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Monday, 24 February 2014

The Aftermath of the 2013 Storm Surge - Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse

Salthouse marshes

A 4 mile beach walk to witness the damage caused by the 2013 Storm Surge along the shingle bank between Cley and Salthouse

The December 2013 Storm Surge caused widespread flooding of the marshes and sea defences along the North Norfolk Coast, resulting in the closure of the Coast path between Blakeney and Cley. It is still possible to walk out to the beach from Cley village via the road where a walk along the shingle will astound those who have walked this section prior to the December storm. The shingle ridge has been levelled, with the excess cast across the marshes.

Cley to Salthouse Beach Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
CleyView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
SalthouseView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
4 miles
Walk difficulty
Heavy going across shingle
Terrain
Road to and from the beach, shingle beach throughout
Obstacles
The coast path along the flood defence at Cley is currently closed and the road has to be used to navigate out to the beach

Accommodation:

Cambridge House Bed and BreakfastView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Website
Description
Freindly family run sea front guest house next to the Red Lion in Cromer

Transport:

Norfolk Green - Bus Service
Service Number
Coasthopper - An excellent way to get around the North Norfolk Coast. This service provides a frequent and friendly means of transportation and some drivers provide local information and even poetry as you ride!
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2014-02-15
Walk Time
10:30 to 12:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Strong to gale force westerly winds with a rapidly moving cl0udscape

Walk Notes

The intention of the days outing was to visit some key areas that had suffered under the December Storm Surge. The intention of this walk was to include Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse, however the path from Blakeney to Cley is closed due to multiple breaches of the sea defences as a result of the surge. The defences from Cley up to the beach have also been breached resulting in the closure of this section of coast path. At least there is a viable alternative at Cley using the beach road, whereas the alternative between Blakeney to Cley is the main Coast Road which is not a recommended walk due to the lack of pavement and the busy nature of this well used coastal route. There is one other alternative route via Wiveton Downs and Glandford. Although this offers some spectacular views it is not really a coast path - this route will be covered in a posting on this site in the near future. Therefore on this particular day of heavy showers and gale force westerly winds Blakeney was reached using the Coasthopper service.

So, in cardinal order of west to east, here is a description of the damage encountered. Firstly Blakeney where the Norfolk Coast Partnership lists the storm surge damage as:

Blakeney Freshes was totally inundated with seawater (c. 157 ha, to a depth of 1 - 2+ metres). There are numerous breaches in the sea wall (total c. 500 metres), some of which are at saltmarsh level so that monthly high water spring tides will put more water onto this area. Water is being evacuated from the Freshes through the one functioning sluice, so the water level has dropped a little in 5 days.

At the time of the surge the media was full of pictures displaying a boat marooned on top of the quay after the floods had receded. This has now been removed and appears to be the same cruiser which languishes in a forlorn state against the sea defence adjacent to the first breach. The rusting hull has several notices taped to it, these are orders for removal. Obviously no-one has claimed the boat. There is no indication of where it came from and it may well have been torn from its mooring and been brought in on the flood tide leaving the owners lost as to its current whereabouts.

A little closer to the harbour is a Wayfarer dinghy sitting atop of the defences and blocking the coast path. This was obviously deposited here by the tide. Not that there is any point to continuing along the coast path with the breach by the cruiser being a full 20 yards in length and beyond that a fence denying access further along the path. Reports from the Environment Agency and Norfolk Council website attest to there being multiple breaches along this path through to Cley. The EA are currently assessing the damage and they have stated that the repair would be both costly and challenging. Therefore the agency is consulting environmental bodies and the people of Blakeney on the future of protecting the Freshes marsh and hence the reinstatement of the coast path. It would be a very sad loss to have this section of coast path permanently closed as it is an excellent example of the landscape that is typical of the Norfolk Coast Path and one which I have personally walked on many occasions and found a real pleasure in doing so.

I do get the impression that the abandonment of the marsh to the sea is something which the residents are firmly against. The marshes and the coast path are the reason for visitors coming to the village. As the landlord of the Kings Head in Blakeney was heard to say whilst we dropped in for a pint, "if there is no coast path or marsh then why would anyone want to visit". It was interesting to listen to this man who experienced the flood first hand. Although he was not specifically speaking with us, he was nonetheless relating the stories to another couple. He depicted the level of the water in the bar then emphasized that the level dropped a full ten inches when the waters first breached the defences and flooded into the marsh.

