Hiking from the seaside town of Cromer to beautiful Holkham Beach was an ideal way to spend a couple of sunny days in Norfolk last summer. Luckily for us the sun was shining and conditions were perfect for a hike. Join us on a lovely coastal walk from Cromer to Holkham.
The Norfolk Coastal Path
After four months in sunny Eastbourne (mostly under lockdown), it was finally time to head to Norfolk for a week to visit T’s parents. In fact, while we were there, our plan was to walk a section of the Norfolk Coastal Path, the entirely of which covers eighty-four miles from Hunstanton to Sea Palling.
We had wanted to walk some of the Norfolk Coastal Path for many years, but hadn’t got round to it due to lack of time. Finally, we had the chance to put on our hiking boots and hit the trail. We had breakfast with T’s parents at the Rocket House Cafe in the seaside resort of Cromer before setting off. Sitting on the balcony, we had views of the sea where kids were taking surfing lessons and we could also see the pier – Cromer’s most famous landmark.
West Runton – Home of the Woolly Mammoth
It was a bright and breezy morning. Walking along the promenade, we spotted a group of goats on the grassy knoll just before reaching the beach. The first few miles took us along the shingle which is backed by chalk cliffs that date back around 70 to 80 million years. A little further on, we came upon West Runton.
This is where the fossilized skeleton of a steppe mammoth was discovered in 1990. Apparently, it’s one of the best preserved and oldest fossil elephants ever found in the UK. In fact, fossil hunters regularly find mammoth bones and flint axes in the area. Additionally, a fossil of a rhino skull was discovered by a geologist more recently in 2015.
Along the Cliff Top to Beeston Bump
After tiring of walking across pebbles, we joined the trail that runs along the clifftop. There were excellent views of the beach and the North Sea. The trail led us through a couple of campsites and caravan parks. Signs showed that they were fully-booked despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a matter of fact, the coastline is a particularly popular area for family holidays. It was clear that people were trying to make the most of the remainder of the summer.
Norfolk is known for its flat landscape. However, this stretch of the coastal path is home to a few small hills including (the not-too-intimidating!) Beeston Bump. Close to the cliffs at Beeston, there is also a nature trail where a variety of local flowers and fauna can be seen.
Sheringham – A Traditional Seaside Town
After a short rest at the top of Beeston Bump, we continued downhill on a red dirt path to the traditional seaside town of Sheringham. Famous for its heritage steam railway in addition to its fine crab, the seafront was busy and there didn’t appear too much social distancing going on. We walked along the bustling promenade which was lined with ice cream parlours and coffee shops. Leaving the crowds behind and re-joining the path, we passed Sheringham Coastguard Hut and continued along the clifftops. There, we skirted a golf course before walking through Sheringham Park.
A Well Earned Dinner in The Aviator
Having reached Weybourne, we called it a day after nine miles of hiking and contacted T’s parents who kindly came to pick us up. Walking along the dirt track to the main road, we passed Weybourne Windmill, which was built in 1850 and can be seen for miles around. We had dinner at The Aviator in the village of Sculthorpe, where the food was both delicious and plentiful. A perfect end to a great day in Norfolk.
The following day, we continued our hike along the Norfolk Coastal Path and hit the trail where we left off – at the windmill in the tiny village of Weybourne.
We re-joined the coastal path with the pebble beach on our right and the Salthouse Marshes to the left. There were very few people in sight apart from an occasional bird-watcher. Even in Norfolk in the summertime, it is usually possible to escape the crowds and find a quiet spot. The stretch of beach here was empty.
Remnants of World War II
We passed a group of missiles in a cordoned off area, all of which were strategically placed, aiming towards the North Sea. These are part of the Muckleburgh Military Collection, the largest private military museum in the UK. On the beach, we spotted a pillbox, used in World War II as a guard post, with a slit in it from which weapons would have been fired.
