Frampton Marsh to Little Walsingham / Blakeney to Happisburgh / Sea Palling to Burgh Castle

Muddy carEast Anglia is truly rural, very flat, but with a varied and interesting coast. There are charming towns and massive village churches with extraordinary carvings, great houses and ruined castles. Coastal towns range from small fishing villages to large holiday resorts.

We made this trip from Lincolnshire, through Norfolk and down to Suffolk in the MR2 so there was no room to collect rocks or other large souvenirs this time!

The Fens

fenland drain Since the Romans, man has struggled to drain the vast boggy fens. Early attempts failed, but in the 1640's channels were sufficiently well engineered to start the drainage process.

WindpumpUnfortunately, as the fens emptied, the peat dried and shrunk. This caused the level of the land to fall, and hence be vulnerable to flooding from the seal. Eventually a system of powered pumps were used to remove water from the land into drainage ditches, and sluices were raised daily to keep the sea out as the tides came in.

This has allowed successive land claims, the last in the 1970s. After each successive drainage an earth sea wall was constructed, new saltmarsh then formed, so allowing further reclamation. Because the sea level is rising, each new wall has had to be higher than the last, so that much of the claimed land is now several metres below sea level.

This has disastrous implications if the rise in sea level continues. The Wash is one of the biggest estuary areas in Britain, comprised of the estuaries of the Rivers Ouse, Nene, Welland and Witham, which are gradually silting up the shallow waters.

Frampton Marsh

Frampton marshFrom Boston to King's Lynn there are miles of saltmarsh and mud flats - incorporating an RSPB reserve. Sea birds and waders, buntings and finches feed on the plants. They in turn are fed on by hen harriers, merlins and short eared owls and in winter countless migrant waders and wildfowl take over.

As far as the eye can see are marshes interlaced with rivulets, through which the speedy tide snakes its way inland. There isn't a hill or tree in sight. Seawards are vast dangerous sands - known as 'Old South'. The road runs straight through Holbeach, with its greenhouses, and the flat fields of vegetables.

Sutton Bridge

The small village dates from the late 19th century, when a port has established on the Nene waterway. The docks collapsed a month after opening, and it was only in 1987 that the scheme was revived.

Sutton Bridge is so called because of the swing bridge over the river, the bridge itself is called Cross Keys Bridge, built for the railway but now carrying the A17 road. It enables ships to navigate upstream to Wisbech. It was having repairs during our visit.

Earl of Pembroke at Sutton BridgeThere is a busy modern port and cargo ships draw up by the golf course. On July 25th 1998 the "Earl of Pembroke" made its way up the river to Wisbech for the opening of new public moorings.

A bit of history: In October 1216, during his campaign to recover East Anglia from the barons, King John contracted dysentery at King's Lynn, brought on by fatigue and overindulgence in food and drink. While the king and his army travelled to Newark, by way of Wisbech, his baggage train (laden with treasure) took the shorter route across the salt marshes of The Wash. Unfortunately, wagons, men and horses were either overwhelmed by the incoming tide or swallowed up in quicksands and were lost. Almost immediately after hearing of the tragedy, John died. His treasure has never been found.

Peter Scott Walk

Gedney Drove EndTo the west is a road through the marshes to the sea wall near the hamlet of Gedney Drove End, the east bank provides views over Terrington Marshes, land reclaimed in the 19th century and there are twin towers at the end.

Terrington Marshes

The 10-mile Peter Scott Walk is named after the ornithologist who studied and painted wildfowl from the east bank 'lighthouse' in the 1930s. It follows the outermost sea bank from the Nene to West Lynn. To the south, the rich farmland of the Fens is scored by a succession of banks marking centuries of reclamation from marsh and sea, culminating in the outer bank of 1974.

We reached the eastern end of the walk at the isolated Admiralty Point after driving through Terrington St Clement with its church known as 'the Cathedral of the Marshland' and the African Violet Centre. A small pedestrian ferry runs across the Great Ouse between West Lynn and King's Lynn, which has run for over 1200 years, despite the fact that the main road only crosses one mile upstream now.


- meaning "the place of the North folk". The coast of Norfolk sweeps in a huge bulge, first north, then east and finally south and is one large nature reserve - a twitchers paradise.

In addition to being both an official 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' and a Heritage Coast, it is internationally renowned for the richness and variety of its bird life.

Norfolk coastBetween the cliffs of Hunstanton and Weybourne, the low lying coastline is made up of salt marshes, shingle ridges, sand dunes and mudflats, known as the 'North Alluvial Plain'..

In ancient times Stone Age people extracted flints from over 300 pits at Grimes Graves in the Breckland. Later the region was dominated by the Iceni, the tribe led by Queen Boudicca, who unsuccessfully led her people against the Romans.

St Felix brought Christianity to East Anglia in AD617, and by the time of the Domesday Book the region was the most heavily populated in Norman England. During the Civil War much of the county supported the new parliament, but King's Lynn remained loyal to the crown.

