COASTAL WALKS OF GREAT BRITAIN – Robert & Jane Taylor

This week I thought I would take a break from Lionheart and show the first part of our Coastal Walk of Britain. Hope it is enjoyed. These blogs will be few and far between.

COASTAL WALKS OF GREAT BRITAIN

My wife, Jane, and I moved to our new home in Great Massingham, Norfolk in early September 2017. New house, new beginning. We are now moving into the autumns of our lives so, apart from bringing the house around to the way we want it, what challenge could we set ourselves!

“I know,” I said. “ We could walk around the entire coast of Great Britain.”

“How long will that take us?” Jane asked with a slight skepticism. Or, was it sarcasm. A thin line between the two!

“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of years if we do a little each weekend and we take our holidays on the path somewhere.”

“How far is it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of thousand miles. Does it matter?”

Saturday 14th October 2017

We decided to start our stroll at Hunstanton. This is a particular favourite of Jane’s for it was here many years ago that her family would come on holiday year after year. The place was full of kiddie-fun including crabbing and shrimping. This was the late sixties and early seventies when a luxury holiday was an apartment in Hunstanton and not a four star hotel on some God forsaken Spanish island full of teenage drunks glued to their phone screens. Cockles and whelks would have been on the menu when pizza and burgers were foods only seen on Starskey and Hutch! Oh! What wonderfully innocent times.

First of all, and the most challenging part of the day was the car park ticket machine! For some reason, the Dabbling Duck, our local pub where we had sat the night before planning our journey had seen fit to hand us a load of old pound coins in our change. I don’t mean old in the grubby sense but the fact they were going to be withdrawn as legal tender in the near future: midnight tomorrow! We had found an immediate receiver of such specie. But the infernal machine would not accept the more modern two pound coin! We raked around in every conceivable nook and cranny of the car and managed to discover a magnificent hoard of five p coins. Thousands of the little blighters who thought their realistic life was over. But, they saved ours and much to the shagreen of a cue of people forming behind us we fed the greedy machine in tiny little titbits rather than the usual glutinous feast they were used too.

Off we sauntered. Our target on this unseasonably warm day for mid-October was to reach Brancaster. I carried the back-pack that contained our lunch and set off in pursuit of Mrs T. Jane set a fine pace along the beach. We didn’t know it, but this was our first mistake! Gulls swooped and dived, kite-surfers were pulled along the beach by the firm breeze, and dogs frolicked in the North Sea. The beach was busy with families playing, children racing one another up and down the dunes, plastic spades carrying out incredible civil engineering constructions like damming and diverting water courses. Stone breakwaters held in by steel cages came and went to our right. The further we went the population became less dense until, all of a sudden it seemed, we were utterly on our own. The silence was noticeable, even the wind had abated now we were in the lee of a dune. Jane realised there were more people taking the more inland coastal path but we were happy with the beach. It was idyllic. Apart from one thing, I was busting for a slash! The extra coffee before we left home was a mistake. Why is it that the female of the species is so much more sensible than the male and had put a final penny in the pot before setting out?

“You’ll have to wait,” she announced. “ You can’t get it out here; people will see you from the path and you’ll frighten the birds!”

I grunted something in response.

“Can you let me have one of the water bottles?” she asked with a sort of a glee in her voice that bordered on the gentle talk of an SS officer about to torture his prisoner.

Holme-next-the-Sea, the lowest point on the North Norfolk Coastal Path,  passed on our right. We carried on. Then we realised. We were trapped. A deep creek wound its way across the beach. We headed inland to escape but when we crested a low dune we realised the creek had been tracking our course for some time. There were two options: ford the water or return to a less wet crossing area. We took the latter.

Jane went ahead, forging a path through the dunes, me following on behind like some poor relation of Jean Passepartout! Up and down we went. On the up slope it was one step forward, three-quarters of a step slipping back and another forward, so on and so forth.

Eventually, we reached the path and safety. It was a magnificent boardwalk. Except, it was not quite so magnificent. Every now and again there was a board missing. Now, one thing I need to say at this point, the reason Jane is always in front is not some sort of under-the-thumb rule that I have adopted to cope with married life or a sense of duty like the Duke of Edinburgh always following a couple of paces behind the Queen, I am partially sighted and, therefore, registered blind. I now had a feeling of foreboding that must have greeted the beach-landers at Utah and Omaha beaches. It was like I was advancing along a mine-strewn path not knowing whether my next step might be my last before a broken leg saw the local air ambulance carting me off to hospital and the walk around Britain dead-in-the-water before it had really got going. Jane managed to locate all the unexploded mines and we got through.

The next bit was a well-constructed path atop a stretch of sea wall protecting the village of Thornham. We sat down for lunch at a bench,  with a splendid view of the sea across salt-marshes, dedicated to the memory of Mary Elizabeth Brown, 1949 – 2015. If there is a better place to sit and eat tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches I am yet to discover it. Jane took another slurp from her water bottle which served as a reminder of my predicament which was not easing.

The contents of our Tupperware devoured we got on our way again. The sound of a football match reached our ears as we descended into a car park. Up onto the sea wall again, this time with high grasses and bushes up to above waist height.

“There is no-one around,” Jane announced. “ You could get Percy out here.” Don’t ask. It goes back to our honeymoon!

“You’re sure?” I didn’t want to be suddenly confronted by a group of nuns or some such enjoying a nice breezy walk on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

The relief was palpable!

We crossed a wooden bridge and were faced with a choice. There was a footpath sign directing us to the left which, one would have thought, would follow the coastal path. Or, there was one directing us inland but clearly bearing the mark of the acorn sign depicting the North Norfolk Coastal walk. The village of Thornham seemed well situated. A couple of pubs, the Chequers and the Orange Tree. The parish church of All Saints stood proudly and I wondered at the history it must have seen. Passing the Chequers to our left with drinkers enjoying al fresco libations at the tables, we found we could follow a busy road along the coast for the two miles to Brancaster or take the acorn sign inland. It was our mission to follow the acorn so that’s what we did. Walking ever further from the coast we came across the acorn again which now said Brancaster was another two-and-a-half miles. Concerned about the light and our slowly deteriorating limbs we thought it best to head back.

We returned to Hunstanton along a well signed path consisting of boardwalk, hard surfaced paths on sea walls and sand among the Holme dunes in particular. Avoiding watery cul-de-sacs we got back in a fraction of the time. Wearily, we climbed back in the car and headed back to Great Massingham and a well-deserved hot bath.

After our first day we had probably completed six miles of the coastal walk. We also decided that we would do as much as we could by doing day trips from home so we intend to go as far as Great Yarmouth in one direction before returning to Hunstanton and starting in the other direction, maybe as far as the Humber before we need to continue with longer breaks away. In future we will only walk in one direction and, where possible, head back to the car by bus. Next time we shall go to Thornham and aim for Wells-next-the-Sea.

A couple of thousand miles over a couple of years seems a tad ambitious. Try anything from four and a half thousand to eleven thousand miles, estimations are wildly fluctuating and, say seven or eight years. Apart from England’s coastal path planned for completion in 2020 it seems quite difficult to work out what the actual route is. Still, every long journey starts with a single step. Or, from small acorns giant oaks will thrive. We have now started something which we will not let go no matter how long it takes. We might, however, see if we can purchase a guide book before we go too far!

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