Wild Camping in Norfolk and Suffolk: A Three-Night Adventure
In July 2015, I decided to spend three nights solo wild camping in Norfolk and Suffolk. I had a car filled with provisions, and no plan as to where I might set up my tent each night.
After having stayed in some beautiful accommodation during my travels in the UK and Ireland, I thought I would take this opportunity to rough it for a few days on end. I felt somewhat homeless for most of the time, but with that came the thrill of adventure.
Night One: Tunstall Forest
A few days before I was due to start wild camping, I went on a reconnaissance mission, which is when I found Tunstall Forest. Driving down a main road between a few Suffolk villages, I noticed thick woods on my right, with plenty of access roads. For me, forests are ideal for wild camping because you’re sheltered from wind and not many people tend to go wandering through them at night (apart from the real nutters, but they’re few and far between).
One of these access roads had a small lay-by. My eyes lit up – somewhere to put my car, and camp a few metres away. At 9.30pm on the first night of my wild adventure, when the sun was just down but there was still some light hanging in the air, I parked and set up my tent in a flat clearing in the woods.
At night, forests wake up and all sorts of noises begin – thumps, bumps, hoots, and howls. Those of you who follow my blog will remember the story of the screech in the night during a wild camp in Wiltshire. Despite this sounding a little terrifying, once you remind yourself how uncommon it is for anyone to pecked to death by an owl, you realise you’re not in much danger.
The only point during this night that I panicked was when a cluster of torch lights hit my tent around 11.30pm. Had I been rumbled? Could it be a UFO? No. I peeked out of a slither of unzipped tent, and saw a group of blokes on a midnight bike ride. Nice enough blokes it seems – in a charming Suffolk accent I heard one say to another, “Oh look, there’s someone camping ‘ere tonigh’” and off they rode into the darkness.
I woke at 5.30am after a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep and emerged from my tent. The rising sun blazed through the trees, turning the green leafy ferns a bright gold – not a bad sight to wake up to.
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Night Two: Salthouse
That morning I drove up to Norfolk, and spent the day tootling along the north coast. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is punctuated with fishing towns and peaceful villages, a place where you’ll find something beautiful and interesting every few miles.
A walking path runs along the entire coastline here, which led me to believe there would be quite a few places to pitch my tent. Driving from east to west, I kept glancing to my right in the hopes of spotting a quiet beach or area that was far enough away from the main road – I found this at Salthouse.
This handful of houses sits opposite a road that leads to a pebble beach. Just back from the shoreline are some firm mounds covered in grass, before the land turns into marsh. I picked the biggest one, which had a straight drop facing the beach – the perfect spot because it was like camping on a miniature cliff, from which I could see (and hear) nothing but the ocean.
I’d say the worst part about wild camping alone is having to wait for a suitable time to go back to your chosen spot after sun-down. Those hours around 6-9pm can really drag when you have little money to spend in a pub and no one else to talk to. That night waiting for the right time to go back to Salthouse was the most tedious, but I did at least soar through the book I had been meaning to read for a while – albeit on a rather cold beach. I love travelling alone and have done so for five years, but I’ve never wished to be with other people more than I did during these few days in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Finally the time came to set up camp. I got to the top of the cliff and took a good few steps back from the side – the last thing I wanted to do was wake up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break, step out my tent, and fall of a cliff.
Before I went to sleep, I sat in the opening of my tent and looked out over the ocean as dark started settling in. These are the times I do enjoy being alone. When I’ve set everything up and feel happy with the spot I’ve chosen – when the scenery around you is so beautiful that it’s comforting. I can’t be anything but content in these moments.
Night Three: Burnham Overy Staithe
After a relatively good night’s sleep at Salthouse – interrupted only once by a dog walker (and dog) at about 5am – I continued west. It was hot and bright, which means only one thing: beach day.
I drove over to Burnham Overy Staithe and not long after entering the village did I spot a large number of people carrying beach gear, each of them walking towards the coastline down a track. This pathway from the village to the coast is a mile and a half long, and runs through marsh land that’s teeming with wildlife. You have to climb over giant dunes at the very end to reach the beach, but once over you’re met with pristine sands that stretch for miles.
Quite a few people were on the beach that day, but as it’s so big it didn’t feel crowded. As I soaked up some rays, I looked around and wondered how many people come here at night. Being a mile and a half away from the nearest inhabited house, I figured not many. This is how I found my favourite wild camping spot to date.
I decided to head down to the beach to set up camp a little earlier, considering there would be few people around. While I was getting things out my car and strapping them to my back, a woman came over and asked if I was sleeping out on the dunes for the night. When I answered yes, she beamed and wished me luck – something tells me she would have come with me had she not got two children and a husband in tow.
About half-way down the track, I noticed a group of starlings perched on a bush in the marshes. It’s been a personal dream of mine for many years to witness a starling murmuration, so I decided to gently put my bags down and stand to watch for a while, hopeful. Within a few minutes, the birds rose up into the air together, up into a giant ball that started gliding over the landscape. They crossed over my head and joined a second group, all drifting together and shifting shape. There was no one else there – just me and the birds.
Camping that night was a dream. Once I got down to the beach I could see another group a mile or so away on one side, and the same in the other direction. Ecstatic at the thought of not having to worry about getting caught, I sat drinking a couple of beers, listening to my favourite podcasts, and watching a burning red sun sink into the horizon.
A full night of sleep followed. I arrived at my host’s house the next day stinking to high heaven, but proud at what I had accomplished and the memories I’d made. The main thing this trip taught me – or reminded me of – was how beautiful those early morning hours are, before the world rises.
That feeling of waking up deep in the wilderness and listening to daylight set in is something only wild camping can give, and that feeling is so accessible in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Have you ever been wild camping in Norfolk or Suffolk?
What are your experiences of wild camping elsewhere?