Wells-next-the-Sea to Hunstanton
Wells-next-the-Sea, now about a mile from the sea, was one of the great Tudor ports, having significant trade with the Netherlands. The harbour is still used by sailing boats and crabbers and the quay and narrow streets are a pleasing mix of shops with a friendly welcome for visitors. From the quay is a long road and pedestrian path to a car park and huge beach.
At low-tide here, the sand seems to stretch to the horizon – no wonder the beach from here to nearby Holkham Bay was used in the Gwyneth Paltrow shipwreck ending of the Hollywood film Shakespeare in Love. Behind the long string of candy-coloured beach huts is a pine wood, with some lovely nature walks. You'll notice the beach huts here are stilted, but the fun won’t be!
There is another car park at Lady Anne's Drive on the coast road, which leads directly to the gates of magnificent Holkham Hall, a Palladian dream designed by William Kent for the first Earl of Leicester in the 18th century and which was used in the Keira Knightley film The Duchess. The interior retains much of its original decoration and a must-see are the intricate reliefs of the Marble Hall.
A little further to the west are the Burnhams, including Burnham Overy Staithe, situated next to a silted harbour, Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of England's greatest naval commander, Horatio Nelson, and the picture postcard Burnham Market, often referred to as Chelsea-on-Sea because it has become a magnet for a sophisticated London set and celebrities.
The saltmarshes begin again at Burnham Deepdale, protected from the sea by Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve, in the care of Natural England. A mixture of dune, shingle, marsh and mudflats, the environment is perfect for birdlife, from migrating wildfowl and breeding terns to waders such as the wigeon, teal, shelduck and curlew.
At Brancaster harbour you will find the National Trust's Millennium Activity Centre, from where you can take guided walks, birdwatching rambles and sailing courses, and there’s more twitching activity at the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve where from the hides you might see avocets, marsh harriers and bearded tits.
After Thornham, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust-run Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve has salt and freshwater marshes, pine woodland and reedbeds which attract waders and migrant wildfowl, as well as nesting birds such as oystercatchers and ringed plover in spring and summer. Snipe, avocet, lapwing and redshank breed on the marshes.
Before the road turns south and heads to Hunstanton, the quiet flint cottage settlement of Holme-next-the-Sea provides the point where the Peddars Way walk ends and the Norfolk Coast Path begins. It was here in 1998 that gales uncovered a prehistoric circle of timber posts. 'Seahenge', as it inevitably became known, can now be seen in the King's Lynn Museum.
More information at Visit North Norfolk.
Holkham beach voted the best in Britain.