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

Friday, 11 January 2019

A visit to the rather curious Happisburgh

Happisburgh lighthouse

A simple 3 mile circular walk along the Norfolk Coast between Happisburgh and Eccles

Happisburgh is curious - it is slowly being taken by the sea, its houses slowly falling victim to the tides. The pub gardens boast a signal box to a railway line that never got built. A lighthouse stands guard to the south and its lifeboat is located at the next village of Eccles. In recent times the tide has uncovered prehistoric human footprints. And there is local folklore of ghostly smugglers and misdeeds. Very curious indeed.

A visit to the rather curious Happisburgh - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Happisburgh View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Eccles View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
3 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy beach walk across firm sand with footpaths back to Happisburgh and a little road walking to the pub
The beach section of the walk should only be done at appropriate tide conditions. Consult the Cromer tide times.


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
13:30 to 15:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions

Walk Notes

A Warning

It must be stressed before reading any further that tide times need to be consulted before attempting the beach section of this walk. In particular the beach in front of Happisburgh where the tide can cut you off well before high tide.

Walk Notes

This specific walk and the accompanying photo gallery was taken during the summer of 2011. Subsequent visits have witnessed the never ending erosion, and ever changing scenery of the cliffs. Of particular interest to the reader will be the 2014 February visit after the 2013 December storm surge, which can be seen at Aftermath of 2013 Storm Surge - Happisburgh Picture Gallery. Additional information can be also be found in other walks along this coast which feature Happisburgh, including the Happisburgh to Winterton Beach Walk and the Mundesley to Happisburgh Circular Walk

There is little in the way of public transport to and from Happisburgh and the majority of visitors will have either walked there, stayed on the caravan or camp site or driven. There is a new car park which sits on the southern side of the village with the lighthouse as a backdrop. This is a well designed facility complete with toilets and is pay and display. The old car park which sat on the cliff tops is now redundant and will no doubt soon be on the beach! Alternatively there is also a pay and display car park at Cart Gap in Eccles.

The walk is very simple but the scene is ever changing with the constant erosion. Prior to 2012 a metal flight of steps led from the caravan site down to the beach but these had to be removed when more cliff fell into the sea rendering the steps useless, standing in the middle of the beach. In early 2012 they were lifted onto the top of the cliff where they sat for some time before being removed completely. All that is left these days is the concrete footings on the beach which define just how much of the cliff has been taken in such a short space of time. The Big Sky Productions blog has a few photos of the steps and the demolition of the clifftop houses. Also, the EDP have a gallery of photos of the December 2013 storm damage.

Walking along the cliffs to Eccles one can glance seaward then glance landward and see there is not much difference between the height of the land and the level of the sea. God forbid if the authorities stood by and watched these cliffs erode to allow the sea to inundate broadland. Unfortunately this appears to be the case as the criteria for defending coastlines does not apply to open land and cliffs such as the case here. Only time will tell what happens during the coming years and centuries.

It was during this visit, on popping for a drink at the Hill House pub that we witnessed the initial discovery of the Morgans lettering above the pub door. A man who hailed from Suffolk was preparing the exterior for repainting and had discovered this historic logo under the present paintwork. He had carefully removed the layers of paint and was preparing to reinstate the name in its full glory.

Morgans was an old Norwich brewery who started brewing in 1720 in Kings Street in Norwich. At their height in the early 1900's they had some 600 tied houses across Norfolk. The brewery was bombed during the war resulting in their brewing operations being undertaken by other brewers before their brewery was rebuilt and back in business by 1950. The brewery went into voluntary liquidation in 1961 and was soon sold to Watney Mann with brewing eventually ceasing in April 1962. It is so good to see that this heritage is being preserved, at least until the sea claims the pub whihc hopefully will be a fair few years time. An interesting addendum to this story is that during the 1940's, following a yeast infection, Adnams acquired some fresh yeast from Morgans which is still being used today. So, each time you sup on a pint of Adnams beer then you have a little taste of Morgans preserved there.

The cliff section of this walk forms part of the Norfolk Coast Path which was extended in 2014. At Eccles it continues along the beach with an alternative route along Doggit Lane. With careful planning and consultation of tide times, this walk can be extended along the Coast Path down to Sea Palling with one leg following the beach and the return following the tracks behind the dunes. Either way is an insight to this fabulous coastline.

