press on to Burnham Overy Staithe, the next small village. We do not know if we shall find B & B there, but they do have a pub! We are not too concerned however as we could catch a bus into Wells next the Sea if we are unable to find digs.
The last section into Burnham Overy is a long one, mainly because we spend about half an hour walking from one end of the village to the other looking for digs. The pub is closed, so we continue through the village until we find a B & B just down a lane. They are full but they do know a place which they book us into. This one is just up another lane - at the end of the village we passed 20 minutes ago!
Once again we strike lucky and find ourselves in comfortable and friendly accommodation. As we unpack Brian finds his guide to the Norfolk Coast Path, which lists the first place we visited, but not the place we are staying. A lot of heartache could have been avoided ....
We go to the pub for our evening meal, which was a bit pricey for what it was. A mini disaster strikes as I drop and break one of my insulin bottles. Neither this and the various aches & pains I have felt in my right knee, hip and calf; nor Brian's sore feet; can spoil today. It has been such a satisfying and enjoyable day. The sun has been hidden for most of the time but this has made walking more pleasant. We have covered 16 miles in 5 hours 42 minutes, averaging 2.81mph. Overall time 7 hours 25 minutes.
When we return to our digs we get into conversation with Myra, our landlady, and John a fellow guest. John has been coming back to this area for years
to go walking and bird watching and exploring the local history. John is especially keen on Nelson who was born hereabouts. Another promise of an early
night disappears in a buzz of conversation.
Thursday 17th July
As we rise at 7.15am and peer through a crack in the curtains we find it is raining. Not only raining, but pouring. The sky has that slate grey look that says "I started raining 3 hours ago, I haven't stopped yet and I'm not going to stop for another three hours .... or four .... maybe five."
Breakfast is excellent and Myra proves to be a real lady. She allows me to make several phone calls to the local Heath Centres to replace my insulin. Wells can help, "but we close at 10.30". Burnham Market can help, but it is a couple of miles in the wrong direction. At least they don't close mid-morning. We are not relishing having to walk in the pouring rain away from our goal. In fact it is down right depressing and we are wondering what the local bus service is like when the cavalry appear over the horizon. Well, not actually the cavalry but a Lady in shining armour on (in) her trusty Maestro. The wonderful Myra will take us to the clinic and bring us back!
By half pasty ten we are back at Overy Staithe and setting out. Myra even gave us a short guided tour of the area before dropping us off at the landing hard opposite Overy Marsh. Although the weather has relented a little, the steady downpour of breakfast time has been replaced by a light drizzle; we still need to don our waterproofs. Of course having gone through the pantomime of dressing up the drizzle stops!
We start off along yet another sea defence before reaching the beach near Burnham Harbour. We have a very pleasant stroll with the sea to our left and the wood of Holkham Meals to our right. The trees were planted years ago to help fix the dunes. By the time we reach Holkham Gap the weather has brightened up considerably and we are able to strip off the waterproofs. This whole area is a very popular beauty spot, and we see more people than ever out for a stroll. We walk along the land side of the wood until we reach the end of the promenade that links the coast to Wells next the Sea. Like so many places along this stretch of coastline, Wells really was "next the Sea" in the past and was a thriving port. Since then however the rivers have silted up and mud and sand has been deposited by the sea to leave these ports stranded inland.
The promenade is three quarters of a mile long and links the Eastern end of the Meals with the town centre. To our left is a vast expanse of mud flats and salt marsh criss-crossed by meandering creeks and the Run, the main channel into Wells which still sees the occasional small coaster. On our right is a caravan site and the track of a miniature railway. This is another chance to indulge our more childish instincts. As might be expected the train service is "temporarily withdrawn".
We spend an hour in Wells, taking our obligatory cup of tea and buying food for lunch today and tomorrow. We are both ready for this extended break, and we feel refreshed physically and mentally at the end of it. The next couple of hours walking is very pleasant indeed. The Norfolk Coast Path twists and wends and undulates its way past the Warham; Stiffkey and Morston salt marshes, and the delightfully named Cabbage Creek. Our rest breaks are enlivened by the song of the many birds we see during the afternoon.