King's Lynn

'Lynn', as locals call it, was called Bishop's Lynn until Henry VIII dispossessed the bishop. The old town is well cared for and its eight centuries of prosperity are reflected in the architecture, from the large 13th century Chapel of St Nicholas, to the spacious Tuesday Market, enclosed by elegant Jacobean and Georgian buildings and the sight of a huge fun-fair during our visit. At True's Yard, by Alexandra Docks, the last two remaining traditional fishermen's cottages are now a museum.

On Purtleet Quay the Custom House and Exchange of 1683 houses a tourist information office.

On the street known as Saturday Market is the 12th century parish church of St Margaret. Its Georgian Gothic nave was built after a storm brought the spire crashing down on the medieval nave.

The 15th century Holy Trinity Guildhall, checked with black flint and pale stone houses some of Lynn's treasures, including the 14th century, silver and enamel 'King John's Cup' and a historical display called 'Tales of the Old Gaol House'. St George's Guildhall is the largest ancient guildhall in England to have survived intact. Its upper part is a theatre where William Shakespeare is said to have performed.

The old quay is quiet, with only a few old boats moored alongside. We chatted to a local fisherman who had dredged an enormous anchor up in his net and now displayed it beside his boat. King's Lynn was once England's greatest inland port, thriving since the fourteenth century. The export of woollen goods was a major factor in the growth of King's Lynn during the 17th century. During the nineteenth century, in addition to straightening the course of the Great Ouse estuary, new docks were built to increase the port's shipping capacity.

We left King's Lynn as the sun was setting and drove through South Wootton to Grimston where we spent the night. There was a change of scenery on this side of the town, definitely up-market and with the first signs of the green wellie brigade. Being on the edge of the Sandringham Estate, the hotel was equally posh and served an extraordinary 6 course dinner.

The next morning we awoke to a heavy frost but the staff were already out defrosting the car windscreen. When the mist cleared it became a 'bootiful' sunny day.

Castle Rising

This pretty village, which has a medieval atmosphere, is dominated by the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle that was once one of the most important fortifications in East Anglia. The delightful ruins of Castle Rising Castle rest on massive defensive earthworks reached by a bridge over a dry moat, and the 50ft walls of the 12th century keep remain standing. It has retained much of its original decoration, including fine vaulted ceilings. Some delicate and precise carving is still visible on the outer walls.

We arrived just before opening time and the lady from English Heritage shouted at a couple to get off the bridge and wait to buy a ticket. This must have annoyed them as they promptly returned to their car and drove off! We decided to join English Heritage and the lady was very nice to us.

The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Queen Isabella, who was confined here for 30 years from 1327, by her son Edward III, for complicity in her husband's murder. When the floor of the Great Hall collapsed, the door to it was replaced with a fireplace and a corridor around the hall was carved through the massive stone wall.


Wolferton Station Museum The Wolferton Station Museum, disused since 1969, is housed in the former Royal Retiring Rooms of the station. It was built at the same time as Sandringham House and used by all British monarchs since Queen Victoria. Exhibits include furniture from royal trains and Queen Victoria's travelling bed.

Visitor centreThe house and 60 acres of parkland are only open in the summer. We went to the smart visitor centre and had an excellent lunch on our first visit in February, and returned in August 2001 to see the house.

SandringhamQueen Victoria bought the royal country residence for her son, Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. He rebuilt it in 1870, creating a cocktail of red brick, yellow stone, cupolas, turrets and gables.

Stables museumWe went to the church first, which is small and pretty. There are Royal memorials on all the walls that look like huge coins! Inside Sandringham, there are royal portraits and collections of porcelain, Faberge jewellery, and silver and bronze objects set amid elegant furniture. We expected something opulent, but it is homely - including the table that the Queen uses to do her jigsaws. I liked it a lot. There is also a very interesting museum in the stables.

Snettisham Coastal Park

To the west, lies Dersingham Nature Reserve, whose peaty marshland supports rare plants such as round-leaved sundew and bog asphodel. A large nesting population of shelduck occupies its heathland. Birch, chestnut and Scots pine trees shelter fallow, roe and muntjac deer, as well as many species of bird.

Snettisham BeachNorth of the caravan parks at Snettisham Beach, and behind the sea defences, are stretches of open water, dense reedbeds, scrub and grassland. On the seaward side of the bank where there is a hide, are the wildfowl, sea birds and waders for which The Wash is famous.

Snettisham Beach

South of Snettisham Beach is another RSPB reserve. The sun had brought the Sunday visitors out in force and they were walking along the wide shingle beach and along the pebbly sea wall.


Caley MillThis village is the centre for growing Norfolk's lavender, and fields turn mauve in July and August. We went to Caley Mill where they hold the national lavender collection and have a small shop. It remains to be seen whether my little lavender plant survives.


Heacham has two beaches with course gravelly sand and there are walks along the sea bank and through riverside gardens. There is the usual scattering of caravan parks strung along the river banks.


Hunstanton cliffsThe cliffs of Hunstanton, famous as the east coast resort that faces west, has more than half a mile of horizontally striped 60ft cliffs, formed of carrstone, white and red chalk.

