The England Coast Path covers the country’s entire seashore and is one of the world’s longest walking routes. Many stretches are well-known, such as the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Poole around Cornwall. Lesser-known is the East Coast – and we think it’s probably the most dynamic.
If you take the 130 or so miles of the Suffolk and Norfolk coastline, from The Wash to Felixstowe, you will encounter a landscape dramatically shaped by the power of weather and tides ever since man first arrived on this now-island, by land bridge from the Continent at Happisburgh in Norfolk.
We’re advocating using rail for this journey – there are stations at King’s Lynn, Sheringham, Cromer and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, Lowestoft and Felixstowe in Suffolk, so you can do the Coast Path in chunks. There are also regular buses joining the locations mentioned.
From the train station at King’s Lynn, you can begin the walk along The Wash, one of the most important birdwatching areas in the UK.
The shallow Wash was a convenient route for invaders, by the Romans to head north on foot, and by Vikings to sail inland to conquer East Anglia. This mysterious land of marshes and estuarine mudflats was tamed by Dutch engineers in the 16th century, with large-scale drainage and coastal reclamation to create the rich farming land you see now.
In King’s Lynn you might notice the statue of King John – he lost the Crown Jewels in The Wash in 1216.
At Holme-next-the-Sea, near Hunstanton’s multi-layered cliffs, the Coast Path connects with Peddars Way, the old Roman road – pedester is Latin for on foot. In 1998 this is where shifting sands revealed 54 posts in a circular shape similar to Stonehenge and dated around the same time, 2050BC. Of course, it was named Seahenge. Now taken away for preservation, a replica can be seen in Lynn Museum.
You’re now in the North Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the terrain will go from natural creeks to stunning beaches, from a shingle spit to escalating cliffs up to the Cromer Ridge, the highest point in East Anglia.
Brancaster and Scolt Head Island.Highlights are Scolt Head Island Nature Reserve, protecting tidal saltmarshes that produce some of the best mussels and oysters you’ll ever taste; the beaches at Holkham and Wells-next-the-Sea, which are regularly voted the best in the UK and famous for the 200 multi-coloured, higgledy-piggledy beach huts; Blakeney Point, a spit created by longshore drift and home to the country’s largest seal colony (you can take a boat to see them from Morston Quay); and Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s centre at Cley-next-the-Sea marshes.
Then the path rises to quaint Sheringham, where you’ll walk through the clifftop golf club and maybe see the North Norfolk Railway steam by on its way to Georgian Holt. Finally on the north coast you will reach the Victorian seaside resort of Cromer, home of the last end-of-pier theatre in the world.
Heading south you’re on the Deep History Coast, where the largest and best-preserved mammoth ever found was discovered, a 500,000 year old flint axe that was the Swiss Army Knife of its day and at Happisburgh, the footprints of prehistoric man, the earliest evidence of humans found outside The Great Rift Valley in Africa. 850,000 years old, they’re from when Norfolk was the last part of the Britain linked to the Continent.
Further south you will see more seals at Horsey Gap, and the most-eastern parts of the Broads National Park, before reaching Great Yarmouth, the largest and most popular seaside resort on the East coast. Here you have to imagine Roman times when Great Yarmouth didn’t exist and an estuary over a mile-wide spread from Caister-on-Sea to Burgh Castle and galleons sailed up the River Yare to the town of Venta Icenorum, near Norwich.
Lowestoft is another traditional Victorian seaside resort, from the days when rail brought the masses from the industrialised Midlands and London.
Heading south you will reach Southwold, a set-in-aspic coastal town that is home to the famous Adnams’ Brewery and a pier that is home to a very quirky amusement arcade. Over the River Blyth you will reach charming Walberswick and in front of you will be Sole Bay. Here you have to use your imagination, because in the sea here is Britain’s Atlantis.
In Roman times the shoreline here was more than a mile further out and in medieval times the port of Dunwich was one of the largest in the country. In Anglo Saxon times it was the capital of East Anglia. Nature intervened in 1286 when a three-day storm ravaged the settlement. Later storms took more of the town until it is what you see now – a single street with a museum where you can learn more about its fascinating history.
You’re now in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and heading to quirky Thorpeness, a fantasy holiday village with Jacobean and Tudor-style cottages and a shallow boating Meare that takes Peter Pan for its inspiration. We’d say look out for the House in the Clouds, but you can’t miss it.
Aldeburgh is another pretty coastal town and from here you’ll head inland to picturesque Snape Maltings and then around the Alde estuary to Icken and on to Orford, where it’s a short distance to Felixstowe.