Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Walk 92 -- Blakeney to Wells next the Sea

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 222 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 364 days.
Weather: Cloudy with a little bit of misty sun. No wind!
Location: Blakeney to Wells-next the Sea.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 696 miles.
Terrain: Grassy paths between farmland and the marsh. There were occasional muddy patches, some covered in seaweed from the exceptionally high tide the other night.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.28, Binham Priory and No.29, Binham Wayside Cross – we didn’t have to visit them because they were three miles inland, but we did (the next day) and I have included them because they are interesting.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in an hotel in Thorpe Market. After breakfast, we drove to Wells-next-the-Sea where we found a bus stop near the edge of town. So we parked for free in a nearby street and caught a bus to Blakeney. There we walked through the village to the quay.
At the end, we walked back along the quay before going inland to where our car was parked. We drank tea and ate mince pies, then I slipped round the corner to the village Post Office in order to post all my Christmas cards which I had prepared earlier! After that we returned to our comfortable hotel where we watched the news on TV before partaking of another yummy four course dinner.
Binham Priory
We arrived at Binham Priory mid-afternoon as the sun was setting in the clear December sky. It shed a lovely orange light over the ruins making them look beautiful. Binham was a 13th century Benedictine Priory with very ornate architecture. It went the way of all monasteries three hundred years later in the time of Henry VIII, but it managed to keep the nave of the original church with its roof on. That part is still used as the local parish church today, and is quite impressive inside. The ruins, which are joined on to the church, look rather romantic especially in the low light of the Winter sun. We have learned a lot about monasticism since joining ‘English Heritage’, so we were rushing about trying to identify the chapter house, refectory, warming room, cloisters, etc.

It was almost dark before we made our way to the village green to find the medieval market cross. It marks the spot of an annual fair which was held there from Henry I’s reign until the 1950s.

