Monday, December 15, 2003

Walk 91 -- Weybourne Hope, via Cley-next-the-Sea, to Blakeney

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 221 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 363 days.
Weather: Too many light showers – not enough sunny intervals! Very windy.
Location: Weybourne Hope to Blakeney, via Cley-next the Sea.
Distance: 8 miles.
Total distance: 688½ miles.
Terrain: Packed shingle for the first four miles – but not packed enough! Then grassy paths with the occasional patch of slippery mud.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: No.31, the Glaven, at Cley-next-the Sea.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None. (There was one in Colin’s book at Cley-next-the-Sea, but he wasn’t very excited about it and we needed to hurry on in order to finish our walk before dark.)
‘English Heritage’ properties: No. 26, Baconsthorpe Castle (which we didn’t actually have to visit because it was 3½ miles inland, but we did – four days later on our way home – and I have included it because it is interesting.) No.27, Blakeney Guildhall.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were on a bargain winter break at a hotel in Thorpe Market – where we slept in a four-poster bed, our breakfasts were ‘the full works’ and our four course dinners were dee-licious! We took a chance on the weather and won – certainly beats camping! After a HUGE breakfast, we drove to Blakeney where we parked for free by the village hall. We looked round the village – including the Guildhall – then we caught a bus to Weybourne. There we walked down a lane to the sea.
At the end, we walked up a lane to our car where we drank tea and ate mince pies. Then we returned to our comfortable hotel where we watched the news on TV (Saddam Hussein has just been found – a broken cowardly despot – hiding in a tiny hole in the ground clutching a suitcase full of banknotes!) before partaking of a lip-smacking four course dinner.

Baconsthorpe Castle

Baconsthorpe Castle is 3½miles south of Weybourne Hope, so we didn’t really have to visit it because our rules stipulate any ‘English Heritage’ property within one mile of the coast. However we were almost passing it a few days later at the beginning of our journey home, so we stopped off to have a look. It was a crisp frosty morning with lots of mist about. We had to approach the castle through a tiny hamlet, and then along a muddy farm track into the middle of nowhere. As we arrived at the deserted ruin, a weak sun managed to break through the fog – low in the sky because it was still early in the morning. The remains of a moat have been turned into a lake, there were a number of bare trees silhouetted against the sky and the whole scene was very atmospheric.
The castle was built in the 15th century by Sir John Heydon during the Wars of the Roses. The exact date is unknown since he neglected to apply for the statutory royal licence necessary to construct a fortified house. It is built of red brick and knapped flint. In the 16th century Sir John’s grandson added the outer gatehouse. This was continuously inhabited for 260 years, until one of the turrets fell down in the 1920s. Now it is a rather elegant ruin.

