Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path
The National Trail combines two long distance walking trails; Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path. The route starts in Suffolk at Knettishall Heath Country Park and follows the route of a Roman road to Holme-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast. The Peddars Way meets the Norfolk Coast Path at Holme-next-the-Sea as it runs from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea.
The Trail provides 129.5 miles (208 Km) of walking through fantastic scenery and landscape. The majority of the Trail runs through the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Brecks, a unique area of forest, heath and low river valleys.
Knettishall Heath to Little Cressingham – 14.5 miles (23.3 Km)
Quiet river valleys, rich in wildlife and crossed by Roman legionnaires 2000 years ago interspersed with unique dry heathland, this is the Brecks, a place of strange beauty and hidden stories that go back to the Stone Age.
The Peddars Way starts here, where the last ice age over 12,000 years ago left pingo ponds and curious patterns in the heath land vegetation. Along this stretch you will find the first two Songline sculptures telling the stories of how landscape and man interacted all those years ago.
The regional long distance routes Angles Way and Icknield Way link with the Peddars Way at Knettishall Heath.
Little Cressingham to Castle Acre – 11.7 miles (18.8 Km)
From the water and windmill of Little Cressingham to the popular village of Castle Acre, the sense of history is never far from you on this stretch of the Way. Houghton on the Hill hides the renovated church of St Mary’s and the amazing 11th Century wall paintings.
Near North Pickenham you’ll find the third Songline sculpture; this stone reflects the pilgrim links of the village. It was here that Catherine of Aragon paused on her pilgrimage to holy shrine at Walsingham.
The Nar Valley Way regional long distance route crosses the Peddars Way at Castle Acre.
Castle Acre to Sedgeford and Fring – 13.9 miles (22.4 Km)
If you seek peace and solitude this is the stretch for you. The northern section of this stretch has a particularly remote feel to it.
This is old heathland, which during the early part of the 20th century was ploughed and converted to large cropped farm fields. Be ready for the wide open skies. It was here that the agriculture improvers of the 18th and 19th Century left their mark in the form of marl pits dotted about the landscape.
The fourth Songline sculpture is to be found on this stretch and reflects the enclosure of heathland and common.
Sedgeford to Holme/Hunstanton – 8.9 miles (14.3 Km)
An old magazine of the Cromwell era starts this section. Followed by an old railway line. The local building material of carrstone now starts to make an appearance giving a warm glow to houses.
The chalk base rock becomes evident as you walk down to Ringstead. Keep your eyes peeled for a first glimpse of the sea.
Holme next the Sea (and Hunstanton) to Burnham Overy Staithe – 16.1 miles (25.9 Km)
From the farmed remoteness of the Peddars Way prepare to enter another world. One where salt, sand, marsh and sky mingle and blend with small harbours, flint villages, shell fishermen and local communities. This is the Norfolk coast AONB, internationally renown for its wildlife. See winter flights of pink-footed geese, as you have never seen before, silhouetted against the evening sky. Experience the wild remoteness of a lonely sea bank. Intersperse the natural world with the warmth of village life and you have a wonderful experience.
As you descend towards the coast pass the final Songline sculpture, marking the last leg of the Peddars Way, and looking out over the Wash. On a clear day see the Lincolnshire coast and the Wolds AONB beyond.
Burnham Overy Staithe to Stiffkey – 9.8 miles (15.8 Km)
This section along the Norfolk Coast Path continues the theme of sea, sand and saltmarsh. The natural world has an awe-inspiring omnipresence.
For a spot of culture visit Holkham Hall. Home of the 19th Century agriculture improver, Thomas Coke. Take time out at Wells next the Sea for a famous mix of historic buildings, old port and amusements. These occasional villages provide brief interludes in the peace and quite of the Norfolk coast.
Stiffkey to Weybourne – 12.5 miles (20.1 Km)
Watch bait diggers out on the mud flats or take a trip from Morston to see the seals or Blakeney Point NNR. Experience the beauty of an early morning high tide when the rest of the world is still thinking about breakfast.
Walk along the rabbit trimmed grass paths over looking one of the most important areas of salt marsh in Europe. Visit the mecca for bird watchers at Cley next the Sea. Above all enjoy the feeling of being away from the everyday rush of the world.
