An Author’s Love of the North Norfolk Coastline
Since having her first child, Ellie Stoneley, 51, has juggled her new motherly duties with becoming a first time author.
“I’ve always written, whether for work, myself or latterly my blog, but when my daughter was born I felt I had so much more to say. To date I’ve written about my personal experience of pregnancy, through the baby years and of breastfeeding my daughter. I’ve also written news pieces for Huffington Post and the local paper in Cambridge, plus various parenting websites and been invited to appear on various BBC TV and radio broadcasts.
“Milky Moments is my first children’s book, for children and their families, and it sold out in three weeks, which caught me and the publisher by surprise. It’s now even been voted into the final of the People’s Book Prize for children’s book of the year!”
Spare time is somewhat of a luxury for Ellie, so relaxing on spacious beaches is a favourite way to spend her weekends. From her home in Cambridge, she regularly visits North Norfolk’s wide array of coastal villages, and Brancaster is one of her favourite areas.
“The coastal areas of Blakeney, Wells and down to Hunstanton are all gorgeous, but I particularly adore Brancaster beach. I’ve lived in California and Australia, been on beaches as far flung as Thailand, Mauritius and Costa Rica, but there’s no beach in the world that compares to Brancaster. It really is magical.
“The tidal marshes are really something to behold. I love the way the reeds swish and birds call, and the thick, soft sand as you walk round the final corner to the beach and discover either the immediacy of the sea right up against the dunes, or the vast open expanse of beach depending on the tide.”
While at the beach, Ellie likes to do as little as possible and really relax.
“There’s so much to do, but I mainly like to leisurely walk around and paddle. Walk one way to find a glorious inlet where it’s sometimes possible to sit and watch the seals on the opposite bank. Go the other way and you can find beautiful rock pools and pebbly outcrop. I love searching for razor shells and starfish there with my daughter or building sand castles together.
“There’s a wreck to the right of the beach, which is totally exposed at low tide and totally covered at high tide. I think it somehow gives a context to the beach and you’d never imagine it was there at all during high tide. Beware though, many people have become cut off by the tide when trying to visit it up close, so you can only really enjoy it from a distance.
“It’s really calming to just sit and enjoy the views too. The sky is always changing: bright life-affirming blue with wispy clouds one minute, to storms that feel like they’ll sweep you up the next. It’s never the same and makes you feel at one with the world. Going down to the shore at night is very romantic and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of the stars.
“If watersports are more your thing, you can go kite surfing or kite karting, and swimming is always lovely. Just be careful your clothes don’t get washed away by the tide coming in! There’s a lovely beach shack which sells kites, buckets and spades, plus a variety of hot drinks and snacks if you get peckish. Dogs are allowed on the beach too and it’s always great to see them having a glorious time running for miles on end. If you’re not a fan of the four legged creatures, there is a designated dog free zone too.”
Brancaster Staithe: Harbour and Wildlife Walk
The civil parish of Brancaster is actually made up of neighbouring villages Brancaster, Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Deepdale. A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), you can explore it and the surrounding area via the North Norfolk coastal path.
Brancaster Staithe was once a thriving port for cargo and grain-carrying ships, and although this has diminished over the years, many locals still make a living from the fishing industry. The harbour makes for a charming sight, with brand new sailing dinghies alongside retired buoys and lobster nets.
“You can take part in various sailing activities at the harbour, either at the sailing club or boat chandlery. A sailing school also offers courses and training,” Ellie says. “I did some sailing myself there, years ago, which was great fun. The National Trust run plenty of free family events in the area, especially during school holidays, as it’s part of their Brancaster Estate.
“Brancaster Staithe Wildlife walk is a 3-4 mile section of the coastal walk, so is great if you want to see some of the surrounding countryside. It’s lovely to look out across the marshes and see all the different houses in the distance. Starting at the Harbour car park, it’s about two hours long and takes you along the edge of Barrow Common and the Branodunum Roman Fort.”
Keith Miller, the National Trust Coastal Ranger of the Brancaster estate loves the variety of wildlife and countryside at Brancaster. He said, “The Brancaster Estate comprises of sandy beaches, vast expenses of saltmarsh, a bustling harbour and an ancient monument, making it a really interesting and wonderful place to visit. The National Trust manages the estate for the wealth of wildlife inhabiting it but also for the thousands of visitors that come here each year. Just off the Norfolk Coast Path in Brancaster there are some fields that once had an impressive Roman Fort called Branodunum. The fort is long gone and now the fields are important grasslands, home to wild flowers, insects and birdlife such as Skylarks. The National Trust is committed to caring for and preserving its special places for the benefit of the nation and honouring its moto; for ever, for everyone. This is no different at Brancaster and it’s a privilege to care for such a beautiful location.”
Things to Do in Brancaster
Ellie is very fond of Brancaster and the surrounding villages, and there’s plenty to do for all ages and interests.
“Brancaster is a very peaceful little village that winds along the high street, with narrow lanes and lovely flint cottages. If you like historical sights then visit St Mary the Virgin’s church or the Branodunum Roman fort ruins, or take a look at the art exhibitions in the village hall from local artists and sculptures. There are a couple of interesting vintage shops to potter about in and tourist shops where you can pick up some Brancaster souvenirs, a bird watching book or a razor shell from the beach.
“Every year, Deepdale holds a Christmas market which is always worth a visit to find unique presents. The Brancaster 71 Club has lots of events and social gatherings, and The Jolly Sailors holds a yearly beer festival.”
Places to Eat
Ellie has also sampled the food in many of the eateries in the area.
“The Ship Inn and White Horse are lovely, but in my opinion, the best is the wonderful welcome and superb food at The Jolly Sailors. It’s the perfect place to go after sailing, walking or pottering about on the beach, plus it’s far less formal than the other pubs locally. It’s child and dog friendly too, with a great garden and climbing frame outside. It serves traditional pub food – great steaks, fresh seafood and lovely local mussels when they’re in season.”
Heather Tidd, the General manager at The Jolly Sailors had this to say, “The Jolly Sailors is a traditional Norfolk public house, which offers a welcoming, value for money and relaxed hospitality service to the local community, families and tourists who visit north Norfolk. There is a well thought out food and drink offer to suit all, including wholesome quality home cooked pub classics prepared from locally sourced produce where possible – seafood from the village fishermen is a trademark, eat in or takeaway pizzas, has its own ‘smokehouse’ and has its own real ales on tap (Brancaster Brewery) as well as other local ales. The Jolly Sailors runs a full social calendar and has an enclosed garden with exciting kids play area. Eat, Drink and be Jolly says it all.”
Price and Parking
There is a large car park about 100 yards from the beach which has pay and display charges. Toilets are also available next to the beach shop.
Brancaster beach is a 38 minute drive from the Blakeney Cottage Company HQ, or 1 hour 36 minutes via the Coasthopper coach