As we got off the bus and walked down the lane towards the shore at Weybourne, we met a couple of local men walking their dog. They told us it was cold down on the beach, and asked where we were going. When we said, “Blakeney!” they laughed and one of them replied, “I hope you like the wind!” Well, I don’t – and this must have been one of the windiest Walks on the coast so far. We really did wonder if we had made a mistake coming just before Christmas to do our coastal walking.
We knew we had a four-mile shingle bank to walk first, and as we climbed on to it the wind hit us full in the face. The rain stung our faces, after an initial bit of sand the shingle wasn’t packed as tightly as we would have liked, and it was blowing a gale. BUT – the rolling surf was exciting, the sky was interesting with occasional sunbeams and we saw wisps of a rainbow once or twice. It was wild and beautiful, particularly when the sun came out which it did every so often. (I read somewhere that moving water causes negative ions to form in the air, and when we breathe them in they help our bodies to make ‘happy’ hormones – perhaps that’s why we felt so good despite our adversities!)It was very difficult struggling along against the wind with the loose shingle making our legs ache. It was a long four miles! We had marsh to our left and rolling surf to our right. (Sounds horribly like Essex!) One point of interest was a Second World War ‘pill-box’ sitting in the waves. Did it slip off the shingle to that position, or has the coastline receded leaving it behind?At last we reached the other end, or at least as far as we were prepared to go. Blakeney Spit continues for another four miles westward and there is no footpath – just loose shingle and sand, far looser than the stuff we had just been walking on. At the far end is a nature reserve which is ‘out of bounds’ in December because grey seals come ashore to have their pups. The only way off the Spit is by boat, or to retrace your steps for four miles. So we read the notice, and turned inland.
But first – food! We were not desperately hungry, though it was way past lunchtime, because we had tucked into such a large breakfast at our hotel. But we needed something to restore our vitality. There was a seaside-type shelter nearby, so we sat at the end of it away from the wind to eat our victuals and we were almost not cold! There were toilets there too, but they were locked so we hid behind them to go. Colin was doing his first coastal walk on pads, and they need to be changed several times on a walk like this. Despite all his efforts with exercises etc, he is still just as incontinent as he was a year ago after his operation for prostate cancer. He gave up using catheters last October because of all the hassle and discomfort. He never wets the bed, thank goodness, because he still wakes several times a night and can contain it all within the pad. But when walking he loses all control because, apparently, we use the same muscles when walking as we do when holding our bladders. (There! You learn something new every day!) Locked toilets are now the bane of his life!
There is a lane from that spot to Cley next the Sea (except that it is a mile inland and pronounced ‘Cly’!) but the footpath runs alongside it on a bank so we needn’t get our tootsies wet if the road is flooded. We were amused by a road sign warning ‘ROAD LIABLE TO FLOODING’ with an added bit written by hand saying ‘LAST TIME 1996’ – in other words, it only does it once in a blue moon. Before Cley, the footpath swings away from the lane taking a short cut across a field.
Partly blocking the footpath was a mine – you know, Second World War type ‘blow-your-ship-to-smithereens’ kind of mine! What it was doing there we have no idea – did it float to that location during one of their rare floods? We couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would want to put it there deliberately. I touched it, and I’m still in one piece – I think!
As we approached Cley, we passed a rather nice restored windmill. The wind had dropped, the sun was out and it was low in the sky because of the time of day. With tall grasses waving in the wind, the whole scene was crying out to be photographed. That was when I first discovered problems with both my cameras – the little ‘point-and-shoot’ one and the SLR. They kept jamming, and would only take pictures every so often. We came to the conclusion, in the end, that they just did not like the damp and cold conditions of a Winter’s coastal walk. I never did get the picture I wanted, and Colin had to transfer the normal lens from my SLR camera to his to take some of the wintry shots. It was very frustrating! (When the weather improved in the Spring, I no longer had the problem.)
We didn’t have time to stop in the picture-postcard village of Cley next the Sea because we still had a couple of miles to go and the sun was almost setting – that’s the trouble with walks in December. Colin remarked that there was a ‘real ale’ pub there, but he wasn’t very excited about it after reading it up in the guide and he did realise the urgency of getting on. So we skirted through the edge, crossed the River Glaven – which was hardly more than a stream – and got ourselves back on to the marshes.
We had to walk three sides round a square to get to Blakeney. The path was mostly grassy, mainly on a sea-bank, but with a few slippery patches of mud here and there. The first stretch was walking back down the other bank of the river almost to the point where we had stopped for lunch. There was supposed to be the remains of a chapel on that corner, according to the map, but we couldn’t find any sign of it. Next we walked parallel to the coast, but with the river and Blakeney Spit between us and the waves. The path turned towards the land after a bit, and finally we walked down the side of an inlet into Blakeney itself. It was very pretty with boats moored in the sand, but almost dark by the time we arrived – and it was only just gone four!
Colin went on ahead because he needed to get to the loo urgently – and they were still open with lights on. Well done, Blakeney! I was hurrying because of the increasing gloom, but going slower because I didn’t want to trip. Not slow enough, however – at almost the final step my foot caught on a stone and I lurched forward to save myself. This caused my right calf to go into a cramp so severe that it was a wonder I didn’t fall over. I was in agony! My legs were very achey anyway because of the four mile stomp along all that loose shingle from Weybourne, and this stumble was the final straw. It took ages for it to calm down, and I think it tore some tissue because I was having a recurring sharp pain in that leg for the next six weeks or so. Fortunately we were at the end of the Walk.
We had looked at Blakeney Guildhall in the morning before we caught the bus, and the next morning we found it was open so we were able to go inside. It is the vaulted basement of a 14th century merchant’s house, dating from the time when Blakeney was an important small port. In the mornings we also looked at the ponds which are fenced off on the marsh for different kinds of waders, and any bird that happens by. There were a lot of geese about – pink-footed I think.
There was seaweed all over the road from an exceptionally high tide last night. It was slippery to walk on, and I was wary hobbling along with my injured leg. It was difficult to get past without treading on it. The sea had come all over an area marked out as a paying car park. Unfortunately a couple had left their car there overnight (bet they even bought a ticket!) and when we happened along this morning they were baling it out! They had called a rescue vehicle, but it was probably a ‘write-off’ with all that salt water in the engine. We felt a bit smug having parked our car in the free car park at the back of the village which was only a quarter of a mile away. On a building nearby were marked flood levels – in 1953 and 1978 it flooded way above my head standing on that road!

That ended Walk no.91, we shall pick up Walk no.92 next time at the seaweed-strewn car park in Blakeney. Colin walked and I limped up a lane to our dry and warm car where we drank tea and ate mince pies. Then we returned to our comfortable hotel for the long Winter evening. On my birthday, just two days later, we took a day off walking which helped to rest my leg a little. One of the things we did was to look round Blakeney church which is distinctive because it has two towers – one at each end! It is not known why the second, smaller tower was built. Theories range from a lighthouse, through a second bell tower, a ‘Sanctus’ bellcote, to a stair turret – or was it simply a case of one-upmanship? The church itself is overly large for such a small community, beautiful and very old. It’s size reflects the importance of Blakeney in times gone past.

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