I don’t actually walk across the marshes themselves; unless you’re extremely familiar with them that could be pretty risky. But the raised grassy banks of the sea defences that traverse the Norfolk saltmarsh coast, provide convenient access and elevated views across the marshes, reedbeds and creeks and out to the dunes and beaches.
They also provide excellent walking opportunities; topped with good paths, they stretch for miles, crisscrossing the marshes between the string of coastal villages and, in places, linking up with official walking routes, such as the Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coastal Path. In summer the sea defences are bordered with a profusion of wildflowers, framing endless views. Even on the wildest winter days, there are usually a few hardy dog walkers or bird watchers about. Nevertheless it is still possible to get a sense of isolation and wilderness.
Thornham and Holkham are my usual sketching areas, but I sometimes go a few miles further east to Burnham Overy Staithe, which, with its moored sailboats, breakwaters, extensive sandy flats and grazings, offers an alternative sketching location.
Last Wednesday, although cold and windy, was bright and sunny and not wanting to waste the rare winter sun, I threw my sketching gear in the car with a simple packed lunch, and headed up through Burnham Market, through the lovely village of Burnham Overy and out to the Staithe and creek.
The tide was low and retreating, the wind strong and cold, and the clear sky reflected back off the wet mudflats where the creek had emptied, turning them into a blue expanse, scribbled with the tracks of birds and sinuous rivulets of water.
Large flocks of small dark Brent geese, with their distinctive mutterings, clustered on the winter grazings. Curlews called and the wind brushed the burnished silver reeds into undulating waves. Out on the retreating creeks, redshank and cormorant. In the distance, murmurations of starlings like shadowy twisting veils.