With travel restrictions easing in recent weeks, this summer at last gave us the chance to head for a wonderful stretch of coastline on our doorstep
WORDS Richard Groom
Joni Mitchell was right: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. That was true for all of us during lockdown. Things we took for granted were suddenly just memories (and I don’t just mean toilet paper and corned beef).
For many of the people I spoke to during that glorious, sunny, but tragic April, one of the things they missed the most was the sea. When the weather gets hot, we are drawn to the coast, and millions of us were looking out for news that we could go there again. For most of us in the Fens that would mean North Norfolk.
From my home near Whittlesey, I can jump in the Honda and be walking on Snettisham Beach in under an hour. During lockdown it was tantalisingly close. Thankfully, over the past few weeks I’ve been able to make it there once again, and to do so in a Covid-safe way.
Love for Norfolk’s coast
My love affair with the North Norfolk coast started in the 1970s. As kids, holidays for us usually meant a caravan in Hunstanton. Days were spent with buckets and spades on the beach. Late afternoons saw us riding the dodgems and throwing ourselves down the helter-skelter. Evenings often meant hanging out with the adults in the Kit Kat Club, feeling all grown up at a time when pubs rarely let kids in.
Since I became an adult myself, the coast has still been a big part of my life. Sometimes it’s been a day out in ‘Sunny Hunny’, other times a weekend camping at East Runton, or maybe just a few hours to relax on a quiet beach while the dog tries in vain to chase down a few dozen seagulls.
This summer, I’ve been getting up soon after dawn and arriving at the coast stupidly early to avoid the awful traffic on the A149. The car parks and beaches are almost empty that early, and the dog and I have our walk and swim by lunchtime. We’re home well before the roads heading out of Hunstanton start to jam up.
While we are there, I get some peace, lots of walking and some lovely chats with friendly people along the way. The dog has a great run out, still completely failing to get anywhere near a seagull. He often just lies down and stares out to sea. I wish I knew what he was thinking.
(By the way, dogs are welcome on most North Norfolk beaches, but not all of them: please check online before you go and look out for signs confirming where dogs aren’t allowed while you’re there.)
My childhood holidays in Hunstanton are long gone, but thankfully the coast is still there. It’s a wonderful constant in a changing world. The dog and I will spend many more happy hours on the sand and in the sea in wonderful North Norfolk. It’d be great to see you there too.
A fantastic five
Most of the North Norfolk coast is worth exploring, but if you haven’t seen much of it here are five places to try.
1. Snettisham beach. Great for Fens-dwellers as it’s the closest beach to home. There’s a big car park right next to the beach, which is clean, sandy and usually free from huge crowds. If you’re feeling energetic you can walk the 12-mile trip to Hunstanton and back along the beach.
2. Brancaster beach. Wide open golden sands await you here, with loads of room for fun in a 2020 socially distanced way. Look out for the shipwrecked SS Vina at low tide.
3. Holkham beach. A simply stunning (and enormous) stretch of sand where pools of warm water are left behind when the tide goes out – perfect for wave-free swimming. It’s so stunning in fact, it was chosen as the place for Gwyneth Paltrow to take her post-shipwreck walk at the end of ‘Shakespeare in Love’. It’s a bit of a hike to get to, which is one of the reasons why it’s often almost empty, even at high season.
4. Blakeney National Nature Reserve. There are nature reserves all along the coast, but Blakeney is a bit special. Best of all, by booking in advance you can take a boat out to see the seals at Blakeney Point. Please note: certain car parks and other facilities at the reserve may be closed or have limited capacity due to coronavirus, so please check before travelling.
5. Cromer. About as far along the coast as you’d probably go on a day trip from the Fens, but worth the extra few miles. The town itself sits high on the cliffs so you zigzag your way down to the beach. If you can, buy a crab sandwich and eat it on the super 120-year-old pier. I love the lifeboat station too, although this is likely to be closed to visitors for some time.