A 13 mile walk between the Norfolk coastal villages of Mundesley and Happisburgh
This walk comprises of a circular route taking in both the beach and the cliff-top paths between the two Norfolk coastal villages of Mundesley and Happisburgh. The centre of this walk is at Walcott where the cliffs recede and access to the beach is obtainable. This enables the walker to customise this route according to tidal conditions as both Happisburgh and Bacton beaches can be cut off by high tides.
Mundesley to Happisburgh Circular Walk - Essential Information
- Start point
- MundesleyView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- End Point
- HappisburghView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Total Walk distance
- 13 miles
- Walk difficulty
- Easy beach walk across firm sand with return along the top of the cliffs
- Sandy Beach plus well used cliff top paths
- The walk should only be done at appropriate tide conditions. Consult the Cromer tide times. There are sea defence structures that need to be climbed, there are steps over them but these are steep. Note that the path in front of Bacton Gas Terminal is permissive. this may be blocked at any time by the land owner.
Sanders Coaches - bus Service
- Service Number
- 5/5A - Sanders Coaches Service 5/5A Holt Sheringham to Norwich via Mundesley and North Walsham
- Sanders Coaches Website
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 10:30 to 15:30
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- Start with blue skies and breezes but son becoming overcast with some drizzle
It must be stressed before reading any further that tide times absolutely need to be consulted before attempting the beach part of this walk. You need to have a low tide occur during the walk in order to be certain of getting around the cliffs at Happisburgh. If in any doubt then do not proceed further south than Ostend. Also, some high tides prevent access along the beach between Mundesley and Bacton.
Having got the warning out of the way, it has to be said that this really is a fantastic walk both as the beach route and the return along cliff top paths. One can obviously tailor the walk depending upon the state of the tide, either walking in reverse or mixing the beach and cliff with a cross over at Walcott where there is easy access to and from the beach.
The Beach Walk
Mundesley is what one would expect of a quaint old seaside town. Not much has changed over the years. Certainly all signs of modernisation have been kept at bay, which is a good thing. There are none of the razzmatazz of more modern seaside places. No loud canned music blaring through the air. No ghastly funfair's. There is a cafe. There is a pub. And a beach. And brightly coloured beach huts. And sand and a prom. In my humble book that is what constitutes a seaside town. Nothing more.
It is a popular little place during the summer season, but the day of this walk is September. The schools have reopened. Holidays are over and the place is returned to quietness. Not dead, just peaceful. The beach has people on it. Couples out walking and taking in the sea air or exercising the dog, ignoring the signs decreeing that dogs are not allowed on the beach between 1st of May and the 30th of September. Not that anyone really cares as the holiday season is over. The sun shines. The skies are blue. The sea is calm. A cool breeze blows off the water and there is the threat that the weather will soon change with the prospect of showers later. The kiosks on the prom are still open but trade is certainly not overwhelming.
Looking south the Norfolk coast stretches out in all its glory. The beach gently curves around towards the cliffs at Happisburgh, its church and lighthouse sitting proud above the land and appearing to be well inland due to the curvature of the coast. Groynes can be seen piercing the waves in the near distance all the way to Walcott which can be easily made out by the gap in the cliffs. Out at sea, above the horizon are the distinctive rocky reefs that stand clear of Sea Palling. What a scene, what could be more inviting for a beach walk.
The prom ends and there is plenty of sand to walk upon. Small pebbles litter the beach, randomly dropped by the tide. Wooden groynes are positioned every hundred yards or so. Each one starts close to the grassy cliffs, their true height hidden by the built up beach making it easy to step over them. As Bacton nears, angled wooden defences run parallel to the cliff. These are well maintained, with the job of protecting the cliff in front of the Bacton Gas Terminal which sits above. The security lights are the only give away from the beach but I know its there. Secreted. Just enough sound to know that something is up there but quiet enough to think they are trying to keep it secret and hidden. Under the beach lies the pipelines that are used to import and export gas to the continent. But that is just rumour and garnered knowledge, there is no tell-tale give-away that they really are there.
