17th April: Unusually warm and sunny. Two days after the volcanic eruption in Iceland and all aircraft are grounded. There are no vapour trails and the sky is cloudless.
I mainly follow the route outlined by David Cotton, who did the coastwalk in 2002. For details of his route, consult his excellent website and look up walk #253.
I drive to Kings Lynn and park in a longstay car park. The time is 9:20 am. I ask a few people for directions to the tourist office, but they all seem to be Eastern European and don’t speak English. Then I meet a man with a dog and he directs me toward the Great Ouse River, but he did add “There is nothing much there.” He is right.
I walk along the river bank and then down a track running alongside the river, passing various chemical factories and parked white vans, until I reach some rather nice houses and then the nature reserve at the end. I follow David’s route along the Old West Sea Bank and, ignoring a sign that reads “no public right of way”, walk along a bank and into Vinegar Middle, then follow farm tracks through Wooten Marsh. I am passed by a few 4×4 cars, but otherwise I see nobody. By now I am getting bored. With empty, flat farmlands on either side, and no sign of the sea, this is not the coastal walk I had envisaged.
So I decide to divert from David’s route by heading onto the sea wall at Wooten Marsh – this is the grassy earth bank that protects the low lying farmland from flooding. There are notices at access points to the sea bank which warn me that there is no public right of way along the bank, shooting is prohibited unless I am a member of a certain club and if I carry a gun then I must also carry my membership card at all times. Since I wasn’t carrying a gun, I decide to continue. Still no sign of the sea, only mud flats stretching out to my left – where the sea must begin eventually.
This part of the walk is long and hot. The sky is clear, the sun shines down and there is not even a sea breeze. The sea bank stretches relentlessly ahead with no “end point” in site. On my right are farmlands. On my left are the mud flats and the occasional strange wooden “shack”. I presume these wooden shacks belong to huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ people and are probably the gun man’s equivalent of a garden shed – a home-from-home. I did hear gunshots in the distance, but this area of the coast is deserted and I see nobody during this stretch of the walk. I am pleased about this as I feel very exposed high up on the bank and I do not want to be challenged about my right to walk here. I startle a lot of birds. And I grow hotter and hotter, shedding layers of clothing, until I am in my T shirt and glad that I packed factor 25 sun block.
Eventually I reach a small creek and the sea wall turns inland. At this point I meet a locked gate – the first I have come across, and I have to crawl through a barbed wire fence to continue. I follow the raised bank around the creek and reached the far end of the Snettisham nature reserve. Here I see the first people since I left the Great Ouse River, nearly 8 miles ago. I had felt anxious walking along the sea wall, as this was clearly not a public right of way, so I was relieved to be on a public trail and to follow the paths of the nature reserve.
My feet are beginning to hurt and I am feeling hot and thirsty. Worse still, my iPhone is running dangerously low on batteries due to the Trip Journal app I am running. I am really worried that my phone is going to die – and with it goes my communication and escape route. So I am forced to switch if off, only turning it on again to mark various waypoints.
At the far end of the Snettisham reserve is Snettisham Scalp. Here are holiday cottages and caravan parks, with plenty of people – walking, cycling and fishing. I find a small shop in one of the caravan parks and buy an icecream. Apart from drinks of water, I have had nothing to eat since starting and, on switching my iPhone on, I am dismayed to see it is already quarter to three. I had no idea that it was so late or that my progress had been so slow.
I nearly give up. My feet are hurting, I am hot, and I don’t know if I will make it to Hunstanton. I ask the shop keeper about buses and, if there had been one available, I would have headed back to King’s Lynn at that point. However, she tells me I would have to walk into Snettisham village and that is “quite a walk”. My map confirms that by the time I arrive at Snettisham village, I could be 1/2 way to Hunstanton instead. So I decide to press on.
Despite my sore feet, I pick up the pace. Walking quickly, I pass everyone ahead of me, get licked by dogs, avoid cows, and walk along a raised bank running parallel with the coast until I reach Heacham beach. Here it really feels like a seaside resort – hot and sunburnt people are milling around with dogs, children, bikes, and I even saw a woman on a disabled scooter making it up a ramp and onto the beach. Groups of young people walk along the sand, speaking in Eastern European languages. There is a toilet and I wash my dog-licked hands and then settle down on the sand for a can of coke and a bar of chocolate. Then I cast caution aside and eat the rest of my food box!
Getting up is hard. My legs ache but my feet are really sore and I know I must have blisters. The map shows a coastal walk running all the way to Hunstanton – only 2-3 miles to go. The first part of the walk is a sandy track – really hard work. I am beginning to think I will need to take an inland path, when I reach another part of Heacham beach and find a wonderful paved sea promenade. To my right are beach huts and, later, holiday cottages. To my left is the muddy beach, stretching into the distance, with the sea shining in the sunlight some miles away. The beach has wooden sea defences, groynes, marching out from the shoreline. The raised promenade is busy with people walking, cycling, pushing babies and exercising dogs. I see many overweight people and feel very virtuous. Ahead of me, a biker strides in full leathers. I overtake him.
The promenade curves gently round and I suddenly realise I am in Hunstanton. There is a fun fair, I pass the aquarium, ice cream kiosks, and watch a microlight pilot buzz a boat coming into the shore. The boat rises and begins rolling onto the sand – ah a hovercraft. No, it is a boat on wheels. It makes its way up the beach and docks.
I stop and ask an girl in an icecream kiosk for directions to the bus station. My feet are very sore now and I have to force myself to walk without a limp. I follow her directions and ask several more people en route, to ensure I am heading the right way. At this stage, I don’t want to have to walk any further than is absolutely necessary.
I arrive at the bus station at 5:20 pm and join the queue of holiday makers. The “express” bus to Kings Lynn pulls in and I pay my £3.50 bus fair with relish, slipping into a seat and falling asleep almost instantly. It took me 8 hours to make this journy, but only 45 minutes to return to Kings Lynn. I walk on painful feet through the closed shopping centre and find my car again. Then home.
Vital stats: Distance 16 miles. Time taken 8 hours. Av speed 2 miles an hour.
Things I learned:
- I walk slower than I anticipated.
- Despite prepartion and comfortable shoes 16 miles was too far for the first day.
- I must not leave my tracking feature turned on, because it depletes my phone battery too quickly.
- It is the edge of the blister that hurts, not the centre.
- Blisters stop hurting if you pop them.
- You can never carry too much water.
- Chocolate bars are essential because they make you feel better.
- All ice-cream sellers are kind and friendly people.
Oh and, depending on the route, the walk around the British mainland is 5-6,000 miles. At this rate, it will take me 6-7 years to complete!