Today I am walking alone. My husband is bored with my 2 mile an hour pace and has decided to do some cycling instead. My first problem this morning becomes apparent as I change into my walking shoes. We have driven into Sheringham and I discover I have left my walking socks at home. We pop into a nearby shop and I buy the best cotton mix socks I can find. The socks are black, fluffy and man-size – but better than nothing.
I begin walking along the Sheringham Promenade, then along a raised concrete path with beach huts. There are cliffs to my right. To the left, groyes stretch across the beach. There are children playing in the sand and the tide is high.
At the end of the concrete path, I continue walking along the raised concrete sea wall. This is not an official walkway and I am soon alone. The wall ends and the drop down to the beach is too great, so I clamber down on the landward side. Now I am forced to walk behind the high wooden sea defence. The ground is rough with large pebbles, stones and boulders. The cliffs to my right are crumbling.
After a while, the high wooden sea wall on my left begins to deteriorate and I soon find I can clamber through the broken wall, onto the beach again. This is better. The high part of the beach is covered in large pebbles, but the tide has gone down and exposed firm sand – perfect for walking on. There are no people here, only gulls, perched on the groynes. In some places there are 20 or 30 of the birds. They squabble among themselves and vie for the best perches.
As I round a curve in the coastline I can see Cromer pier in the distance. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and it is a glorious day.
I reach Cromer sooner than I expected. The pier stretches across the beach and, before the pier, the promenade begins as an un-promising concrete path with beach huts along it. There is a small children’s amusement park with a helter skelter and roundabout, icecream shop and toilets. Now I reach the pier itself. It is nicer standing on the pier; clean wooden planks, open walkway, nice restaurant at the entrance, welcoming benches and very few people. There is a theatre at the end of the pier and sweating people, dressed in black, are pushing trolleys with equipment down the pier towards the theatre. I sit on a bench and eat a banana, watching them work.
The town of Cromer rises up on the low cliff behind the pier, with some imposing looking Victorian buildings, it looks a pleasant place. The pier overlooks the beach and there are families out, playing in the sand.
My husband is supposed to meet me here for lunch, but it is too early. I manage to get hold of him on my iPhone – the pier is the first place I have managed to get a signal since I set off this morning – and we plan to meet further on, at Overstrand.
Continuing along the short Cromer Promenade, I arrive at the eastern end where there is a museum and fishing boats pulled up on a slipway. I follow the sea wall, passing more beach huts – all locked up. Where the concrete path ends, I look ahead along the beach and see ruined groynes and battered sea defences, with high crumbling cliffs.
There are a few dog walkers out and fishermen, otherwise the beach is deserted. I walk for an hour, alone.
This is Overstrand and the way up to the village is a very steep path. We came here with our first child when she was in a pushchair – my husband remembers pushing her down this path.
At the top is a wonderful seaside cafe. We sit in the garden in the sunshine, overlooking the sea, and eat good food.
The official Norfolk Coastal Path heads inwards at this point. I have checked the tides and I believe it is possible to walk to Mundseley along the beach at low tide, so I plan to stay on the coast. After lunch I set off Eastwards, leaving the groynes behind and crossing a very remote stretch of beach. There is nobody here at all. Nobody. On my right are crumbling cliffs with no way up. If you were caught here with a rising tide, it would be difficult to escape the waves. In the distance I see groynes again and I know, from the map, that I must be approaching Trimingham, just north of Mundesley. I pass a group of 3 fishermen, the first people I have seen for over an hour. At Trimingham, an access path down the cliff is marked on my map. But it must have crumbled into the sea. The beach is deserted. There are no footprints in the sand.
I feel somewhat anxious. According to David Cotton, who walked this section in 2002, “In places (particularly just to the north of Mundesley) the groynes were quite difficult to get past …”. If it turns out that my route ahead is blocked, I will have a very long walk back and I am feeling increasingly tired. I consider returning to ask the fishermen how they gained access to the beach. The cliffs are very crumbly with obvious landslips in many places and, although it would be possible to attempt the climb, I can’t see a route where the earth looks firm enough to try.
Now the groynes are very large – as I feared – with one end in the water and the other end embedded in a wooden sea wall, 5-6 foot high. To my relief, I find it is possible to pass through the wooden sea wall, broken in many places. I walk on the other side of the sea wall, over rough ground strewn with fallen cliff debris, but safely bypassing the groynes. I notice footprints on the sand. Other people have been walking here, and recently. I feel relieved and continue onwards.
I see a couple of people with dogs. They seem surprised when I greet them with enthusiasm and ask if there is an access point nearby to leave the beach. “Just round the corner!” they reply. And so it is. I come across more people, walking dogs and strolling across the beach. A small access road with parked cars meets the beach and leads up from the shore, past a caravan park, to the main coastal road. I discover I am on the outskirts of Mundesley. Luckily, I have a mobile phone signal again and I can call my husband. He is out on his bicycle and is lost. I sit by the Mundesley sign and eat everything left in my rucksack, waiting for him to arrive to pick me up.
Later, I take off my shoes and socks. To my horror, I see my feet have turned black and hairy. Then I realise – my new socks have left black fluff behind.
Vital stats: 10 miles and 4.5 hours. I am picking up speed! No new blisters.