Reach for the skies on the Norfolk coast

Some of Britain's best birdlife can be found along this wild stretch, says Mark Rowe

The horseshoe of coastline that runs around the north of Norfolk is a magical place in winter. The flatlands open up vast skies, often filled with flocks of wintering birds, and present the visitor with a sense of end-of-the-world remoteness and desolation, augmented by a bleak coastline that muscles right up to the grassy mudflats and mires – a reminder that this part of England is effectively a very long inland beach.

This walk was recommended by Paul Dickson, a former employee of the National Trust, who has made Norfolk his home. It encapsulates classic north Norfolk scenery and includes the option to extend the walk by seven miles by exploring the vast spit of Blakeney Point. Start it at dawn or arrange to be walking in mid-afternoon and you have every chance of spotting a mass of pink-footed geese – half the world's population of this goose overwinters in north Norfolk – bookending the day by leaving or returning to their marsh sleeping quarters. Flying in vast Vs against a backdrop of orange light, this is one of the most extraordinary wildlife spectacles Britain offers.

The walk starts from a car park that almost seems to tumble into the sea, north of the village of Cley, where an abandoned café, steadily being reclaimed by the elements, may well be your only company. Head inland along the sea wall, waymarked as the Norfolk Coast Path, towards the village. To the left is Cley Marshes National Nature Reserve, managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The pools and scrapes are flush with unusual and interesting birds throughout the year and you may hear bitterns or catch sight of shelduck, which in flight resemble airborne chessboards.

The path heads into Cley, swinging right and following the coastal path acorn signs behind Cley windmill, which dates from the 1700s and is open to the public. Walk through the windmill's courtyard and take the waymark to the right on to a narrow path above the River Glaven and pass the George pub.

The path joins Cley main street opposite a telephone box and the old chapel where you turn right and then bear right again with the main road (the A149) as it leaves Cley. Take the steps up to the right and cross the River Glaven and then turn right, again following the coastal path acorn sign. Keep to the lower track below the sea wall and follow it, bearing left after 300 yards. The track circumnavigates Blakeney Freshes, reclaimed grazing marshes that will be full of over-wintering wildfowl at this time of year, including, with luck, small flocks of pink-footed geese and oystercatchers grazing the vegetation.

The path follows the river as it makes for the sea before abruptly turning left as the watercourse hits the solid lump of shingle spit. Freed from its canal straitjacket, the Glaven broadens substantially and picks up speed as it heads to the harbour. The views are startlingly bleak, with the dunes of Blakeney Point two miles distant, and boats marooned, seemingly dropped from the skies, but in fact adjacent to sunken and hidden tidal water channels.

The sea wall brings you into Blakeney. Turn left past a wildlife conservation area, where you may see a large snowgoose chugging around on the still waters. Pass in front of the Manor Hotel, keep straight on through a gate and climb up the modest grassy hill for a superb view across the landscape. The deserted café where you began is a mere dot to the east, while westward the view takes in the tip of Blakeney Point and Holkham. In any kind of wind, you may well hear the haunting honking of unseen, distant geese.

Retrace your steps to the gate and walk up Back Lane to the junction with the A419, and turn left. St Nicholas' Church, just across the road, is that rarity, a rural church open daily. It rewards a visit: its chancel was part of a Carmelite friary founded in 1296 and there is an impressive 15th-century hammerbeam roof. You can climb the tower on Friday afternoons.

From the church follow the A419 for the final mile back to Cley. A relatively new footpath means you can avoid the traffic all the way. Back in the village, bear left by the phone box to retrace your steps along the River Glaven and past the windmill to the car park. If you have time or energy, it is really worth exploring Blakeney Point. Make it to the very end of the point and back and you'll clock up seven miles, passing dunes and having a decent chance of seeing grey and common seals hauled out on the sands.

Compact facts

DISTANCE: Six miles for the loop from Cley beach car park. Add on seven more if you walk to Blakeney Point.

TIME: Three hours (six for Blakeney Point).

OS MAP: Explorer 251, Norfolk Coast Central.

The Coast Hopper bus service runs along the coast from Sheringham to Hunstanton and King's Lynn (norfolk.gov. uk). Mark Rowe stayed at New England Cottages, Sedgeford, courtesy of Norfolk Country Cottages (01603 871872; norfolkcottages.co.uk), which are available from £308 per week. Contact Norfolk Tourism (visitnorfolk.co.uk).

Suggested Topics
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most