[This walk was completed on the 10th June 2021]
I cycle on the backroads from Sutton Bridge to the end of the road at Ongar Hill, and leave my Scooty bike chained to a gate.
The ride here was wonderful: in sunshine, on empty roads, across a flat landscape, with no wind. There really is no better way to travel, especially when the electric “assist” of my Scooty does most of the work for me. Most of the time, I averaged over 14mph.
At one point, the electric battery appeared to conk out – filling me with dismay – until I realised I’d hit the magic 15.5mph, at which point the “assist” stops!
I was beginning to think I made the wrong choice to WALK around the UK coast. I should have chosen to bike, instead! Then, I remembered the hills in Scotland, and how my ebike ran out of battery and gave up on the infamous Ratagan Pass in Glenelg, forcing me to push all 23kg (more with my backpack) up a horrible steep slope… perhaps foot power is more reliable after all.
Anyway, today I’m walking back to Sutton Bridge along the sea wall. I heave my rucksack on my shoulders, and set off down the footpath that leads to the bank.
Once on the sea bank, I’m back on the Peter Scott Walk.
The going is easy, with a flat surface and short grass. Rather boring. The only ominous thing I can see on the horizon is some distant humps which might be… yes, definitely are… cows!
I try not to think of the impending danger. Perhaps they’ll be behind a fence? Instead, I gaze out to my right, across the featureless marsh, to the distant gleam of the sea. Beyond this is a headland of higher land – higher than I would expect for the Norfolk coast.
It is some time before I realise that the distant headland is right on the other side of the Wash, and that means I must be looking at Hunstanton. Wow!
[Later, zooming in on a full size photograph, I can distinctly see the multicoloured layers of the famous Hunstanton cliffs. You’ll have to take my word for it.]
I’m approaching a curve in the bank, and this is where the cows have congregated. They are not behind a fence. unfortuntately, but are spread right across the path. They show no sign of moving, and watch my approach with an intense interest. To avoid them, I duck down off the sea wall, and walk along the rough edge of the field in the fen below.
As I walk under the cows, I realise they aren’t cows at all. Bullocks!
A safe distance later, I climb back onto the sea bank. Turn and take a photo looking back at the bullocks. How I do hate having to negotiate my way through cattle.
The sea wall takes another right-angled turn The artificialness of this bend is another reminder that this landscape is not natural, but has has been reclaimed from the marshy edge of the foreshore.
A put-put sound… oh, a quad bike has joined me on the bank. I think, at first, it’s a farmer going to check his cattle, but he is going the wrong way and heads off down onto the marsh. Maybe he’s a fisherman looking for bait?
Or maybe he’s checking on his sheep? They’re spread all over the marsh, and a posse are guarding the sea wall. They seem reluctant to move…
…but scatter when I get closer. I don’t mind sheep at all. In fact, they keep the grass down, so they’ve done a useful job making this walk easier for me. I wonder if the marshy grass gives a salty flavour to their meat?
Another bend in the wall. More sheep in the distance.
After the sheep, I pass through a stile, beside a closed gate. Oh dear. This isn’t so easy now. With no sheep to keep the grass down, the bank is quite overgrown with grasses and thistles.
I slow down, picking my way carefully because I can’t see my feet. Don’t want to step into a rabbit hole and twist my ankle. I try not to think of snakes.
While I’m walking through this wilder section, I spot something moving in the marsh. Not a sheep, slimmer and darker… oh, a little deer! Wasn’t expecting that. By the time I pull my camera up, it’s bolted into a gully in the marsh, and I don’t manage to catch a photograph.
After a mile or two of overgrown bank, I reach another gate. This one is wide open and doesn’t look (from the height of the weeds) as if it has been closed for some time. The grass on the other side is much shorter, as though it has been grazed recently. But there are no sign of any sheep.
Whatever the reason for the change in vegetation, I’m very grateful. With the shorter grass, I can relax and make much better progress.
Off to my right, across the marsh, I spot a weird mound. Unlike Ongar Hill, which wasn’t a hill at all, this is definitely a hill. A hill? In the middle of the marsh? It doesn’t look natural.
Check my map, which shows a strange oval structure on the edge of the high tide mark. Maybe it’s a military installation of some sort? There is a path leading out towards it, and I’m tempted to take a closer look. But, I’m not sure how muddy the route will be – or whether I’ll be able to reach this strange hill at all, because it might actually be an island – so I decide to stick to the bank and continue on my way.
I come to a car park at the end of a track. The track isn’t marked as a public road, but the green “Nature Reserve” signs suggest this is a public access point.
Something on the track catches my eye. A hare. It doesn’t see me at first, and I raise my camera, but the hare notices my movement and darts away into the long grass in one of the dykes.
A deer and a hare. Two good sightings today. But, considering this is the famous Peter Scott Walk, there is a noticeable absense of birds.
At another right-angled bend in the sea wall, I stop and sit down on the grassy bank. Time for lunch.
Out across the marsh, there’s another strange, raised “hill”. This one is further away and larger than the first one.
I check my map again. It shows an almost-circular object, about 2 miles out into the Wash, with a label “Outer Trial Bank”.
Outer Trial Bank? What on earth is that? I’m none the wiser.
