The challenge: a winter walking holiday that would provide a sense of achievement and enjoyment and would take place in the week before Christmas, which features the years shortest day, with a mother who loves walking but (understandably) isn’t a fan of walking in the dark.
The solution/holiday: The Norfolk Coast Path.
The plan: the Norfolk Coast Path is approximately 46 miles long and follows the beautiful North Norfolk coast from Hunstanton to Cromer. It links with the Peddars Way and is also being extended beyond Cromer as part of the England Coast Path project which is due to complete in 2020. We only had 3 days (to include travel there and back from Essex) and limited daylight hours. It was deemed that we needed to move quickly. Handily my mother has discovered Nordic walking in her retirement and has progressed to the point where she felt she could find me some poles and impart her hard earned knowledge to me. In turn I had high hopes that Nordic walking may mean I got a few more miles out of my dodgy hip before it flared up again.
One of the things I found most appealing about the path is that it is easily accessible by public transport. We took the train to Kings Lynn and then caught the regular Coasthopper bus up to Hunstanton. For our return we simply took the train from Cromer. We elected to stay at a couple of pubs with rooms on the way given the time of year but there are accommodation options, including camping to suit all budgets along the path.
Day 1: Hunstanton to Brancaster (appox 10 miles)
Within an hour of setting off we were already out on big sky beaches which we had to ourselves. Occasionally we would come across a hardened dog walker to give some sense of perspective to the gigantic landscapes in front of us. This was probably the longest stretch of pure beach walking which was ideally suited to the Nordic walking poles and we made good progress to a coffee stop in Thornham. The path then headed inland and before we knew it we popped out in Brancaster for our dinner, bed and breakfast at The Ship Inn.
Day 2: Brancaster to Blakeney (approx 20 miles)
We knew we’d have to put in a couple of big days to get the route done in 3 days; thankfully the weather gods could not have been kinder to us and we walked swiftly over marshes, beaches, ancient pine forests and more marshes before arriving just as dusk was falling in Blakeney. This was undoubtedly a long day and the stretch of path from Wells-next-the-sea to Morston was, for me, a little uninspiring. If we had had more time I think breaking the walk at Wells would have been a nice way to split the distance over 4 days. We had a lovely stay at the The White Horse in Blakeney.
Day 3: Blakeney to Cromer (approx 15 miles)
Day three provided delightful contrast to the previous few days. Gone was the sand and the marshes were now on our right hand side as we walked along sea wall for many miles. Initially along flood defenses, then along shingle bank and finally along the classic seaside ‘front’ at Sheringham before touring the caravan parks of West and East Runton and descending into Cromer with its classic seaside pier.
North Norfolk will always have a special place in my heart and memories as it was somewhere we often holidayed as a family when I was a child. We would tour the sailing clubs of the coast competing in dingy races each day. This visit was the first time I had been in over 15 years and I was surprised at the apparent gentrification of the area, particularly over the first 20 miles or so of the trail. However this does not detract at all from the areas beauty and I was really pleased to have seen the variety and contrast that the more traditional seaside resorts provided as the miles wore on.
The Norfolk Coast Path was my first fully completed national trail and I would highly recommend it for a short walking break. About 70% of the trail was suitable for Nordic Walking and incorporating this technique into the trip certainly improved our average speed and most importantly enabled me to complete the trip as planned.
Nordic walking – using poles to create a whole body workout that is kind to joints and offers excellent cardiovascular exercise. I would really encourage anyone to give it a go – there are lots of local groups around the UK.
I’m looking forward to exploring more of our national trails throughout the year. The week before Christmas is an ideal time to get out walking!