Let’s take a trip along the north Norfolk A149 coastal road between King’s Lynn and Cromer that takes in the gently undulating landscape, pretty coastal villages, flint cottages and lots of welcoming pubs and restaurants… or to get closer still, follow the Norfolk Coast Path. This is all part of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The coastline here varies enormously, with long stretches of golden beach interspersed with mud flats and salt marsh, shingle and pebbles and soaring cliffs. In some places low tide means the sea almost disappears into the distance, leaving children to pick amongst seashells and observe lugworms casting their coils.
There are wonderful dunes and marram grass to traverse, and between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton treacle-like mud where The Wash empties into the North Sea – a favourite of birds and birdwatchers alike. Be at RSPB Snettisham for daybreak and you’ll see the amazing sight of thousands of waders taking flight.
Heacham’s village sign commemorates Pocahontas, who helped create The Special Relationship with north America by marrying local man John Rolfe.
Look out here for Norfolk Lavender, brought to Norfolk by the Romans.
Affectionately known as Sunny Hunny, Hunstanton is the only coastal town in the East of England that faces west. The beach is a gentle slope of sand backed by red-and-white-striped cliffs. There’s all the fun of a traditional family bucket-and-spade holiday to be had here, with amusements, candyfloss, doughnuts, donkey rides – and a bandstand.
At sunset all activity stops to watch the sun sink slowly behind Lincolnshire. Try fooling someone that it’s actually Holland… there’s always one who falls for it!
Take a Searles Sea Tour in the Wash Monster to see The Wash seals.
After Hunstanton the coast takes a dramatic turn, from expansive beach and colourful cliffs to tidal estuaries of salt marsh as well as sand. At Holme-next-the-Sea 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.
It was here in 1998 that gales uncovered a prehistoric circle of timber posts. A recreation of ‘Seahenge’, as it inevitably became known, can now be seen in the King’s Lynn Museum.
Once a smuggler’s haven in the 18th and 19th centuries the village of Thornham is now a tranquil coastal community, beyond which 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.
Brancaster village is focused around the harbour, which is great for fishing and sailing. Brancaster is famous for its seafood, particularly mussels, and there are plenty of places to enjoy some of the delicious local food. The beach at Brancaster is perfect for kite flying, watersports or just soaking up the refreshing sea air. Amongst the sandhills is the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, a great links course. Oh, and a seafood sarnie from the Crab Hut.
The saltmarshes begin again at Burnham Deepdale and Burnham Overy Staithe, 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. Visitors aren’t encouraged.
This is where Horatio Nelson, born at nearby Burnham Thorpe, learnt to sail.
Remember the end of Shakespeare in Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola shipwrecked on a mesmerically vast beach that’s meant to be the New World? It was filmed at Holkham Bay, our next stop. Oh, and the photo here is the beach at high tide!
Stroll through or play hide and seek in the dense pine woodlands, breathing in the aromatic smell of the forest before stepping onto a wide open expanse of beach, one of the most dramatic beaches in the UK and very popular with visitors in the summer season when you feel you could almost be in the Caribbean!
Access to the beach is via Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham village, or along the coast road west at Wells-next-the-Sea. There is ample paid-for parking at both. Visit the Palladian splendour that is Holkham Hall.
The town of Wells-next-the-Sea has a timeless quality, like stepping into another world where you will soon feel completely relaxed and at ease. There is space for everyone on the sweeping beach, a truly picture postcard setting with its candy-coloured line of huts. Enjoy a wander along the sand, through the dunes or pine forest, find a spot for a quiet picnic or a game of beach cricket.
At low tide you’ll wonder where the sea has gone. Stare off to the horizon at low tide and you’ll just be able see the rolling white surf.
Just a short distance from the beach you will find the attractive harbour and town, with its distinctive individual shops and fine restaurants. Crabbing on the quay is popular.
The town is also home to the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, the longest 10¼” narrow gauge steam railway in the world. A great experience for the whole family the train winds through the picturesque countryside to the quaint village of Walsingham, which has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries.
From Stiffkey and at Morston through to Blakeney and Cley-next-the-Sea is a wonderfully natural and dynamic area of pristine tidal saltmarsh, vegetated shingle, dunes and grazing marsh.
From Morston quay you can take exhilarating boat trips to see the seal colony at Blakeney Point, a 3-mile long sand and shingle spit which is an important breeding ground for terns as well as being home to Common and Grey seals.
Don’t miss the picturesque village and harbour of Blakeney. Boat trips to the seals go from here too.
A bustling coastal village crammed full of picturesque flint-lined cottages, Cley’s highlights include Cley Windmill and St. Margaret’s Church, delicatessens, fine pubs and restaurants. From Cley Marshes Nature Reserve you can walk along Blakeney Point.
After Salthouse and Weybourne (visit the Muckleburgh Collection military museum), sandy beaches begin again, leading to seaside Sheringham, another links gold course, and Sheringham Park, a National Trust property with coastal views through the mass of rhododendrons.
At Sheringham you can take the North Norfolk Railway, known as ‘The Poppy Line’, which stretches 5 miles to the pretty Georgian town of Holt with stops at Weybourne Heath and Kelling Halt.
The undulating cliffs are at their highest at Beeston Bump (203 feet) at Beeston Regis, overlooking Sheringham. A geological feature called a kame, the Bump looks like a giant molehill – and is ideal for kite-flying. On the beach below can be found stunning flint formations, called paramoudras – known here as pot stones.
Black Shuck, a ferocious ghostly black dog from hell, the size of a small horse, with malevolent, flaming red eyes, is said to appear from the depths of Beeston Bump. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been on a golfing holiday at the Links Hotel in nearby West Runton, heard about the legend and used it as influence for the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Directly behind Sheringham is the Cromer Ridge, the result of a terminal moraine at the end of the last Ice Age. Stand at Roman Camp/Beacon Hill and you’ll be at the highest point in the East of England with a sea view.
Finally on this northern stretch of the coast, we come to Cromer, dramatically poised on a high bluff. A charming seaside resort which came to popularity with the arrival of the railway, the town has a Victorian pier with a theatre at its end. At this point the coast begins to curve southwards, towards Great Yarmouth.