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

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Holkham to Wells Circular Walk

A 9 mile circular walk along the North Norfolk Coast between Holkham and Wells-next-the-sea

An alternative to the North Norfolk Coast Path, which follows the landward side of the large belt of pine trees known as Holkham Pines, is to walk along the glorious sandy Holkham beach. This was such a well worth experience with acres upon acres of sandy beach and dunes. With clear blue skies and a little sunshine this makes for a superb walk at any time of the year. The Albatros, a sailing ship that is permanently moored at Wells Quay provides some fine and simple lunches including fresh mussels which provide a fitting half way point to this walk. The return uses the tracks around the Holkham estate taking in views of the hall, the lake and obelisk.

Holkham to Wells Circular Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

  • Start location: Holkham 
  • Distance:   miles (  km)
  • Total Gain:   ft (  metre)
  • Total Descent:   ft (  metre)
  • Min Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Max Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Walk Time:  
  • Walk type: Circular
  • Walk Grade: Easy
  • Terrain:


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. There are links to printed maps and links to downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.



Woodhill Park CampsiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Located on the clifftops at East Runton, half way between Sheringham and Cromer, this highly recommended touring site is ideal for exploring North Norfolk with public transport available to many destinations from the entrance to the site.


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Various Operators - Bus Service
Service Details
Coasthopper CH1, CH2, CH3 - Unfortunately, in recent years the highly acclaimed Coasthopper bus service has suffered from subsequent takeovers with a consequent deterioration of the service and continuing doubts upon is viability. Due to its constant changing operators, it is therefore best to use the Traveline website to determine the current timetables and services.

Route Verification Details

  • Date of Walk: 2011-10-15
  • Walk Time: 10:30 to 16:00
  • Walkers: Griffmonster, Kat
  • Weather Conditions: Lovely sunny autumn day

Walk Notes

One does not have to be staying at Holkham to navigate around this route, the Coasthopper bus service is a great way to get from wherever one is staying along the North Norfolk Coast to the entrance to Holkham Hall from where this walk begins. Starting out early to mid morning will give a good days walk with lunch at Wells and ample time to walk back in time for the bus journey home.

The beach route between Holkham and Wells is a revelation to those who have never walked this vast area of sand. The views are magnificent, wide open panoramas across the vast flat sands that stretch in all directions with the sea disappearing into the horizon at low tide. This makes for some easy walking and there is always the opportunity of exploring the dunes that intersect the beach, although it has to be said that in more recent years storm surges have reduced the extent of these dunes. Given a sunny day, given blue skies, then this area attracts masses off folk but no matter how many are drawn to this beach, its vastness swallows them up into the scenery.

The Albatros is owned and managed by Dutch Captain Ton Brouwer after buying the ship in the 1980s and employing it as the only working sailing ship in the home and Baltic trade. Eventually he moored it at Wells and now runs it as a fully approved bar and eatery making a unique experience to visit for lunch. The steps down to the galley are steep but the effort is well worth it. For those who want to keep above deck there are seats and tables with views across the marshes. I have spent many lunchtimes and evenings in this bar and thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Being Dutch, the Captain has tailored the menu and drinks with Dutch specialities including shots of the spirit known as Dutch Genever. The name is familiar to anyone who has read tales of the old Norfolk and Suffolk smugglers from the 18th century where Geneva was one of the bootys that were illicitly brought ashore and hidden away from the customs men. Doing a little more research one can soon determine that Geneva is Dutch Gin from which the English word 'gin' is derived. Geneva itself is derived from the French word genièvre and/or the Dutch word jenever, both having the meaning of juniper, the berry which is traditionally used to flavour gin.

The food includes sweet and savoury Dutch pancakes, which are absolutely delicious and Dutch pea soup, a great warming meal in itself and accompanied with either a cheese or ham roll, makes a hearty lunchtime meal. This can all be washed down with ale that is served straight from the barrel that sits atop the makeshift bar and is always fresh and satisfying.

The return route navigates around the tracks through the Holkham estate. For this specific instance of the walk, as we wandered along the track by the side of the former Wells railway line, there was the clear sound of gunshot. Looking to our right, in a gap in the hedgerow, there was the clear sight of a man in flat cap with dog obediently at his side and a gun pointing to the ground. "After rabbits" I thought as we ambled onwards. At the end of this track taking a right turn back towards the road, and then on to the open fields we soon became aware of a long line of gunmen flanked 100 yards in front of a line of dog handlers. They all had their eyes on us. I looked round to the far left side and on the gently sloping fields was a long line of men across the field. Then it all became clear, we were in the middle of a shoot - the distant flank being the beaters. They patiently waited until we had cleared the line of gunfire and once clear a whistle sounded. A hare raced past us, then a flock of game birds headed out of the beaters field and the gunmen tracked their flight, bringing some down. We stopped at the line of dog handlers and exchanged words with the chap closest to us. He told us the dogs would go in once the shooting was over. A little further up a woman with a dog stood by a muck pile where the dog was clearly on the scent of something. It was at this point a pheasant broke cover from the pile and headed off skywards.

Holkham Hall is a magnificent building and the surrounding parkland is a sheer pleasure to wander around with deer always to be seen somewhere in the grounds. There is a lot to see and a walk through does not do it justice as one could spend a lot more time here. The Hall which is an 18th century Palladian style house, the Bygones Museum, the landscaped Lake and gardens, the Ice-House and the Obelisk all provide points of interest before heading back down the main entrance and waiting for the bus back.