In addition to the features below, other notable buildings are the 15th century Church of St Mary which has a 110 foot tower. On the corner of The Hill is The Monastery, thought to have been used by the Benedictine monks from Wymondham for collecting tithes from the inhabitants of Happisburgh. Happisburgh Manor, once known as St Mary's, which sits proudly on the cliff top and is presently a holiday home.

Happisburgh church
Happisburgh church


From the Happisburgh Car Park follow the footpath towards the cliff edge where a sand ramp descends to the beach. Continue along the beach to Eccles to Cart Gap, where there is access which is the location of the Happisburgh lifeboat station, which was moved here in 2003 after erosion washed away the slipway at Happisburgh.

Return is along Doggit Lane that runs parallel to the beach. Keep to this past the last of the chalets where a footpath leads along the cliff edge back to Happisburgh. Return past the car park and continue up Beach Road and then turn right along The Street. When the road turn a sharp left take the right junction where the Hill House pub can be seen at the top of the hill.

To return to the car park, continue beyond the pub and onto the campsite. Follow the cliff top in front of the Manor house until a path leads onto Beach Road, past the old car park to emerge opposite the present car park.

Happisburgh LighthousesArchaeological dig on Happisburgh beach
On the left Happisburgh Lighthouses; On the right Archaeological dig on Happisburgh beach


Hill House, Happisburgh View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub

This family-friendly 16th century coaching inn with its woodburning stove and pictures of bygone days offers an excellent range of food and selection of ales. The pub includes a restaurant room, a family room and a beer garden. Accommodation is supplied in a 1901 signal box behind the pub. It is said that this was built as part of the planned but never completed expansion of Great Eastern Railway from North Walsham to Great Yarmouth. It is not stated exactly why the signal box was built before any railway had been laid!

Two plaques on the exterior pub wall commemorate the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle stayed at the pub in 1903 and wrote parts of 'The Dancing Men' at the pub.

The pub hosts a 'summer solstice' beer festival each year.


There is always something good to drink at this old fashioned and traditional pub. A varied range of ales and Woodfordes First Bittern was the choice of the day.

Erosion at HappisburghHappisburgh village sign
On the left Erosion at Happisburgh; On the right Happisburgh village sign


Happisburgh LighthousesView in OS Map | View in Google Map

After a severe storm in the winter of 1789 which resulted in the loss of 70 sailing ships and 600 men off the Norfolk coast it was decided that there was insufficient warning lights between the fire beacon at Cromer and the candle powered light at Winterton. To address this situation Trinity House undertook the building of two lighthouses at Happisburgh. The low lighthouse was built on the clifftop with the high lighthouse, which is currently still standing, was constructed further back and these gave leading lights marking safe passage around the southern end of the treacherous Happisburgh Sands.

The lower light was eventually threatened by the erosion of the cliffs and was withdrawn from service and demolished in 1833. The remains can sometimes be seen on the beach after storms have dropped the beach level. It has appeared in 1980, 2004 and 2006.

Despite being threatened with closure by Trinity House in 1988, a campaign headed by Kay Swan, a Marine Geophysicist and local resident, resulted in the high light becoming the only independently run operational lighthouse in Great Britain with the Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust being established as a Local Light Authority. The Trust is a registered Charity governed by six appointed Trustees who are responsible under the Act of Parliament for operating and maintaining the Light.

The lighthouse was repainted in 2009 in its red and white stripes to keep it as a familiar and distinctive landmark that can be seen for miles around. The accompanying former keepers cottage is now a holiday let with three bedrooms and able to accommodate up to siz guests.

During the summer months, on Sundays and Bank Holidays the Lighthouse holds open days for visitors although private tours can be arranged throughout the year. A webcam has also been installed in the tower, its images can be seen on the Happisburgh village website


The Happisburgh PoisonerView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Happisburgh churchyard overlooks the sea with views northwards to Mundesley. It is here that an unmarked grave is found and is said to be that of Jonathon Balls, the man who came to be known as The Happisburgh Poisoner.

Jonathon Balls lived in Happisburgh with his wife, Elizabeth. At the time of the incident in 1846, Jonathon was 77 years of age and his bed ridden wife was 82. They had three daughters, all having married, and several grandchildren. It was the sudden and suspicious death of several family members that led to the rumours that they had been poisoned. Firstly the nine week old grandchild Ann died, followed some months later by grandson Samuel and then both his wife and their namesake grandaughter also died. Rumours of poisoning had already started circulating the village yet it was not until Jonathon passed away that these rumours became public. As a result, the authorities summoned the disinterment of both Johnathon and the granddaughter Elizabeth, from which the post mortum found traces of the poison arsenic within both of them and an inquiry was ordered.

