Burnham Overy Staithe harbour is hidden just off the A149 coast road, on a small one-way loop that runs down to the water’s edge and the car park-cum-slip way. This is a boat place – small craft are littered everywhere there’s a patch of grass or dirt large enough to slot one in – and on a fine day as high tide approaches, the quay comes alive with sailors of all ages and abilities, keen to get onto the water and practice their skills.
The ‘hard’ – the area of shingle and sand where cars and boats congregate – is large, but fills quickly. There’s a fair amount of jostling and rearranging going on as new arrivals towing boat trailers unload their craft, launch and make way for the next in line. It’s a friendly but chaotic mess of camper vans, cars, parents, children, dogs, kayaks, paddle boards and sailing boats.
The historic Boathouse and chandlery that overlooks the harbour offers all-day kayak hire if you forgot to bring your own. If you want to get out on the water but let someone else do the hard work, a ferry to Scolt Head Island nature reserve operates from the quay in front of the Boathouse during the summer months.
The route to the beach starts at the rear of the hard; the Norfolk Coast Path runs along the top of an embankment dividing tidal creeks and saltmarshes on one side from reclaimed grazing marsh, reedbeds and fields on the other. The path is made from crushed sandstone, a yellow stone road to the beach of BOS.
In total it’s around 2.3km (1.4mi) and all on the level until you reach the dunes. The distance from the car park to the beach, and the lack of facilities when you get there, creates a natural filter that tends to keep Burnham Overy Staithe Beach quiet and uncrowded, with a predominantly adult – and canine – clientele.
Along the way you can see and hear an abundance of bird life, watch the small sailing boats and kayakers wend their way to and fro along the River Burn, and observe the tides slowly filling and draining the sinuous creeks that perfuse the saltmarshes. It’s all heart-achingly gorgeous.
Towards the end of the journey the sandstone path is replaced by a stretch of wooden boardwalk, and eventually this gives way to sandy dunes. Just before you reach the beach, the Norfolk Coast Path diverges east towards Holkham Gap through a grassy valley that runs behind the beach dune ridge for several hundred metres, before rejoining the beach and passing between the sea and Holkham pinewoods.
The approach to the beach is over a steep sandy incline, obscuring the view. Climb up and over, a final exertion required before being rewarded with the big reveal.
The sand on Burnham Overy Staithe Beach is pale, fine and soft, and the water is crystal clear. The beach is generously wide at high tide; at low tide it’s immense. Wide, shallow pools, perfect for paddling, slowly rise and fall as the tide comes and goes. To the west you can walk to the mouth of the River Burn with the beach of Scolt Head Island just across the water, to the east lies Holkham Beach, with Wells-next-the-Sea beyond.
It’s vast and breathtakingly beautiful. On a warm summer’s day you could be on a beach in a tropical paradise, but instead of a long expensive flight and all that entails, the price of a ticket to Burnham Overy Staithe Beach is a pleasant half-hour stroll through an English country idyll.
There are no kiosks, no ice cream stands, no beach bars. Nothing but the sea and the sand and the dunes and the big blue sky.
And it’s perfect.
There is free parking on the quayside at Burnham Overy Staithe, but be aware that ‘the hard’, as its known, can become completely inundated during high tides, so if you’re planning on staying for several hours check tide times or ask a local for advice.
The path to the beach follows the Norfolk Coast Path, which runs along the south and east sides of the car park.
Address: E Harbour Way, Burnham Overy Staithe PE31 8JF
Distance to beach: 2.3km (1.4mi)
There are no facilities at Burnham Overy Staithe Beach.
The closest toilets and refreshments are at The Hero, a pub and restaurant in the village centre on the A149 coast road.
Burnham Overy Staithe Beach is dog friendly, with no restrictions.
No lifeguard service at any time of year.