Sunday, 26 September 1999

Coastwalk , Peddar's Way / Norfolk Coast Path

Burnham Overy Staithe → Hunstanton


Distance: 15.9 miles
Ascent: unknown
Duration: unknown

'Stonehenge by the Sea'
« Wells-next-the-Sea | King's Lynn »

After a good few consecutive weekends of walking in early summer, various things have kept me away from the Norfolk coast for three months. I'm back now to finish the county off. My next destination is the Wash.

I pick up where I left off and the section between Burnham and Brancaster is a reprise of earlier Norfolk walks, but now the villages are more frequent: Burnham Overy Staithe, Burnham Deepdale, Brantcaster Staithe and Brantcaster. There's an almost poetic rhythm to the passing of populations.

From Brancaster to Thornham the Norfolk Coast Path detours inland again, using green lanes rather than the busy, pedestrian-unfriendly A149.

I've been to Thornham before, but it's very different now. Gone are the signs; gone is the anticipation, the air of excitement; gone is the circle of timbers that stunned me when I first saw their photo on the front page of The Independent in January.

I'm glad I made time to visit Seahenge back in June: within a fortnight the timbers had been removed, and I've not had the opportunity to get out here again until now: two months too late.

Back then, you'd park your car in Thornham and head out along the dunes to the fir trees on the horizon. After a mile or so you'd come across a small sign - no bigger than one sheet of A4 - erected by the local wildlife trust. "Important Notice - Ancient Tree Ring," it declared. A description of the potential impact of tourists on the local wildlife was followed by a curious plea: "Minimise the impact to this fragile site by not spreading news of its location". On reading it my heart fluttered slightly: I'd found the place.

Once at the fir trees you'd cross the dunes and head out towards the sea. No need for signs here: a cluster of maybe a dozen people standing in the inter-tidal zone marked what I'd come to see. And. And it was small. Roped off. "Guarded" by a single representative from the wildlife trust. Sandbags held in place the timbers that were next up for eviction; a moat gathered where the supporting sand had been removed. It was eerie. We knew we were looking at something important, but no-one knew quite what.

It's at Holme that Peddar's Way meets the sea. I recently heard someone say "we now know where Peddar's Way goes to: it goes to Holme", as if Seahenge has answered an important historical question. He didn't sound convincing. This place has opened up more questions than answers (for example, how old is it?); it'll be a long while before we know what it was.

I'm sorry, I lied: "the druids" arrived as I was leaving; they felt they knew what it was, but they weren't prepared to share it with us. They crossed the rope, waded through the moat and burnt rose petals on the upturned oak tree in the centre. It was simultaneously a pathetic gesture and an important one: whether or not anyone knew what they were doing it provided the spectacle we needed... rotting wood doesn't make good TV, and the children of a television generation need stimulus.

But now it's different. The timbers are gone and scanning the horizon from the dunes it's not possible to tell they were ever here. The wildlife trust visitor's centre back to bird-watching rather than tourist-shepherding. Holme's fifteen minutes are up.

West of Holme the coast turns to the south, and the golf-course announces the coming of a town, Hunstanton, with its squat pier and (today at least) Morris dancers on the green. And I'm struck again: guys in white suits with bells attached to their legs knocking sticks against each other. There are mysteries all over this land. It's just some instil more reverence than others.

Posted by pab at 22:39