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
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
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

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?