England’s new coastal walk with a Norfolk resort, beaches and birdwatching

A new stretch of the King Charles III England Coast Path opened on Wednesday. Hugging the coast of eastern England, it’s a waterside amble of 33.6 miles (54.1km), from Hunstanton on the eastern shore of the Wash in Norfolk to Sutton Bridge on the River Nene in Lincolnshire. The route comes with big, open, soul-lifting skies which, in winter, are often zigzagged by pink-footed geese, and the site of some of the UK’s most wildly splendid murmurations.

Once the King Charles path is complete, it will be the longest managed coastal path in the world, with 2,700 miles of signposted walking. The English coast path will join up with the Wales coastal path and run up to the Scottish Borders. New sections are opening throughout the year. Over 95 per cent of the English coast is expected to be walkable by the end of 2024.

Wooden beach huts amongst the sand dunes and marrams on Old Hunstanton beach in North West Norfolk. Old Hunstanton overlooks the North Sea and The Wash as well as the coast of Lincolnshire.
Old Hunstanton Beach is backed by sand dunes (Photo: Linda Steward/Getty)

This latest stretch renders the entire Norfolk coast accessible to walkers, as the trail introduces seven miles of new access between the village of Snettisham and the market town of King’s Lynn, crossing the seaward side of Sandringham Estate. It links with the existing Norfolk Coastal trail to the south, while, to the north, the stretch from Sutton Bridge to Skegness is in progress.

Taking in some of the coastal highlights of Norfolk, this section starts beside the sandy beaches at the 19th-century seaside resort of Hunstanton. Here, you will find fish and chip shops, arcades, and a fairground.

Further along, Old Hunstanton Beach is backed by dunes and, at low tide, the sands appear to go on forever. There are raspberry-ripple sunsets from here, with views across The Wash – the broad estuary and rectangular bay that lies between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. It is England’s largest natural bay and home to several nature reserves.

There are wide sandy beaches south of the town, including Hunstanton South and Heacham. Then, the path passes Wild Ken Hill estate, a 1,551-hectare farm and nature reserve that you might remember from BBC Springwatch.

It encompasses coastal scrub, freshwater marshes, heathland, wood pasture and nature-rich farmland. The estate is known for rewilding, regenerative farming, and traditional conservation practices.

Here, 25 per cent of the land is left for wildlife. Look out for ponies, beavers, and a healthy population of deer – as well as cattle and pigs.

Dominic Buscall, project manager at Wild Ken Hill, says of the coast path: “I expect visitors and residents alike will love the new public rights of way from Wild Ken Hill south all the way to King’s Lynn.

“It’s a stunning and remote landscape with the wilderness of The Wash in sight almost all along the way. Like accessing any part of the countryside, we hope walkers respect this special new route”.

The route goes on past the RSPB Snettisham reserve, at a location on The Wash that is a “superhighway” for migrating birds. Many of these are knots, a dumpy wading bird. The coast hosts around 90 per cent of the world’s population of this species during late summer and early autumn.

Other birds crowding the flats are mousy brown dunlin and black and white oystercatchers. The latter, which are easily to recognise with their lipstick-red bills, stop here in their thousands to feast in the mudflats.

SNETTISHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Birdwatchers gather as waders flock together seeking new feeding grounds during the incoming tide at the RSPB's Snettisham Nature reserve on September 09, 2013 in Snettisham, England. The reserve lies on the edge of 'The Wash', one of the most important bird estuaries in the UK, supporting over 300,000 birds. A few times every year higher than average tides force thousands of waders including Knot, Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Black and Bar Tailed Godwit and Plover to take flight, and advance up the mud flats in search of food. The event is one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles in the UK. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Birdwatchers gather at the RSPB’s Snettisham nature reserve (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

When the tide rises sharply, it causes the phenomenon known as the “whirling wader spectacular”, when clouds of birds rise above the mirror-like surface, forming murmurations.

The Wash is also a sanctuary for around 40,000 pink-footed geese in winter, with the best time to see them at sunrise or sunset. Flying in neat V-shaped formations across the sky, they make a distinctive high-pitched wink-wink sound as they head inland to search for food.

Hayley Roan, senior sites manager, RSPB North West Norfolk reserves, says: “We know that spending time in nature benefits both our physical and mental health, and the new King Charles III England Coast path offers a unique opportunity for immersion in wildlife as it passes through RSPB Snettisham.”

Beyond here, the trail continues along the coastal part of the Sandringham Estate, before heading inland to King’s Lynn’s quayside by the Great Ouse. An important port from medieval times, grand merchants’ houses stretch down to the river between cobbled lanes, and there are two grand marketplaces.

The Peter Scott lighthouse is where the route ends (Photo: King Charles III England Coast Path)

From the town, the trail follows the Peter Scott Walk, named after the conservationist, ornithologist and broadcaster. The route skirts the raised sea wall, with the section ending at the gleaming white lighthouse in Sutton Bridge where Scott lived on the east bank of the River Nene.

To plan their visit, walkers can access route maps of all opened sections of the King Charles III England Coast Path, and any local diversions, on the National Trails website.

Check for any restrictions to access at Natural England – Open Access maps.