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Out and About - Norfolk

[norfolk2]Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast, including "The Wash".

Norfolk is a popular tourist destination and has several major examples of holiday attractions. There are many seaside resorts, including some of the finest British beaches, such as those at Great Yarmouth, Waxham, Cromer and Holkham bay. Norfolk is probably best known for the Broads, a well known network of rivers and lakes, is located on the county's east coast, bordering Suffolk. The area has the status of a National Park and is protected by the Broads Authority.

Other areas of outstanding natural beauty and many areas of the coast are wild bird sanctuaries and reserves with some areas designated as National Parks. Tourists and locals enjoy the wide variety of monuments and historical buildings in both Norfolk and the city of Norwich.

Some websites to visit:

Blakeney National Nature Reserve

[Public notice board]Blakeney Point is a shingle spit on the coast of North Norfolk north of the village of Blakeney. It is managed by the National Trust as part of its Blakeney National Nature Reserve and within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Blakeney Point spit runs east to west and is tied at its eastern end to the cliff line at Weybourne. The spit is approximately 9.6 miles (15.5 kilometres) in length but is subject to change all the time. The spit is composed of a shingle bank which in places is 65 feet (20 m) in width and at some points, 33 feet (10 m) high. It has been estimated that there are 82 million cubic feet (2,300,000 m3) of shingle in the spit. At the point on the western end sand dunes have accumulated. Between the shingle spit arm and the raised coastline there are salt marshes. The spit was formed by longshore drift and this continues westward. At the western point the shingle curves laterally south towards the land. This feature has occurred several times over the years giving the impression on the map of the teeth of a comb. From Cley the River Glaven flows to the landward southern side of the spit, where it abruptly turns west and flows into the sea at Blakeney Point. At the end of the spit is a visitor information centre which is housed in an old lifeboat station.

Blakeney Point can be accessed on foot or by boat. At the end of the lane that runs from Cley to Cley Eye behind the shingle bank there is a car park (charges apply). From here it is possible to walk westwards along the spit to Blakeney Point. I did this, well not the full distance, but if you like to walk in wild exposed conditions this is a good place to do it especially if like me you do it in December! ;o)

To reach the headland and visitor centre you may also catch one of the several boat trips that operate from Blakeney and Morston harbours. Entry to the sensitive nesting ground on the point is restricted during the breeding season. There are also many facilities for Birdwatching on the salt marshes and spit. Groups of visitors are requested to contact the warden to make prior arrangements for their visit.

Blakeney Point is one of the best places in Great Britain to watch and study seals. The seal colony is made up of Common and Grey Seals and numbers are around 500. The Common Seals have their young between June and August, the Grey Seals between November and January. Both suckle their pups for about three weeks, during which time they grow very quickly, putting on between 1 kg and 1.6 kg a day, due to the very rich and fatty milk they are fed. The seals usually bask on the sandbanks at the far end of the spit. The grey seals are the larger of the two species and have large speckles on their coats and longer pointed heads with parallel nostrils. The common seals have a more rounded face with 'v' shaped nostrils. The best way of viewing the seals is to catch one of several boat trips which are run from Blakeney and Morston harbours. Between April and October the trips operate on a daily basis, although they also run throughout the winter months. Times of trips depend on the tide and are posted on timetable boards at both harbours. The seals are very inquisitive and often pop up alongside the boats.

The spit is also teeming with birds. During the summer months you can spot Common Terns, Sandwich Terns, Little Terns and Arctic Terns. Other species to be seen are Oyster Catcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Dunlin. In the winter months large numbers of ducks and geese, including Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Pink-footed Goose. Greylag and Brent Geese can be seen, especially on the salt marshes.

Please make sure you dress for the weather and watch the sea.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 251

Hickling Broad

[hickling1]Hickling Broad lies within The Broads National Park in Norfolk, England, 4 km south-east of Stalham.

It is a National Nature Reserve established by English Nature and in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who run boat trips around the reserve for visitors. It is also part of the Upper Thurne Broads and Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest.

It is the broad with the largest surface area, and the water is slightly brackish, due to its proximity to the sea. The navigation channel is only 1.5 m deep, with much of the broad being shallower; it has 5.9 km² of open water, making it one of the largest expanses of open water in East Anglia.

It has the largest reed-bed in England and supports rare waterweeds such as the Holly-leaved naiad and three rare species of Stonewort. Amongst the rare insects is the Swallowtail Butterfly (I saw my first here) which feeds on milk-parsley, the Norfolk hawker and Emperor Dragonfly. Birds that visit the reserve during the winter include Cranes, Goldeneyes, Shovelers and Teals, while Bitterns, Marsh harriers, Pochards, Water Rails and Cetti's warblers stay for most of the year.

There is an enjoyable waymarked walk around the broad and a few Hides, I enjoyed my visits here and would recommend it.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL40

Little Tern Colonies on the Norfolk Coast

[littletcol1]There are several Colonies on the Norfolk coast and will look so different to 20 years ago, there are a couple on Blakeney point that are all fenced off but the ones at North Denes Beach, Great Yarmouth (TG534113) and Winterton Dunes, Winterton (TG495205) are like Colditz with electric fences and patrols to stop Humans, Dogs, Cats and Foxes from disturbing the nests with shelters for the chicks to get away from marauding Gulls and Kestrels which had a devastating effect last year (2009).

Every May, around 300 pairs of little terns make the arduous journey from Africa to nest on the beach at North Denes and at Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve. North Denes hosts the largest breeding colony of little terns in Britain, with around 10% of the UK population choosing to nest at this site. But this year (2010) they all went to Winterton and the reason is unknown but it's not uncommon for them to shift sites.

