Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Walk In The Sunshine

Today, while Mrs Crox and Crox Minima hit the fleshpots floshpits stores in Norwich, Crox Minima and I decided to go on the longest walk we've done since moving to Cromer (with Heidi, too, of course). Crox Minor is a trooper and doesn't mind a hike: we chose a six-miler, starting from Cromer West Beach and walking two miles westwards along the shore to West Runton, then heading inland and back eastwards to Cromer along the North Norfolk Coast Path.

We started off at 11.15 on the most gloriously sunny day I can remember, and that's after a stack of sunny days. Pleasantly warm, a slight easterly breeze, perfect for a walk. This is Brunswick Terrace, a Victorian terrace (though with worryingly art deco windows) in Cromer with a great sea view...
I'm showing this, really, so that when summer proves a washout, and Cromer returns to its normal arctic squall, I can prove to myself that when the Sun deigns to come out, it can be as lovely a place as you'll find anywhere.

The beach walk from Cromer to West Runton is, amazingly, completely uninterrupted by breakwaters. This means that it's an easy stroll whether the tide is in or out, and the waves are terrific (in the winter they attract a few hardy surfers).

What interested us, though, was the geology. Here's a piece of cliff, between East and West Runton, looking eastwards, back the way we'd come. You can just make out Cromer Pier in the background.

Now, I admit it's not the best shot, but this one section tells you all you need to know of the local geology.

The lower two thirds is chalk, Norfolk's bedrock, yielding the flints that scatter the beach and which form the basis of Norfolk's vernacular brick-and-flint architecture, and among which you might be lucky enough to find a fossil sea urchin or belemnite.

The upper third is Pleistocene sand and gravel, laid unconformably atop the Cretaceous. They hardly look it now, but these sands and gravels are the last vestiges of the most brutal glaciation to have hit Britain in the past several hundred million years. This was the Anglian glaciation, which, a shade before half a million years ago, scrubbed Britain of most of its topography.

The glaciers are mercifully long gone, even from Cromer in February, and the sands and gravels are but a fragile relic, poorly consolidated and as easily eroded as smoke and shadows. Just to the west of that section we found this:

This is a cliff made entirely of sand that has slumped into a kind of sloped dune field. Looking up, you can see the breeze carry this cliff away, grain by grain. You can see why this part of the coast is the most rapidly eroding coastline in Europe.

A little further on and we reach one of the most important geological sections in Britain - the Upper Freshwater Bed of the Cromer Forest-bed Formation, the type section of the Cromerian Stage of the British Pleistocene. The Upper Freshwater Bed is no more, no less than the muddy bed of a river that once flowed through this part of the world, some three quarters of a million years ago. An incredible diversity of fossil remains has been recovered from this section over the course of two hundred years, from plant remains, to voles and other rodents, to large ungulates, culminating in the near-complete skeleton of a steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), the elder (and much larger) cousin of the more famous woolly mammoth.

Not that the Upper Freshwater Bed is much to look at now - a bench of brown, flaky stuff at the bottom of the cliff, against which tourists, heedless of its significance, pitch their windbreaks, and passing golden retrievers stop for a rest.
This is where we left the beach. Just up the slipway at West Runton is a cafe where they serve rather good sandwiches, made to order.

After lunch we put the sea to our backs and walked into West Runton itself. Now, I have driven through this village many times, but it's not until you slow down to walking pace that you appreciate it in any way at all. I hadn't quite realized quite how lovely West Runton is, in that way of chocolate-box rustic nostalgia peculiar to English villages. The railway station still has its old-fashioned signage, and that, with the Links Hotel close by, you'd think you'd stepped onto the set of an Edwardian-to-1930s costume drama. There are plenty of places to sit down in West Runton, all the better to witness time flow backwards.

We stepped out of the village into a tiny slice of National Trust woodland, one of the most enchanting woods I've ever walked in, until that path joined a larger way, the North Norfolk Coast Path.
This is a National Trail, and extends some forty-something miles from Hunstanton in the west to Cromer in the east. A string of farm tracks, by-roads and footpaths has been strung together with plenty of signage so you can't get lost, leaving you to enjoy roadside vistas, like this.

We got home almost five hours after we started, pleased with our achievement. For me, one result of this journey of self-discovery is that crocs aren't very good for long distance hiking. At least, not judging from the state of my feet.


  1. I really enjoyed this, Cromercrox - and learnt a lot too. I particularly liked the bit about the 'brutal' ice-age and the tundra mammoth. I'd never heard of this before and found it really interesting. Thanks!

  2. My ancestors came from Norfolk .. .One year I will holiday there ... Interesting Blog :O)


  3. Brillaint, educating, funny and just enough English whimsy to make me desperately, desperately homesick. Again.

  4. YOu poor thing, tiddles. You're always welcome to visit. We have a very comfy sofa/dog you can sleep on (as patronized by Dr B. Z. of Chapel Hill).