At the end of the Bacton terminal the cliffs give way to concrete sea defence in front of lower lying ground that fronts Bacton Green and continues through to Walcott. At this point there is the need to get over to the landward side of the defences due to the groynes becoming more prominent above the sand. Wooden steps provide access across and the final few yards have granite boulders placed in front of the cliffs as protection. It is obvious from the smoothed and flattened sand that the tide can reach up to these boulders. I know this as a fact from attempting to get around here on a previous occasion and being denied by the encroaching tide. It seems strange that this is the route that the long distance trail known as the Paston Way takes and is also the proposed route for the Norfolk section of the English Coast Path. When the tide covers this section then the alternative is to head inland along the busy road to Mundesley. Not a pleasant route. We took that route once before, however, for this walk I had discovered a permissive path that leads in front of the Bacton Gas Terminal along the cliff top which will be used on the return leg to the walk. This begs the question as to why Natural England, who are designating the new path, did not negotiate with the Gas Terminal to use the permissive path. Surely there must be safety considerations for unwitting walkers who follow the waymarkers without consideration to tide times and who are then cut off by the tide. A quote from the local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press states:
Natural England were advised by Norfolk Police’s counter terrorism security advisor that a cliff top trail would make this system more 'difficult'.
This is difficult to understand. The existing security arrangements along the permissive path include a double metal chain linked fence separated by a gravel trap and regularly placed street lighting and CCTV cameras to monitor the full length of the path. Walkers are already monitored, it would appear, so why would this make the system more difficult. At high tide the security services are going to be faced with walkers, who don't know the permissive path is there, traipsing along the main road in front of the complex. This side still has fences, cameras, lighting. This side will still need to be constantly monitored. What makes the coast side any different?
The walk continues along the lower levels of the concrete defences that adjoin the beach. Past Keswick. Norfolk Keswick. Well, one of Norfolk's Keswick's. Then onto Walcott. The beach presents reminders of the power of the sea. Large concrete structures lurk beneath the beach, their tops pricking out of the sand, battered and eroded. One wonders whether these are long gone buildings, or a forgotten hotel that has succumbed to the torment of the tide, but they are more likely older defences. A memory lingers of being told that the road once ran where the beach now sits in the not too distant past, such is the erosion at this point.
Beyond Walcott the grassy cliffs return. The beach becomes more pebbly although the sand is still predominant. The wooden defences in front of the cliffs return but these are very much eroded, their horizontal planks all gone. The uprights are worn by the sea, making them look like sharpened pencils that have been stuck in the sand. The cliffs, displaying evidence of recent falls of their soft sandy soil, are deemed unworthy of defending as they have no Gas Terminal standing above them.
As Happisburgh approaches the destruction gets more evident. An hexagonal concrete structure looms out of the sand, a rare example of a six sided pillbox that used to stand on the cliff-top. It rests at an angle, upside down. Beyond this, two large rectangular concrete blocks stand firm, parallel to each other, resisting the anger of the tides. These were the footings of the metal stairway to the caravan site that sits above. By 2012 the cliff had eroded and the steps were craned onto the cliff top and have never been put back in place. One can see the reason. Back then they stood just in front of the cliff with a short walkway atop them. Now the foundations lie completely adrift in the middle of the beach.
With the steps now gone there is no other access to the cliff top this side of Happisburgh. The last access was at Ostend, just south of Walcott which is a good half hours walk away. The next is around the cliffs to the south of Happisburgh and these cliffs jut out and are cut off well before high tide. This is the reason why one needs to know the tide times. It had been low tide after leaving Mundesley but even now there is a quicken of the heartbeat as we pace forward in the hope there is still enough beach to get around these cliffs. A sense of relief is felt at the view around the cliff which shows the sea pounding up against the defences but not breaking through them. Defences? When I say defences, these are the desperate and feeble attempts to keep the tides at bay. Granite boulders. Concrete blocks. Twisted metal and general debris. Even the metal and concrete remains of the old slipway have now become part of the defences. And in addition to this, the beach is littered with the rubble of the houses which once stood above these cliffs. Despite all of this defence the erosion continues unabated and at an alarming rate over recent years forcing the demolition of the cliff top houses along Beach Road in 2012. Only one was left standing and that was the house of Bryony Nierop Reading who at first defiantly refused to move but when the 2013 Storm Surge left her house teetering on the cliff edge she was forced to find alternative accommodation and the house was finally demolished.
The present beach access is a sand ramp on the south side of the village that leads up to the new car park. As we amble up this, a light shower starts to spit its rain into our faces. There is no time to admire the view of Eccles to the South, or the iconic Happisburgh lighthouse. We saunter down the road and to the pub for shelter, sustenance and a well earned pint of beer.
