Stiffkey Salt Marshes, Stiffkey and Cockthorpe

Along the Norfolk sea wall to see salt marshes

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Start: Stiffkey Distance: 6.0 miles (9.7 km) Climbing: 76 metres
Grid Ref: TF 96463 43936 Time: 3 hours Rating: Easy
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Stiffkey
Start: Stiffkey Distance: 6.0 miles (9.7 km)
Climbing: 76 metres Grid Ref: TF 96463 43936
Time: 3 hours Rating: Easy
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

The Walk: This is a walk of pure enjoyment beginning and ending at the National Trust's Stiffkey salt marshes - a lovely area of creeks, marsh and sea lying between Blakeney Point and Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk. Several old green ways lead from the marshes inland to the village of Stiffkey, which has an abundance of beautiful detailed brick, flint and pantile cottages of varying ages, and several imposing larger residences including the Tudor Old Hall. The walk follows one of these lanes, explores part of the village and then, after crossing the River Stiffkey, turns further inland to reach the interesting hamlet of Cockthorpe. The route back, which is punctuated by lovely views over the marshes, goes through the deep grassy valley of Cockthorpe Common, then follows the river through copse and field until leading eventually back to the marshes which are then followed westwards back to the starting point of the walk.

The village of StiffkeyThe village of Stiffkey
Stiffkey Salt MarshesStiffkey Salt Marshes

These are a naturalists paradise, rich in plants and birds. In summer the marsh looks like an oriental cushion studded with mirrored pools. The whole area is a haze of purple and silver from the sea lavender and sea wormwood which grow here in profusion. Sea aster, sea holly and thrift add their colours, while edible plants include sea kale and samphire which is commonly known as sea asparagus. The sea is a thin blue line on the horizon and seals bask in the sandbanks.

At high tide the sea comes in to flood the marshes and fill the muddy creeks and pools which provide an ideal habitat for waders and wildfowl. Oyster catchers, ring plovers, greenshank, redshank, curlew, dunlin and many other waders forage around in the mud. In winter huge skeins of brent geese rise, honking and wing their way through the dramatic skies, while rafts of duck potter gently in the shallows. Sailing boats huddle in the shelter of the deeper creeks toward Marston and fishermen go out for mussels and cockles. In the distance is the sand dune spit of Blakeney Point, equally renowned for its wildlife.

The attractive village of Stiffkey lies between the marshes and the valley of the River Stiffkey. Stiffkey Hall, which can be seen from the village churchyard, originally had at least 80 rooms. Now only one wing and some castellated towers remain, together with some remains of the former Great Hall. Henry Williamson, author of the book 'Tarka the Otter' lived in Stiffkey during World War Two.

From Stiffkey a lane leads to the river and continues on into Cockthorpe. Here the listed 16th century hall, once home of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell, now houses a fantastic museum of toys. Of special interest are the trains, the dolls houses and the theatrical and optical toys. In December the hall is specially decorated to welcome Father Christmas. Cockthorpe was the birthplace of another famous admiral, Sir John Narborough. Both admirals were contemporaries of Samuel Pepys.

The deep combe of Cockthorpe Common, possibly created by ancient glacier movement, is a fascinating area. Now riddled with rabbit warrens, it provides hunting ground for kestrels. At the bottom of the slope flows the river, its banks providing a different wild flower habitat, which leads the walk through fields and copses back to the marsh and sea. This part of the walk is along the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail.

Acknowledgments: Text derived from the Out and Out Series; Discovering the Countryside on Foot. Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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