We carry on to Blakeney where we have decisions to make. It is early, about 4.30 and the Question is - do we stay or do we go? And if we go, where do we go to? Fortunately we remember that Brian has the Norfolk Coast Path guide in his rucksack. We then play that perennially popular game - "Hunt the non-vandalised Phone Box that doesn't smell like a urinal and which still takes coins instead of silly pieces of plastic". We think we will be lucky with the non-vandalised and urinal bit, but the coin bit has us sweating on the result. Also Blakeney is a small place - does it have public phones at all?
The gods are smiling on us today. Blakeney has a phone box - and we don't have to retrace our steps to find it! It takes coin of the realm, what is more it is not vandalised and - bliss - oh bliss! - it doesn't smell of impatience. So phone in hand, guide book in the other we take pot luck and phone ahead to book some digs at Cley. Yet again the gods smile on us.
During this week we have found some wonderful digs. The one we have chosen is one of the best; as is the evening meal we have in the George & Dragon. For the second time we have the chance to have fresh vegetables and boiled potatoes instead of chips and peas. Who says the British can't cook. We can when we want to.
Today's daily distance has been 14.8 miles in 5 hours 37 minutes, an average of 2.63mph. Overall time on the hoof: 7 hours 42 minutes.
Friday 18th July
Today will see us reach Cromer in what will be the shortest stage of the walk. We are pleased about this as it means we will not be as tired as some days, and we should finish in plenty of time to find good digs and a pleasant eatery to celebrate our efforts.
The day starts well, breakfast is excellent once again. We are regaled with tales of the last big flood at Cley when the main road was blocked. The local tourist industry had a boost as entrepreneurial coach operators ran special trips to see the floods. Unfortunately some got a little over enthusiastic, drove past the road closed signs straight into the water that was hidden around a sharp bend.
The weather prospects are not so good. The wind, which has become much stronger, has swung to the North and is then forecast to move to the East. There is also the possibility of rain.
It is grey and overcast when we leave. The Norfolk Coast Path passes down the side of our digs before running parallel to the houses and River Glaven before passing a windmill converted into a guest house and restaurant. The path leads onto a narrow road leading to the beach.
As we set off the wind does not appear to be too strong, so perhaps things will not be so bad. We pass the windmill and the full force of the wind rocks us backwards. The walk along the road to the beach is a battle into the teeth of what feels like a gale. At the beach life does not improve. There is now nothing between us and the wind.
The guide book tells us to walk on the sea side of the steep, imposing shingle banks to prevent erosion of the sea defences. The shingle banks are primarily a storm defence as they are porous. With an exceptionally high tide the sea water will pass through them. There are ditches on the land side to help contain the flood water but on rare occasions there is just too much water and the agricultural land behind the marshes floods.
Walking on the shingle is murder. The wind is blasting us from the side, and spray from the crashing rollers is mixed with a slight drizzle. We stop to put on our waterproofs. The sea-scape is fascinating, so much energy, such a dramatic scene after the placid calm of the previous 6 days around the Wash. After 20 minutes I've had enough and strike out for the top of the shingle bank so we can get on the land side and hopefully out of the wind. We obtain some shelter and can see the low hills behind the marshes. We pass yet another bird sanctuary. The wind is not so strong but there are nasty swirls and eddies.
The drizzle and spray have gone so I remove my waterproofs. The terrain is a little easier but is still predominantly shingle. The four miles or so from Cley Eye to Weybourne Hope have been such hard work and we have made the slowest progress of the week. Our progress was eased by short sections of tufted grass, and a low cliff as we walked past a radar station complete with military guard. The over-riding memory of this stretch though is of feet sliding on the shingle and the unforgiving wind. An incredibly lazy wind that seemed intent on cutting through us rather than going round.
