Caister lifeboat station is an independent lifeboat service, manned by volunteers. Hopefully, I will never need their services. But the size of their station is impressive and reassuring. The wind is strong and the skies are dark. I walk past the station and begin the next section of my coastal walk.
I walk south along the top of the dunes, and then along the top of the sea wall. This is easier than walking on the soft sand, although I must keep my balance – a fall down to the dunes below could be nasty. I would like to reach Lowestoft today. I know it is the traveling that matters, not the destination, but I want to make good progress this weekend.
The sky is dark and it threatens to rain again. I really hope there will be no hailstorms today. The weather keeps people indoors and I travel undisturbed along my wall, past dunes and then past static caravan parks on my right. I can see the cranes of Great Yarmouth in the distance.
I pass a look-out post and reach the beginning of a tarmac road. Now there is a large holiday village on my right and people are beginning to emerge with children and push-chairs. There are bus stops along this road and in the distance I see a large red bus. After a while, the traffic on the road increases and I decide to head off to the coast again. There is a long stretch of dunes between the road and the sea. I walk across the dunes, following tracks that other walkers have made. There is fragile grass trying to grow on the dunes and I am surprised the public are allowed to roam freely on this delicate surface. During my walks along the North Norfolk coast, my route was often confined to paths to protect and preserve the dunes. I gather it only takes a few footfalls to destroy the roots of these fragile dune plants. Without the grass to bind the sand, the dunes are washed away. Without the dunes the coast is battered by the sea. And I have seen what erosion can do to the coast line.
Reaching the beach, the tide is still high and there is only a narrow strip of firm sand just above the water line. I walk carefully, keeping my eyes on the waves. I would rather not have wet feet again today.
There is a walker ahead of me. We near a pier and I notice the far end rises above the sand, high enough to pass under. The walker ahead appear to have disappeared and must have gone under the pier. Hesitating for a moment, I duck under the pier’s supporting beams.
Now I am in a dark and private world. Beneath my feet the sand is wet, with a strong smell of salty sea. Above my head are dark timbers. To my left are angry waves, sloshing through the struts supporting the end of the pier. To my right the dark underside of the pier stretches above me and the sand rises steeply to up meet it. Ahead, through the timbers, I can see bright stretches of sea and beach. I linger here. The only sound is the crash of the sea as it rushes and sucks at the pier supports.
When I emerge from the underbelly of the pier, startling a fisherman on the beach, the sky seems much brighter. This is only an illusion. The weather is still dark and threatening rain. The beach is empty, apart from a couple of young girls and an elderly man with a paunch and a metal detector.
I head across the beach to the sea front, stopping to take a photograph of the building lining the promenade. From a distance, the sea front looks elegant. As I get nearer, I see the usual mixture of ice cream stalls, souvenir shops and amusement arcades. There is the ubiquitous “train” carrying cold-looking people along the sea front. I admire the most elaborate crazy golf course I have ever seen – complete with pirate ships.
Great Yarmouth lies on a peninsula with the sea on one side and the River Yare on the other. In order to continue my coastal walk, I must cross the river at the Haven Bridge. I walk through the town, through a busy shopping centre. After so many miles of isolated beach walking, it seems weird to be walking with shoppers in this bustling situation.
The Haven Bridge is a lifting road bridge. I stop to take photographs of boats on the River Yare.
Now I have to walk along the far side of the river. This is impossible to start with, because this section of the river bank is given over to dock yards. I walk along a busy road and find it hard to enjoy this particular section of the walk. I am tired and resentful of my forced detour. Eventually, I find a path down to the dock side, where I can walk along the river towards its mouth. The rather brutal architecture of the docks begins to change. Here there are residential houses and ahead I can see attractive buildings ahead of me. I must be approaching Gorleston Point.
Gorleston Point is lovely. There is an impressive Victorian-looking hotel with a bar and restaurant. I call my husband on my iPhone. I am hungry. While I wait for him to arrive, I sit on Gorleston promenade, watching people body surfing in the waves. Young men are trying to launch sailing dinghies, difficult with a stiff wind blowing on shore from the North Sea. Reassuringly, I notice a small, inflatable, rescue boat is drawn up on the beach.
We eat our lunch. My husband has excellent fish and chips. I have a disappointing hamburger.
After lunch, I walk along the velvet sand of Gorleston beach. This is the finest sand I have encountered, soft and pale. To my right is a wide expanse of pebbly beach, with a long promenade at the edge, behind this a low green bank with houses above. I walk past the end of the promenade and continue along the shore.
When I reach Hopton-on-Sea, I begin walking along a stretch of concrete walkway running along the sea wall at the edge of the beach. This is easy. I will be Lowestoft shortly. Then I see a warning sign and a barrier- the walkway beyond Hopton is closed. The cliff is slipping and the walk is unsafe. The sign advises a detour. On my map, I find there is a public footpath marked along the top of the cliff and I scramble up a sandy area of cliff face. At the top there is a path, along the edge of a green meadow, and I set off along it.
But, before long, I come to an area where a whole section of cliff has slipped down, forming a V shaped hole in the cliff edge. The path has disappeared into this void. A group of youngsters are sitting on the grass and I ask if it is possible to continue walking to Corton along the top of the cliff. They assure me it is.
I walk around the gaping hole in the pathway. Further ahead there is an area of fenced off countryside and the coastal path runs along a narrow strip of land between the fencing and the cliff edge. Another sign warns me this path could slip at any moment. Very helpful! I stick close to the fencing and continue. At some point I notice my foot is getting sore. Today is the first day I have walked without applying blister plasters in advance. Worried that I might be brewing a blister, I remove my shoes and socks and apply a padded dressing to the sore area.
Now I reach a caravan park. A putting green separates the caravans from the cliff edge. Warning signs are spaced along the cliff edge. I notice a strange mounted platform with a bench, very close to the edge of the cliff and clearly intended for admiring the views. “That is not going to last long,” I think. Then I notice the platform is mounted on wheels and can be moved. Clever.
After a few hundred yards I leave the caravans behind and reach a field. This farmer must be losing parts of his land, slowly, as the edge of the cliff crumbles. I can see freshly fallen areas. In some places the path leads straight over the edge of the cliff. I stay as far away from the edge as I can, walking close to the growing crops. Then the path stops completely. Here is the edge of someone’s garden, fenced off, and the path used to continue around it. Now there is no way past the fenced off garden. The route has disappeared entirely. I am forced to turn inland, following a well beaten path along the edge of the field, back to the road.
Now I am walking down the main street in Corton. This is not a hardship as the road is very quiet. Corton has some rather up-market holiday properties and there are holiday makers strolling along the pavements. I am irritated by their slow pace. As I reach the end of Corton, I decide I have had enough walking for today. Lowestoft is still a few miles away. But I telephone my husband – dial-a-ride – and then wait for him to pick me up. He finds it difficult to identify the turn off the main road to reach Corton. As I wait, I finish my remaining bar of chocolate, eat the rest of my banana and empty my water bottles. Belatedly, I realise I have left Norfolk and am now in Suffolk.
Another eventful walk with an element of danger and uncertainty to it. Another milestone as I cross a county boundary. Another great day by the coast!
Vital Stats: distance = 11 miles. blisters = 0. counties walked in = 2.
Landslides = lots.