Moving onto Cley, once again the Norfolk Coast Partnership has listed the details of the damage:

Two major breaches in the shingle bank, at Salthouse (400m west of Little Eye) and Pope’s Marsh (east end of Sea Pool).

Extensive wash-back of shingle, up to 100m onto marshes.

Beach car park covered in shingle, other car parks extensive debris.

North Hide washed away, other hides damaged or inaccessible due to boardwalk damage.

Extensive stretches of boardwalk damaged.

Extensive areas of fencing lost, damaged or buried under shingle.

Several bridges damaged or washed away.

Despite starting out on the coast path past Cley windmill, progress is soon hampered by a fence blocking the way with a typed notice to declare the path closed due to breaches caused by the storm surge. In reality much of this has already been repaired and some walkers were seen to have clambered up the defence bank beside the beach road to walk along it. Hopefully this will be officially reopened in the near future as, although the road is not particularly busy, it is nonetheless single track and one has to constantly make way for passing vehicles.

Cley beach gave a sample of the damage along this section of coast. The shingle that typifies this length of the coast path has shifted to such an extent that it was unrecognisable. The Cley beach car park was covered in deep shingle. The square shelter where I have taken rests on its seats on previous occasions was half buried in shingle. The old WWII pillbox is nearly underneath the shingle. Shingle has been swept across the marsh. The shingle ridge that defended the marshes is now flattened all the way through to Salthouse car park. This really has changed drastically since our last visit. There was even a section of coastline on the beach side where the shingle had eroded to the sandy structures that lie beneath, with assorted debris strewn across the beach at this point. Sections of brick wall. Large stones and chunks of concrete which gave a moonscape appearance. Further along, and throughout the distance to Salthouse were numerous metal rails sticking vertically out of the shingle. Eroded with rust. Encrusted in stony crustaceans. They line in regular procession along what used to be the height of the ridge. At a guess these are probably old WWII defences but this needs verifying.

It was along this stretch of shingle that the USAF Helicopter crashed in January 2014. There are no reminders left of this tragic accident other than some of the metal defences cut down into a pile of debris which may have been done to gain access to the area it came down.

There are a couple of areas where major breaches left a flow of water between sea and marsh. These are evident from the banks that have formed either side of where the water flowed. Although the natural tide action has now sealed these breaches no doubt future breaches will be seen at these points. Local media has recently stated that this is part of a natural healing process with the sea rebuilding the shingle ridge. I personally think this is rather optimistic as the same process occurs along the Suffolk broads at Easton, Covehithe and Benacre. Storms regularly breach across the beach forming channels of water and then calmer weather results in the tide repairing the breach but there is never a build up of a ridge to provide a lasting seal.

The beach car park at Salthouse is unrecognisable. The only give away that it was the car park is the post that contained the emergency telephone. This eight feet high post had a yellow emergency telephone at chest level and was topped with a clear notice. All that is now visible of this is the sign at the top with the rest buried beneath the shingle, giving a clear indication of the depth of the shingle that has swept across the car park.

Coasthopper Bus Service

One last point on a different subject is the changes to the Coasthopper bus service. This has been a successful, well used service for both locals and visitors to North Norfolk, providing an easy method to navigate to the various destinations along the coast path for sectional walkers. The service provides a link between Cromer, Hunstanton and Kings Lynn, half hourly in summer and hourly in winter and has a dedicated crew of drivers who are friendly, helpful and at times entertaining, providing local information and even poetry recitals. The buses can be flagged down at any point and the driver will stop if safe to do so. It has always been one of the reasons for returning to the Norfolk Coast Path in my humble opinion.

However, the service has been running at a substantial loss and Norfolk Council are cutting back on providing the shortfall. As stated, the service is successful in the number of passengers it caters for but the major problem has been that the majority of these passengers are bus pass holders and, certianly during summer months, are taking advantage with lengthy journeys for which the company are only reimbursed with the standard flat fare. Whether a bus pass passenger travels one mile or sixty, the bus company only receives a sum of, I believe, a little over one pound. This is where the loss is being made as on most journeys the fare paying passenger is very much in the minority. One driver stated that they are legally obliged to take bus pass users and the only way around this is to make the service into a prebooked service which would totally defeat its purpose.

