Thursday, December 18, 2003

Walk 93 -- Wells next the Sea to Burnham Overy Staithe

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 224 days. Rosemary was 59 years and one day!
Weather: A frosty start, but turning into an almost warm sunny day with cloudless skies. It was difficult to believe it was December.
Location: Wells next the Sea to Burnham Overy Staithe.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 703½ miles.
Terrain: Tarmac path, beach, woods, beach again, dunes and a grassy bank.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.30, Creake Abbey – which we didn’t actually have to visit because it is three miles inland, but we did (the next day on our way home) and I have included it because it is 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 Burnham Overy Staithe where we found the bus stop opposite a pub. We parked in a nearby street, walked round the tiny hamlet next to the water, then caught a bus to Wells next the Sea – alighting very near the start of our Walk.
At the end, we stopped by a bench overlooking the marshy river. Because my leg was so painful, Colin walked on and drove the car round – anyway, it was a much nicer spot to drink our tea and eat almond slices (no more mince pies left!) Then we returned to our comfortable hotel where we watched the news on TV (the Soham trial is concluded, and Ian Huntley got two life sentences for the callous murder of two innocent ten year old girls on a sunny summer’s afternoon – Maxine Carr got 3½ years for her stupidity in trying to protect him) before partaking of our last delicious four course dinner. Home tomorrow!

We had perfect weather for today’s Walk—sunny, calm and even warm! Mind you, it had been a frosty start to the day, but by the time we were in Wells next the Sea with our car parked in Burnham Overy Staithe, most of the ice had melted. Ever since Cley next the Sea, eight or more miles back, we had been walking behind the marshes about a mile away from the waves. But from thereon the swamps have been drained and turned into farmland, so our first bit of today’s Walk was to stomp alongside a tidal inlet back to the real beach!
First we looked at boats tied up in the harbour, and watched mallards and plovers pecking about on the quay. Then we walked due north—a tarmac path on a bank between a road and the river. With the sun beating down causing reflections in the water, it was absolutely glorious! As we approached the lifeboat station we climbed down on to the beach and walked round it, trying to get ourselves as near to the sea as possible without sinking in the soft sand. We looked across the river with our binoculars and telescope to see if we could see any seals, but we couldn’t. Yesterday had been such a wonderful experience—we had to content ourselves with that. The doors of the lifeboat station, which were facing the sea, were open and someone was working on the craft, making a lot of noise with power tools.
As we turned the corner to walk westwards along the beach, a wonderful sight met our eyes. The beach there faces north and banks up at the back with trees behind, so it doesn’t get the sun. It was covered in snow and ice! Intricate ice crystals covered the sands—they were beautiful! We didn’t want to tread on them and break their geometric patterns, so we picked our way gingerly between them knowing full well that they wouldn’t last the day out anyway—silly, wasn’t it?
There was a line of beach huts up on stilts at the back of the beach. There seemed to be a competition between the owners as to who could paint theirs in the gaudiest colours (shocking pink – purple – yellow – turquoise) and who could paint on most decorations (boats – birds – anchors). They certainly stood out.We carried on for a while, but the sand was getting softer and more difficult to walk on. So we entered the wood. It was lovely in there with the sun filtering through the trees and a wide ‘easy-walking’ path. Woods are my favourite environment for walking at any time of year, so I was very happy. The trees are Scots pines, planted to stabilise the dunes and stop sand being blown over adjacent farmland. Trouble is, birds don’t like these quick-growing softwoods, so we had to content ourselves with enjoying the sunbeams shining between their straight trunks. We sat on a log—B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. style—to eat our sparse lunch, we didn’t need more than a snack with the huge breakfasts and dinners we had been enjoying all week at our hotel. Colin was getting very miserable about his incontinence which seemed particularly bad that day—probably due to the frosty weather. He can’t understand why he has so little control, and it was a full six months or so later that his surgeon finally conceded that there must have been some nerve damage during his operation for prostate cancer. I tried to cheer him up, but he was really low. I found a very discreet bush—‘Ladies’ style—for him to change behind, and we disposed of his wet pad in a ‘doggy-poo’ bin! He felt a bit better then because he was more comfortable.
We continued through the wood until we got to Holkham Gap. There we met the first people since Wells—they had all tripped from the car park a few yards back to ‘walk’ their dogs, but no one had ventured very far. We had been quite alone in those beautiful woods. There was a seat overlooking the beach we could have sat on—but it was already occupied, so we didn’t. Bet they hadn’t walked as far as we had! We walked out on to the beach then because no paths continued through the woods. The official coast path runs between the woods and the beach, according to our map, but having established that the only path inland simply led to the car park and nowhere else, we concluded that the beach it must be. There were no signposts.