At Weybourne workmen are busy repairing the shingle bank which had been damaged during earlier rough weather. The land takes on a different character at Weybourne - the cliffs start. The hill comes as a bit of a shock though. After about twenty minutes the rain starts again. We meet a German couple going in the opposite direction. They have already walked The Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast path from Thetford to Cromer via Hunstanton and now they are retracing their steps.
We press on towards Sherringham. The rain is not heavy and soon passes, but the wind is un-remitting. It is now driving into our faces as it swings around to the East. In the distance, behind Dead Man's Hill, we see a plume of steam as the North Norfolk Railway plies its tourist trade.
The path into Sherringham runs past the golf course and climbs quite the steepest and highest hill we have seen for three years. As we struggle up the hill we are passed by a security guard type person. He gives us some friendly encouragement but we make the mistake of saying he has it easy ie no heavy pack. The banter continues for a few more breathless, for our part at least, minutes and we are put gently, but firmly, in our place as he describes his overnight exploits with tents and assorted camping gear.
At the top of the hill we see Sherringham spread out before us. On a more pleasant day the view all around would be truly wonderful. We climb down the hill and find a suitable cafe for a sticky bun and pot of tea. This is also the opportunity to strip off our waterproofs. Waterproofs are great at keeping the rain out. Unfortunately this very property tends to make them very good at keeping the perspiration in. Our budgets don't run to those fancy, modern and expensive new materials that claim not to do this. So we are both soaking wet under our waterproofs! Brian strips his off totally but I retain the jacket, mainly to stop the wind chill on my wet shirt. We have a steep climb out of Sherringham back to the cliff tops that take us on past West Runton and on towards Cromer. Once again we pass some caravan parks. Coastal erosion is evident again and at East Runton we have to detour through the village to avoid it. We return to the prom for the last few hundred yards into Cromer. At a quarter past four we reach the tourist information office and declare the walk FINISHED ...... for this year at least.
Today we have walked 12 miles in 5 hours 10 minutes at an average of 2.32 mph. Total time 6 hours 45 minutes. This is by far and away the slowest stage, but we were not surprised considering the shingle at the start and the strength of the wind.
On the more exposed parts of the walk we had been buffeted and almost blown backwards. In places the wind was positively dangerous, as we had to lean into the wind to make any progress. This was all well and fine when the wind was constant, but every time the wind dropped we would stagger forward a few paces with the risk of going over the cliff edge. The stronger gusts would then blow us away from the edge. Fortunately this was easier to deal with than the wind blowing toward the sea.
We select some digs at the Tourist office, but decide to stop at an alternative one, closer to the town centre, before reaching our first choice. This too
is of high quality. My trousers which, took holey orders on Sunday, have managed to survive more or less intact all week. After a suitably brief ceremony
they receive a slightly less than dignified burial in the litter bin. After a rest and change we head back into Cromer to select the venue for our modest
celebration. Cromer is a compact town and we quickly select a suitable watering hole. After a pleasant meal we stroll around the town; along the pier
which still has a theatre, and eventually return to our digs about nine with a bottle of moderately good red wine.
Saturday 19th July.
The morning dawns misty and windy. We have arranged to meet Kath at mid-day so we have some time to pass. Brian is keen to buy some souvenirs so I explore Cromer church while he goes shopping. There is an elderly man there who collects the donations from the visiting tourists. He is a mine of information and on Brian's return he contributes to our decision to climb the second highest tower in Norfolk (Norwich is higher).
The higher we went the more unpleasant it became as the spiral stairs became steeper and more narrow. When we finally reached the top the wind was blowing as strong as ever and driving the sea mist inland. The only good view was down.
Just before 12 we made our way to the station for the mid-day appointment with Kath and the girls. We are surprised to find the car in the car park of the adjacent supermarket. Instead of us having to wait for them, they have been waiting for us. Their trip from Lincolnshire took much less time than they had anticipated.