Weybourne to Cromer – 8.6 miles (13.8 Km)
“He who would old England win, must at Weybourne Hoop (Hope) begin” so runs the old saying that recognised the deep water access to Weybourne Hope. Visit the Muckleborough Collection that traces years of military presence here. Beginning this stretch of the coast path, you’ll soon be aware of Weybourne’s military heritage, with several guns belonging to the Muckleburgh Collection lining the route. Having been the site of a camp since the days of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Muckleburgh hill is now home to the country’s largest private collection of military vehicles. The village of Weybourne itself is just a short distance off the route, and as well as offering a number of opportunities for refreshment, it’s home to the spectacular remains of an Augustinian priory dating from the 13thCentury and, thanks to its designation as a conservation area, many examples of Norfolk flint and brick architecture going back to the 17thCentury. Leaving Weybourne, the route rises away from the sea and follows rolling clifftops to the traditional seaside town of Sheringham. One of the town’s most notable attractions is the North Norfolk Railway, which offers picturesque steam train rides to Holt, a few miles inland. Whether you take the ride or not, you’ll likely hear the train’s whistle and see its white plume of steam as you wander along the clifftops. Beyond Sheringham, the Coast Path ascends Beeston Hill, known locally as ‘the bump.’ As its diminutive nickname suggests, it’s more molehill than mountain, but this glacial kame offers great views along this stretch of the coast, as well as the Cromer Ridge, just a little way inland. Though the cliffs on this stretch of the coast are eroding, the receding coastline has given up a number of mysteries in recent years. Most notable among these was the discovery of the ‘West Runton Elephant,’ the best example of a Steppe Mammoth skeleton found anywhere in the world. While the skeleton itself was removed by the Norfolk Archeological Unit around twenty years ago, the site is still frequented by fossil hunters at low tide, hoping to make discoveries of their own!
Cromer to Mundesley – 7.75 miles (12.5km)
One of the first things you’ll notice on approach to Cromer is its traditional pier, complete with a theatre that often hosts variety shows. The Weavers Way long distance route links with the Norfolk Coast Path at Cromerpier. Though the summer months are Cromer’s busiest, the town doesn’t simply shut down in the winter. The town’s many shops, cafes and restaurants are open year round, and all are independently owned. You won’t find a single coffee or fast food chain in Cromer, a fact that really lends to the town’s unspoilt seaside character. Crab and lobster fishermen still put out to sea daily, and the lighthouse can be seen blinking for miles around. A visit to the Henry Blogg RLNI museum is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Cromer’s maritime heritage.
From the hustle and bustle of Cromer, the path climbs toward the lighthouse before dropping down onto the beach. The route here is passable in all but the highest seasonal tides, but it’s best attempted between mid and low tide, when a bright sheet of hard wet sand is revealed. As well as providing a better walking surface, it gives a better perspective of the cliffs, themselves an area of great geological interest and protected as a SSSI.
At Overstrand, the route returns to the clifftops once more to traverse field edges and pleasant woodland. From the top of the hill just outside of Sidestrand, the coast falls away from you, revealing much of the path that lies ahead. The land slips along this stretch of the coast show the glorious colour of the geology that often remains hidden deep beneath our feet, but take care to stay well back from the edge here; the cliffs are very sensitive to further erosion. Trimingham is a small village that doesn’t extend far from the coast road. It’s a quiet little place, but it was once a centre for pilgrimage. The church of St John the Baptist’s Head is one of only three churches in the country to bear this dedication, and while the saint’s head never actually resided here, it’s thought that a life-sized alabaster carving did. Nobody truly knows what became of it, but it’s likely that it was destroyed during the reformation.
Leaving Trimingham, you’ll skirt around one of the coast’s most obvious landmarks. Known locally as ‘the golf ball’ RAF Trimingham is a remote radar station that’s part of a network established during World War Two, and controlled from RAF Neatishead. After passing the golf ball, you’ll gradually descend into Mundesley.
