Where land meets sea

North Nor­folk’s skies and empty beaches blend seam­lessly with bus­tle and cry­ing seabirds

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @fionacreynolds

Fiona Reynolds walks the north Nor­folk coast

MY sum­mer was won­der­fully hill­filled, in­clud­ing a week in Snow­do­nia, dur­ing which I climbed eight of its big­gest peaks, and—joy of joys—trekking to the top of the 12,225ft Mount Rin­jani on Lom­bok. That last ef­fort was more in­tense than any­thing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, so my re­turn to Cam­bridge was less a wist­ful look back at the hills than a happy re­union with flat­land walk­ing. I’ve re­sumed my morn­ing river­side walks and an in­vi­ta­tion to give a lec­ture at South Creake saw me head­ing hap­pily for the north Nor­folk coast.

‘I hopped and skipped over snaking wa­ter chan­nels to reach the dunes

I love places where the land meets the sea and the Nor­folk coast has its own spe­cial qual­i­ties. The ad­jec­tive that springs to mind is ‘end­less’, as huge ex­panses of salt­marsh evolve into vast beaches and sand­dune sys­tems whose hori­zons then merge seam­lessly into enor­mous skies. Its sub­lime qual­i­ties led to it be­ing des­ig­nated as an AONB in 1968 and a coast path runs along its length.

It’s also rich in wildlife: Nor­folk’s coast played an in­flu­en­tial role in early na­ture pro­tec­tion as sci­en­tists, many from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, in­ves­ti­gated the seal and seabird colonies of Blak­eney Point and the salt­marsh ecosys­tems of Scolt Head and Cley Marshes, sup­ported by the pi­o­neer­ing Nor­folk and Nor­wich Nat­u­ral­ists’ So­ci­ety.

For my walk, I chose a spec­tac­u­lar sec­tion of beach with an equally im­pres­sive in­land coun­ter­point cen­tred on Holkham Hall. I set off from Wells-next-the-sea on a per­fect au­tumn day, the sun still warm and just the tini­est breath of edge to the gen­tle wind. It’s a heav­ily mod­i­fied land­scape: as Arthur Young re­ported in 1768, ‘all the coun­try from Holkham to Houghton was a wild sheep walk be­fore the spirit of im­prove­ment seized the in­hab­i­tants’, yet I felt nur­tured by its an­cient roots.

Wells was busy, the sun­shine bring­ing out fam­i­lies en­joy­ing ice creams and fish and chips by the har­bour. I started from the lifeboat sta­tion and walked in­land along the high har­bour wall, ex­chang­ing greet­ings with fel­low strollers. Then, a quick taste of the town, its charm­ing al­ley­ways and flint-faced cot­tages with neat gar­dens con­trast­ing with the vi­brant shore­line scene. When I picked up a bri­dle­way on Wells’s western edge, by an old rail­way cut­ting, I was alone. I rev­elled in the quiet, the sun­shine and an un­ex­pected pro­fu­sion of late­sum­mer but­ter­flies.

A zig-zag later and I was at Holkham Hall’s East Lodge, ap­proached by an av­enue of twisted holm oak. Through the gate is the invit­ing pas­ture­land of Holkham Park and, be­yond it, the hall, sit­ting low in the land­scape as you ap­proach it from the north. Its pala­tial south front, how­ever, is one of the most el­e­gant in Eng­land, its gra­cious Pal­la­dian pil­lared façade look­ing out over the deer park, time­lessly beau­ti­ful.

Laid out by Wil­liam Kent, two mil­lion trees were planted in the park be­tween 1781 and 1801. I walked to the mag­is­te­rial Obelisk, past the dream­like Tem­ple, nes­tled in wood­land, and back past the hall to the lake and 19th-cen­tury mon­u­ment to Thomas Coke, the great agri­cul­tural re­former.

Be­witch­ingly beau­ti­ful, the park could have sat­is­fied my aes­thetic hunger, but now I headed for the beach, up Lady Anne’s drive to Holkham Gap, where miles of sand opened up be­fore me. The Nor­folk coastal path of­fered a re­turn to Wells along the edge of the pine for­est, but I wanted to dip my toes in the sea, so I walked due north into the hori­zon. It was low tide, so I hopped and skipped over snaking wa­ter chan­nels to reach the dunes and, even­tu­ally, the beach be­yond.

On this glo­ri­ous day, it was al­most empty ex­cept for the cry of seabirds and the oc­ca­sional fel­low walker. I walked east to re­turn to Wells, stick­ing close to the sea, greeted on the last lap by a long row of jolly beach huts painted ev­ery colour of the rain­bow. Fiona Reynolds is Master of Em­manuel Col­lege, Cam­bridge and her book, ‘The Fight for Beauty’, is avail­able from Oneworld

Fiona Reynolds

A walk­ing life

A whispering and wa­tery Nor­folk sound: The Coast Vil­lage by Ed­ward Brian Seago

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