We followed tyre tracks because the sand was more compacted there, making walking easier. They extended for about two miles, and then even they turned round and returned. All that time we were completely on our own on the deserted beach—sea to the right of us and woods, latterly dunes, to the left. The sun shone down from a pure blue sky, there was hardly any breeze, it was warm, wild, beautiful and absolutely glorious! We were enjoying ourselves so much, we hadn’t realised how far we had walked. It was difficult to gauge because, on the map, the path wanders vaguely alongside sand dunes before turning sharply inland across them. We knew we should be about a mile further on than the end of the trees, but how do you judge a mile just by looking?
I was rejoicing in the fact that my leg seemed to be okay today—mistake to even mention it! Quite suddenly it started cramping again, and it was so bad I could barely walk. I kept having to stop and let the pain subside, then try walking again. I sat down on a ‘Sunblest’ bread basket, which someone had thoughtfully left on the pristine beach, to rub my injured calf and try to stop the excruciating pain. I took painkillers, but they made little difference.
I limped on, and didn’t feel that Colin was very sympathetic to my predicament—perhaps he didn’t realise just how painful it actually was. I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back under my own steam. We were looking for the path through the dunes, but saw no sign of it. Then we realised we were walking by a tidal inlet, not by the shore—we had gone much too far! So we scrambled up to the top of the dunes, Colin had to haul me up with my gammy leg. Between us and our destination were glistening marshes, and looking back we could see we were at least half a mile beyond the sea wall we were supposed to be walking on! It was dreadful getting over the uneven ground of the dunes, but eventually we got on to a kind of path right next to the marshes which led us back to where we were supposed to be. It wasn’t too ‘sinky’, and I coped.
Colin was very moany about having missed the path from the beach, and I was annoyed that I had walked an extra mile when I was in so much pain. “I’m just going to see where we went wrong!” he said, and marched off back over the dunes on the duck-boarded path. He was gone ages, and there was nowhere for me to sit down because it was so muddy everywhere. I was also a little worried about the light levels, for the sun was sinking fast towards the horizon—even though it was only just gone two o’clock—and I knew I would be very slow walking the last mile and a half. So I just stood, feeling rather miserable, and my leg seemed to calm down. Eventually his nibs came back, in a worse mood than before. He’d had to cross over two ridges of dunes before he got to the beach, and then he didn’t know where he was because all bits of the beach look the same. He didn’t even see the ‘Sunblest’ bread basket! So he had achieved nothing, and wasted half an hour.The seawall was quite slippery on top, so we walked down next to it for most of the way like all the local dog-walkers did. We saw curlew, redshank and knot on the marshes. We also saw a number of geese flying over in their Vs to roost, but nothing like the spectacle of two days ago. My leg was a little better, but every so often I would have spasms and have to stop until they eased off. I didn’t think we would get to Burnham Overy Staithe before dark—and we didn’t. We watched the sun set in the most gorgeous ball of orange at exactly 3.30pm, and we could just about see our feet as we staggered (at least I staggered!) into the hamlet. We got talking to a local lady with a huge soppy hairy dog, and she was very impressed with our achievement of walking more than seven hundred miles so far on this coastal walk. There was a wooden seat on the tiny quay, so I sat on it and asked Colin to bring the car to me because I was going no further—me and my leg had had enough!

That ended Walk no.93, we shall pick up Walk no.94 next time at the wooden seat on the quay at Burnham Overy Staithe. Colin fetched the car, and we sat in the dark enjoying our tea and cakes before returning to our hotel for the last night of our ‘bargain break’. Before we left Norfolk the next morning we visited several places, and one of them was Creake Abbey—the ruins of the church of an Augustinian almshouse, later converted to an abbey. There were never many monks—they had a serious fire at one point and most of them died of the plague, or something, at another, so they didn’t have much luck. It was all a tale of doom and gloom.I was able to rest my leg over Christmas, and although I felt twinges from it every so often for about six weeks, it did eventually heal.

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