The inquiry found that others in the village had also succumbed to the poison although there was no direct evidence implicating Jonathon. However, local suspicion always fell on Jonathon Balls, who, it was said, was of bad character with a long list of previous convictions against his name. Rumour had it that having no income himself, he lived off of parochial relief and the hand-outs from his married daughters. With the birth of new grandchildren, this inevitably meant that his daughters could not afford to continue with the amount of subsistence they gave to him and consequently he sought means to remedy this, with poisoning being the method of choice. When rumours of his actions started circulating he then finally his own life in the same manner.

Local folklore states that when Johnathon Balls was buried in Happisburgh churchyard he knew his soul was bound for Hell and had requested to be buried with a Bible and a plum cake in one hand, plus a poker and a pair of coal-tongues in the other. In those days it was common practice to bury evil people and suicides in unhallowed ground, usually at a crossroads, for fear that they would become vampires after death. Therefore, six months after he was buried, his body was exhumed in order to relocate it and it was found to be perfectly preserved. Maybe it was the arsenic which he had taken at ever increasing does or maybe he it was the fact that he had, indeed, become a vampire. What happened to his body no-one knows but the unmarked grave that stands in the churchyard is said to be that of Johnathon Balls.


The Pump Hill ghostView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Way back in the year of 1765 two farmers making their way home along Whimpwell Street encountered a spectre in the moonlight. This hump-backed figure, dressed in sailors attire and carrying a rough brown sack at its chest, drifted along without any legs and the hump on his back was formed by its partially severed head. A gruesome sight indeed. Despite the fear the farmers plucked up courage and followed the spectre to Well Corner where it disappeared into the well.

The next day, after informing the authorities, it was decided to investigate the well. Using a grappling hook the villages pulled out a sack similar to the one the farmers had seen being carried by the spectre. Even more surprising, inside this was a pair of boots with the legs and feet still intact. This find resulted in the well being drained and another sack was discovered, this one containing a torso dressed in sailors garb with a partially severed head and a pistol tucked into a belt around the waist.

Further investigations tracing the steps of the spectre from whence it had came resulted in the signs of a struggle with bloodstains and broken bottles on the ground and a similar pistol found at a spot near Cart Gap. Such evidence suggested a confrontation between smugglers with the unfortunate victim being cut up and thrown down the well.

The apparition would regularly appear on moonlit nights with frequent sounds of moaning emanating from the well until it was eventually capped by a pump. This resulted in the cessation of the hauntings until the pump was removed and the manifestations resumed. The pump was replaced and kept there for many years. Eventually the pump was removed once again and once again the haunting returned. So the ghost became known as The Pump hill Ghost.


Happisburgh Village SignView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The village sign is located on the junction with the Church Lane and The Hill. This traditional hard carved sign depicts Edric the Dane, who stands on the right, who was a Viking lord and held possession of the village prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066. On the left of the sign is Maud, the daughter of Richard Bigod who was presented the village as part of her dowry in 1085 after Edric's expulsion. The centre of the sign depicts the Reverend Thomas Lloyd who baptised 170 people on Whit Sunday in 1793. He had assumed the lack of children being baptised was due to their parents not being able to afford the after-ceremony celebrations and therefore performed the mass baptism along with entertainment afterwards.

Below the village name is St Marys church on the left and the lighthouse on the right and between them a sheaf of wheat as a symbol of agriculture, the main resource of the community. At the bottom of the sign is the village lifeboat, whose station was moved to Eccles after the slipway at Happisburgh was devoured by erosion.

Erosion at Happisburgh
Erosion at Happisburgh


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

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2019-01-11

2011-08-18 : Initial publication
2012-05-05 : add in warning note about the cliff erosion and access to the beach
2013-10-11 : add in link to EDP photo gallery of October 2013 storms
2014-08-09 : Completely revamped and brought up-to-date
2016-01-15 : General website updates
2019-01-11 : General website updates


  1. These sites may be relevant for those interested in Happisburgh.

    1. Thanks for the links Jonno - I have got a link to your blog post in the Walk Notes of this but the more links the better!



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