Both North Denes and Winterton Dunes are easy to access with car parks near by and obviously don’t disrupt the nesting Terns ;o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL40

NWT Cley Marshes

[]Two NWT reserves at Cley and Salthouse were joined together in 2012, creating a single coastal reserve of more than 300 hectares. Today, Cley and Salthouse Marshes is one of the country’s most popular birdwatching sites, attracting more than 110,000 human visitors each year. The six hides (four of which are accessible via boardwalks) give fantastic views across pools and scrapes that are specially managed to attract breeding and passage birds.

There is a visitor centre where you can park up and a large café which serves tasty local produce, especially Bacon Baps which I enjoyed immensely! There are great panoramic views over the marshes and coastline.

To enter the Reserve you will need to pay at the Visitor Centre unless you are a member of the NWT.

From the visitor centre car park, cross the road using a pedestrian crossing to enter the reserve. There is a hardened path, left leads to a boardwalk, with passing areas, to the hides, right leads to Bishops Hide. Continuing in this direction it is possible to access East Bank (there are steps and a slope for easy access) which is a raised bank with a hardened path that stretches towards the beach overlooking all of the reserve.


[Entry sign]Snettisham, which is managed by the RSPB, lies on the edge of the Wash which is the most important estuary for birds in the UK. The Wash in winter supports more than 300,000 birds and Snettisham often holds more than a third of them, the largest numbers present between autumn and spring.

I visited Snettisham in December 2009 in the middle of a very cold spell with snow all around which made access early morning to view the sight of the Pink-footed Geese at roost impossible but I did manage to visit later in the day and found it an amazing place. The main habitats at Snettisham are shingle beach, brackish lagoon, inter tidal mudflat and salt marsh. There are four hides which have good views of the Saline Lagoons and the Rotary hide also has good views of the Beach and Mudflats. There is a bit of a walk to the hides from the free car park which has a height restriction at the entrance, there are no facilities at the reserve and you need to wrap up as when you come over the sea wall the cold wind hits you as it comes off the North Sea. The best time to visit is when the high tides force the birds to leave the mud flats and settle close to the hides.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 250

Strumpshaw Fen

[strumpshawfen1]Strumpshaw Fen is a nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). It is situated at Strumpshaw Fen, a fen on the River Yare in Norfolk, England. It is part of the Mid-Yare National Nature Reserve established in 1997 by English Nature (though managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). It was purchased by the RSPB in 1974.The reserve about 6 miles east of Norwich; it is immediately across the River Yare from Wheatfen. Some of its very good paths are hard-surfaced and there are fine views over the river and from the bird hides. This is an important bird reserve but it is also good for Swallowtails in June and early July. There is a range of reed beds, wet meadow and woodland. A boardwalk leads around one of the Swallowtail breeding areas as well as the bird hides and pond dipping areas.

As you would expect for an RSPB reserve, there are many different birds to see in season. They include Bitterns, Hen and Marsh Harriers, Great-crested Grebes, Kingfishers, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Cetti's warblers, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Water rails, Wigeons, Teals, Lapwings, Golden plovers, Shovelers, Gadwalls, Hobbies, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Bearded and Willow tits, and Barn owls. There are 21species of dragonfly that breed here, including the rare Norfolk hawker. Wild flowers include six species of Orchids including Marsh Helleborine, while Milk Parsley and Marsh Pea flourish in the wetlands.

I found this a great place to walk around and the staff where happy and very helpful.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL40

Titchwell Marsh

[Footpath sisns]Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast is a RSPB reserve in which hundreds of thousands of migrating birds pass through with large numbers of duck, waders, seabirds and geese.

When I visited it was very cold and bleak with snow on the ground and human visitor numbers were low, there was also work going on to build more paths and another hide closer to the centre of the reserve. The reserve consists mainly of reedbeds, marshland, lagoons (fresh and brackish) and sandy beach.

The reserve has breeding birds typical of its habitats, such as Avocet, gulls, and terns on the more open areas, and Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers and Bitterns in the reedbeds. Recent work has been undertaken to make the reedbeds wetter to encourage Bitterns. More common reedbed birds such as Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler also occur. Little Egret has become a frequent sighting in recent years.

Wintering birds include many ducks, both on the freshwater and brackish lagoons (typical species: Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail and Mallard) and on the sea (typical species: Eider, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter and more rarely Long-tailed Duck). The numbers of birds seen offshore varies significantly (tens to thousands) as large flocks move along the Norfolk coast or go further offshore. Snow Bunting and Twite are regular on the beach and in the dunes. There is also a Hen Harrier roost in the reedbed.

It is at migration periods in spring and autumn that Titchwell comes into its own. Its location means that it receives many migrating birds at those times.

According to volunteers I spoke too, in the summer especially the beach gets very busy with holiday makers. There are good facilities here with a shop, café and toilets. The car park is free if you are a RSPB member. Watch out for Muntjac Deer around the centre and car park.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 250

Weeting Heath

[weetingheath2]NWT Weeting Heath National Nature Reserve is one of the most important areas of heath in Breckland. Covered by open grassland and stony heath, the site is home to a number of rare plants, birds and insects. Of particular importance are the Stone Curlews which breed here. The 2 hides overlooking the nature reserve are undoubtedly the best place to see Stone Curlews in Britain, resident between April and September. I did see them and at a distance, understandably to far to take a picture and because of the set up it has the feeling of a Zoo which might be a little unfair and unjust. Also if you are lucky you will see some Wood Larks.

There is a car park and Visitor centre with all the facilities.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 226


[welney1]Welney Wetland Centre which is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has about 1000 acres of wetland. It can have up to 9000 wild migratory swans and tens of thousands of ducks every winter. For me the Whooper and Bewick Swans that meet up here for the winter are the star attraction especially at feeding time.

It being the Fens it can get very cold in the winter so dress for the occasion.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 228

© Simon Thurgood 2024
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