The pub, named the The Hill House Inn, is located behind the campsite. Above the door are the words in bold resplendent lettering 'Morgans Ales'. The unseasoned Norfolk traveller may well confidently stride into this humble establishment and assertively request a pint of Morgans very best. Unfortunately they will be disappointed. Morgans brewery was dissolved into the conglomerate known as Watneys back in 1961 and the brewery, located in Kings Street, Norwich was demolished in 1989. The lettering was uncovered during recent exterior redecoration and faithfully restored. For those who may hanker after a taste of Morgans ales, then probably a tipple of Adnams will suffice for their yeast strain dates from a Morgans yeast sample taken back in 1940 when their own yeast suffered from an infection. (ref - Adnams).
Behind the pub is an old Signal box. You can't see it from the front but access can be gained through the barn doors adjacent to the pub. With the rain eased it was worth seeking out this interesting structure. It does feel like one is intruding when passing through the barn doors that lead to the courtyard beyond. A function room is on the left and on the right is the legendary wooden framed signal box. Looking lost without a railway. I had wondered whether this was just a folly, or a publicity stunt. After all why would a signal box be placed at the back of a pub?
As we stood admiring this feature we were caught by a member of the kitchen staff. Apologising for the intrusion and half expecting to be asked to leave, it was a welcome relief when this lady invited us to view inside the signal box. An offer that we couldn't refuse. I asked whether it really was true that this was constructed in anticipation of the railway line to Great Yarmouth. She affirmed and expanded upon the subject. The planners had sanctioned a new railway and this signal box had been constructed in 1901 prior to the line to Great Yarmouth being put into place but the backers ran out of money and the railway was never completed to leave this as a railway folly. Today it is part of the pub and operates as a guest house. Inside it is tastefully decorated and the easterly windows provide some great views of the coast. A most agreeable and unique place to stay.
The cliff top path
The return journey follows the cliff top paths that lead out from the Happisburgh caravan site. Once over the crest of the hill the coast can be seen all the way back to Mundesley with the Trimmingham golf ball peeking up above the cliffs in the distance. At the top of the cliff is a small cabin which is home to the Happisburgh Coast Watch which is a voluntarily manned lookout station that operates seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep a watch on this stretch of the Norfolk Coastline. Alongside the station is an old brick building. This was a WWII gun emplacement and was part of RAF Happisburgh. According to the Invisible Works website there are a series of tunnels under the fields that once made up this RAF station with one entrance through a trap door in this old gun emplacement. From the coast side of the building can be seen street art scrawled across the brickwork making a face with two gunports as the eyes. Clever. Eerie. Effective. The toothy smile is somewhat sinister, like a clown with a haunting feeling of dread lurking behind the makeup.
The footpath follows the cliff down to Ostend where gravelled roads and tracks lead through an estate made up of bungalows and chalets. One would think these are for holiday use. But the personal touches, the cars, the lived in looks give a feel that some are more than just that. The sea lurks behind them. Mixed feelings emerge about this development. Some of the buildings are clearly modern. Don't they know the raging sea lies just beyond like a hungry wolf with these innocent sheep in its eyes. Have they not heard about the winter storms that blow in on this coast, about the past tragedies that have played out along these shores leaving destruction, homelessness and misery in their wake. Or are they just the innocent prey to the money hungry property developers who think nothing of where they construct dwellings, with economics being their only driving concern, and the home-owners lured into buying purely on the idyll of location.
We briefly stop off at the Kingfisher cafe on Walcott seafront road for a cup of tea. It is fairly busy. Only a few months later it would be overwhelmed by the storm surge as would all the businesses and houses along this road. The damage would take months to repair and result in homelessness for some. We returned to the cafe in Feb 2014 and luckily the damage to the cafe had been minimal although there there was a lot of other properties not so lucky with building materials in evidence as the repairs proceeded in earnest. With the sea so close to the road it is easy to see why this community is so vulnerable to storms which are becoming more frequent in recent years. A Norfolk Councillor for Walcott, Lee Walker, is quoted as saying after the 2013 storm surge:
the 1953 surge was meant to have been a one in 150 years event, but it had happened four times since then, making it one in 30
Continuing along the top of the sea defences leads to the section where the official Paston Way drops down to the beach and the cliffs rise to the Bacton Gas Terminal. Following the trail down to the beach and around the granite boulders, there is a ramp up to the top of the cliff. If the tide is in and access is denied around the beach, then a public footpath can be accessed from the road just beyond the caravan site. This meets up with the top of the ramp. The public footpath turns back to the road but a permissive path continues along the cliff top in front of the Gas Terminal. A sign clearly declares the route as being permissive and not a public right of way, with the words PRIVATE LAND in large capital letters under which it then declares THIS IS NOT A PUBLIC FOOTPATH. This means the land owner has no right to maintain the path or even keep it open but it does allow public access at their own risk. Judging by the paths condition it is well used and clearly defined and we set off undeterred.
