Our first sight of the Norfolk coast was at Mundesley. Setting out from our converted barn with no intention of going there, on our way to the supermarket at North Walsham, we saw a road sign directing us to this seaside settlement and thought “shopping can wait – we’re on holiday!”
Mundesley initially seemed like just a small village, but a narrow road led us to the sea where we found a car park, a long but narrow beach, a couple of cafes and seaside paraphernalia such as ice cream kiosks, crazy golf and fish and chip shops. Local tourism chiefs have branded this the “Deep History Coast” and an information point is located on Mundesley seafront. It takes you back 500,000 – 1 million years to a time when ancient humans, giant deer and mammoths prowled this land. Back then, this was not a coast at all. There was a land bridge all the way to the Netherlands and Germany. Our impression of Mundesley was one of a pleasant little family oriented resort, not overblown nor over-commercialised. We dallied an hour or two, drinking coffee (S) and eating ice-cream (me) at a beach cafe, wandering along the beach listening to the crashing of the waves and learning about this Deep History (Coast), before deciding we’d better go and do that shopping after all.
3 days later, we were at Happisburgh, or more accurately Cart Gap beach, a few hundred yards south of the village. Happisburgh suffers from coastal erosion and is slowly but surely disappearing into the sea. The crumbling of the land revealed the oldest human footprints ever discovered in Europe. Archaeologists have concluded they show a family group were walking this way about 900,000 years ago. Modern day Happisburgh is home to the only independently owned lighthouse in Britain. Although slightly inland, for now, it was clearly visible to us from Cart Gap beach. Cart Gap itself is even less of a metropolis than Mundesley. It has a cafe, a car park, toilets, a slipway and sand. An ice cream van was also present for our visit. While this is all you really need for a visit to the seaside, additional interest was added as we stumbled onto a film set. There was quite a large crew going into great detail to get the perfect shot of a man lying on the beach sleeping (or possibly dead). The filming monopolised our attention for some time. I later found out they were shooting a pop video for the London duo Oh Wonder. They didn’t seem to want any extras though, so my acting debut will have to wait. I wandered up the beach towards Happisburgh. There was no chance of finding the ancient footprints – they were washed away by the tide just 2 weeks after being discovered.
The following day we arrived at a much larger seaside resort. Cromer describes itself as the “Gem of the Norfolk Coast”. It is a proper town with hotels, restaurants, shops and a traditional seaside pier. In the 1970s, there used to be a show on UK television called “Seaside Special” which toured the resorts in summer where well known entertainers would ply their trade in pier theatres. Confined to history in many parts of the country, Cromer still has such shows on its pier. This part of the coast also has cliffs, not so common in East Norfolk. We parked on top of one which gave us a grand view of the pier.
Walking down to the beach, a refreshment kiosk persuaded us it was time for elevenses. We then explored the well faded grandeur of the Hotel de Paris where a young Stephen Fry was once a waiter.
Cromer is famous for its crabs. Fisherfolk bring them in to sell to the restaurants and families try to catch them from the pier. With a seafood allergy and being accompanied by a vegetarian, they weren’t on our lunch menu as we found a pub for a bite to eat. I did try the local ice cream though which was very satisfactory.
Walking down to the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum, we found out all about Cromer’s most esteemed son. Blogg spent 53 years as a volunteer lifeboatman and during that time, is credited with saving more than 870 lives. The RNLI awarded him 3 gold medals and 4 silver medals for his gallantry, making him the most decorated lifeboat volunteer in the organisation’s history. For good measure, he received a British Empire Medal and while on military service, the George Cross for bravery. What makes his lifesaving achievements even more amazing is that Henry couldn’t swim, but never hesitated to head out into dangerously rough seas to rescue others.
After discovering this inspiring character from Cromer’s more recent history, it was time to say goodbye to the Deep History Coast. We walked along the beach front promenade and climbed the cliff to the car park. From the rural Cart Gap, to the village of Mundesley and onto the full blown seaside resort of Cromer, this stretch of coastline revealed a fascinating history combined with old fashioned seaside charm.
The Deep History Coast is in North East Norfolk, England, UK. It stretches from Weybourne to Cart Gap
Cromer can be reached by train. It is on the Bittern Line which runs from Norwich to Sheringham. Mainline connections are available at Norwich. Mundesley has good bus connections from Cromer and North Walsham (also on the Bittern Line). Bus services to Happisburgh run irregularly from North Walsham and Mundesley. By road, Cromer is on the A140 coming from Norwich and the south or the A148 if travelling from Kings Lynn and the west. Mundesley is on the B1145, north east of North Walsham and Happisburgh can be reached along country lanes, travelling east from North Walsham
Food and Drink
Smallsticks cafe is about 400 yards inland from Cart Gap Beach, Happisburgh. Plenty of cafes and restaurants are available at Cromer and Mundesley