Suffolk Coast (Part 1)

I started the new year by going on coastal walk from Great Yarmouth to Southwold with a stay in Lowestoft. This was partly inspired by W. G. Sebald’s famous The Rings of Saturn, in which the narrator follows the Suffolk Coast Path. In a film based on the book, Robert MacFarlane says that one should not walk this route merely because one likes Sebald, but luckily this did not apply to me since I am of course interested in walking through East Anglia anyway.

Sebald starts in Somerleyton, home of the inventor of the hovercraft. I didn’t want to wait to see the seaside though, and so decided to begin my walk in Great Yarmouth and hence in Norfolk. In order to get the most out of the daylight I took an early train from Cambridge, but unfortunately missed the connecting train in Norwich by one minute and had to wait there for a whole hour. This proved to be a benefit rather than a nuisance however, since the next train to Yarmouth ended up being loco-hauled by class 37s:

These and their memorable sound already made an appearance in the post about the walk to Great Yarmouth; but I had never actually used this kind of train before and was hence very pleased.

After arriving in Yarmouth I walked along a road south towards Gorleston-on-Sea. The weather was quite pleasant, and I soon reached the end of Yarmouth and the beginning of Gorleston:

I walked along the promenade, at the end of which I joined the Norfolk Coastal Path.

Pretty soon the path disappeared, however, because the cliffs and dunes along the beach have been eaten up by erosion. I thus had to continue walking along the beach, on which one can find debris of fences that used to stand at the edge of the cliffs:

At some point it was possible to leave the beach and continue on top of the cliffs, from where the view was much better. There was no shortage of uninviting notices, however: The concrete promenade along the beach is no longer accessible, and soon the cliff path itself ended with an assortment of warning signs:

While in Norfolk the coastal path is signposted well, but after I had crossed the border to Suffolk no more sign were to be seen. According to my map the footpath did nevertheless continue all the way to Lowestoft, but I had some trouble locating it in the real world, and ended up in a muddy field next to a rifle range.

Eventually I arrived at the edge of a Caravan park. There was a path along the cliffs which I assumed would be the public footpath, however strangely enough it was fenced off from all sides and could not be used. Since there was no other way out I had to walk through the caravan park instead, staying as far away from the caravans as possible. After that I went through some more fields until I reached the village of Corton, where for the first time since entering Suffolk there was a public footpath sign. Unfortunately, however, what this sign said was that the footpath along the coast had been lost due to coastal erosion.

Subsequent investigations showed that the clifftop path I had seen on my map was destroyed in the winter of 2012. (Unlike other counties, Suffolk doesn’t seem to have a list of closed and diverted footpaths online, so it was difficult to predict these complications). One can thus not recommend walking the route I had taken, because the way through the caravan park is on private land. This is very unfortunate, since as far as I had been able to make out is is also not possible to walk this stretch on the beach either.

After passing through Corton Lowestoft was now close. I had never been there before and was very curious, since it is Britain’s most easterly town and home to the easternmost point of the country. As usual for the seaside, the border between town and country was marked by caravans:

This is what Ness Point – Britain’s easternmost point – ¬†looks like:

It must be admitted that it is probably not the most spectacular extreme point, a view which is also reflected in a number of harsh reviews of the location on Google Maps. The reason for this is presumably that Ness Point is located in quite an industrial part of Lowestoft, as is indicated by the rather prosaic street names nearby:

I was pleased to find that Lowestoft has more scenic parts as well, especially the promenade south of the river. Here there are rows and rows of traditional British hotels and bed and breakfasts, in one of which I stayed the night – as the only guest, in fact, since January is not exactly high season.

My stay there was very pleasant, and the next day I was ready to continue my coastal walk to Southwold, which will be the topic of the second part.

A Trip to the Seaside

I sometimes ask people whether they want to join me on a trip, but usually no one wants to come. I was therefore very happy when my friend T. agreed to accompany me on a trip to Great Yarmouth in May. The plan was as follows: First we take the train to Norwich, then change to the Yarmouth-train to get off at Berney Arms, a tiny railway station that is known for being in the middle of nowhere. Then we would walk from Berney Arms to Great Yarmouth, through the Norfolk Broads along the river Yare, and have a nice time at the seaside. And that is precisely what we did.

