The England Coast Path is under construction, with many sections being reviewed, planned or built. Initially scheduled for completion in 2020, I was not waiting for every last stile and sign erected and land access negotiated – I had to make a start and chose to carry on where I left off, at Cromer.
Studying the complete status maps from Natural England, I decided to set some ground rules. I did not fancy walking up every estuary and creek, so I would allow public ferries (or public transport alternatives if the services were interrupted). I would skip some islands and peninsulas where gaps in the path made progress awkward but make a note to return to these at another time. As long as it was a sequential journey, clockwise from Cromer to Cromer I felt that this would be considered a walk around the coast of England. A purist might scoff, but many of the National Trails have options and alternative routes; the North Downs Way has two paths to Dover, for example. I am not a purist and set my own rules and wanted to maintain the essence of a coastal walk. I walked the Wales Coast Path in 2019 and together with plans to walk the Scottish National Trail in the future, my experiences will form the basis of another book to complement Tales from the Big Trails.
Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.
After the train journey to Cromer station, a half-day walk placed me in Walcott and a cosy campsite. The pebbled shore at low tide makes progress easy, alternating with the clifftop paths eroding with alarming rapidity into the sea. I planned to camp often, but my aluminium tent poles snapped – the result of fatigue. I must have spent over a hundred nights in my Terra Nova tent and the repair tube I always carried ensured I could sleep tonight.
Coastal defences, both against erosion and war, are evident. Roads and fields have succumbed to the sea, the corn and tarmac freshly dispersed on the shore. Pillboxes lie semi-submerged in the sand and will be a feature for many miles to come. The holiday villages of Happisburgh and Sea Palling lie deserted, but the beaches ahead thrive with grey seals and kestrels. I weave through dune, path and shore to California and camp inside the racecourse in time for the 16:10 at Great Yarmouth.
Walking through Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, I cross into Suffolk and stop early at Kessingland as I detect blisters starting to form. My lessons from the Wales Coast suggest they need rest and attention. My legs and general fitness feel great, but I must take care. It is great to be back on the trails again after the pandemic, and I set myself a goal of reaching Dover before the winter and catching important ferries before they close for the season – most of them cease to operate from the end of September.
I resist an urge to explore deeper into the delights of Great Yarmouth sea front. Most of the amusements are closed: bouncy castles with no bounce, a chained up helter-skelter and carousels and wheels no longer turning for the year.
I cross the River Yare into Suffolk for the next section, not knowing when I will be back in Norfolk at the end of my walk around the coast of England.