The Gas terminal looks sinister. A mass of metallic pipes, framework and chimneys lurk behind the double metal chain linked fence but there is a distinct lack of life or activity. Maybe it is just that way as it is a Sunday. However, this is a 24 hour, 365 day a year operation so I guess it is mostly automated. It has stood here since the mid 1960's and it hasn't been without controversy. An explosion and fire occurred in 2011 when the owners, Shell, were deemed to have ignored safety warnings. This has not been the only occasion, with an earlier 2008 fire and explosion seemingly hushed up after initially being reported by the media. One cant help but inquisitively peer past the double fences that mark the perimeter despite the better views across the coast. Security cameras are regularly positioned to monitor the length of the path, along with street lamps that are positioned to illuminate the gravel trap between the fences. There is a feeling of being watched. Each footstep monitored, noted, referenced and documented. I have a rucksack and that probably indicates a terrorist tendency which will be written down, filed away along with vital video footage. Just in case. I keep my camera well hidden in my pocket. Any sight may indicate suspicions of spying. It is best not to antagonise these authorities least they call me in for interrogation. In this day and age everyone is guilty unless they can prove otherwise. A nagging thought occurs to me that the previous fires and explosions would indicate that they appear to be able to do a good job of devastation without the aid of terrorists.
At the end of the installation the permissive path turns back into a public footpath. With a hundred yards between us and the installation I turn and take a quick snap. Purely as a record of the path, and the feelings that it conjures up. The path now leads along an edge of a field and into some scrubland where a track terminates, presumably leading up from the main road. Sitting at the end of this track is a white police car with yellow and blue markings. A big 4x4 vehicle with two police officers sitting inside. For a minute I think that the Bacton security had monitored me taking a quick snap with my camera and have decided to call it in. These police car look the same as those used by the Sizewell Nuclear Power Station and I know for fact that Sizewell Security Police officers are armed. I can only suspect the same of this unit. I try to look innocent. Hide the camera. There is no acknowledgement between us and the police. We pass nonchalantly and continue towards Mundesley. We hear the car engine start up and turn to witness it slowly driving back down the lane to the road. I bet they did get a call to check us out. I bet a guard had caught us on the CCTV and had monitored, noted and documented our progress then put in a call to security to check us out. Now the police had given us a visual once over they could file a report concluding 'suspect walkers identified as walkers' which would then be catalogued away along with the original notes, documentation and CCTV footage. Maybe it was just a quiet Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do than check out innocent walkers.
The final section of the path is down Stow hill and into Mundesley. The first view of the place is from the crest of Stow Hill. It is something of a revelation with the village nestled in the valley between the hills. If this was a cove you could almost imagine the scene being in somewhere in the south west. Photographs do not do the scene any justice at all and a bench placed part way down the hill allows one to take glory of this view in. The path leads steeply down the hill and out onto the road past flint lined walls, over a babbling stream known as Mundesley Beck and into the village where the Ship Inn offers a fitting end to a great walk.
As of October 2014 it would appear that the path in front of the Bacton Gas Terminal is currently inaccessible due to works which are adding defences directly in front of the cliffs after extensive erosion in front of this establishment. A possible alternative route can be found by using the realigned Paston Way from Bacton. Follow the waymarkers across the fields to Bacton church and then onto the village of Paston. At this point cross the main road and follow the backroad where there is a public footpath to the cliff edge where the walk to Mundesley can be resumed.
Mundesley to Happisburgh Circular Walk - outward along the beach and return along the cliffs
From the Mundesley Gold Park bus stop, enter Gold Park and diagonally cross to the beach car park. Access to the beach is down the side of the Ship Inn. Follow the beach through to Walcott where a road runs alongside the sea defences. At this point one needs to be certain that the tide is sufficiently close to low tide in order to get around the cliffs at Happisburgh. There are no longer steps to access the cliff top at Happisburgh which necessitates a walk around to the Eccles side of the village where there is a sand ramp. If in any doubt continue along the cliff top path.