After lunch, I head onwards, along this never-ending sea wall. At some point, without realising it, I cross over the county boundary from Norfolk into Lincolnshire.
A mile or so, and a few bends, later, and I’m walking parallel to an inner sea bank, which is lined with trees. I’m too far away to tell what they are, but they form an impressive avenue in this otherwise featureless landscape.
I begin to meet other walkers. First a couple, striding purposefully along, then a man with a dog. At this point, the sea wall takes another turn, and I take a photo of the dog-walker after he’s passed me. It must be nice to have a dog for company.
In the past couple of months, I came very close to getting a dog. There are a number of older dogs for sale at the moment – lock-down puppies whose owners can’t cope with them now that they’re back at work and the children are back at school. But, the practicalities of dealing with a dog put me off. I know some people walk the coast with dogs… but, you would have to find dog-friendly places to stay, eating out would be difficult, there are cattle and sheep to worry about, stiles to climb over, water to carry, etc.
Anyway, I don’t think the time is right for me to get a dog. Not yet. Maybe one day.
The sea wall has curved inland to become the outer bank of the River Nene. I’m now passing the beginning of the same avenue of trees that I’ve been admiring from a distance.
I meet another couple, who ask me how far you can go along this path. “All the way to King’s Lynn,” I tell them. “If you don’t mind walking 14 miles there, and 14 miles back again.” They seem impressed because they assume I’ve walked all that way. I don’t tell them I’ve done it over 2 days and with the help of an electric bike!
Ahead is a lighthouse. Ah, at last. This must be Peter Scott’s Lighthouse. Perhaps there is a cafe here?
I perch my camera on a nearby bench, and take a self-portrait. Uh-oh, I’ve definitely put on a bit of weight during lockdown, like so many of us, and despite making an effort to be active every day. If there is a cafe here, I’ll just have a cup of tea, and no cake.
Oh. Heck. I don’t care. I will have cake too.
Across the river, on the opposite bank of the Nene, is another lighthouse. The river must have been an important shipping route once, to have deserved TWO lighthouses.
Sadly, there are no boats on river now, but maybe the tide is too low for shipping.
When I reach the lighthouse, I have to come off the river bank to get around it. Unfortunately, the building is closed to the public (Now that I am the proud owner of a windmill, I feel a keen empathy for anyone else who lives in a circular tower, and I would have really liked to look round this building.)
And there is no cafe either. Shame.
Although the name of Sir Peter Scott is familiar to me as a famous ornithologist, I didn’t know he lived in a lighthouse, or anything much else about him. I stop to read the information board.
When Peter Scott lived here, he created a great collection of wild fowl, which thrived in the surrounding marsh and ponds. It was a more remote, wilder place than it is now, and I was thrilled to see this lighthouse was the inspiration for the writer Paul Gallico and his ‘Snow Goose’ story.
Sadly, the lighthouse was requisitioned by the army during WW2. When Peter Scott returned from the war, he found the the sea wall had been pushed a further mile into the sea (the same wall that I had just walked along, I presume). The wetlands around his lighthouse had been drained and changed into agricultural land, as it is today. He lost his wild fowl collection, and his heart must have been well and truly broken.
The public road begins (or ends) at the lighthouse, where there is a small parking area. Cars are also parked along the grass verge overlooking the river. I begin to walk down the road, but turn back to take a photo of a rather fine VW campervan.
I’m taking a keen interest in other people’s campervans at the moment. My lovely Beast is becoming quite elderly. He is 19 years old now, a Japanese import, and spare parts are increasingly difficult to source, as I discovered when one of his back windows was smashed during a battery-charging run over the winter. I ended up ringing several breaker’s yards to try to find a replacement – something I found both stressful and dispiriting.
I’m beginning to think I need to trade The Beast in for a younger model. Not an old VW campervan, but something newer.
Onwards, along the road.
Look at this neat barn, full of shiny agricultural machines. So much neater than some I have seen – with mountains of cow slurry and tumbledown walls – but then I guess this farmer is growing vegetables, and not keeping animals. Must be easier to keep your farm neat and tidy if you don’t have to muck out cows…
… uh-oh. As if to prove me wrong, I come across a whole herd of cattle in a field beside the river, including some very sweet young calves. Thank goodness they are safely contained behind a fence.
The last mile or so of any walk seems to be the longest, and that is definitely true today. At least I have the river to look at, and the industrial buildings ahead are slowly growing larger.
A few little roads lead off to my left. One of these has a name which catches my eye. “Hospital Road.” Hospital? Out here. Really?
[Later, I learn that Guy’s Hospital (in London) owned quite a lot of land around here. Why? I don’t know.]
I’m getting close to Sutton Bridge. I pass empty wharves and moored boats, all on the other side of the river. Nothing much on this side, only a little car park… and my lovely Beast, waiting for me.
He’s such a handsome, Japanese gentleman. How could I even think of selling him?
You can read more about the history of Peter Scott’s lighthouse on the Snowgoose Wildlife Trust site
The following day, my B&B host told me a little bit about the two, strange, circular islands I saw on this walk, the larger of which is known locally as “The Doughnut”. There’s a brief history of the Outer Trial Bank on Wikipedia, and a longer descripton on the Atlas Obscura page.
Miles walked today = 9.5 miles
Total around coast = 4,539 miles