Eleanor Blair (lnr) wrote,
Eleanor Blair
lnr

Norfolk Coast Cycleway

Last weekend my mum and dad came to visit and we spent a pleasant and lazy weekend. We did the tourist thing and went and looked round Kings College Chapel and had a walk along the river. We went out to dinner to celebrate Mum's forthcoming birthday, and drank bubbly to celebrate her recent promotion to Senior Lecturer. We went to the garden centre and bought some nice pots and plants for the garden, and Mike cooked us all a lovely Sunday lunch.

Since then we've been on holiday in Norfolk, cycling the Norfolk Coast Cycleway from Great Yarmouth to Kings Lynn. I wrote about Monday to Thursday while we were away, and I've typed these up below as well as writing about Friday. You can see some of the photos below, the rest are here: Norfolk photos

Monday

Breakfast, finish packing. Train to Gt Yarmouth - good easy change at Norwich saves us an hour on the timetabled journey. Pretty views between N and GY.

Arrive - 2mins to hotel. Check in and chill out briefly then take walk to seafront. V tacky shopping street. Mike's shoe disintegrates - bodge with the velcro. Down to beach - nice and sandy (with a few pebbles) until edge where sand vanishes and pebbles dip deeply into see. Paddle briefly anyway. On walk back up find bit of wire with which to make a more permanent repair. Fish and Chips in corner cafe - watch man on stilts in clown suit boredly handing out leaflets. Back up to market square in search of cash - look at Fisherman's Hospital and St Nicolas' chucrch. Return to shop passed earlier for excellent icecream sundaes. Back to hotel, long nap, quiet drink in the bar, then bed.

Mike on beach at Great Yarmouth Ellie on beach at Great Yarmouth
Mike on beach at Great Yarmouth Ellie on beach at Great Yarmouth

Tuesday

Up at 8:30 for breakfast (black pudding!) then shower, change and check out while still cool. Glorious blue skies. Follow cycle sign for Caister and end up with unexpected 1/2 mile along the dunes pushing bikes - bit of an adventure. Mostly follow map from there to Sea Palling where we stopped for a drink at the pub. Lovely quiet road from there. Detour via Happisburgh (Haisbro) for (medicore) steak and kidney pud lunch - + good lighthouse. Flagging a bit after that but after a trip along past the offshore gas terminals we reached Mundesley where we headed inland and all of a sudden we were nearly there. Another tiny lane took us from Southrepps to Northrepps and our home for the next two nights. Checked in, bikes in garage, swallow perched 8 feet away! Nap/read until nearly 6 then walk down to Overstrand - about 1 mile over hill. Paddle on faboulous firm sandy beach and build sand castle: moat, outer wall with bridge and gatehouse, keep with interesting rock on top. V cool. 7:15 dinner at Sea Marge Hotel. Excellent steak for me, belly pork for Mike, icecream for dessert - mmm stem ginger flavour. Finish c 8:30, still light enough for leisurely walk back home for books and bed. Couldn't find bike computer in the morning so distances will have to be worked out later with Google's help. Suspect 40 miles and at v leisurely pace.

Wind farm on way to Cromer Northrepps International Airport
Wind farm on way to Cromer Northrepps International Airport

Wednesday

Up at 8:30 for breakfast - landlady impressed, she'd just been saying she wasn't sure when we'd be down - implying she thought we'd be late. Very sociable breakfast round shared table with the other 2 couples staying here. Brief lie down and shower then off on bikes for about 3-4 miles to Felbrigg Hall. Nice long walk round park through woodland, then a look round the gardens immediately by the house - didn't really seem worth the fee! Hall was good though. Different style to a lot of places - stone floors in one of the reception rooms and a very peculiar ceiling covered in plaster stalactites. Lots and lots of painting including rather too many sea battles for my taste. Next stop was the carriagehouse restaurant for lunch - whole rainbow trout for me, stew and dumplings for Mike - we were feeling a bit cold! Then we finally found the walled garden over by the carpark and realised what the fuss was about. Dozens and dozens of fruit trees, herbacious borders, a proper kitchen garden, an orchard at the back deliberately planted to encourage bees and butterflies, a beautiful dovecote complete with white doves, the most comprehensive herb garden I think I've ever seen, a coiple of small glass houses and a very deep ornamental pond with some very lovely lilies. All much more my cup of tea.