What a difference a few hours make – there was no wind at all today! It was cloudy, but so much more pleasant. There was still seaweed all over the road in Blakeney, but the tide hadn’t come up to the road again so it was drying out. No one had parked their car there last night, in fact the village was very quiet. We started our walk by the village sign which had been donated by the Women’s Institute to celebrate their Golden Jubilee in 1965.
The whole of today’s Walk was along the edge of the marshes. The path was a bit squidgy in places, and covered in seaweed from the extraordinary high tide of a couple of nights ago. We had fields to our left on a slight rise, and dull flat marshes to our right – we didn’t see the sea all day. We could hear the surf – but only when military jets weren’t screaming overhead as they did at frequent intervals. In fact, it was quite a tedious Walk until nearly the end. We saw a few birds, including an egret which are becoming more and more common, but really nothing very special until we were almost in Wells next the Sea. Colin saw a hare, but it had scarpered by the time I caught up with him.
We passed through Morston Quay where there was a visitor centre (closed) which had toilets inside (closed) and a National Trust car park which cost £2. There were a lot of boats in the creek. My right leg was painful almost from the start of today’s Walk. I didn’t have much trouble with it overnight when I was resting, but as soon as I started to use it in earnest today I knew I was in trouble. I took loads of painkillers and tried to ignore it, but it made me very miserable. Colin was also feeling miserable because, as he was walking, he was constantly wetting himself. He just doesn’t know he is doing it until he feels his pad soaking wet against his skin – not nice in this cold weather. Every so often he has to find a bush he can go behind to change – then he has to carry the wet pad in a plastic bag until he finds somewhere suitable to dump it. ‘Doggy-poo’ bins now have a new function!
The next day we visited Morston church, only about five hundred yards inland from Morston Quay, which has some beautiful painted medieval screens. We love looking in these ancient churches—they are a treasure trove of England’s history. Further along the road towards Wells is Stiffkey church which had a large painted crib scene outside, floodlit at night. We passed it several times in the car getting to and from our walks, and I took two photos of it—one by day and one after dark.After Morston Quay, we continued along to Stiffkey Marshes, where the path disappeared under seaweed in several places and we had to cross very carefully because it was slippery. We came to a sunken lane which led inland, and sat down under some trees to eat our lunch. Colin was idly looking towards Blakeney Point through his binoculars when he said, “I can see seals! They’re all over the end of the spit, hauled out on the beaches. There are also a lot of white blobs about—I think they’re pups!” Well, that was it! We decided there and then that we wouldn’t walk tomorrow (my birthday), instead we would take a boat trip out from Morston Quay to see the seals. Apart from being a nice day out and a birthday treat for me, it would give my painful leg a day of rest. There were lots of churches and ancient monuments in the area we wanted to visit as well, so we would make an interesting day of it. Colin produced a leaflet he had picked up in Blakeney, giving dates and times of boat trips out from Morston to view the seal colony. I began to get quite excited about it—because my birthday is so near to Christmas, it always tends to get swallowed up in the festivities and I have very rarely celebrated it with an outing. As a child I used to envy people who had their birthdays in the Summer—in fact I still do.
We continued our dull Walk with a lighter step at the prospect of seeing wild seals close to on the morrow. We passed a footpath signpost which informed us;
<MORSTON 2¾ miles : WELLS 3¼ miles >
at least half a mile further on, we passed another footpath signpost which informed us;
<MORSTON 2¾ miles : WELLS 3¼ miles>
Told you it was a boring Walk! Well, it was until we neared its end—
At this time of year, in eastern England in particular, it starts getting dark after lunch, especially on dull days like this one had been, mostly. At last we could see Wells next the Sea (except that it isn’t—next the sea, that is) in the distance. We hoped we could get into the town under the street lights before it got too dark to see where we were putting our feet. We came to a rivulet where we were diverted slightly inland to get on to a sea bank. This then turned a corner to take us north again back towards the sea.
We had just turned the corner when Colin asked, “Can you hear anything?” I listened, and sure enough I could hear, in the distance, the distinctive sound of geese. We looked southwards, over the land, and on the horizon we could see a moving mass of black—flying birds. They got nearer and nearer, louder and louder, until they reached us and flew over our heads—about twenty or so geese in each V. And they kept coming, V after V after V! Then more—V after V after V after V after V—the noise was phenomenal! As far as we could make out, they were landing on the far side of the marshes to the north, their night roost. And still they came— V after V after …well, you know the rest! We were open-mouthed, neither of us had ever witnessed such a marvellous wildlife spectacle before. And still they came…until about fifteen minutes after it all started when we could see the back line of them. As that passed over us, the noise began to recede and we realised just how loud it had all been. I had been attempting to photograph them, not very well as it turned out but it was impossible to capture the wonder of that extravaganza. I cannot even describe it in words—unless you have experienced something like this you will not understand how amazing it was.
Colin was trying to count the birds, and a quick ‘guesstimate’ put the figure at ten thousand. Later we learned that there can be up to forty thousand geese in one fly-past around the Winter solstice! They feed inland by day, then at dusk they fly to the marshes to roost. Most evenings they fly over in dribs and drabs, but every so often they all rise up together. We were privileged to witness one of those days.
By then it was getting quite dark and we had to watch our steps. We entered Wells past the marina after the sun had set in a blaze of orange which shed a beautiful light on all the yachts. It was only half past three!
Wells next the Sea is a pretty little place, but difficult to see in the dark! We had a better look two days later, on our next Walk. We passed a wooden bench with the usual memorial plaque on the back—but there was a fresh flower arrangement on the seat. Looking closer, we read that the bench was in memory of Lionel (Len) Fortescue, lost at sea on 16th December 1999. Today was his anniversary!
We walked along the quay past the boats, and a sailing ship called ‘The Albatross’. We got to the harbourmaster’s office, and nearby was another older stone memorial. This was in memory of eleven members of the lifeboat crew who lost their lives on duty in the ‘disaster at Wells’ on October 29th 1880.

That ended Walk no.92, we shall pick up Walk no.93 next time by the memorial to the lifeboat crew. After visiting the toilets (which were open—hooray!) we sat on a bench and got out our mobile phone which we only use five or six times a year. I insisted Colin book up our seal trip there and then, which he did. Then we returned to our car for mince pies and tea, before returning to our comfortable hotel.The next day was my 59th birthday, and the weather was beautiful. After breakfast and de-icing the car, we drove to Morston where we parked by the church. We bought our tickets for the seal trip and walked down to the quay. There were eight trippers on our little boat, and our skipper took us down the creek then along to the end of Blakeney Point. I couldn’t believe it was really my birthday (usually wet and windy with a slate-grey sky and everyone too bothered about Christmas to take any notice) because the water was calm and the sun was warm. We trolled up and down the beach a number of times looking at the big fat grey seals—the white pups with their Mums and great big ugly Dads! Some pups were HUGE, some tiny, some females had yet to give birth and we even saw a couple in the water mating. A wonderful trip, and a lovely birthday treat!

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