Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Seals, sea and sand at Horsey Gap


A 15 mile circular walk along the Norfolk Coast between Happisburgh and Horsey Gap to witness the Seals

Leaving the car at Happisburgh car park it is possible to walk the beach all the way down to Horsey Gap and return along the dunes and tracks to make a circular walk of just over 15 miles. This is dependant upon the state of tide and requires customising the walk in line with the tide. The highlight of the beach walk on this occasion was encountering a group of seals basking in the sunshine close to Horsey. It is amazing how docile they are and we were able to happily take snapshots without disturbing them. The walk along the tracks and lanes alongside the dunes between Eccles and Sea Palling is an insight. There are numerous shacks and chalets that appear to be permanent homes along this stretch of coast. The ground behind the dunes is very low lying all the way through to Hickling Broad and Horsey Meer and this vulnerable section of coast has the constant threat of being reclaimed by the sea. If such an event did happen then towns like Stalham, Potter Heigham and Martham could all become coastal resorts.

Happisburgh to Horsey Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
HappisburghView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
HorseyView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
15 miles
Walk difficulty

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
11:00 to 18:30
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm day, high clouds with some sunshine and a light shower later in the day

Walk Notes

A pleasant afternoon and early evening walk. In this instance we headed south along the cliffs from Happisburgh and then took the tracks through to Sea Palling. From here the tide was out enough to continue along the beach through to Horsey. The encounter with the seals was something of a surprise. We initially saw a head bobbing in the water and spent some time trying to capture this sight on the camera. This young seal would bob up and down then disappear for a few minutes and then reappear a few yards away. It was pleasing to see such a sight and we headed off towards some rocks in the near distance, happy that we had caught the sight. As we got walked on it soon became clear that these rocks were not rocks at all but a group of seals basking on the beach. They watched as we closed in but did not move, allowing us to take our pictures before giving them a wide berth and carrying on the walk. An excellent sight by all means.

The return was a bit hit and miss as we did not have a map with us. The initial way back we took a track from Horsey that appeared to head back towards the dunes but eventually ended up back on the road close to Waxham where we got back down to the beach. From here we returned through to Eccles along the beach before having to walk the final stage along the cliff back into Happisburgh.

Young seal playing in the surf
Young seal playing in the surf


From the Car Park at Happisburgh walk through the north end towards the camp and caravan site. The pub is just off the track leading into the site. There is a metal stairway leading down to the beach from the caravan site. This is a little scary if you dont have a head for heights! There is a mass of broken sea defences in front of the Happisburgh cliffs but it is possible to get past this at low tide. Walk down to Eccles where there are ample ways back up and along the cliff. Walking further along the beach will eventually get you to Horsey. Return can either be along the dunes or following the tracks and lanes.

Seal basking in the sun
Seal basking in the sun


Old Hall Inn, Sea Palling View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Old Hall Inn, Sea Palling

This traditional Inn, formerly a farmhouse, dates back to the middle of the 17th century and retains its heritage both outside and within. It features two bars and a garden and serves a wide range of food from its A la Carte menu. Accommodation is available. Ales include Woodfordes and Adnams.

It is said that the pub is haunted by a figure of a woman in grey clothing sitting on a window ledge in the television lounge. From time to time an inexplicable bluish shadow has also appeared and there has been the smell of strong tobacco. During 1975 and 1976 a team of researchers investigated the haunting. They spent many hours recording some interesting material, using sophisticated detecting apparatus and arrived at the conclusion that genuine phenomena had probably occurred.


A good pint of Woodfordes Wherry.

Sea Palling reefs - defences constructed in 1995
Sea Palling reefs - defences constructed in 1995


Sea PallingView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Domesday Book records that Palling comprised 9 villagers and 14 smallholders. However this part of the coast has always been at the mercy of the sea. The town of Waxham Parva disappeared under the waves together with its church and the large estate of Gelham Hall. One of the earliest written accounts was by John of Oxendes, a monk at nearby St Benet's Abbey, in which he relates the destruction wrought by the great storm of 1287 "...the sea, agitated by the violence of the wind, burst through its accustomed limits, occupying towns, fields and other places adjacent to the coast ... it suffocated or drowned men and women sleeping in their beds, with infants in their cradles ... and it tore up houses from their foundations, with all they contained and threw them into the sea with irrevocable damage". Since this time incursions have occurred in 1604 when Eccles lost 66 houses and over 1,000 acres of land and in 1607, 1655 and 1741 when Palling's defences were breached. In more recent times, The North Sea flood of 1953 took the lives of 7 villagers. Sea defences started in the 19th century and more recently the sea wall was extended in 1986 and in 1995 the Environment Agency undertook a multi-million pound project erecting nine barrier reefs.

Smuggling was rife along this part of the coast in the 1700's when revenue cutters patrolled the coast and there were seizures of tea, Geneva (an old word for gin) and other spirits. To counter this a Coastguard service was established in 1822 and a station built at Palling. Alongside smuggling there was also salvage work. Local fishermen became organised into companies and bought themselves fast sailing yawls. There were two beach companies based at Palling, known locally as the Blues and the Whites. It was a perilous occupation and the demands for exorbitant payments may be excusable given the dangers involved. The companies prospered with the increase in maritime shipping and by 1838 had brick built sheds for storage and a lookout built to watch over the Happisburgh Sands.

Old Hall Inn Sea Palling
Old Hall Inn Sea Palling


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery


Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15


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