The East of England has many fantastic beaches and superb traditional seaside resorts, including Great Yarmouth, Cromer, Southend-on-Sea and Hunstanton, but there are many other fun things to do by the sea. Here are our top 10 coastal activities.
Seals of approval
Norfolk is home to England’s largest seal colony, at Blakeney Point. Boats go from Morston and Blakeney quays at high tide (twice a day in summer) and you can book nearby. This is a real treat for wildlife lovers, with the inquisitive seals swimming over to take a look at you, the lazier ones basking and rolling around on the sand. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Go with Beans Boat Trips or Temples.
Get the bird
If birdwatching is your bag, then Norfolk has some Premier League nature reserves on the coast to see them. Perched on the north Norfolk coast, NWT Cley Marshes has a well-deserved reputation as one of the UK’s best bird watching sites. The pools and scrapes attract water birds in their thousands, and no matter what the season, there is always something to see. Close by you’ll find RSPB Titchwell and RSPB Snettisham.
In the footsteps of the first tourists
In December 2013 footprints were found at Happisburgh in Norfolk. British Museum researchers discovered they were 850,000 years old – the earliest evidence of man found outside the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Walk on the beach now and you’ll be walking in the footsteps of the first ever tourists to the UK – and they came from the Netherlands! At that time the UK was joined to the Continent by a land spur and would have looked like African savannah and wildlife would have included mammoths, hyenas, bison… and early man. This is Norfolk’s unique Deep History Coast.
A mammoth experience
Talking of mammoths, the largest and best-preserved mammoth skeleton found in the world came out of the crumbling cliffs at West Runton, between Cromer and Sheringham. The only bones missing were eaten by hyenas. Yes, really! Visit Cromer Museum and you can see some of the bones and learn more about the history of this part of Norfolk, the highest point in East Anglia, and our unique Deep History Coast.
Full steam ahead
North Norfolk is home to the wonderful North Norfolk Railway, a heritage steam train that goes from seaside Sheringham to the lovely Georgian market town of Holt, past beautiful coast and countryside – even going through the golf course! Also known as The Poppy Line, it’s easily accessible from the main rail network via Cromer.
The charming and atmospheric town of Walberswick, close to Southwold in Suffolk, with its long, sandy beach and black beach huts backed by grassy dunes is the perfect spot to whip out your crabbing supplies and hunt down the little critters. Children can compare their catch before returning them to their habitats and grabbing a well-earned ice cream in return. To satisfy the parents or couples alike, grab a swift half in the local cosy Bell Inn.
Oysters and boat trip
Mersea Island, in the Colne and Blackwater estuaries close to Colchester in Essex, is connected to the mainland by The Strood. Once you’ve crossed it, you’ll feel the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders. This is a laid-back place and famous for its oysters which you can enjoy in waterside restaurants and cafes. Take a boat trip on the Lady Grace to get a view from the water.
Thrilling sea ride
For an adrenaline rush head over to Southwold for a thrilling ride with Coastal Voyager. Setting off from the picturesque seaside town of Southwold, you will be taken on a whirlwind tour of Sole Bay. For something a little calmer, other trips take you to visit the seals living at nearby Scroby Sands, and to the great wind turbines off the Suffolk coast.
Canoe on the Iken
Bask in the glory and delights of Snape by hiring a canoe, kayak or paddleboard from the very small and friendly team at Iken Canoe. Snape is a welcoming and thoughtful place of tranquillity, offering breath-taking views of reeds, marshes, sea and vast skies. Venture out on the Alde estuary between Snape and Aldeburgh and discover the creeks, abundance of wildlife and gently glide with the tide and get up close to seals basking on the mud banks.
The lost medieval port
If you want to understand the power of the North Sea, then head to Dunwich. Now a tiny coastal village, this was once one of the biggest ports in medieval England and before that the base of St Felix, the first Bishop of Dunwich, who converted East Anglia to Christianity. The 11th century town has many large churches, monasteries, hospitals, grand public buildings and even a mint, as well as seventy vessel fishing fleet. Now, all of it is lost to the sea except the ruins of the 13th century Franciscan friary on the edge of the cliff and Leper Hospital chapel. But you can go to Dunwich Museum, see a diorama of how the town looked and pick up a Dunwich historic trail map. Afterwards, have refreshments in the 17th century Ship Inn.