This winter Stagecoach has taken over Norfolk Green who has been providing the Coasthopper service for many years and there has already been a noticeable change in the service and its costs. It has always been a series of three separate services, namely CH1, Kings Lynn to Hunstantion, CH2, Hunstantion to Wells and CH3, Wells to Cromer, although effectively the buses using the route would just change their service number as they went along resulting in a continuous and seamless journey with no connections to be met.

The service now appears to have fragmented so one now needs to change buses at Wells in order to continue the journey. I suspect this has been implemented so that bus pass passengers then need to obtain a second ticket for their onward journey and the company then gets a reimbursement for both parts of the journey. Normal through tickets are still available for fare paying passengers but there are no guaranteed connections. I cant blame the company for adopting this policy when they are effectively giving free rides, as they cannot run at a loss forever. However, I do feel that the whole idea of offering free bus passes has not been thought through properly and the Government really needs to either address the abuse of the system or provide the appropriate funding to compensate the companies that are having to provide the service. There have been petitions against this, notably from Norfolk Council who has to provide the refunds but the Government has turned a deaf ear to these objections. There is also a petition to save the coasthopper which I would ask for all who are concerned to sign

There has also been a large increase in the fares to help fund the bus pass passengers. I don't resent those with bus passes from taking advantage but I do resent the mess that the bus pass policy has resulted in. Even so, a day pass now costs £9.00 and gives access to all the Coasthopper services along the route. That isn't bad for a day out.

Whilst writing this article Stagecoach managing director, Andrew Dyer, was quoted as saying that he was confident the summer timetable would run, but that the position was not definite for the winter season. I just hope this service continues to operate as it has always done. It would be a very sad loss if it is discontinued and I am sure a lot of businesses along the route will suffer from the lack of visitors.

Major breach looking towards Salthouse village
Major breach looking towards Salthouse village

Directions

Beach walk between Cley and Salthouse

The Coast Path is currently closed between Blakeney and Cley.

The Coast Path follows the defence banks out of Cley village and down to the beach. This has currently been closed due to breaches in the bank which involves a diversion to the beach road. Follow the shingle beach through to Sathouse beach car park where a track leads back to the eastern side of the village. The car park is currently under several feet of shingle and is unusable.

Abandoned cruiser with a removal notice served  upon it at Blakeney
Abandoned cruiser with a removal notice served upon it at Blakeney

Features

Salthouse MarshesView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Salthouse and Cley marshes have been bordered by a shingle beach for centuries although this has been slowly moving landwards over that time. It has been estimated that a quarter of a mile of marsh has been lost to the constant erosion since the 1500's. There used to be a navigable channel that linked Salthouse to Blakeney harbour, whose course went around the north side of the Cley enclosure but this was sealed by the shingle during a violent storm in 1845.

During the early 1850's a Clay defence bank was constructed along the edge of the marsh and behind the shingle ridge to prevent the marshes being inundated of the sea. It location was not well thought through with water being trapped between the bank and the shingle resulting in frequent breaches and eventually resulting in the sea reclaiming the marsh by 1861. Despite a new cut being built to drain the marsh this silted up and another flood in 1921 resulted in the area becoming an inland sea dotted with small islands which was locally known as the Salthouse Broads.

In modern times the shingle ridge has been maintained as a sea defence, with breaches being repaired. This has been an expensive exercise and has more recently given way to a managed retreat under the assumption of the marsh itself becoming the defence in much the same way as exists along other areas of the North Norfolk Coast. The area is managed as a nature reserve by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and is of international importance for its wildlife, particularly birds.

References
Beach view to Sheringham
Beach view to Sheringham

Images

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

Maps

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

  2 comments:

  1. Fascinating, thanks. The power of the sea must have been fantastic. I only hope that the coast path does reopen fully.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree. I have met many people who have said this path has been their introduction to long distance walking because of its ease of access and good transport connections. It would be a great loss to both the county and the country as a whole if it is not fully reopened.

      Delete

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