Posted by: Ross Gardner | September 2, 2012

A Coast of Many Faces

I have spent a bit of time along the Norfolk coast during the last month or so and I feel that I can say I have seen a good many of its different guises.  It is a fine and varied coastline.  It has sandy beaches, upwards of half a kilometre wide at low tide, and broad shingle ridges that sing the North Sea’s ebbing and flowing.  It has undulating sand dunes that soften the transition from dry land into beach into sea.  It has mudflats, saltmarsh and even stretches of cliff.

It was the latter that I reaquainted myself with back in early August, along the stretch of sandy beach between Mundesley and Trimingham.  These cliffs are modest in height, rising maybe only 30 or 40 metres above sea, but easily high enough to rise imposingly over the flat sand and breaking waves.  On descending to the beach we were greeted with what seemed to be an unlikely welcome (given our coastal location) from Sand Martin swooping around us, often low over the sand and presumably after the numerous small flies that buzzed along the strand line.  Their presence made rather more sense when we found a short stretch of the cliff-face pock-marked with nest-holes.  On a fine sunny morning with barely a breeze nudging the clovers, knapweeds, scabious and hawk-bit colouring the crumbled cliff-top and the creatures of the summer winging their way around our heads, it was difficult to perceive this coast as anything other than a place of benign tranquility.

Nesting Sand Martin (Riparia riparia). Ross Gardner 2012

On returning at the other end of August, to attend a book signing at Cley Marshes, we would see that other face of this coastline, where a sense of wildness is still incumbent, all the more so on a wild and windy day.  The coast here is comprised of shingle, heaved up by the undiminished power of the North Sea waves into a high ridge that overlooks some of the wonderful marshlands that make this area so special.

For the book signing I spent the day in the comfort of the very pleasant visitor centre, enjoying tea and a panoramic view of the nature reserve spread out before it, complete with the entertainment of its waders and wildfowl and not to mention a number of Spoonbill.  Indeed, it was perhaps a favourable vantage point for watching a bright morning transform into a gale-blown squall in the afternoon.  The rain blew through, but the gale raged unabated.  With the visitor centre closing I was keen to see this other face of the Norfolk coast more closely.  We made for the shingle ridge at neighbouring Salthouse, trudged up the pebbly bank and on reaching the top very nearly got sent back the way we had come.  Here was the North Sea that can cause cliffs to crumble, whose snarling breakers explode against the stones, obliterated into a spray that hazed the shoreline as far as the eye could see.  And still the passing terns maintained their air of elegance as they teased the churning waves centimetres beneath them.

Gale-driven sea at Salthouse. Ross Gardner 2012

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