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Sea, Sand, Sky: Natural Drama on an Epic Scale on the North Norfolk Coast

Enormous skies, near-endless beaches, tidal marshes heaving with birds – the stretch of the North Norfolk coast around Wells-next-the-Sea is a place of space and sanctuary for both wildlife and walkers. Here, the Norfolk Coast Path connects some of the country’s finest expanses of sand, some of its most important nature reserves and some of its most charming old villages, where you can eat the freshest seafood and snuggle up in the cosiest inns.

Wells-next-the-Sea itself, a centuries-old harbour, is great for enjoying fish-and-chips on the sea wall, wandering the lanes and dangling a line from the quay to try to catch your own crabs. Also, there are plenty of walking trails, along the shore and into the hinterland, that make it easy to explore sites nearby: the grand hall and parkland at Holkham, the riotous seal colony at Blakeney, the bountiful birdlife at Cley and the Michelin-starred restaurants, traditional pubs, beach cafes and crab shacks all along the coast.

 

Tour Overview

The icons below highlight the distance, difficulty and theme of this itinerary.

Days

4

Distance

Walks from 2km to 10km

Difficulty

Easy

Landscape

Connecting Villages & Towns / By Water

Theme

History / Food & Drink / Wildlife / Coastal

Activities & Experiences

Walking / Water Fun / Heritage

Sea, Sand, Sky: Natural Drama on an Epic Scale on the North Norfolk Coast

Here’s everything you need to help you plan your very own walking and exploring break in North Norfolk. Click on the blue arrow tabs below for more information. To save this itinerary to view later, use the Save to My Rucksack button at the top of the page.

Itinerary

Spend four days meandering along the North Norfolk coast from Holkham and Wells-next-the-Sea to Blakeney and Cley, via world-renowned nature reserves, delicious pubs and restaurants, wild birds in abundance and some of Britain’s best beaches.

Day 1 Wells-next-the-Sea: Big Beaches

Start in Wells-next-the-Sea – a real breath of fresh air. This traditional Norfolk fishing town gazes out over mudflats and marshes to the sea; the tang of salt-spray and fish-and-chips hangs on the breeze while birds wheel above.

Head towards the town’s quayside – maybe picking up supplies at Wells Deli first – and follow the long embankment out to sea (keep an eye out for seals, which often bob in the estuary’s tidal ebb and flow). At the end, there’s a Lifeboat Station and steps leading down to the huge beach, but for now turn left, into Wells Wood. Here, the Coast Path wends via stilted beach huts and towering Corsican pines – perfect for forest bathing by the sea.

At Holkham Gap, where Lady Anne’s Drive meets the trail, stop for sustenance at the Lookout Cafe before striding seaward, onto sweeping beach Holkham Beach. With its never-ending white sand, shallow lagoons, piping oystercatchers and backdrop of trees, it’s one of the best in the country. Stroll west, to where the pines end, then veer inland, to return east via the Holkham Meals, grazing marshes beloved by birds: in summer, spoonbills are often seen, while autumn and winter bring large flocks of geese.

Back at Holkham Gap, you could trace Lady Anne’s Drive to the Victoria Inn, for a fine meal and a cosy bed. Or return to Wells-next-the-Sea for proper fish and chips. The hip and handsome flint-stone village of Burnham Market (accessible via Coasthopper bus) has some excellent restaurants too.

Overnight in Wells-next-the-Sea or Holkham. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 2 Holkham & Wells

New day, new landscape. It’s a short stroll up the hill from the Victoria Inn, or a 45-minute walk from Wells-next-the-Sea, to reach the gates of Holkham Hall. This 18th-century Palladian-style house sits at the heart of a thriving 25,000-acre estate. Spend all morning here, roaming the deer park, following the trails, re-fuelling in the cafe and experiencing Holkham Stories to learn more about the estate’s revolutionary farming heritage (and ride a tractor).

This afternoon, head back to Wells-next-the-sea to meander along the back streets – don’t miss Wells Maltings, a restored Grade-II listed building that hosts arts events, or a rest at Whin Hill Cider, where you can sample its tipples in the sunny courtyard. Then, for the classic Norfolk experience, go ‘gillying’ (as the locals call it). Wells Harbour is THE place to fish for crabs: grab a kit (many stores sell them), sink your line and wait for a nibble.

Alternatively, spend your afternoon alpaca trekking – the animals make surprisingly serene companions for strolls along the bridleways and coast trails. If alpacas aren’t your thing, hop aboard the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway, the world’s smallest public trainline. Its tiny cars steam through the countryside from Wells-next-the-Sea to the village of Walsingham, a key pilgrimage site from the 11th century, when Lady Walsingham had visions of the Virgin Mary. Visit the monastery ruins, shrines and museums.

Overnight in Wells-next-the-sea. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 3 Morston & Blakeney: Stars & Seals

You don’t have to get up early when you’re on holiday, but this morning it might be worth it… Sunrise is magical here, as the first rays break in the east, the light glitters off the creeks and shallows, and the dawn chorus is in full song. No matter what time you decide to leave, though, this morning’s walk along the Coast Path from Wells-next-the-sea to Morston is invigorating, full of sea breezes and saltmarshes, alive with the chatter of birds.

It’s worth a detour to charming Stiffkey, which hides down a footpath in a wooded river valley. Stock up on Norfolk produce in the village shop before returning to the Coast Path to wind east, looking across a mosaic of tidal sandbanks and inlets, rich in rare plants and birds.

Drink in the natural drama all the way to Morston, a tiny fishing hub with a huge foodie reputation – for a real splurge, book lunch at Michelin-starred Morston Hall. Boat trips leave from the quay for Blakeney Point, a spit of golden sand and shingle, designated a national nature reserve. Sail out and scan the marram grass for birds and the resident seals – it’s especially joyous in winter, when the white fluffy pups are born.

