It’s Hallowe’en, the time I go batty if I haven’t done a nice long multi-day through-hike yet! England is my go-to country for these, and for a previous year’s Hallowe’en I picked the Norfolk Coast Path. Little did I know I would encounter Ghost Ships – and enjoy them…
Rambling about rambling
England is a paradise for “ramblers”, their word for walkers and hikers. Footpaths and long-distance routes crisscross the country, for all ages and abilities to enjoy, with right-of-way laws protecting this national treasure.
Jewels in the crown
The National Trails make for 15 jewels in England’s huge walking options crown. Over the years, I’ve done a handful of NTs, and my latest addition is the Norfolk Coast Path.
The hills are Aleve
Walking long stretches in flat land is one thing, but many National Trails include lots of hillwalking. Going up and down elevation can be hard on the legs and back when backpacking, aging, or as in my case, both! Be prepared and take some Aleve or equivalent along to ease the burden.
A stroll for a mole
Awesomely, there is a National Trail for all abilities, and the Norfolk Coast Path is as flat a hike as can be. And the occasional dune is more of a molehill than a mountain. Plus, it’s only 47 miles end to end, with towns, tea spots, cafés, restaurants, pubs and lodging options.
Hop on the bus, hop on the bus
And I’m gonna take you for a ride. Always loved that Nick Hall song. And hopping on the bus along the Norfolk Coast Path is easy, because they have the CoastHopper! Its frequent runs enable ramblers to stay in one spot and do day segments with easy returns back to their lodging.
Feet of accomplishment
The CoastHopper can also save your day if you need to skip a part for some reason. One such reason can be a foot malfunction, which happened to me this time! Make it as hard or easy as you like; it’s great to have options.
Paths and Peddars
My somewhat abbreviated version of the Norfolk Coast Path started in Hunstanton, on the coast. The “official” National Trail combines the Norfolk Coast Path with the Peddars Way. The latter runs from inland Knettishhall Heath Country Park up to Hunstanton. The Norfolk Coast Path proper ends in the town of Cromer, which has a railway station.
Skipping the Roman-tic bit
Having a “Hadrianic” tic and fascinated by Roman Britain, I’d have loved to complete both and feel the history of the old Roman roads. With my time being short, I just went coastal! The Roman bit has been here for some 2,000 years, and with that, I figured the Peddars Way will be there for me on a next occasion.
Walking in England means being prepared for any weather. My Norfolk Coast Path adventure started right before Hallowe’en. This season is not known for general loveliness! Rains on occasion, heavy at times but short-lived. Fierce winds pretty much all the time, but no match for my solid hiking jacket and they actually dried my kit very quickly.
Rays over the greys
Even better, the sun kindly decided to grace me with lots of welcome rays in between these spells, making for rewarding views over some fifty shades of grey of the North Sea.
Planes, trains and automobiles – and buses
Arriving at Heathrow, I hoisted my backpack off the luggage belt and went down to take the fast non-stop Heathrow Express to Paddington. After greeting the bear and minding the gap, I hopped on the Tube to King’s Cross – home of Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ – and then rode a local train to King’s Lynn. From there, you can take the Coasthopper or Traveline Bus to Hunstanton. Or, if after hours like I was, grab a taxi, if there is one, for the modest ride.
Shelter in the Shellbrooke
My first lodgings were in Hunstanton at the excellent Shellbrooke Guesthouse and Restaurant. It’s on Cliff Terrace, a cool spot just a block from the coast and Path. The day had been long and tiring, what with flying overnight, and I decided to stay in for dinner.
It turned out to be a good move: the Shellbrooke Fish Mornay meal was excellent! Owner Mark was a pleasure to talk with and he provided lots of tips and stories.
Showering Shellbrooke with praise
My room was comfortable, the bed provided a solid night’s sleep, and the shower was complete with decent shampoos and stuff, a rarity in many a B&B. A perfect stay to rest up and get ready for the long walk tomorrow.
Full of attractions
In the morning, I woke up timely, alerted by the wonderful aroma of bacon and other breakfast delights. I’d fly over to England just for the Full Breakfast!
