Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

This is one of Britain’s national trails, running 93 miles (150km) through Norfolk. As its name suggests, it is in reality two paths, of very different character: the Roman Peddars Way, practically dead straight across the lowlands of rural Norfolk; and the path along one of the most remote coastlines in England.

Dave Travers and I walked the path in 1999 and 2000. We took the Peddars Way on occasional Saturdays, and the Norfolk Coast as a three-day excursion in June 2000. As well as the usual route information, this page give you information on bird life for the coastal stretchesAlong the Peddars Way

8 May 1999: Knettishall Heath to Little Cressingham, 15 miles

This walk runs through Breckland, the driest place in England and one of the driest in Europe. It drizzled. Breckland was formerly heathland, though much is now forested, and on this walk you will see the tank tracks from a local military base. But much of the older habitat will still be seen on this walk.

22 January 2000: Little Cressingham to Castle Acre, 13 miles

We started this walk sheltering from a brief snow flurry. It is not perhaps the most stimulating stage of the walk, with much of the trail being on the verges of public roads, but a great compensation is the village of Castle Acre, one of the highlights of the trail. The village occupies a strategic position by one of Norfolk’s principal rivers, the Nar. Here are ruined priory and castle, both Norman, with the old castle ramparts especially worth exploring. There are two good pubs, plus eating places and interesting shops.

4 March 2000: Castle Acre to Fring, 13 miles

Set compass for 335 grid north, walk for 13 miles, end. Perhaps the straightest walk since the days of the gladiators. Not without interest, for all that. This day traverses slowly rolling countryside in one of the least populated parts of southern England; there is a genuine feeling of remoteness, with no more than three or four houses actually passed on the walk, and the one village nearby – Great Massingham – barely visible. We parked up at Fring church, just off route. It’s remarkable how churches are still great navigation points, especially in country like this.

6 May 2000: Fring to Holme and on to Hunstanton, 10 miles

Strictly, the end of the Peddars Way and the start of the North Norfolk Coast Path, the latter taken east to west; we would later take the rest of the coast path west to east. This was a beautiful late spring day, with a good pub midway – the White Horse at Holme next the Sea – and an excuse for an ice cream at the seaside town of Hunstanton.

Along the Norfolk Coast Path

1 June 2000: Holme next the Sea to Burnham Overy Staithe, 13 miles

First, through the dunes to Thornham. They bear an unusual sign concerning local wildlife (second picture in the sidebar). The path then diverts inland which at least permits a wider view of the coast. From Brancaster, a wild stretch looks out to Scolt Head Island between the Burnhams Deepdale and Overy Staithe, where we stayed overnight. This is Nelson country; Horatio Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar and with Drake England’s greatest naval hero, was born just inland at another of the Burnhams, Burnham Thorpe.

2 June 2000: Burnham Overy Staithe to Cley, 17 miles

A tremendously varied walk that shows off this great coastline to best effect. Any number of highlights: along the beach of Holkham Bay, backed by pine dunes; the small town of Wells next the Sea; the salt marshes around Stiffkey; the busy little tourist village of Blakeney; the final sea wall walk from there to Cley, looking out to the shingle spit of Blakeney Point. Social history note: it is difficult for those in the local low-wage economy to buy houses, as prices have been forced up by those looking for a second home. Perhaps in Blakeney this is no recent thing; a housing association specifically for locals still exists (or at least did then).

The relative lack of humanity’s traces make this a great area for other fauna, with seal colonies around Blakeney Point (ferries from Morston as well as Blakeney) and bird life in abundance – see Dave’s birding notes below, made across the three days but principally this section.

3 June 2000: Cley to Cromer, 13 miles

The shingle beach

The shingle beach

To the highest point of Norfolk! All of 105 metres (346 feet). But first, some of the most arduous walking in southern Britain – seems strange to say, for a three mile coastal stretch. But this is the notorious shingle beach from the coastguard lookout at Cley to Weybourne Hope. You can choose whether to walk on the bank or the beach – I chose the former, Dave the latter – it’s still like walking in porridge, sucking back your boots. And all the while, the hypnotic roar of surf breaking on stone.The low cliffs to the small resort of Sheringham are something of a relief. From here to Cromer, the path runs inland, much through woods, to the high point viewpoint. Signs hereabouts warn of adders, Britain’s only poisonous snake. Cromer is a good end point; a Victorian resort that still has great character, including one of the most famous pleasure piers in England – as distinctive a finish as one could wish.

Transport

There is a small car park at Knettishall Heath, the official start of the path, just inside Suffolk. The nearest town is Thetford, with trains on the Cambridge to Norwich line, four miles away. There is no bus service direct to the start of the walk.

Most of the main roads crossing the Peddars Way have some sort of bus service: the A47 Kings Lynn to Norwich road and the A148 King’s Lynn to Fakenham, for example. Castle Acre has buses from the small market town of Swaffham, which is itself only two or three miles from the Way. Some other villages have buses too, but they may be very infrequent.

The position is better on the Norfolk Coast. There is a reasonable bus service along the A149 Hunstanton to Cromer road, linking almost all the villages of the Path. You might be able to use it to be based in Wells next the Sea for the three or four days it takes to walk that part of the Path. Hunstanton has a good bus service from King’s Lynn.

At the western end of the Path, Sheringham and Cromer both have a roughly hourly train service to Norwich, which we used to return home.

Distances and times

Peddars Way table

Norfolk Coast Path table

Accommodation

In Burnham Overy Staithe we stayed at the Domville guest house, which as of 2015 seems to be no longer listed. However our hotel in Cley, the George, is very much still up and running.

Map

The full route is clearly marked on both OS Landranger and Explorer maps

route map

Route of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

Boardwalk through the dunes

Boardwalk through the dunes, Holme

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

Burnham Overy Staithe

Burnham Overy Staithe

Holkham Bay

Holkham Bay

Wells next the Sea

Wells next the Sea

Stiffkey marshes

Stiffkey marshes

Blakeney

Blakeney

Blakeney housing association

Blakeney housing association

Cley

Cley

Cromer pier

Cromer pier


Birder’s notes

Dave is a keem ornithologist, and he has contributed these notes of some of the species seen along the coast.

Thanks to Ash Midcalf for permission to use his scans of the mid 19th century work of Yorkshire vicar Rev Francis Orpen Morris, catalogued on birdcheck.co.uk

skylark

The song of the skylark was our almost constant accompaniment

cuckoo

Every village seemed to have its own cuckoo (started 3.20am in Cley!)

herons

On the marshes around Thornham and Burnham Overy Staithe, we saw many herons …

avocet

… and heard the territorial cries of the avocet

whitethroat

At Holkham Gap, we heard a whitethroat singing from a prominent twig of a bush

linnet

Also at Holkham Gap, we saw groups of linnets on rough ground …

sedge warbler

… the sedge warbler …

reed bunting

… and reed bunting

godwit

Approaching Wells-next-the-Sea: godwits on the mud flats

black-headed gull

Stiffkey marshes: noisy colony of black-headed gulls

swift

Cley-next-the-Sea: swifts screaming around the buildings as the sun set

tern

Salthouse marshes: small groups of terns fishing just offshore

fulmar


Cliffs between Weybourne and Sheringham: fulmars patrolling, gliding effortlessly on stiffly outstretched wings

sand martin

Sheringham: large colony of sand-martins nesting in the sandy cliffs just by the border of Sheringham Park