I would like to take you on a fascinating trip to a small coastal resort in the east part of England. Because I live in Cambridge this remarkable place is close to me. This is the Hunstanton, a small resort in west Norfolk. The uniquity of this place lies in its location, Hunstanton is the only west-facing resort on the East Coast, that makes special conditions for watching beautiful sunsets.
This is not only one attitude of this place. Hunstanton is also known for its unique striped cliffs.
The Hunstanton (called also ‘Hunston’) began the coastline resort in 1846 when the resort was built retaining this place in Victorian charm. It brought the existence of a New Hunstanton settlement. The original settlement of Hunstanton, now known as Old Hunstanton probably gained its name from the small river Hun, which runs to the coast just to the east of Old Hunstanton. It has also been opined, that Hunstanton is the name originated from the word “Honeystone” a reference to the local red carrstone. Hunstanton grew up throughout the decades attracting tourists from across the country. Yet in the XIX century, the resort had been connected by railway from Kings Lynn with stops in Sandringham, Snettisham, and Wolferton Royal Station carrying often the Royal Family. The peak of its popularity Hunstanton peaked in the early XX century. The town could boast a Victorian Pleasure Pier including a lot of attractions while a steam railway going up and down. Aside from the pier in the 1930s, the holiday park was opened. The worst times came after the 1950s when the contemporary major tourist attraction – the pier was destroyed by fire. In the aftermath, the railway from King’s Lynn was closed as uneconomic. On top of that, the town was bypassed in the 1990s weakening local trade.
Nowadays Hunstanton is a traditional family resort designated for people in all groups of age. This is not only a touristic place. Hunstanton is marked by long trade traditions, that exist today. Hunstanton has regular markets on Wednesday and Sunday selling fresh fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. These markets attract great numbers in the summer.
Today tourist traffic in Hunstanton tends to be smaller than previously, thereby the place itself is cosy. There are at least a few remarkable sites, that you should see before you plunge into the seawater:
- The Old Lighthouse, built in 1909 is the most recognisable building in the town because is to be seen easily from the opposite part of Wash Bay. The area around the lighthouse can be treated also as a nice viewpoint, from where the view from Boston to Skegness extends.
- Coastal cliff, which represents a red limestone and upper chalk layer. The best view is from the cliff-backed beach. Read more below to gain more details about the geological history of this place.
- Edmund’s Chapel probably marks the line, where New Hunstanton begins and Old Hunstanton ends. This is the oldest remnant of Hunstanton built in the late XIII century by monks from Bury St. Edmund’s. This is (both with the aforementioned lighthouse) the place with a spectacular view of The Wash Bay and beautiful sunsets.
The furthest area, that you will able to see from the Hunstanton viewpoint is The Wolds in Lincolnshire (around 40 km). There is an extended highland with a lot of arable fields. In The Wolds also the Belmont TV transmitter is located, this is the tallest construction in the UK and the whole EU. You cannot really see it in the naked eye during the daylight, but during the night or twilight, you will able to spot flashing red lights above The Wolds. It will be a Belmont TV transmitter, situated approximately 60 km from Hunstanton.
Moreover, on the sea, you will easily spot the wind farm located around 15 km from the shore.
- The beach, extends basically from Snettisham, although the mud surface is not favourable enough to spend time there. Sandy and gravel beach spreads alongside the Hunstanton shore. Northwards from the cliff (Old Hunstanton beach) is a beautiful sandy beach. See more details below.
- Sea Life Sanctuary is the contemporary heart of the town with a lot of attractions and shops. An object is easily accessible from the town centre and beach. This is the best tourist attraction on rainy days.
- The Princess Theatre, the former Capitol Cinema, that has been turned into a theatre in the 1980s.
- The Town Hall, a grade II listed building since the late XIX century now is the tourist information centre.
- Oasis Leisure Centre – a typical leisure centre with e.g. swimming pool.
- Esplanade Gardens with tropical plants above the cliff.
Hunstanton town has also a few nice places to take a rest and watch the world go by. For me, one of the best is Lincoln Square.
It’s good to mention also some important infrastructure objects. There are a few hotels in Hunstanton, however, for me, the best is the Le Strange Arms Hotel with the Ancient Mariner Inn. This always busy place offers the best sunsets in the whole Norfolk coast.