Next we headed bnack to our B+B to find some warmer clothes, then took the quiet lane route out of Northrepps to Cromer, which is very pretty and much nicer than the busy main roads. We walked along the pier and the promenade, and along part of the beach, but despite observing that the flags were up indicating it was OK to swim it looked too rough for me. Not to mention cold. And the beach at Overstrand was nicer!

We finished the evening waith a walk around town to look at the church, a hot chocolate in a handy café, and a nice curry not far from where we'd left our bikes. To which we returned for the 3 miles over the hill and home to bed. We're definitely worn out and looking forward to curling up in the comfy bed and reading for a while before sleep.

Thursday

Set of 10:30ish and cycle almost to Felbrigg again before hitting the regional route 30 for the next leg of our trip. About 10 miles in we had a brief break in a churchyard where Mike saw bunnies, then onwards until we reached the turnoff for Blakeney. There we tied up and booked ourselves on the 3pm seal trip - having been reminded we had to go over to the next village for it. Still that gave us time for crab (me) and prawn (him) sandwiches at the Kings Arms, accompanied by a bowl of cheesy chips. We were fed by 1:30, so spent 30 mins sitting on the edge of the dock, watching the kids playing - in kayaks, with crab lines, or just playing catch in the water. It had been a pretty grey day so far but the sun had just begun to find some gaps in the cloud and it was very pleasant. Only 1 mile down the road didn't take us long so we were quite early for the baot trip, and sat and waited quite a while, alternately too hot and too cold depending on the whims of the sun and wind. The boat trip itself was excellent and we got a good 15-20 mins pootling up and down alongside the sandy beach where the seals bask, taking as many photos as my low batteries would allow. We also saw terns and cormorants and - oddly - swans. Apparently they don't usually like salt water - but this was a large group of males which had supposedly failed to pull during the mating season and so come here to sulk.

Back on dry land about 4:30 we decided i was too far of a detour back inland to the quiet roads of the cycle route and simply continued back along the main A149 to Wells instead. It was fun to be actually retracing some of our route from last year, and the traffic was mostly very courteous. We made good time and checked into the Old Custom House at around 5:30. A total of about 14 miles yesterday and 26 miles today, which with the 2 miles on Monday gives about 42 on the clock, and the average speed now at 9.4 mph (I definitely missed not having my computer on Tuesday!)

Anyway I seem to have found a stunner of a B+B. Our room has a four poster bed, a small sofa, and the best tea and coffee making facilities yet. Off it is a small dressing room, with a vase of fresh flowers on the dresser, and off that is the bathroom, with an enormous corner bath. And the whole is simply and beautifully decorated, with bright rugs on the wooden floors, stripped oak doors, and the original wooden shutters instead of curtains. At the back we have a view sof the gardens, which are very pretty, and out the front we can see right out across the salt marshes and the boats at the East Quay. Fabulous.

We celebrated our find with a soak in the hot bath to ease our aching muscles - noting in the mirror that we;ve both rather caught the sun a bit on our faces and are rather pink. Then we had a bit of a nap before heading out for a walk about 7. At Wells you have to walk out about a mile along the flood defences by the harbour channel until you get to the dunes and over them to the beach. The tide was fairly far out and we saw several sorts of wading birds which we will have to try and identify with the aid of the internet when we get home. Obviously the camera and binoculars were back at the hotel room. Once on the beach we discovered a delightful row of brightly coloured beach huts along teh back of the dunes, and that when the sea goes out at Wells it means it. There was a vast swathe of sand going out to another dune some way out, and the groynes looked very funny, with theirs signs warning you not to swim near them dues to them being submerged structures, when they ended only in a sea of damp sand. we walked over to the other dune and climbed up to admire the view, looking back to Blakeney village in the east, and on for miles and miles to the West. Then we took one of the sets of steps over the dunes and walked back to the flood bank through the woods, which was nice. And we finished our walk back along the top of bank watching the sky fade from pinks through to purples in a gloriosu sunset. A 2 hour walk seems an odd way to finish what was supposed to be a fairly quiet day but it was well worth it.

Back in town we stopped on the Quayside for proper fish and chips (or pie in Mike's case, as he's feeling somewhat delicate). They deserved our landlord's recommendation though and I've give them a good 8 out of 10 (9 for the chips, 7 for the batter - a lot better than in Cambridge!). Home now in our lovely room we're quietly tucked up with our books enjoying the last night of our holidays. Tomorrow will probably be our longest day's ride, and we're getting a bit weary now, but it should still be fun, and hopefully we'll still find time to stop and see a few sights on the way.

