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Sep 2017+

Norfolk Coat of Arms

Two return tickets to Clay, please...
Erm, Clay-on-sea?...
It's all right,
I've got this... Clay-next-the-sea?

That's saved you a few bob because the driver's just kicked you off his bus. Three strikes and you're out in this part of North Norfolk. It's pronounced 'Cly' as in 'I'm going to Cly', on a bus, presumably to be next to the sea but more on that in a minute.

Well done, by the way, if you've negotiated a passage by carriage from nearby Stiffkey, which is said Stew-Key and most people would be on all day trying to guess that.

If you haven't pretended to come by bus, there's parking up at the Village Hall from where it's a short trot down to the main road via what might be a part of someone's back garden.

Over the road, the windmill is a waymarker if you and several others fancy a walk west to Blakeney and back.

Alternatively, it's right and round with both tracks part of the  Norfolk Coast Path, an 83-mile route between Hunstanton to just south of Great Yarmouth.

If heading from Hunstanton, you're just over 30 miles in but if yomping from Yarmouth, it's, well, 50-odd miles to 'Sunny Hunny' with plenty of calf-killing shingle still to come, sorry.

  Blakeney National Nature Reserve

Blakeney is just a mile west by flying crow but the anti-clockwise loop out over the salt marsh will double that. It offers up much more in the way of  amenities and you can further extend yourselves to Blakeney Point, the end of a four-mile long shingle spit.

That terrain is guaranteed to be a thigh-sapper so the sensible option is a boat trip from  Morston but why would you bother with either?

Only England's largest grey seal colony that breeds here over the winter and a larger,  National Trust™-run nature reserve. The area is the holder of at least three special designations or other and, as should be known by now, they don't hand them awards out willy-nilly.

You might, not unreasonably, expect to find yourself next-the-sea here and Cley's traditional dwellings are, indeed, just about where the water would have been.

Land reclamation over the centuries, they say, means the sea is now nearly a mile away and can be found up a single-track road with chargeable parking at the end of it.

It's free to walk to, naturally, where things are spectacularly shingly but not all of it in the right place.

A just-out-of-shot tractor is evidence of the artificial bank but it wasn't high enough in January 2017 for the storm surge that breached the marshes and those nearby homes had to be evacuated.

There's a short, shingle-sapping stretch to the right then right again to return via Cley Marshes. If you've never been to North Norfolk, this landscape really is rather alluring and their beaches aren't bad, neither, although you'll have to head west to Wells-next-the-sea for that.

Eight months later and things are flood free but still enough water to keep it interesting and by 'interesting' it's meant bird-wise.

The salt marsh is one of the country's top hotspots for twitchers, birders and watchers[1], you see, as well as being one of the oldest such sites in the UK.

It's easy to understand why and highlights include some kind of sandpiper, it's thought, and a blurry godwit, for sure, and all this without even trying.

It's home to huge numbers of migrating waders, when in season, and is where a  collared pratincole, no less, had them not so much twitching but jerking furiously in 2009.

[1] In descending order of obsessiveness.

The marshes are managed by the  Norfolk Wildlife Trust and while you're free to walk around the perimeter, you'll have to pay for access to the middle.

Their modern  Visitor Centre and café, however, is free and they've even laid on some binocs on the benches, now clumsily covered in ketchup from your bacon butty, oops.

They're perfectly placed for picking out the marsh harrier or at least it's thought so having been seen doing some harrying in and around a marsh.

Identification, however, can be difficult with their fingered wings similar to other raptors such as the buzzard although they tend to fly much higher.

The larger female is also much darker and the cream coloured head can be confusing but this could be a juvenile, the pigmentation of the plumage not yet fully through?

Saying that, this pair of peepers don't work nearly as well as they used to so it might have just flown off and that's a washed-up log left over from last January?

Returning to Cley by a parallel path next-the-road, there's no sight of the pinging  reedlings in the, erm, reeds and the windmill soon looms into view.

Former family home of Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Blount, his grandson and ex-military man turned posh popster James  Blunt spent large parts of his childhood here.

It's an up-market  B&B, these days, with an option for dining in its base of an evening. Their seasonal, Norfolk-themed menus, however, aren't thought to include mangoes and passion fruit from the surrounding fields.

The narrow road through Cley is the  A149 and the main coastal road across North Norfolk but two words of warning in summer... gridlock!

You'll spend some of this afternoon wondering how in the world they could ever widen while the opposite flow is unforgiving in a giving-way kind of way although it's not so bad today.

  Cley Smokehouse (High Street)

'If it used to move then we'll smoke it!' That should be their motto and they do it all out back including the 'Buckling'. That'll be kippers with the eggs left in and no, never heard of it, neither.

They also do a nice line in Norfolk game and there's a good half-an-hour in here pondering over tonight's picnic. Hmmm, crab or crevettes? Get them both in the basket man! You're supposed to be on holiday and they'll make for some of the best eats this week.

  Picnic Fayre (The Old Forge)

Another renowned picnic provider, a little further up the high street, and more along the lines of your traditional deli.

It's handy for some plonk and any accompaniments to all the smoked stuff already in your shopping bag.

The childhood sight of the stationary traffic in summer is said to have been the inspiration for Blunt's debut, global smasher of an album  Back to Bedlam back in 2004.

Record company executives, however, wished to convey more of a study on 'the wistful comfort of unattainable love, and finally, world-weary resignation' and the title was tweaked from young James' vision, out of his bedroom window, of the Back-to-back Bedlam.

Not a bad corporate shout, it went on to sell over 11 million copies worldwide and, go on admit it... You can't get  that tune out of your head now, can you?