Mundesley to Happisburgh – 6 miles (9.5km)
The village of Mundesley was a popular resort in Victorian times, and many of the larger buildings are from that era. The village’s oldest buildings can be found on the sea front, such as the Ship Inn, the village’s oldest pub. From this point, the path returns to the beach once more, but unlike the previous section beween Cromer and Overstrand, this section cannot currently be passed at high tide, so you must take care to check the tide information carefully before beginning. Passing below the 200 acre expanse of gas terminals, the route follows the pleasant sandy beach to Bacton. Between Bacton and Walcott, the Coast path hugs the shoreline, but that’s not to say there’s nothing to explore further inland. With circular walks from both villages, and the Paston Way too, the area is a goldmine for church lovers. Paston’s gothic St Margaret’s church, which houses the Paston family memorials is particularly worth a visit.
From Walcott, the profile of the path rises onto the cliffs again as it approaches Happisburgh. The church and famous candy-striped lighthouse are the village’s most prominent features. Both can be visited. The history-rich church is opened to the public most days, and the lighthouse is open on weekends throughout the summer season. The lighthouse tour is a must-do, not just for its insight into local history, but also for the stunning views that its lamp room offers over the coast and North Sea shipping lanes and oilfields.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Happisburgh is the early human footprints that were discovered there in 2013. Left behind in estuarine mud over 800,000 years ago, these footprints are the oldest footprints left by early humans outside of Africa that have ever been found.
Sea Palling to Caister-on-Sea (North Beach) – 10.5 miles (17km)
From the village of Sea Palling, the Coast Path follows the landward side of a dune ridge that characterises much of the stretch north of Great Yarmouth. This brand new section of trail winds through grassland and scrub, as well as pretty woodland and blackthorn thickets. This stretch is popular with birdwatchers, especially during the winter when the trees and hedges offer birds shelter from the cold wind. Rising briefly from the toe of the dunes at Poplar Farm, the route offers far-reaching views inland and along the coast where a number of churches can be seen, as well as Happisburgh’s famous lighthouse before dipping down once more to follow a well-trodden path between tall sand dunes and grazing marsh, and passing the much loved and visited grey seal colony, which draws thousands of visitors each winter when the seals come ashore to breed. From here, the route soon arrives at the Winterton-Horsey SSSI, an internationally significant site home to dragonflies, rare butterflies, the natterjack toad and a little tern colony. At Winterton Ness, the path takes to the dunes, for panoramic views over land and sea. After passing the village of Winterton-on-Sea itself, at around the walk’s halfway point, the path enters ‘The Valley,’ a long meadow bordered by ferns. With views along its length, it’s another great place for birdwatching, with raptors often seen hunting above. Onto the beaches of Hemsby, California and Scratby, sandstone cliffs replace the dunes found elsewhere, adding an extra degree of separation from the villages above. In the autumn and winter, you may well find that you have this whole stretch of beach to yourself, a serene landscape of sea and sand. At higher tides, an alternative route can be found from Hemsby to California, and is waymarked from both sides.
Caister-on-Sea (North Beach) to Hopton-on-Sea – 10 miles (16km)
Starting from the line of a disused railway on top of the sea wall, this walk soon descends to the beach. At the southern end of Caister-on-Sea, the route passes Caister lifeboat station. The old lifeboat shed, just metres from the coast path, has been converted into a museum, where visitors can learn about the station’s proud heritage, and the meaning of the motto ‘never turn back,’ now emblazoned above the door. Beyond the lifeboat station is the beginning of the low-lying dunes of the Great Yarmouth North Denes SSSI. These accreting sand dunes are most important for their little tern colonies, which support almost ten percent of Great Britain’s breeding population. From here, the walk delves into Great Yarmouth, a working port town that upholds a long and robust maritime heritage alongside its more modern tourist industry. The coast path is just a short distance from the town’s busy market, and there’s a wealth of historic buildings and museums in which to explore Yarmouth’s past. Beyond the hubbub of Yarmouth’s ‘Golden Mile,’ Gorleston Quay offers the chance to witness the workings of a modern port up close. From the concrete and rust of this industrial giant, it’s just a stone’s throw to Gorleston’s hidden gem of a beach, whose golden sands host the final leg of this walk to Hopton. With views off to the horizon and soft sand underfoot, it’s a place to savour the sea air and relax. Hopton beach used to be bigger, and historic photos show a wide beach more like Gorleston’s, packed with sunbathers. Recently created rock groynes provide sheltered inlets, the perfect place to cool off after with a swim after your walk. In the case of high or extreme tides, there is an alternative route that can be taken between the southern end of Gorleston’s beach and Hopton-on-Sea. This route is signposted on the ground.