Date: 25th December 2020, with Clare and Joe. A fine way to spend Christmas morning, if a little damp at times.
Weather conditions: Mixed. When the sun was shining and we were inland it was pleasant. When the hail blew in our faces straight off the North Sea, it was not so pleasant.
County Top bagged: Beacon Hill, the highest point in the county of Norfolk. The summit is not obvious on the ground, but my conclusion is that it’s marked by a flagpole at the end of the car park outside the entrance to the Roman Camp caravan site. The highest spot height in the vicinity is at 102m by the radio mast near the road (where this photo is taken), but a 105m contour (which is 344 feet above sea level) does appear at grid reference TG183414, slightly further west, and this is where the aforementioned flagpole stands, so we’ll go with that.
Of all the modern and historic County Tops, this is the furthest east. It has the only Top name to be duplicated exactly, with the other Beacon Hill being the summit of Torbay. Norfolk is one of the few counties which hasn’t somehow had its boundaries tweaked in recent decades, and this is the first one I’ve done for a while (since no. 11, Bishop Wilton Wold) which is both a historic and modern Top. By altitude Beacon Hill ranks:
- 90th of the historic Tops;
- 152nd of the modern Tops;
- 176th of the full list.
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The walk also takes in the separate summit of Beeston Bump, at 207 feet/63m above sea level (right above it in fact; there is a direct drop from this summit to the beach below).
Start and end point of walk: We started in the village of East Runton, because we were staying there. The better place to start, if travelling by public transport, is West Runton railway station; as shown on the map below, this lies in the centre of the circuit. Adaptations can be made to the route accordingly. The walk took us two and a half hours.
Pub at end: Ending in East Runton would offer the option of the Fishing Boat, and in West Runton, the Village Inn would be the place to go. We got the chance to experience neither of these places today, thanks partly to the Great Fear but more specifically because it was Christmas Day.
Distance walked: 6 miles/9.6km approximately.
Feet of ascent: 450 feet/140m approx.
Difficulty: ★★. It was almost a one-star award but there are a couple of steep(ish) sections and some mud, although compared to our walk three days ago it is as a desert. But I would wear proper walking footwear to do it, and that’s the criterion for a two-star rating.
Ease of access: ★★★. This is one of the more peripheral English tops, but still could be reached from London and the Midlands on a day trip if desired. West Runton train station is served by hourly trains from Norwich, which take about 50 minutes to do the journey.
Scenic qualities: ★★★. The woods are unexciting but the coastal sections are dramatic and there are two excellent viewpoints. On the other hand, the actual summit is not prominent and you would never know that there you stand on the highest point for a considerable distance — I reckon about fifty miles — in all directions.
The area: I’ve enjoyed my first visit to Norfolk, even bearing in mind the circumstances. Preconceptions were of a flat, marshy county, and I guess there are parts of it that live up to this stereotype, but these are mostly in the east, around King’s Lynn, and the Broads to the west. Up in the north there are rolling, albeit low-altitude, hills and the sea cliffs came as a mild surprise.
The county is clearly falling into the sea, however. Like the whole east side of England, everything in Norfolk is sinking — a consequence of the loss of the glaciers after the last Ice Age, as the whole landmass, relieved of the weight of the ice, rebounds to the north and west, so drops down on this side and the waves munch it away, piece by piece. Beeston Bump used to be two rounded hills as late as the 18th century: now it’s sort of half of one. How long the caravan parks (the area’s dominant form of architecture) perched atop the cliffs have left to live, I know not, but I wouldn’t invest in property in any of them.
We went to Norwich on Christmas Eve and I found that a little underwhelming, but Cromer along the coast was a nice spot and all the people we have met have been friendly. The beaches are impressive. I would happily consider coming back here again, though I bet it’s heaving in the summer holidays. (In normal times.)
Map: OS Explorer 252 Norfolk Coast East, Cromer and North Walsham was useful to carry around, at least for the sections away from the coast.
On this summary map, the summit is indicated to the south. We went round the circuit anti-clockwise.
Route: This description assumes that, as we did, you start in East Runton. As the walk is a circuit you can of course pick it up at any point, and do it either way round, too. On a windy day, as we had, you might consider reversing our direction and completing it clockwise, if only to avoid walking along the clifftops into the prevailing gale.