More boats Seals at Blakeney Point
Boats in the bay at Blakeney Seals at Blakeney Point

Friday

Another 8:30 breakfast, and for once I skipped the full English, tempted by the offer of croissants, especially when there was homemade jam and marmalade available. After the grey of Thursday it was another beautiful morning, and we realised that if we're really going to try and do our cycling in the cool of the day we're going to have to resign ourselves to earlier starts in future. We were entirely following NCN 1 today, which meant a bit less map reading but a lot more care every time you came past a junction to make sure you didn't miss any turnoffs. The first leg of the journey is out again along the beach road and then left along part of NCN 1 which coincides with the Norfolk Coast footpath, along the trees at the back of the dunes, and then hooking up with Lady Anne's Drive down from the Holkham Hall estate. Here the route turns inland and through the estate itself, up through the park to the lake and the hall, then past the big obelisk on top of the hill (look back just before this for an incredible view) and then along a long avenue to the far gate. It was very spectacular, and just as well the Hall was closed that day or we'd have been wishing we had more time to stop and look around. The heat and the climbing were definitely getting to us a bit so we had a couple of little stops in the shade to admire the view :-)

Leaving the estate and turning right onto the road we see the only NCN sign with distances, and it claims to be only 14 miles to Kings Lynn, which would make our whole day only 20 miles long. We were rather surprised, and a bit skeptical, which it turns out was wise. We had a fair way cruising along the top of the plateau there anyway, with occasional views of the sea, which was looking gorgeous and deep blue. Then we found the first of the places on the map which was marked with a steep hill - there were 4 of them in total, and 3 were uphill! - but it turns out we were able to get enough momentum on the downhill to sail most of the way back up, and the same was true on the next rather bumpy section too. We reached Ringstead where the route turns South at about lunchtime, and conveniently there was the rather swish Gin Trap pub ready to provide us with some (expensive but) very nice sandwiches and juice for lunch.

We set off again at nearly 2, but only got about 3 or 4 miles before I decided the heat of the middle of the day was killing us and demanded a rest in the shade until we'd recovered and the worst of the hottest part of the day had passed, though this took less long than I'd anticipated and we got on about 2:30. There were a couple more hills and valleys and then we were in the woods around Sandringham and joined the bit of the route which we used last summer. It was lovely and shady under the trees anyway, which helped us make good speed on to the quiet section of the path and quiet road up to Castle Rising. Here we stopped to have a wander round the castle, which is actually quite good. The earthworks are impressively steep, and there's quite a bit of the keep left - though it's in a very odd state, having been altered rather thoroughly in the past when bits of roof collapsed. There's a 16th century bit where they've actually dug out a passage through the middle of a wall in order to get to a part which was no longer accessible!

And from here it's only about 4 miles back into Kings Lynn itself along very familiar territory. We were once more bemused at some of the sections which are on the pavement in a seemly quiet housing estate, but by and large it's actually quite nice to whizz into town along the old railway line. We had time for a drink and to wash our faces at the station before getting on the 5:36 train home to Cambridge. Here we thought our adventures had finished, until we broke down in Littleport. They spent ages following advice over the phone from their support centre trying to get the train working again, but in the end the one and hour later coupled on the back of us and pushed both trains on to Ely, where we all had to change onto another train to get to Cambridge and on to Kings Cross. Once home we watered the plants, ordered pizza and spent the rest of the evening catching up on the internet, happy to be home and happy to have had such a lovely holiday.

Bike computer now reads about 79 miles, which means this day was about 37 miles in total. Average speed seems to have settled in at 9.2 mph, which isn't fast but does include the off-road section and some very slow climbing in hot weather. It certainly takes the total for the 4 days to over 100 miles, though I still need to use Google to work out how far we actually went on Tuesday. Lots of effort but worth every minute.

Summary

Over 100 miles of leisurely cycling through lovely countryside and along pretty coasts, with some walking and sightseeing included and excellent accommodation. I think we ate a little too well but that was a pleasure which I wouldn't refuse again. And we were incredibly lucky to have such nice weather, although we sadly never got to have a swim. Now we just need to decide where we want to go next time!

Update: Great Yarmouth to Northrepps comes in at about 36 miles, making the total for the five days about 115 miles (2, 36, 14, 26, 37). You can find route maps for the three days of the actual coastal route with my routes on Bikely, and in my summary of bike rides 2007.

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