Sunday, February 01, 2004

Walk 95 -- Thornham to Hunstanton

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 269 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 46 days.
Weather: Sunny at first, becoming cloudy. Windy, but mild.
Location: Thornham to Hunstanton.
Distance: 6½ miles.
Total distance: 720 miles.
Terrain: Very muddy at the outset – mainly due to snowmelt and the hundreds of people who had come out to see a stranded whale! Boardwalks across the dunes, a beach which was not as firm as we would have liked, grassy clifftop and a concrete prom.
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Ancient Marina’ at Old Hunstanton where Colin had Adnam’s Broadside and I enjoyed Gaymer’s ‘Olde English’ cider.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.28 at Hunstanton where the second fence along the clifftop had proved inadequate, so a third fence had been constructed another twenty yards inland.
How we got there and back: We were staying with Paul and Caroline in Isleham. We drove up to Hunstanton where we parked south of the town, not far from Tescoes. Then we walked up to the bus station and caught a bus to Thornham. There we walked through the back of the village to the wooden bridge on the coastal path, where we had ended the last Walk.
At the end, we walked up to our car from the seafront. We noticed that we had parked very near a chip shop which was open, and a nauseous smell of hot lard pervaded the atmosphere. Numerous cars stopped, and most times an obese woman alighted to buy the high-fat repast for the family while her bulbous bloke sat dragging at a cigarette with the engine running. We drank two cups of tea each, but didn’t touch our biscuits! Then we drove back to Isleham.