Bacon beats beans
Love that thick bacon with fried eggs, mushrooms and black and white pudding. Beans? Not so much, but they can be tasty just by themselves on toast.
Back to basics
I had planned for a relatively short 4 days hiking with 3 overnights. Normally that would mean a basic and lightweight backpack, but this walk was only the start of a multi-week UK trip. I had brought a lot of extra stuff, making the pack quite heavy. What to do?
The Handy Hiker’s Helper
Get someone else to do the heavy lifting! I had found what I needed at HikeHelp and booked them in advance. Owner Andrew was as helpful as their name implies, providing an affordable and reliable transfer service: recommended! Check them out on Facebook too.
Hunstanton to Burnham Market
Properly fueled up, I walked the aforementioned one block up to the coast, and veered right along the beginning of the Norfolk Coast Path.
Right out of Hunstanton, the first spectacle came in view: the Hunstanton Cliffs. Reminiscent of the intro to ITV’s “Broadchurch”, but those cliffs were actually filmed at West Bay, Dorset.
Erosion and tree roots are causing cracks in the Cliffs, resulting in rock-slides down to the beach.
Didn’t seem to bother a man playing with his dog very much. And the serious winds encouraged an adventurous parasailer to try his luck.
Beaches and birds
Walking along, the vast beach vistas were mostly just for me to enjoy, with only the occasional walkers coming the other way.
A cluster of colorful beach huts brightened up the views near the Ancient Mariner Inn.
Who you gonna trust
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust protects this landscape of vulnerable dunes, grasslands, water and birds.
There must be ponies too, per a I sign I walked by, but alas, there were none to be seen.
Walking into the village of Thornham, I admired their impressive town signs, coming and going.
Want to live here? The Old School House was for sale! I was quite peckish by now and saw the Checkers Inn, but it did not offer lunch at this time.
More miles to a meal
Walking on a couple of miles and entering the village of Brancaster, I savored more rewarding views. St. Mary’s meant I had reached the town.
A pint and a pumpkin
Brancaster did provide a lunch option. The Ship Hotel served a nutritious Ploughman’s with a pleasant pint.
A carved pumpkin sat on the bar. Homemade pumpkin pie for dessert? Alas, it was just decoration for tomorrow’s Hallowe’en.
Many a mile of milling
The Norfolk Coast Path continued on along the water, miles of boats, gullies and shorebirds, then curved inland some. Unexpectedly, sitting in this flat land with lots of water under grey and windy skies, I spotted a windmill.
I started looking for tulips and wooden shoes! I wonder if they speak Dutch around here?
My overnight location was in Burnham Market. Emphasis on “night”! The walk from Hunstanton to that overnight was about 18 miles: a solid amount but not extreme.
Yet, it took me a couple hours more than expected. The route was flat and easy but maybe I stopped too long and too often for the views, too many detours for pictures or leisurely lunch breaks….
Left in the dark on the right
The Nelson Country Inn was about a mile off the Norfolk Coast Path proper. That final mile had no path or sidewalk and I had to walk on the actual road. Plus it was dark by now too, with short daylight this time of year.
Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Having learned from previous mishaps, I always carry a flashlight along. It enabled me to light the route and signal “walker on the road” to oncoming traffic. And the safest is to walk on the right side of the road, as they drive on the left of course.
Ghost Ship ahoy!
As Nelson’s came in sight, my left foot started protesting. Time to rest! The Nelson has a restaurant, which meant I wouldn’t have to go out again for food. And food on the coast means good seafood!
I had a tasty meal of fresh Haddock & Seafood Risotto. And here, at the Nelson, befitting the Hallowe’en timing, I spotted my first … wait for iiiit … Ghost Ship!
Adnams and Eve
OK, so this is not a true Hallowe’en Eve Ghost story! Ghost Ship is actually a tasty ale, brewed by Adnams of Southwold, Sussex.
As their website description goes, Ghost Ship is a “Hauntingly good pale ale, full of citrus and biscuit aromas with a spookily hoppy bite”. Perfect for Hallowe’en! It comes in at a modest 4.5% ABV and for folks driving after an evening out, they now make a Ghost Ship 0.5% ABV too.