Start by heading west along the main A159 a short way until you are past the first of the several caravan parks you will encounter today, then follow the Norfolk Coastal Path sign off the road towards the cliffs. Walking along these offers many photo opportunities, but don’t lose attention to where you are placing your feet — much of the cliff edge is unguarded, and it’s quite a long way down to the beach below.
Rising very obviously ahead is the nodule of Beeston Bump, which is worth including in the walk as it’s a much finer summit than Beacon Hill. Keep following the signs past the car park at the end of Water Lane — this is the best point to join/leave the route for West Runton station. You are led past the big ‘Beeston Regis Holiday Park’ (it’s presumably nicer in the summer) and up to the top of the Bump, from where there is an excellent view of miles of coastline and the town of Sheringham below.
Retrace your steps back down the Bump’s stairway and then bear right, away from the sea. This path leads you across the railway line (I dunno, dozens of walks without having to negotiate railway tracks, and then there are two in a row) and out onto the main road again. Cross over and head down the lane that slants away from the road, then turn right, heading past Hall Farm.
When this lane comes to a junction, head straight on, along the path that climbs up through the woods. When this plateaus out, bear right, because along here is another excellent viewpoint, looking back over Sheringham again and back to the Bump you left around forty minutes previously (well, that is how long it took us).
Retrace steps back to the top of the woodland path and then keep heading in the same direction, more or less due east. This path comes out onto a broader lane that is the access road for the big house just passed, and heads past the Roman Camp caravan park. Outside its entrance is a car park and a little mound with a flagpole on it; though I didn’t realise it at first (hence, no photo), this must be the highest point of Beacon Hill, and of Norfolk.
Keep going until you reach the road, then cross over it and bear immediately left. Everything is downhill from this point. The path goes past yet another caravan park, after which turn left, then right at the next junction and you will come out at the southern end of East Runton. Turn left, go under the twin railway bridges (one is still used, one is not) and you will return to the starting point.
Christmas Commentary (and a review of 2020 in walking terms): This will definitely be my last County Top walk of 2020. There have been sixteen walks, and seventeen summits bagged. This is a pretty good return considering I’ve done a reasonable number of Wainwright walks too, and an exceptionally good return considering all the bollocks that this year has brought.
Best of the year? Er… hard to say really. There were good things about all of them (except perhaps last Tuesday’s mudfest), but nor did I think any quite attained perfection, which is of course just some ideal walk I’ve got installed in my head. Saxby Wold was a surprisingly good hike, and it was good to get out of England for the one and only time in the year with White Coomb. Great weather helped both of those days, but then again that’s part of the ‘perfect walk’ package.
If you divide up the 196 Tops into the highest half and the lowest half, by altitude, then I’ve done 15 of the lower ones but only 8 of the higher ones. And as the median point comes at only 966 feet, it is obvious that I’ve not yet bagged many mountainous CTs. But that’s partly because it’s not been possible to get back to Scotland and Wales. Of the 100 Tops under 1,000 feet, Scotland and Wales only have five between them, and I’ve already done one of them (Holyhead Mountain). We were all set for a trip to Lanarkshire in April, and Orkney was a planned summer holiday, but these never happened. Because of the bollocks.
At least we got in this trip to Norfolk. Some of the walks this year (Normanby Top and Billinge Hill spring to mind) were arranged literally the day before: this one’s been planned for 11 months. Not for Christmas Day specifically, but that’s how the weather forecast panned out, and it made for a very pleasant way of spending the Yuletide morning (once the hail stopped, about half an hour in). I feel sorry for the good people of Norfolk, though. Lockdown beckons for them once more, even though there is little evidence that it makes any difference; but Authority’s view is, that if tactic A doesn’t work, try it again, only more forcefully.
I hope I get to resume my explorations before too much of 2021 has passed — but it is not in my control. Have a very happy Christmas wherever you are, whatever you are doing.
Best wishes, Drew
8 thoughts on “23: Beacon Hill, Norfolk”
Not a bad way to spend the Xmas morning. Or a bad total for the year given what happened.
I hope you can get to Orkney soon – we have been 3 times and it’s fantastic.