Wells beach huts
Wells beach huts


The route follows the beach on the outward easterly direction then returns using tracks and footpaths across the Holkham estate.

From the bus stop by the Victoria Hotel at Holkham, take Lady Annes Drive down to the beach and follow the beach eastwards to Wells beach where a path leads back inland to Wells Quay. Take Staithe Street, the main shopping street opposite the Quay. At the top turn right then turn left into the Buttlands. Head down to the right of the Crown Hotel at the bottom where Plummers Hill leads through to the main road. Turn right and walk down to the junction. Turn left, past the old railway embankment, where there is track on the right. Continue along here until the hedgerows end and another track on the right leads back up to the road. At the road turn left and take the lane into the Holkham estate, past the gatehouse. Keep on this through the woods, and straight across the track that junctions it at the far end of the wood. Keep on the track all the way through to the Hall. The lake is a little further on. The ice-house is around the far end of the Hall following the track past the end of the lake. Continue along this to find the obelisk which is in the woods at the end of the incline. Return back past the Hall and branch off to the left and down to the main entrance to return to the main road adjacent to the Victoria Hotel.

George and Dragon fountain at Holkham HallCokes Monument appears above the trees
On the left George and Dragon fountain at Holkham Hall; On the right Cokes Monument appears above the trees


The Albatros, Wells-next-the-sea View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Albatros, Wells-next-the-sea

No visit to Wells is complete without a visit to The Albatros. Captain Ton Brouwer, bought the vessel in 1980 and operated it as the last European sailing cargo vessel up until 1996 when it was refurbished as a passenger ship. In 2001 the Albatros became based in Wells-next-the-Sea where it was used as an educational centre supported by a trust called The Albatros Project. This lasted until 2005 when, in order to keep her commercially viable, the ship was used as a bar, restaurant, music venue and B and B which has now become a full time all year round business.

The former cargo hold, decorated in sea charts and an assortment of bric-a-brac, is now the restaurant and bar, where a variety of traditional Dutch Pancakes and other Dutch specialities are served together with Woodfordes ales straight from the barrel. Live music is offered every Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. From the deck of the ship there are superb views across the quay and marshes and out to sea. There is no better way of spending a warm sunny afternoon than sitting watching the tide come and go from the deck of the Albatros.


A very busy day on the Albatros with the fresh mussels being a very popular lunchtime menu item - luckily we got in early and only had to wait 20 mins before being served. The wait was well worth it as the food was most excellent, probably the best plate of mussels I have ever had. 3 ales were on offer, all Woodfordes and served in pins on the bartop - these were Sundew, Wherry and Nelsons Revenge. As expected the ale was quality!

Holkham Hall
Holkham Hall


Holkham HallView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A large Hall and landscaped gardens owned by the Coke family and built during the 18th century. The grounds are now open to the public and includes a bygones museum

Holkham Hall was built between 1734 and 1764 under the instruction of Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester. His family had purchased the manor at Holkham during the 17th century and had lived in the Elizabethan Manor house known as Hill house. Thomas Coke was an adventurer and had undertaken a six year Grand Tour of Europe where he had bought many valuable manuscripts and printed books along with many great works of art. On his return he considered his family home would not be big enough to house his collections and commissioned the building of Holkham Hall. Unfortunately he died before its completion although he had left detailed instructions for the building including the placement of the significant items of his treasures. The Coke family have lived in the Hall ever since and although not a museum, the library, statues, paintings and furniture are a major source for academic research with items frequently featuring in exhibitions and galleries throughout the Europe, Japan and the USA.

The grounds and parkland at Holkham were landscaped prior to the Hall being built. Their completion was commemorated in 1730 with a 80ft tall obelisk being placed at the highest point in the park, to the south of the hall. Today the parkland covers 3000 acres and is home to herds of Fallow and Red Deer and numerous Mediterranean evergreen oaks brought to Holkham from Italy. Other park features include the Triumphal Arch at the southern end of the avenue beyond the obelisk, a domed Doric Temple in the woods near the obelisk, the Marble Hall at the main entrance and the lake, thought to be the remains of a creek that originally ran to Wells Quay before the marshes were reclaimed. There is also an ice house, a fig house, a peach house and a vinery.

To the north of the hall is the Coke Monument. This 120ft high Corinthian Column was erected in 1845-8 as a commemoration to Thomas Coke. It was designed by William Donthorne and features a plinth decorated with bas-reliefs.

In a stable block to the hall, dating from the 1850s, is The Bygones Museum which houses a collection of over 4000 exhibits including mechanical toys, household implements and agricultural tools, vintage cars and steam engines.


Holkham BeachView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Holkham beach has been used in scenes of numerous films, videos and television shows including 'The Eagle has Landed', 'Shakespeare in Love', an episode of The Avengers entitled 'The Town of No Return' and the ITV drama 'Kingdom' featuring Stephen Fry. The 'Pure Shores' video from 90's pop group All Saints, for the 2000 film The Beach, was also filmed here

A shoot on th eHolkham estate
A shoot on th eHolkham estate


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: 2021-12-07

2011-11-12 : Initial publication
2016-01-15 : General website updates
2019-01-10 : General website updates + updates to notes
2021-03-17 : Update website improvements and removal of ViewRanger reliance
2021-12-01 : Removal of ViewRanger links due to its imminent demise


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