At Easter I discovered that circular walks in Norfolk have been re-signposted and gated, with a blue circular sign that’s easy to follow. I have often walked down Cockthorpe common and wondered how to make it into a circle, so I was very pleased about this discovery. the first time I started down the dry valley of the common, but thought it would be better walked the other way which is what I did today.

this looks like round-leaved cranesbill, one of the few interesting flowers I found, where Bernard Matthews has attempted some native tree and ground cover blocks near the turkey houses – this walk doesn’t seem to offer much botanical interest at this time of year – there’s alexander and more alexander, waves of sweet scent coming off its flowers.

up high at Cockthorpe, on the edge of the Langham airfield, there are the most panoramic views of the coast, which is why I think it’s better to walk this way round.

a field full of ewes and lambs makes one think of the South Downs on this big rounded hill of short cropped grass with the surf along the edge of the Stiffkey sandbanks in the background. Where the trees are is the hanger wood above the Stiffkey river plain with its wetland grazing. we come back that way, so more of that later.

the path is quite sheltered along here, with a big unkempt hawthorn hedge, in flower, attendant whitethroats singing. this is a poor photo of a small tortoise butterfly which would not settle long enough for me.

the ewes have a bit of an attitude to dogs, I don’t blame them. B behaved perfectly.

nicely untrimmed hedges with great cover for birds

and more views of Blakeney point.

I could see boats coming through the channel and into the Pit, as the tide was on the ebb.

at this point you leave the track and follow a footpath trodden into the winter wheat. B kept a lookout for hares, but we saw never a one.

at the other side of the huge wheat prairie there are “free-range” pigs, very fat pink young ladies disporting themselves in the sunshine. I fear they will be ready for the butcher soon. these lovely black boars on the other hand presumably lead the life of Riley.

there the walk follows another very cobbly track with sugar beet just coming up on the left, and really only alexander and some nettles and docks. best to keep one’s eye on the views. all the way down “Love Lane” to the coast road, very busy on Bank Holiday Monday, along which one has to walk sadly, to get to Morston green

from there the coastal path is lovely.

Morston Quay

wide views of the salt marsh and the Point – the barge Juno’s masts out in the pit, always nice to see her there.

intermittent clumps of gorse all brazen with flower and scent and full of white throat and black cap song, chiffchaffs where there are scrubby trees at Morston Freshes. (I have heard willow warblers there but not today) and larks singing above the saltmarsh. (not very evident on the farmland but perhaps I just wasn’t listening)

the tide well on its way out here in front of Stiffkey fen

shell ducks and avocets here paddling about in the mud

we stopped to sit on the sluice steps for a quick rest in the cool breeze, listening to the reed warblers and reed buntings in the fen and the waders on the salt side of the bank. I had my coat off by then, it was warmer than predicted. two lovely Cockles moored along there.

then down the steps on the other side of the bank.

and along the narrow path by one arm of the river, between trees and flowering hawthorn hedge. it got hotter – sweater off too! a very busy spot for wildlife, with the willows, the reeds, the fen and the hedge. at the end a kissing gate and a pair of very noisy guinea fowl, they sounded like a whole flock. B was bemused. out over a path of paver type cobbles to the bridge and the coast road – here you only have to pop across it to the permissive path which takes you along between two hedges beside a field of conservation set aside, with opportunities for lots of insects. saw my first gatekeeper butterfly this year. but sorry to say I did not hear a cuckoo on this walk, which is really where you might expect to in this part of North Norfolk.

the path turns away from the road and then finds the Stiffkey, going downstream this time, through trees, with water meadows on the other bank.

highland cattle live on these pastures, which are allowed to flood, providing habitat for waders. I’m sure there’s a list as long as my arm of these sorts of birds using this environment. the river used to be dredged. now it’s not and there is less threat of flooding for the village upstream.

 

its a chalk stream, now recognised as a rare and precious habitat. here in the brambles there was a dartford warbler singing, along with chiff chaff etc … you can just hear him on this video clip, although he’s back a bit on the path. a lot of fizzing with the odd chirrup.

the path crosses the floodplain between small willows, with lots of nettles. not a path to take in shorts. this little bridge crosses the more southerly arm of the river, and you come out onto Cockthorpe Common, with its high cliff features on either side

not actually in this photo, but further round to the left and away on the right, the hanger, a wood on the very steep slope. here pilgrims arrived by sea to walk to the shrine of Our Lady at Little Walsingham – the Stiffkey being navigable in the middle ages, before embankments along the edge of the coastal marshes were thought of.

the common, being quite chalky, has some special flora and fauna. at the moment the eastern side is full of cowslips. had I been with someone more expert probably a lot of other plants and insects too would have been pointed out to me.

in a wet winter there is a tiny  bourne that peters out in the grass up here. another chalk stream.

and you can see the substrata where it’s been quarried – a face of chalk with lines of flints in it, and some tunnelling at the base – human? I remember seeing a large den hole at the top.

the grassy track is pretty  – usually these big gates are shut. when I first came back to Norfolk in  2000 I rented this tiny barn

at the top of the track, for three months, over the winter and into the spring of 2001. it was a joy to walk the common. but then the foot and mouth epidemic arrived so I stuck to the roads. living there was a wonderful experience. a flock of pink foot geese would fly up the valley and low over the village, and you could see the sea from that velux window in the hipped roof.

I was looking out for swallows and house martins around the farm buildings, but there was not one. nor swifts.

five and a half miles, with stops for photography etc, two and a half hours. there are more circular walks on the national trail  website