An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
Scolt Head Island
10 miles from Wells-next-the-Sea, North-West of Burnham Market
Accessed by ferry (seasonal) from Burnham Overy Staithe
An offshore barrier island with limited access that guarantees a secluded and often deserted expanse of sandy beaches, dunes and an abundance of rare wildlife.
Scolt Head Island is a mini paradise. On a sunny day there’s no better place to be than lying on a sandy bank, looking up at clear blue skies, listening to the tranquillity of island life. If you want to get away from it all, then this island, at just under four miles long, is my recommended top spot for Norfolk relaxation. If you’re a lover of nature, a bird watcher, or simply a beach bum at heart, you’ll love this place.
The facts of Scolt Head
The island, a continuingly changing vegetation of sand dunes, salt marsh, mud flats and shingle, belongs to the National Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Used primarily for ecological research and teaching, it’s a non-intervention reserve where coastal processes are allowed to naturally occur. The west of the island is shut off to the public during much of the summer season so that breeding birds are not disturbed. Island wildlife comes first as internationally important numbers of Sandwich Tern, Roseate Tern, Artic Tern and Little Terns nest.
Getting to the Island
Unless you’re an avid twitcher and dingy sailor, you’re likely to set foot on the island at the East end, having hopped on board the ferry that departs from Burnham Overy Staithe during the spring and summer months. The times of departure of this water taxi vary daily according to the times and heights of the tide, as well as the weather, so it’s difficult to give precise details. This to me is part of its charm. You can walk out from Brancaster Staithe when the tide is at its lowest but I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you’re experienced in Norfolk tides and know them well. I’d strongly advise taking the enjoyable and worry free ferry service.
The ferry taxi ride
So you’ve hopped on at the jetty and taken to the waters, sailing through the creeks towards the island. Instantly the view is breath-taking as you glide past moored dingy bobbing on the waters. Sunglasses are a must on bright days as the reflection of the sun on the water glares and can be dazzling, and trust me you don’t want to miss the first sightings of Scolt Head. There’s something magical and uplifting about seeing an island; a promise of land surrounded by the great ocean. I feel privileged to be here every time I set foot on its shores and I often have to pinch myself that this is in Norfolk, right on my doorstep; something so beautiful and unspoilt.
What to expect on Scolt Head
As you dismount by the water’s edge, you’ll be greeted by soft, warm sand and sea grass dunes. These are a great backdrop for a picnic, out of the wind as the island can be breezy at times. There are often canoes and dingy moored up here which make for some good photographs – bright coloured sails against a backdrop of huge blue skies. Shell seekers will be in their element walking along the beach as the island curves; some really unusual shells can be found, some as large as six inches in size and all colours including vivid purple. Others head for further adventure and walk around the island, each area has its own delights.
A word of warning; the weather can be erratic here. The last time I went out, in September before the end of season, it was a picture perfect warm day, sunny and bright. Before I returned however, rolling black clouds flooded in and in the space of ten minutes my surroundings had turned into a cold and blustery darkness. Bring an umbrella and waterproofs with you, especially if you walk or sail over and are tied to the island for several hours. In the main though, expect an idyllic day in every way, for this really is a hidden treasure you’ll be sure to enjoy time and time again.
A good map of the island can be found at www.nnch.co.uk/Scoltheadisland.pdf
An account of canoeing round the island can be found at www.waveneyvalleycanoeclub.org.uk/article_8.html