The journey to Norwich went smoothly, and we caught the required train. There are two railway lines to Great Yarmouth, and Berney Arms is on the one which is less frequently used, so it was important to get this particular connection. It is also a request stop, so the conductor had to be informed about our wish to disembark. Although our train was by no means very long – only two carriages – the platform at Berney Arms is so short that only the very first door can be used! A surprisingly large crowd got out there as well, about 5-6 people.

Even T., who is not exactly a railway enthusiast, was duly impressed by the smallness and remoteness of the station, and pictures were taken accordingly. The footpath from the station leads to a windmill, and there also used to be a pub called Berney Arms. Unfortunately that has been closed for a few years; in this video the previous owners are interviewed, which amazingly moved there from Birmingham. Since going to a pub is more appropriate at the end of a walk rather than its beginning, the closure of the pub was no great inconvenience to us though.

T. and I made out way towards Great Yarmouth along the Wherryman’s Way, which is a distance of about 6 miles. (If you walk into the other direction you get to Reedham, which has a swinging bridge). The terrain is Norfolk at its finest and flattest, we could see the windmill we started at until the very end of the walk. Since we were close to the sea it was also quite breezy, and given that there were no hills or trees T., whose ears are sensitive to cold wind, suffered a bit. This could easily have been prevented by the presence of a cap or a hat, but neither of us had brought one.

We passed some more windmills, and Great Yarmouth, which is stretched out along the coast, started to look bigger and bigger. Our way met the railway line again, near the junction where the two lines to Yarmouth join. Here another train highlight could be observed: Two class 37 locomotives moving three carriages, which Greater Anglia uses on some lines:

It is astonishing how noisy these locomotives are; the sound could leads one to believe that an invisible helicopter is starting somewhere! (This is captured well here).

After arriving in Great Yarmouth we looked for some well-deserved lunch. We opted for fish and chips, and found a nice-looking place, where we were at first slightly overwhelmed by the many choices required: Beans or peas? – If peas, mushy or garden? – Luckily we did thoroughly enjoy the meal we eventually managed to order.

As is usual in seaside towns, many seagulls were around, although here they were relatively harmless, and did not attempt to steal our food. T. didn’t seem to be familiar with seagulls, which might appear strange for someone who has been living on an island for some years. It is explained by the fact that he is from the south of Germany, where the seaside is far away and people tend to prefer mountains anyway.

As a town, Great Yarmouth is certainly quite different in character than Cambridge. There are plenty of opportunities for entertainment, for instance this endlessly vomiting man:

Our attention was caught by the various amusement arcades, and in particular the penny pushers:

I am a big fan of these ever since I first encountered them on a school trip to Clacton-on-Sea – which in retrospect strikes me as a strange place to go to for a school in the West of Germany – where I spent quite a lot of time and money in the local arcade. (If you are not familiar with these machines, this clip can give you an idea). Since then I have learned a lot, and as far as I can see the crucial trick needed to win is not to put in one coin slowly after the other, but to insert a couple of coins in quick bursts. T. and I applied this strategy, and it worked – although I cannot remember now what kind of prize we won exactly, and we didn’t take a picture of our triumph.

[UPDATE: Pictures were taken after all! We won a little solider action figure, and also a plastic ball containing a toy. Thanks to T. for the correction.]

Later we walked around on the beach, where it was quite busy since it was a sunny day. Having done that, we decided to drink a beer at the bar on the pier before heading back to Cambridge again, which gave the day a nice sense of closure.

Full closure was not achieved, however. By coincidence, our train back to Norwich took the less common route via Berney Arms again, and hence I have yet to see the more standard route via Acle, which runs parallel to an unusually straight road. To see it I will thus have to visit Great Yarmouth again – a journey I’m looking forward to.