28th August, 2018
Great Yarmouth Seafront and Pier
Every year since forever my extended family has decamped en masse to Sheringham on the Norfolk Coast, 4 miles up from its more well-known neighbour, Cromer. My lot were in the shoe-making business in the distant past in Leicester and all the factories used to shut down in the Summer at the same time for 'Leicester Fortnight'. Half the city would flock to the coast and we've been coming ever since.
Not much has changed either. Perhaps the odd extra chippy, the occasional nod to modernity with some patchy wifi if you're lucky, but basically the same simple pleasures of pristine sand, spectacular coastline and time spent with the relatives (mostly in the pub).
I thought I'd take the chance to get a long run in this year so I caught a train to Great Yarmouth and spent the night in the cheapest B&B I've stayed in for 20 years (£35 with breakfast on a bank holiday weekend. Bargain.) with the plan to run the 37 miles of Coastal Path to Sheringham for as long as it took on the bank Holiday Saturday. The path is part of the project to open a contiguous trail along the entire coastline of the Country and the leg past Cromer towards Yarmouth are recent additions.
Of course I forgot to load the route to the watch but in this case, what can possibly go wrong? So after as short an interval as I felt I could get away with after the host's scrambled egg on toast and coffee bucket, I hit the prom and headed North.
The furnace of this Summer had burnt out a couple of weeks back and so had the rainstorm that greeted the packed train's arrival into Yarmouth and apart from the wind it was perfect for a long day on the trail. 12 degrees and sunny. But that wind was blowing and would be a major buzzkill for the rest of the day.
As usual with these things the first few miles flew by and you start thinking of smoking a kipper and being home in time for tea. Yarmouth merged into Caister and other small towns - California(!), Scratby, Hemsby, but you're generally oblivious as they're set inland from the path and you can easily pass by without noticing. I did see a part of California unintentionally as I missed the trail sign and in error went inland a ways.
Scroby Sands Wind Farm off Caister-on-Sea
Much of the trail is hard packed but there are quite a few beach sections which, though extremely easy on the eye, are not easy on the feet with a fine-grained sand that laughs in the face of your supposedly grippy tread. Combined with a stiff headwind I didn't enjoy them much. There are a lot of sea defences around here, testament to the high rate of erosion and a lot of these provided runnable surfaces to get off the soft sand.
The population of fellow humans, never high, dwindled fast and for long periods I hardly saw a soul. Which, I must say, suits me fine! It's easier to enjoy the views which were lovely past the Happisburgh Lighthouse - I've since learned this is the only privately-run lighthouse in the country, so there's a pop fact for you.
The official trail seems to default to the beach route but there is often another option fractionally inland and were I to do this again there are some sand and dune stretches I would miss out. After Sea Palling, for example, there's a quiet road/track which would have been a lot more comfortable than the soft dunes and marram grass which are like razor blades and needles to the thighs.
Beyond Happisburgh a fair bit of the trail had fallen into the sea and I get the impression the route is subject to constant revision. The Manor Caravan Park wasn't quite as extensive at it evidently once was with roads ending in mid air. I'm not sure the fabulous views you get living here would wholly offset the nagging fear that you're going over the edge anytime soon.
Walcott to Bacton is a straight line of concrete sea wall which but for the wind I doubt I'd have noticed but it was blowing hard, almost to the point of rendering any forward motion impossible and this was a real slog. The path dropped back to the sands along Bacton which really this photo does no justice to at all. Really stunning beach and for some reason not a single soul on it. I had plenty of time to soak it in as there was still that wind and very little solid surface on the sand. I was looking forward to reaching Mundesley, just visible in the distance, where I could get off the beach and I'd decided to stuff myself with icecream and top up the water bottles. I only carried a litre and refilled those just once so only got through a total of 2. Just about got away with that, but there are plenty of places for a refill along the way if you should ever find yourself on this trail.
I've run the section between Mundesley and Sheringham many times. I used to use it for marathon training and I know it's exactly 12 miles from the lifeboat there back to the beach at Sheringham so this felt like the home stretch. I'd never realised there was a trail when I'd previously run this though, always sticking to the road, so that would be a novelty.
One very satisfying cone of loveliness later and a evacuation of enough sand to build a castle out of the shoes, I restarted but feeling quite beaten up despite only covering 25 miles. That's the nature of the terrain and the wind no doubt but I hadn't run a whole lot since Lavaredo a couple of months back.
It's all clifftop track past Sidestrand and Overstrand with lovely views out over the North Sea until, disappointingly, I followed the trail back down to the beach for one last slog across the sand and into the wind. This time I had an added bonus. I'd managed to slice the mesh on top of my right shoe on some protruding metal - it really did a proper job on the material - so now I was collecting every last loose pebble as well as everything else! I suppose I'm lucky it didn't cut my foot and that the shoe was just about intact enough to stay on. I've since applied the gaffer tape and am about to see if it still holds together!
Cromer pier was bustling and I was tempted to have another ice cream but it's only 4 miles from here to Sheringham so I thought it better to just press on although at a walk through the hordes with their dogs, pushchairs and children.
It's all pretty much downhill form here through the caravan parks at East and West Runton and then over the summit of Beeston Hump at the dizzying height of 63 metres!
I turned up at the usual Sheringham beach a bit later than pplanned at 5pm to find 50-odd of the family were already there. Coffee and crisps were thrust into my hands along with the expected pronouncements that I must be mad etc (you know the sort of thing!)
I really loved running that.. a fair bit harder than I had imagined but worth it for the views and this should serve as a starter for training for the Dragon's Back.
The coastline beyond Sheringham I think is ever better still. The whole area is well worth a visit if you want a long weekend away from everyday stresses.