The cliffs have partly eroded into a litter of boulders on the sandy shore and on top an esplanade runs beside a broad grassy swathe, dominated by a disused lighthouse and the 13th century ruins of St Edmund's Chapel.

St Edmund's ChapelTo the south, the once grand Edwardian buildings look forlornly down on the kiosks and neon facades of entertainments set in the remains of the pier destroyed by a storm. The public loo was undescribable.

The warm sun had brought the visitors out in droves so there wasn't a parking place to be found. Eventually we found a spot close to the closed carpark and walked back along the beach - it was lovely. Finding somewhere not overcrowded to get some lunch was not. Boat trips go to Seal Island, a sandbank in The Wash where seals bask at low tide.

Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve

Between Holme Next the Sea and Salthouse, there is an almost unbroken series of nature reserves, owned or administered by the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Norfolk Naturalists Trust.

bird watchingHolme is a peaceful village, where the 93 mile Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path meets the sea. Holme's dunes are home to natterjack toads, now rare in Britain, and some 100 bird species can be seen there at peak migration times. There are plank walkways through the dunes.

There is a shingle beach, a reedbed and an area of marsh. Birds visiting Titchwell Marsh include avocets, marsh harriers and a wide variety of migrating waders. A large car park and visitor centre serve the reserve, although the road surface was appauling and there were no spaces left.

Plenty of twitchers about - it should be renamed Twitchwell!


road to Brancaster beachFrom the village centre, a road runs northwards for more than a mile through reeds to a beach car park bordered by dunes and a golf course. A field marks the site of the 4th century Roman fortress of Branodunum, whose name lives on in a different form as Brancaster.

The car park was crap and they had the nerve to charge for it so we didn't stop - we couldn't see the fort either.

Brancaster Staithe has been known for its shellfish since Roman times; some 250 tons of oysters and mussels grown from imported seed are now gathered each year in the creek between the staithe and the sea. In Old English a 'staithe' is a bank, or landing stage.

Brancaster Staithe

There is a small harbour on a channel almost choked with sand and mud from where small boats take visitors to the national nature reserve of Scolt Head Island.

As the tide was out, there were numerous small boats sitting lopsided on the silt.

The Seven Burnhams

Church of St Margaret Burnham Market was once three separate villages which merged after the railway opened in 1866. Burnham Norton's solitary Church of St Margaret has a circular flint tower and a Norman font.

black tarred cottagesBurnham Thorpe was Lord Nelson's birthplace but the old rectory in which he was born was demolished in 1802.

We stopped at Burnham Overy Staithe to see a group of black tarred cottages overlooking a creek filled with small boats and flanked by a huge area of salt marsh.

Burnham Overy StaitheA mile long path along the eastern sea wall leads to a boardwalk across the dunes. To the west of the village we saw a six storey tower windmill.

Holkham Gap

Holkham entrance hallA road runs seawards to a car park, where a boardwalk through pines and dunes, leads to part of Holkham National Nature Reserve. One of Britain's largest coastal reserves, Holkham includes salt marshes and a vast expanse of low tide sands and mud flats that attract many waders. In the summer the marshes are mauve-tinted with sea lavender.

Holkham HallTo the south is the large Palladian mansion of Holkham Hall set in acres of deer park.

It was built by the 1st Earl of Leicester in the 18th century, costing £90,000. It is amazingly grand, both inside and out. The huge marble entrance hall is quite overwhelming.


Wells-Next-The-SeaThe old port has three distinctive parts: the quayside, the old streets behind it, and the beach area a mile to the north. The sandy beach, lined with a row of beach huts, can be reached by road, on foot along the sea wall or by a miniature railway.

On reclaimed marshland behind the sea wall is a caravan site, a boating lake, a large car park and a beach café. As we were leaving the lifeboat crew screamed in to rescue someone stranded on the sand as the tide rushed in.


The tacky quay has cafes, shops and amusement arcades. Narrow streets lead up to the Buttlands, a tree shaded green surrounded by Georgian houses but we were sidetracked by a bookshop.

All of these seaside villages with narrow streets seem to have numerous shops selling minor electrical items, pictures, naff gifts but nothing useful! Wells and its neighbour Stiffkey are famous for their cockles.

Little Walsingham

Railwat trackOn the Stiffkey road is the terminus of the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, whose narrow gauge steam trains run inland to Walsingham. We reached Little Walsingham and heard the train whistle, but by the tine we found the station, the train had gone.

Little WalsinghamThis pretty village has religious connotations and hence became a centre of pilgrimage. In 1061, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared and a shrine was constructrd. An Augustinian Priory was then built around the shrine to which Henry III and Edward I came. These were destroyed during the Reformation but the Cult was revived in 1897.

Bits of the buildings remain, along with some picturesque 16th century houses and a medieval pump. Now there is an Anglican Shrine, a Roman Catholic pilgrim church, a Greek Orthodox Church and a Russian Orthodox Church.

Binham Priory

We went in search of Binham Priory. As we rounded a corner, the huge ruins were a surprise. Most was demolished during the Reformation but the nave was kept as the parish church.