Setting sail again soon
The successful rehydration was followed by another good night’s sleep. I promised myself to be on the lookout for more Ghost Ships over the coming days!
Burnham Market to Blakeney
The Nelson’s excellent Full English breakfast put me in a great mood for today’s stretch. A promising day indeed, under sunny skies once again.
Neat sights along the Norfolk Coast Path this morning included Saint Margaret’s Church and a welcome daytime view of Burnham Overy Staithe windmill, followed by lots of beach, sea and birds.
A shore thing
The Norfolk Coast Path route is quite straightforward: simply walk down the coast! A map is hardly needed, but I do like keeping an eye on distance and timing, using my fave MotionX iPhone GPS app.
The map is still fun to check: the huge tidal swings along the wide slope of beach made it look as if I walked a few miles through water!
Sea horses on the beach
A spell of rain arrived late morning, with the usual strong winds making it a kind of horizontal onslaught. However, the spell was brief, and enlivened by seeing horseback riders gallop along the beach, having fun despite the rain.
Footloose but not fancy-free
Alas, approaching the interestingly named town of Wells-next-the-Sea, I developed some foot pain: maybe I should not have ignored that niggling protest yesterday! These things happen on hikes, and usually there’s no alternative to soldiering on. But this time, I had options!
Dropping the other shoe too
I limped into the Beach Café on the edge of town, and swapped my loyal hiking boots out for back-up sneakers. Good thing I had those along in my little daypack! Old hiker’s rule: carry backup shoes.
Espresso and a dog
Sneakers are not made for demanding hikes, but fine on this paved and flat Path segment. Shoe switch done, I had a chuckle at the Café’s “Unattended kids” sign before heading out again.
Hopping to it
I walked a little further into Wells-next-the-Sea proper. Over a belated lunch at French’s Fish & Chips, I figured I probably shouldn’t force my foot unnecessarily.
Plus, it was mid afternoon by now. I decided to play it safe and hopped on that CoastHopper bus to Blakeney instead.
From Ghost Ship to Pancake Ship
Fun fact: do you remember that “Norfolk looks Dutch” bit from earlier? There may be something to it! Wells-next-the-Sea boasted a Traditional Dutch Pancakes ship restaurant, like you often see in The Netherlands, moored right along the main drag.
Hold your horses in Blakeney
Walking from the CoastHopper bus stop into town, I arrived at The White Horse in Blakeney in daylight, for a change, yay. It’s a nice small local hotel with a restaurant.
And, with today actually being Hallowe’en day, their framed poster of the Adnams “Ghost Ship” felt perfect.
Tying the knot
My room was named the “Spliced Cringle”, after a sailor’s knot: who knew! A befitting name, as I was hoping to get the knots out of my still somewhat protesting foot overnight.
After freshening up a bit, I went to the restaurant. Plopped down with a sigh and enjoyed a tasty sausage roll appetizer followed by a fresh seafood and crayfish Caesar salad. And yes, I sank a few more Ghost Ships too.
Blakeney to Sheringham
No rain today, my foot pain’s gone away, the weather was just great, I didn’t start out late! Apologies for that abomination to Herman’s Hermits “No Milk Today”, a catchy Brit pop song from 1966.
On the way out, I had a look at the Blakeney Medieval Guild Hall ruins near the White Horse.
Today, the Norfolk Coast Path offered a choice between a more inland course over some dunes or hiking over the actual but pebbles-covered beach. I went beach so I could walk right along the North Sea.
A moving experience
I had stored my big boots in the HikeHelp-transferred backpack in favor of those backup sneakers. Pebbles move underfoot and reduce walking ease and speed, but shoes and feet cooperated and it all went fine. A relief, as this was my final full day!
A tricky treat
This segment of the route boasts tons of birds, on the beach, and in and above the water. And, a seal popped its head above the water, just as I had the camera in my hand!
Seals are not that common a sight here, and when they show, it’s short and quick. A lucky shot!