Disembark in Morston and re-join the Coast Path to finish in Blakeney, for a fine fish supper at one of its array of restaurants.

Overnight in Blakeney. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 4 Cley Marshes: Bird Bonanza

Blakeney was once a busy commercial port; these days, it’s a peaceful spot, with masts chinking on the quay and a cluster of quiet, cobbled lanes. Seal watching trips depart from here too, or you could captain your own sailing dinghy or paddleboard (lessons are available) to explore at your own pace.

When you’re ready to leave, strike east along the sea bank via the saltmarshes. This landscape never looks the same twice, the tides constantly reshaping and resculpting the shore, creating rich wildlife habitats. The Coast Path navigates this transitional area between land and sea before bending inland along a channel into the lovely little Cley-next-the-sea, with its proud windmill and lanes of little shops and cafes. For now, though, leave Cley by the channel’s opposite East Bank to reach Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes, an internationally important mosaic of reedbeds and brackish lagoons, alive with birds. You could spend hours in the hidden hides, scouting for avocet, bittern, marsh harrier, sandpiper and huge flocks of pink-footed geese.

Grab a bite in Cley Marsh Visitor Centre before returning to the East Bank and wending, via Walsey Hills and Bard Hill to reach Salthouse. Take a peek in the village’s light-flooded St Nicholas Church, where local art is often on display, before reaching Salthouse Heath. The view from the escarpment, over the gorse scrub, woodland, villages and marshes, far out to sea, is one of Norfolk’s best. It’s worth nosing around here too: the heath conceals archaeological sites (including a Bronze Age cemetery) as well as World War II remains. And if you’re feeling hungry, the Dun Cow serves traditional pub meals.

Overnight in Blakeney. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

 

Accommodation

North Norfolk has a range of accommodation, including campsites, B&Bs, guesthouses, holiday lets and hotels.

  • Edinburgh Inn, Wells-next-the-sea – Friendly pub with B&B rooms and restaurant.
  • The Victoria Inn, Holkham – Boutique-style hotel rooms and good food.
  • The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market – Stylish modern rooms and highly-rated food.
  • Morston Hall – Acclaimed fine-dining restaurant; cookery demonstrations and courses available.
  • Wiveton Bell, Holt – Relaxing rooms overlooking the village green in peaceful Wiveton.
  • White Horse Blakeney – Cosy, characterful pub-with-rooms on Blakeney Quay.
  • Blakeney House, Blakeney – Hotel and restaurant in handsome Victorian mansion.

 

Food & Drink

Many of the pubs and hotels listed under the Accommodation section also offer food, from classics to fine dining. Additionally, seek out some of the region’s characterful cafes.

Wells-next-the-Sea & Holkham
Morston & Blakeney
Beyond
  • The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market – Stylish modern rooms and highly-rated food.
  • Socius, Burnham Market – Locally sourced produce used to create dishes that reflect the seasons.
  • The Wiveton Bell, Wiveton – Good option, just outside Blakeney.
  • The Dun Cow, Salthouse – Traditional pub meals.

Activities

The Norfolk Coast Path is a great way to explore North Norfolk, with other connecting footpaths making it easy to explore inland. More offbeat activities are available too.

Walks
  • Norfolk Coast Path, Wells-next-the-sea to Holkham Gap, 5km – West from the fishing village, including woodland and beach.
  • Holkham Gap circular, 10km – Big beach walk, with views to Holkham Estate.
  • Holkham Estate, various – Several marked trails weave around the estate, ranging from 2km to 10km
  • Norfolk Coast Path, Wells-next-the-sea to Morston, 10km – Route passes salt marshes; detour to the village of Stiffkey.
  • Norfolk Coast Path, Morston to Blakeney, 2km – Trail traces salt marsh and sea wall.
  • Norfolk Coast Path, Blakeney to Cley, 4.5km– Take care on the mudflats here.
  • Cley Marsh Visitor Centre to Salthouse, 4.8km– Trail follows the East Bank towards Cley, crosses coast road and follows path through Walsey Hills, up past Great Hulver Hill to Bridgefoot Lane. From here, it heads left onto Bard Hill, then towards Bloomstile Lane and into Salthouse.
Other
  • Seal Trips – Boat tours to Blakeney Point.
  • Alpaca Trekking, Wells-next-the-sea – Walks with alpacas on the coast and lanes.
  • Norfolk ETC, Blakeney – Family-run watersports provider; sailing courses, stand-up paddleboarding and more.

For further walking inspiration visit The Outdoor Guide.

Experiences

Many other options exist to extend or personalise your visit. Use the Coasthopper bus to travel further afield and take time to walk the many circular routes or combine a bus journey with a walking break.

Coastal England

Passing through seaside towns, picturesque villages and landscapes rich in wildlife, heritage and geological interest, the Norfolk Coast Path offers gentle walking along a varied and beautiful coastline. It forms part of the English Coast Path – the world’s longest continuous coastal trail.

For further coastal walks visit England’s Coast.

Travel

Towns and villages on this itinerary are accessible by Coasthopper buses, bike, on foot or by car. Bus changes are required at Hunstanton and Wells if doing the whole Coasthopper run; buses run every hour (both ways); there are services throughout the year.

Advice

Most of the walking is on relatively flat ground, but weather can make surfaces wet and muddy. Walking from the coast road does require some uphill walking. If travelling out of season, check that all mentioned venues remain open. Cley Marsh is open throughout the year apart from certain bank holidays.

We advise that you check opening times and booking restrictions before travelling.

Please check out these links for latest advice when in the countryside

Countryside Code

COVID-19 Guidance

Interactive Map

Click here to access the interactive map

Maps, Guidebooks & Merchandise

The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.