We trudged along the beach, not realising that we could have followed a circular path inland which would have required considerably less effort! The views along the coast, however, were panoramic. Eventually, with Cley-next-the-Sea in sight, we took an inland path and continued until we reached the village.
The Largest Grey Seal Colony in the UK
We followed the trail from the village, passing Cley Windmill to the right. The windmill has been converted into a hotel and apparently a stay there is a unique experience. It was built back in the early 19th century and was used for grinding corn. It is also rumoured that the windmill was a smuggler’s den back in the day.
The flat trail cut through the fields to the village of Blakeney. From there, it is possible to take a boat tour to Blakeney Point, home to England’s largest grey seal colony. The colony consists of about 500 seals which can be observed at close quarters. We purchased some refreshments at Buoy, a little coffee shop, and set off on our way across the open landscape. On one side was the Norfolk countryside and on the other the salt marshes. Indeed, at this point the hike felt more like a country walk than a coastal one, as for much of it, we couldn’t see the sea.
The Salt Marshes
We kept walking and by-passed the village of Stiffkey. Although we didn’t stop, we should mention that there’s an excellent pub in Stiffkey called the Red Lion. Apparently their speciality is the excellent freshly-caught crab that the area is known for.
The salt marshes that we walked through are a popular spot for bird-watchers who travel from all over the country and beyond. Migratory wildfowl are easily spotted and the area forms part of the Blakeney National Nature Reserve.
Walking with Alpacas
Between Stiffkey and Wells-next-the-Sea, we came face to face with a group of alpacas who were out for a stroll. Standing back to give them space to pass along the trail, they looked incredibly cute as they were led along. Alpaca Trekking arrange walks along the coastal and bridle paths of the area. Alpacas are much more friendly than llamas and don’t spit or bite, so walking with them is a much more enjoyable experience.
It was a long six miles from Blakeney to Wells-next-the-Sea, and the scenery didn’t really change. At Wells, we walked through the bustling harbour where kids were catching crabs. Families were strolling along enjoying ice cream or sitting on the wall tucking into fish n’ chips. In fact, the seaside town was brimming with people who were making the most of the hottest day of the year.
Although we took the inland path which passed through the forest, the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea is stunning. We have enjoyed walks along the vast, sweeping sandy beach many times. It is also home to a long line of photogenic and colourful beach huts which appear in paintings and photographs displayed in local shops and galleries.
Journey’s End at Holkham
We concluded our hike at beautiful Holkham Beach. Sand, sea and sky dominate, but the beach also backs onto a vast nature reserve. In fact, as its name indicates, the circular Lookout Cafe is designed as a base from which to observe wildlife. The café is also extremely ethical, only using re-cyclable packaging. Holkham was a perfect place to finish as it also happens to be our favourite beach. Norfolk in the summertime can be very busy, but the expansive beach has enough room for everyone to find a spot of their own.
Altogether, we completed approximately 30 miles of the Norfolk Coastal Path from Cromer to Holkham. Here is the approximate mileage for each section:
Cromer to Weybourne: 10 Miles
Weybourne to Cley-next-the-Sea: 6 Miles
Cley-next-the-Sea to Holkham Beach: 14 Miles
The segment that we enjoyed most was between Cromer and Weybourne. On most of this stretch, we walked along the top of the cliffs and there were great views of the North Sea to the right and the Norfolk countryside to the left. Having said that, it was also the most crowded section of the hike, although it did became quieter between Sheringham and Weybourne.
From there, much of the remainder of the hike passed through the salt marshes until Wells-next-the-Sea. If you have the energy to trudge over the sand between Wells and Holkham, you will be rewarded with sand dunes and sea views galore.
The entire route of the Norfolk Coastal Path runs for eighty-four miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea. For anyone thinking of hiking the whole trail, there are plenty of accomodation options on route including campsites, caravans, B&B’s and hotels, not to mention the windmill at Cley-next-the-Sea. The path should take 3-5 days depending on experience and how much walking you want to pack into each day.