Goodness, more mills
Cley-next-the-Sea is yet another awesomely-named village. The Path winds prettily into the village, which is famous for a gorgeous windmill. And Cley Windmill operates!
However, it’s not running as an actual mill. Instead, Cley Windmill is a unique B&B, with a restaurant and self-catering lodging too. Great wedding spot!
Beaches and bunkers to beat back baddies
One thing you can’t help but notice along the Norfolk Coast Path: reminders of how real and close World War II was for this area. Or WW I for that matter.
Here, along the Norfolk coast, the beaches and dunes are dotted with bunkers and remains of fortifications.
As the calendar had inched into November now, houses and villages began to show poppies. Why? In the UK, the poppy symbolizes remembering and thanking those that sacrificed their life for us all in World War I, II and more. I spotted a lone “Lest We Forget” flag at a farmhouse.
Remembrance Day is never far away
World War I was devastating for Britain – perhaps even more gruelingly so than WW II – but the heroes of these and subsequent wars can count on being remembered and honored forever, especially in an area like Norfolk. November 11 is Remembrance Day: poppies everywhere will remind us all to be eternally grateful.
Flights of fancy
These bunkers and other ruins do create a mood! When hearing an airplane overhead, you look up, not knowing what to expect. Spitfire? Messerschmitt? V1 or V2? Ahh, it’s the good old RAF! Tally-ho, fly boys!
Yes, all boys in those long-gone days but today’s RAF is appropriately liberated. I loved reading the “Biggles” RAF and other adventures in my long-gone growing-up days.
Inclined to go to Sheringham
The final stretch! After days of flatness, it was nice to have a little bit of up and down. At Weybourne, the Path runs up over some bunkers dug into the cliffs, followed by expansive views over Sheringham’s Golf Links.
Edwardian Elegance at Burlington Berties
I’d been looking forward to tonight’s lodging in “Burlington Berties”, a lovely “Roaring Twenties” kind of name.
Berties is a charming boutique Guesthouse with just 9 rooms, all individually named and styled. My room was large, luxurious and very quiet, with a nice garden view, and the most comfortable bed of the trip to date.
Berties’ lounge was small and classic English with comfy old-fashioned Men’s Club style leather chairs. Loved the Union Jack cushions! This pleasant spot also had an Honor Bar, stocked with – you see this coming, right? – more Ghost Ships.
Throw me a LaBone
No restaurant, per my pre-research, and with the foot issue gone, I strolled over to the Labone Indian restaurant. Loved their excellent Chicken Achaar, accompanied by some Kingfishers. No Ghost Ships in India I guess but Kingfishers are adorable birds.
The breakfast club
Burlington Berties breakfast was as award-winning as it was cracked up to be! Man do I love a good breakfast. And obviously, the few other guests around me were enjoying the plethora of provisions as much as I was.
Fun fact: Berties provides reading glasses with their menu! More often than not, we half-awake readers-dependent travelers leave them in the room. Quite the thoughtful touch!
Pondering the plan
Over Berties morning feast, I recalculated my timing and decided to not hike the Norfolk Coast Path’s remaining segment. It wasn’t going to be all that different from what I’d already seen, and with weather changes coming, I’d be hard-pressed to make my pre-booked non-changeable train out of Cromer. Plus, for the final bit, I’d need to carry my Big Backpack!
Train with trainers
So, I again put on my sneakers (“trainers” in English English), hoisted my HikeHelp-delivered backpack and trotted over to Sheringham station. I then rode a local train to Cromer to catch my train up to Scotland next.
The Coast with the most
Thank you National Trails for providing this lovely coastal route. Nice and quiet, with very few walkers this time of year. Time to contemplate life while listening to bird song and watching gulls wheel over the ever-ominous North Sea. Many memorable miles and meals – and Ghost Ships, a perfect combination! Next time in Norfolk, the Peddars Way, but for now, this (Ghost) Ship has sailed!
My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no Photoshopping, no promo story in exchange for a freebie: I pay full fare. It’s true travel. It’s what you’d experience yourselves. Note that the company does not necessarily share my opinions and views. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine (except where credited as noted), as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
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