We crossed the wooden footbridge, and almost immediately we were passed by a man who breathlessly asked, “Have you seen the owl?
I suppose you’ve come to see the whale!” Wow! On further questioning (he was reluctant to stop and chat) we elicited the information that there was a barn owl in the adjacent field and a dead whale on the beach. Then he rushed off. We looked over the hedge to our left—and there was the barn owl as clear as you like, sitting on a fence-post! Beautiful bird! Then we looked over the hedge to the right, and sure enough there was a dead whale way out on the beach! Colin wanted to photograph the owl, but I didn’t want to climb over barbed wire or scrabble through hedges, so I waited for him. I looked through my telescope towards the beach, and was amazed to see hundreds of people scurrying down there—for once we were not going to be on our own doing our coastal walk.
When Colin had had enough, we started following the crowds. Well, the snow of the past few days was on meltdown, the coast path was slippery as it was and it quickly turned into a quagmire. The path came out on to a tarmacked lane and we followed that for about a hundred yards—that was all right. Then we had to turn off again on to a grassy bank, and that was impossible because of all the people tramping along it. We had to walk along the bottom of the bank in the end, but many others had done the same and it was getting pretty slippery there too. Most people were inadequately dressed for the conditions, especially in the footwear department. It was bitingly cold in the wind, and many kids with thin coats, or even no coats, were crying and their parents cross. I shall never forget one little girl of about six being dragged along by her determined father. She was wearing her Sunday best—a long dress and pretty shoes all of which were covered in mud—which probably explains why she was sobbing her heart out. Poor little soul! Some youngsters, late teens to early twenties (you know, the age when they know-it-all) decided to take a short cut across the marshes. What a mess! They were up to their thighs in thick glutinous gunge and had great difficulty extricating themselves. They seemed oblivious to the danger of their situation, though all of them did get out safely in the end.We got to a point on the path where we were about two hundred yards from the carcass. The tide was right out, and a number of people had managed to get along the beach to where the whale had been washed up. It was lying on its side, yet it was still taller than the people surrounding it. We learned later that it was a forty foot pilot whale which had been washed ashore in a storm the night before and stranded by the ebbing tide—poor old thing! There were coastguards on the beach, more to keep an eye on the foolish elements amongst the throngs of people than to do anything with the whale. The RNLI had brought one of their very new state-of-the-art hovercrafts to the scene, and we believe that they were successful in dragging the body out to sea at the next high tide. Otherwise it would have been a very smelly beach for a few weeks!
We decided to continue with our Walk—we had seen enough, and when we looked back about twenty minutes later there were huge crowds surrounding the animal. You couldn’t get near it! On reaching the beach, we would have had to walk back on ourselves for about a mile to reach it, and we hadn’t got the time nor the inclination to add an extra two miles to our trek just to see a dead animal. So we continued westwards completely by ourselves on boardwalks across the dunes which were very nice to walk on. We found a bird-hide overlooking a pool in the marshes, so we sat in there out of the wind to eat our lunch.
The path led on through a pleasant little wood called ‘The Firs’, then out on the dunes again. Unfortunately there were no more boardwalks, so it wasn’t easy to walk where there was no grass. The sand got more and more loose, and I was looking longingly at the firm-looking sand on the beach below with the tide still a long way out. So when we came to a corner called ‘Gore Point’, I wanted to go down although there was a notice telling us not to. I went anyway, being careful to tread only in the footprints of people who had gone before. Colin reluctantly followed me, I think his legs were aching too!
We were down on wide expanses of sand, the like of which I had only dreamed of as a child on our pebbly South Coast beaches.
The sand wasn’t as firm as we would have liked, but a deal better than the dunes we had left. The wind was against us and quite strong, so it was heads down and go for it! We trudged along for nearly two miles with barely a word spoken because we were putting all our effort into getting there.
As we approached Old Hunstanton, we came across more and more people on the beach, and many of them seemed to be walking in the opposite direction to us.
A couple, probably in their sixties, asked us if we knew where the whale was, because they had heard about it on local radio (so that’s why so many people seemed to know about it!) When we told them how far it was, they began to lose interest, especially the woman! We advised them to get back in their car, drive to Thornham and approach it from there. The sand was so flat and wide, it was perfect for sand-yachting, and we had to be careful to avoid a number of these vehicles. It was a perfect day for it, with the strong wind, and everyone seemed to be having fun. I wouldn’t mind giving it a try sometime! There were also a number of kite-flyers out on the beach. Who says the beach is only good for the Summer months?
At last we reached Old Hunstanton, and the pub! It wasn’t far off the beach, we walked past the brand new RNLI hovercraft which had returned from the dead whale for the time being, and we were there. After a warm and a beer, we set off again. We had turned southwards because we had completed the walk along the ‘top’ of Norfolk. The sea to our right was ‘The Wash’, but it didn’t look any different because visibility was not good and we couldn’t see the other side.
We walked behind some beach huts, and then the ground began to rise as we walked along a green into Hunstanton. There were three fences barring off the cliff edge because it was crumbling away and they had to keep moving the path back. Lots of notices warned us about the dangerous cliff edge, but even so there was a bunch of flowers placed where someone had fallen or jumped off. We sat on a seat to eat our bars of chocolate, and a passing woman asked if we were sunbathing—eh?
There is a disused lighthouse on top of the cliff. I stood by it and said to Colin, “This sea you see before you is now The Wash. Over there—and I pointed into the mist—is the resort of Skegness which is at the other end of The Wash.” “How do you know Skegness is exactly in that direction?” he asked, scathingly. “Because I have studied the maps so intently in the planning of this trek that I know I’m right!” He still didn’t believe me, so he got out his compass and measured the angle in which I was pointing from the lighthouse. That evening, we got out Paul’s small scale map, which has the whole of The Wash on it, and put the compass on Hunstanton lighthouse. Colin was delighted to find I was 4º out. “Have you taken into account the magnetic variation?” asked Paul (my saviour!) He looked at the top of the map—“Ah! Magnetic variation, 4º West.”
I had been exactly right!! Colin conceded, in fact he was so impressed that I could point out Skegness when I couldn’t even see the other coast that he kept mentioning it for days afterwards.
Near the lighthouse we came across the remains of an ancient chapel which had been dedicated to St Edmund, but I can’t remember the history of it—I am still crowing over the fact that, for once, I was right! We continued down on to the prom, and looked back at the cliffs. Red chalk? When I did my Open University degree in Geology (nearly twenty years ago now—gulp!) the only chalk I learnt about was very definitely white. Yet here were the ‘famous and unique red chalk cliffs of Hunstanton’ which I had never heard of even though I had minutely studied the Geology of the British Isles. Is it chalk stained with iron deposits, or is it something else? The cliffs looked very pretty with a white stripe along the top and a red stripe underneath. Colin wanted to look for fossils, but he didn’t find any in the little time we had to spare. There were lots of people taking the air, despite it being a cold Sunday in Winter. It was quite windy, but we kept to the prom and walked fast. We passed a ‘Sea Life Sanctuary,’ which used to be a Sea Life Centre but everything has to be conservation these days. I remember visiting it when it was new in 1990 during a camping holiday in Norfolk, and being enthralled by the variety of local fish they had in there. We passed the Winter storage yard of the local funfair, and it all looked rusty and worn. We wondered how much of it they actually use, because the equipment looked in need of more than just a coat of paint. We then passed a caravan park near where we had parked our car outside a chip shop, so we turned inland.

That ended Walk no.95, we shall pick up Walk no.96 next time at the caravan park on the southern edge of Hunstanton. We walked back to our car which was about a hundred yards away, and enjoyed two cups of hot tea each. Neither of us felt like any biscuits because of the nauseous smell of fat emanating from the chip shop, so we got in the car and drove back to Isleham where we were staying with Paul and Caroline.

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