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Walking in Norfolk - Deep History Coast

Seven Natural Wonders of Norfolk

Norfolk has an amazing geological history, stretching all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs, including ice ages that changed the landscape and the last land link between Great Britain and the Continent.

We’ve chosen our top seven natural wonders of the county that will give you an insight into how Norfolk was made and why it looks the way it does today.

‘No Norfolk Broads?’ you might ask. Absolutely not - they were mostly man-made! For more on that story go here.

blakeney point

Boat trip to see the seals

Home to the largest seal colony in England during the Winter when the Greys have their pups, Blakeney Point was created by a process called longshore drift that also made Great Yarmouth.

Okay, here’s the science: the prevailing wind and tides acting on Norfolk’s shore come from the north-east and impact directly on Cromer where the pressure is pushed west and south, over time moving sand and creating spits across estuary mouths (in this case the River Glaven and also the Yare… hence Yare Mouth = Yarmouth).

Within the Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Blakeney’s 4-mile long spit can be walked from Cley-next-the-Sea but it’s heavy work along the shingle and areas might be out of bounds for nesting birds.

The best way to get to the end to see the seals is by boat from Morston Quay with Bean Brothers or Temples.

Blakeney Point Natural Wonder

the brecks

Pingo lake

As one observer in the 1760s commented, the Brecks was ‘sand and scattered gravel, a mere African desert’. Who’d have guessed! Today, it includes the magnificent Thetford Forest, which was created by the Forestry Commission around the time of the first world war (so it’s more than 1000 years younger than the New Forest in Hampshire). There are also huge areas of wonderful heathland, formed thousands of years ago by, ironically, the felling and burning of forests for grazing land.

In the Brecks you’ll find prehistoric Pingos – no, nothing to do with the CBeebies – and unique lines of Scots pines called ‘Deal Rows’. You’ll also find an uneven landscape caused by Neolithic flint mining and rabbit warrens from Norman times.

The Brecks also enjoy the warmest, driest climate in the entire country! So, there you go, why wouldn’t you want to visit?

Brecks Natural Wonder

great chalk reef

Norfolk chalk reef by Rob Spray

Okay, unless you’re a diver, you’re going to have to take our word for this, but just off the coast of Cromer and Sheringham is the longest chalk reef in the world, dubbed ‘Britain’s Great Barrier Reef’.

At over 20 miles long, the 100-million year old reef is part of a chalk seam that stretches all the way to the white cliffs of Dover!

One way to enjoy the reef is to eat the famous Cromer Crab or a Sheringham Lobster – the reason they taste so sweet and are so meaty is because they feed off the reef.

Chalk reef natural wonder

river wensum

River Wensum

The River Wensum does all the work, but the River Yare gets all the credit. Beside Whitlingham Broad outside Norwich at the confluence of those rivers (and the much smaller Tas which has the honour of running beside the Roman town at Caistor St Edmund), it’s the Yare that takes the water out to sea at Great Yarmouth but it’s the Wensum, winding through the city and all the way up to Fakenham, that is by far the more important.

The Wensum is the longest, biggest and most significant of 160 chalk rivers in the UK. It’s also the most protected river in Europe. The river once had fifteen mills which benefited from the gradual fall of land.

Our favourite ways to enjoy this splendid waterway are to visit Pensthorpe Natural Park or walk beside it in Norwich… and then pop into the ancient Adam & Eve pub, the oldest in the city that was originally an inn for the stonemasons building the nearby Cathedral, for a pint of Woodforde’s local ale.

So, yes, Yarmouth should really be called Wensumsmouth! Who’s going to tell the good burghers of that wonderful seaside resort?

Wensum Natural Wonder

cromer ridge

Kelling Heath

Okay, put your hand up if you think the highest point in all East Anglia is in Norfolk, the county once described by Noel Coward in his play Private Lives as ‘Very flat, Norfolk’? No takers? Okay, here’s a shocker for you… the highest point in all East Anglia is at Beacon Hill behind West Runton!

This is the pinnacle of the Cromer Ridge, an almost 9-mile long stretch of upland caused in the last Ice Age by a terminal moraine – a glacier that finally gave up the ghost and left behind all the material it had dredged up in its path.

What’s also left behind is a natural adventure playground that includes Beeston Bump, a circular hill on the cliffs near Sheringham, the heathland ‘quiet lanes’ that are great for cycling and the heights of the National Trust’s Sheringham Park, from where you can enjoy unrivalled views along to the coast all the way to Blakeney Point.

Cromer Ridge Natural Wonder


Haddiscoe Church

If there’s one material that’s synonymous with Norfolk then it’s this. You’ll see it everywhere, particularly picturesque in the coastal cottages of north Norfolk and in churches across the county. Before brick-making, it was a freely available building material, particularly when in the hands of skilled knappers.

One of its earliest uses for construction can be seen at the Roman Burgh Castle near Great Yarmouth. Head there to also catch amazing sunsets over Halvergate Marshes and imagine how the view would have been to the sandal-wearing Italians… 2000 years ago there would have been no seaside resort at all and all of what you see in front of you was water, the mouth of a mile-wide estuary that went straight out to sea, punctuated by small islands.

Anyway, we digress! Visit the Brecks in the west of the county to Grime’s Graves and you can see the earliest evidence of flint mining. Head down the 57-foot deep shaft and you’ll see where 4,500 years ago Neolithic people created one of Europe’s earliest industrial centres.

Flint Natural Wonder

cromer forest bed

West Runton cliffs

Created between half a million and two million years ago, the Cromer Forest Bed stretches from Weybourne all the way down to Kessingland in north Suffolk and is rich in fossils.

Found here has been the oldest and best preserved mammoth skeleton in the world, a 500,000 year old flint axe that was the Swiss Army Knife of its day and 850,000 human footprints that are the earliest evidence of mankind found outside the Great Rift Valley in Africa.

This stretch of coast, which we call the Deep History Coast, was also the last piece of Britain that was still joined to the Continent, until as little as 7000 years ago when the link, called Doggerland, was finally inundated.

Even now the sea is very shallow here, as little as 100 metres deep, and that’s why it’s such a good place to put all those lovely wind farms you see just off the coast in Norfolk!

Forest Bed Natural Wonder