Have you ever felt the need to press the pause button on life…Just to stop and take a breath of fresh air…to ponder and clear the head? Yes? Then I shall begin…
A little Norfolk pause at a village called Burnham Overy Staithe, is exactly what our day transpired to be.
Burnham Overy Staithe
Burnham Overy Staithe is a picturesque place on the North Norfolk coast between Holkham and Burnham Norton.
What’s in the name? ‘Staithe’ is an Old English word meaning ‘landing place’, and ‘Overy’ meaning ‘over the water’.
The earliest settlement was Burnham Overy Town which lies a mile or so inland and was once a busy port positioned on the navigable River Burn. Burnham Overy Staithe has only been in existence entirely since WW2.
The river Burn has since silted up like many others over the years and is now much declined. It is possible to catch a boat trip to Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve from the little harbour.
Lord Horatio Nelson
Born: 29 September 1758, Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. Died: 21st October 1805, HMS Victory, Portsmouth.
Lord Horatio Nelson was born in the village of Burnham Thorpe, a very short distance from the Norfolk coast, and it’s been said that he would have most likely learnt to sail in the harbour at Burnham Overy Staithe, which would have been the closest harbour, though this is not proven.
He is one of Norfolk’s most celebrated naval heroes, he commanded the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, fighting against the French and Spanish and securing a series of decisive naval victories.
It was through his uncle’s influence that he joined the Royal Navy, Maurice Suckling, was a high-ranking naval officer. Horatio Nelson was the sixth of eleven children of the Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife Catherine Suckling.
Parking and walk
Parking is free and is available beside the tiny harbour area at Burnham Overy Staithe on the quayside. Be careful of high tides though as this can encroach on the carparking area.
Please check local tide times, this will also keep you safe on your beach walk. Parking Address is at Harbour Way, Burnham Overy Staithe PE31 8JF.
Start the walk from there on a raised walkway towards the sea which is also a part of the Norfolk coast path and part of Holkham NNR.
The harbour itself is so picturesque it’s as though it is a living post card with little boats moored up awaiting the incoming tide in the foreground and completed with the silhouette of the National Trust Tower Windmill in the distance, this is now a National Trust holiday accommodation.
During our visit there were beautiful deep blue skies and the sun high and bright in the sky. Given this, the wind still raised a good blast while walking the mile and a half towards to sea. The marshland along this section of the walk is a great chance to birdwatch.
The walk extends along the beach with large sand dunes behind, one significant dune is named Gun Hill, a large sand dune, which is now eroded, it’s thought it may have been used as a defensive installation in the Napoleonic War, but nothing now remains.
The site was reused by the military in World War Two, and there are traces of the huts from that time and if you look carefully, can still be seen.
Keep walking and you will reach the pine woods where there is a bird watching hide on stilts, from this view point you are able to spot a wider amount of wildlife, including deer and birds of prey.
Walking further along the beach, eventually you’ll reach Wells-Next-The-Sea. The walk can be made into a circular walk by walking beside the sand dunes on your return, rather than just walking back along the beach.
Total length of walk is an estimated 8 miles if walking a circular as far as the pine woodland and back. To the beach and back is roughly 4 miles.
Bird watching what to look for
The views across the open fresh water marshes and mud flats are without a whisper of a doubt, spectacular.
The bird song too was heavenly as you might expect in this area which is a wildlife hub. “Note to self. Bring binoculars next visit!” My favourite bird spotted on this trip was by far the little egret.
A wide variety of birds can be spotted if you are lucky enough such as pink footed geese, reed bunting, little terns, oystercatchers, curlew, ringed plover, shelduck, shoveller, and grey plover to name but a few.
Butterflies what to look for
At the end of the raised pathway the giant sand dunes tower above, with their almost white, fine sands. We were lost for words when we approached the path by the dunes, so beautiful yet at the same time overbearing in size.
The heathland surrounding the dunes is known to hold rare flora and fauna while also being a great location to spot some amazing butterflies such as grayling, common blue and small heath butterflies.
I tried in vain to capture a shot of one the little creatures as I encroached with my camera but alas, they fluttered by.
A quiet beach
The beach is very quiet and very few people around usually. During our visit the tide was still far out which meant a probable half mile stroll to dip our toes in the sea, the sand is fine and the water very clear.
The beach expanse was so wide and flat with not one soul in sight on that gloriously sunny day. The two dogs, Max and Bandit had a good frolic together along the open sands and the kids enjoyed writing in the wet sand too, while all along we kept one eye on the turning tide.
We had plenty of time to linger at the top of the beach and then a look at those spectacular sand dunes, sit down in the sand with butterflies flitting to and fro behind us, take in the sea views.
A word of warning, there is no lifeguard on this beach so be cautious.
World War ll Beach Finds
We spent a good couple of hours just sitting, looking across the dunes and the open sea relaxing, we were as always observant and trod carefully with dogs on the beach and dunes under close control once we had left the open sands since this is such a special place, and a word of warning too, as we discovered later while researching online, there have been rare cases of unexploded World War Two bombs found in the area and any discoveries should be reported to the coast guard.
Looking back across the marshes and mud flats on our reluctant return walk with the sun glinting on the returning water in this tidal creek it would seem as though you could be absolutely anywhere in the world, if for example you didn’t take notice of the silhouette of the village windmill in the far distance of course.
These marshy muddy flatlands could be in your wildest imagination, rice paddy fields in Korea…indeed so, if you have by chance watched the James Bond movie “Die Another Day,” the scenes of Korean rice paddy fields were in fact filmed here, a location like no other I’ve seen right on the coast of Norfolk.
Burnham Overy Staithe was once a trade port, but you would hardly know it now, since the river has silted up only little boats use this harbour and creek for pleasure and a small private ferry runs to the Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve from here.
Today it is a peaceful haven, personally I find this a perfect, unspoiled location and I hope it remains that way, no shopping centres, no arcades and certainly the lack of hustle and bustle makes this area for me…the perfect Norfolk Pause…
I shall be returning again with my family many more times to spend longer pausing here at heaven by the sea.