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Exploring the North-East coast - part 1

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Walking 400 miles of the British coast might not be everyone’s idea of fun but that’s where my Summer 2021 plans are taking me. Starting in Hunstanton, Norfolk and weaving my way up the coastline to the Scottish border, I’ll be talking to locals, searching for wildlife and blogging along the way. Alongside 4 others I am part of a team who have taken on the adventure of walking the entire English coastline, documenting our journeys in the hopes of connecting people with coastal nature.

My excitement to be by the sea hasn’t decreased since this photo was taken (I’m on the left, not sure my sister on the right shares quite the same enthusiasm)

People who know me will know that I’ve spent a lot of my time pouring pints and serving food on a Dutch barge moored up on the North Norfolk coast. When your daily work view is the object of many people’s summer holiday destination it's only too easy to get swept up in the day to day and lose sight of the beauty of the environment around you. But when the crowds disperse and there’s time to soak up a bit of peace and quiet it’s not hard to understand why people choose places like Wells-next-the-Sea as a retreat from ordinary life.

Since moving around the country to complete my BSc Zoology and then settling back into a city whilst writing up my Masters thesis I haven’t had as much of a chance to spend the sort of time I used to by the sea so I cannot wait to finally get back out to my roots. Many people (myself included) have found an extra appreciation of being able to get outside over the last few months and it’s really hit home how important a bit of fresh air is for the soul.

Looking out over the marshes at Wells-next-the-Sea - a not too shabby reward following a hard day’s work!

Excluding a couple of trips to Robin Hood’s Bay in Whitby I haven’t stepped foot on the coast any further North than the Wash so I’m excited to explore new parts of England and see what they’re all about. Growing up in the flat landscape of Norfolk I’m particularly interested to see how I manage with areas like Boulby in Yorkshire - home to the highest cliffs on the East coast (203 metres above sea level)! Any wildlife along the way will be a welcome reward for the steps I’ll be putting in but I’m particularly hoping I’ll make it in time to spot some puffins on Brempton Cliffs where they return to breed before heading back out to spend the winter out at sea.

All in all I’m looking forward to learning more and communicating this to others who may not necessarily have such easy access to our country’s rich coastline. The more we can build relationships with our marine environments, the more likely we will be to look after and protect them.

Walk preparation/Snettisham/The Wash

Planning and organisation have never been my strong point so as the time to begin my 400 mile mission loomed closer I started to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. My plan was to wild camp along the way but what if I couldn’t find places to pitch up? What if I couldn’t make as much walking progress each day as I wanted to?

Due to working full time my plan was to split the journey up across several stints throughout the Summer, picking up where I left off after each trip. With an extremely vague plan, my walking boots and a rucksack filled with far more bits and bobs than I would ever need, I headed off to my starting point.

Snettisham isn’t necessarily your typical tourist destination beach - the lack of far-stretching golden sands doesn’t instantly lend itself to sandcastle building and jovial summertime picnics but it does have so much else to offer. A shingle beach nestled next to a rich backdrop of scrub, marshland and reedbeds provides a huge variety of habitats for an equally huge variety of wildlife. As I settled into my walk all my earlier questions and worries about the logistics of my trip washed away.

Regular signage reminds us walkers that ground nesting ringed plovers and oystercatchers are currently using the shingle beach to camouflage their eggs and chicks during the breeding season so the beach itself is respectfully absent of humankind. Once these chicks have fledged and autumn rolls around tens of thousands of wading birds will gather on the mudflats to roost overnight. Their arrival sees a similar descent of birdwatchers to the area to witness the ‘Snettisham Spectacular’. On particularly high tides flocks of knot, dunlin and oystercatchers take to the sky in shimmering murmurations as the sea encompasses the mudflats that provide their winter home.

One of the things that really struck me as I continued plodding along was the vibrancy of the landscape here. When I think of the British coast I do think of a colourful scene but this usually sticks to the same palette - golden sands and wide expanses of varying blues of the sea and sky (or grey depending on how kind the British weather is being).

But as I looked around me there was no end of different colours - the vivid blues, greens and yellows of the plantlife around gave an almost tropical feeling. My mum has an uncanny ability to identify whichever plants I query her on with both their common and Latin names. I’m not much of a botanist and I definitely haven’t inherited this skill but that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the huge plant diversity we are lucky to behold in our coastal areas and the many lives that they support.

The next section of my walk took me all the way around the Wash - possibly named after the Old English word ‘wāse’ meaning mud, slime or ooze. Crossing past many gloopy mudflats it’s not too hard to imagine why it earned that name but it is home to vast numbers of worms, shrimps and tiny crustaceans. An absolute wading bird feast.

Other than a few friendly walkers and birdwatchers, who gave me and my rucksack a curious glance, I didn’t encounter a great deal of other humans or noise along this stretch. That’s not to say that it was a quiet affair. A cacophony of birds singing, geese honking and gulls screeching provided the soundtrack for my steps - giving a noisy kind of peace away from my usual city life.

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