Return is along the cliff top paths. These begin from the Happisburgh caravan site.Walk through the site to the cliff edge and a footpath leads beyond, across the fields towards Ostend. It diverts slightly inland as it meets the community and leads onto the gravelle roads through the estate. When the road bends around with a view of the sea, continue down here and a footpath leads across the top of the defences to Walcott. Keep on the top of these defences through to Bacton Green. If the tide is right at the end of the defences follow the Paston Way waymarkers onto the beach and around the granite boulders. Just beyond these is a ramp up to the top of the cliff. If the tide is too far in to get around here, return to the southern side of the holiday site and take the lane to the main road, walk along the road northwards to just past the site where a footpath leads down to the cliff edge and meets up with the top of the ramp.
From this point there is a permissive path that runs along the back of the Bacton Gas Terminal. This links up to a footpath on the northern side of the terminal which continues along the cliff top to Mundesley. The final section of the path leads out onto the road for a short distance into the village.
For return to Cromer by bus, return the same bus stop by Gold Park. Both NorthWalsham and Cromer bound buses run past this stop in the same direction.
Hill House, Happisburgh View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- The Hill, Happisburgh
This family-friendly 16th century coaching inn with its woodburning stove and pictures of bygone days offers an excellent range of food and selection of ales. The pub includes a restaurant room, a family room and a beer garden. Accommodation is supplied in a 1901 signal box behind the pub. It is said that this was built as part of the planned but never completed expansion of Great Eastern Railway from North Walsham to Great Yarmouth. It is not stated exactly why the signal box was built before any railway had been laid!
Two plaques on the exterior pub wall commemorate the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle stayed at the pub in 1903 and wrote parts of 'The Dancing Men' at the pub.
The pub hosts a 'summer solstice' beer festival each year.
There are always a good selection of ales available at this humble abode and this day was no different. As this was included in the Woodfordes Ale Trail we selected the awesome Bure Gold from Woodfordes, a mighty fine pint of ale.
The Ship, Mundesley View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Beach Road, Mundesley
Set on the cliff top overlooking the North Sea, The Ship is over 200 years old though there is no exact date as to when it was built. Records do show that in 1796 the pub’s lease was sold by the Coltishall Brewery. A stone celebrating Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887 can be found in the rear wall of the pub. Today the pub is a friendly hostelry offering a selection of local ales and food made from locally sourced ingredients.
Very friendly little local where the locals readily engaged us in conversation. Being a Sunday lunchtime, the pub was pretty full. I remember when all pubs were like this on a Sunday lunchtime. Lets hope this revival of the weekly Sunday liquid sermon spreads.
WalcottView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Walcott is notable by the coast road that runs along the sea defence. There is not much protection from the sea at this point with houses, caravans and shops looking out across the sea. It is easy to see just how vulnerable this coastal hamlet is to North Sea surges, the last one to be the surge of December 5th 2013 when dozens of homes and businesses were damaged. Prior to this a surge in 2007 caused property damage and boats and caravans blown across the coast road. Back in the 1953 a surge resulted in much of the village being lost to the sea along with the neighbouring hamlet of Keswick.
Looking at Fadens map of 1797 it is noticeable just how far inland Walcott was at this time. Also notable is the lack of buildings in the area. Today in addition to the community that nestles along the cost road there is also a settlement to the south at Ostend which comprises of an estate of bungalows and chalets, some privately owned with others being holiday lets. Although a little higher than the coast road community, this nonetheless sits atop the low level cliffs and must nonetheless be vulnerable to the ever encroaching North sea. It is predicted that in a 'do nothing' scenario of coastal protection that many of the houses on the estate as well as the coast road will be taken by the sea within the next 100 years
Happisburgh Prehistoric FootprintsView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Close to the old concrete footings which were used as the foundations for the cliff steps is the site of the Happisburgh footprints. These were discovered after the December 2013 Storm Surge, which eroded the beach to reveal a series of footprints in the soft clay.
The December 2013 Storm Surge eroded an area of beach which revealed an area which contained a series of elongated hollows cut into the compacted silts. After diditial techniques were used to analyse these anomolies it confirmed the susopicions that these were ancient human footprints. Dating techniques using based upon stratigraphy, palaeomagnetism have revelaed the footprints to be 800,000 years old which makes them the oldest footprints outside of Africa.
During the time these footprints were laid down a land bridge existed between Britain and France and Happisburgh lay about 15 miles further inland than it does today on the site of an ancient estuary where two rivers converged into a large bay. It is suspected that the area was an open grassy valley surrounded by pine forest and inhabited by such beasts as mammoths, rhinos, hippos, giant deer, bison, sabre-toothed cats, lions, wolves and hyenas.
Unfortunately the footprints were washed away by the tides withiin two weeks of the storm.
Links and Bibliography:
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16