In the summary of tourist attractions of the Hunstanton, I would like to attach the map with all places marked (Pic. 23).
The Hunstanton beach is a few km long and different in character. Predominantly this is a gravel environment on the shore with a sandy basement, which is to be seen during the low tide. The New Hunstanton beach is full of candy floss, arcades, funfair and amusements. Old Hunstanton beach is the whole sandy. This is an excellent place for kiting, windsurfing and bugging. The most impressive site of these two beaches is the cliff face.
The famous red and white cliffs of Hunstanton are visited by thousands of people each year simply to see this spectacular natural geological feature. The cliff at Hunstanton is a composite of weak rock cliffs that have retreated by up to 30m since 1885 in a series of failures of varying size and nature (Drake, 2007). The rock exposed around a 1.5 km stretch of cliff and beach at Hunstanton is dated from the Albian Stage of the Early Cretaceous Epoch to the Cenomanian stage of the Late Cretaceous Epoch. The cliff geology features three distinctive formations of marine origin:
- The Carstone Formation is a geologic formation dating back to the Cretaceous period. This layer is built mostly with carrstone rock. Carrstone is a sedimentary sandstone that varies in colour from light to dark rusty ginger, sometimes orange when weathered. Often used as a building stone in neighboured areas. This rock formation counts around 108Ma and is fossiliferous (only the upper layer) however you can find also small remnants of wood. The Carstone formation is comprised of coarse sand particles interspersed with rolled pebbles.
- The Hunstanton Formation with around 1m thickness of red colour limestone dated 101Ma (mid-late Albian Stage of the Early Cretaceous Epoch). This layer was formerly known as the red chalk. This limestone chalk colour is caused by the ferrous staining of this rock layer. Basically, the Hunstanton Formation is comprised of ferruginous sand grains and ooliths, red mud and calcium carbonate. All were deposited at the same time. It is suggested that the red mud is due to lateritic material derived from a neighbouring land area (Rastall, 1930).
- Ferriby Chalk Formation is the layer extending to the cliff-top. It is represented by white or grey chalk limestone deposited during the Cenomanian stage at the start of the Late Cretaceous Epoch (99Ma). Locally this formation measures around 10m. The Ferriby Chalk Formation belongs to the Grey Chalk Subgroup popular widely across the country. This rock often contains fossils such as amonities and belemnites.
The cliff area is a magnet for fossil hunters with plentiful finds to be made. You can find there the Bivalves, Amonities, Belemnities, Coccoliths and Brachiopods. As you will have noted approaching the cliff edge is extremely dangerous, because the rocks are unstable. Falling from an 18m high cliff can be deadly. The cliff is strongly affected by erosion.
The remnants of a recent cliff extension you can find on the cliff-backed beach, which is littered with huge boulders or stones covered in green weeds.
The Hunstanton town is the Norfolk Coast Path start point. This 44-mile-long route takes you along the sand dunes and beach huts. This route is the easy way to reach Old Hunstanton beach from the town centre on foot.
Hunstanton is one of the best places in the UK to kitesurf and windsurf due to its shallow water and open beach, especially in Old Hunstanton.
Hunstanton remains a popular holiday destination for visitors of all ages. There is something for everyone from Pitch-and-Putt through a long beach to an awesome view. Hunstanton’s excellent beach offers ideal conditions for playing on the sand, exploring rock pools and enjoying the sea.
1. Brenchley P. J., Rawson P. F., 2006, The geology of England and Wales, The Geological Society, London.
2. Drake A. R., Phipps P. J., 2007, Cliff recession and behaviour studies, Hunstanton, UK, (in:) Proceedings of the Institution of Civils Engineers – Maritime Engineering, vol. 160, issue 1, p. 3-17
3. Owen H. G., 1995, The upper part of the Carstone and the Hunstanton Red Chalk (Albian) of the Hunstanton Cliff, Norfolk, (in:) Proceedings of the Geologists Association, vol. 106, Issue 3, p 171-181
4. Rastall R. H., 1930, The petrography of the Hunstanton Red Rock, (in:) Geological Magazine, vol. 67, Issue 10, p436 – 458
- Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary
- The Princess Theatre
- Oasis Leisure Centre
- Hunstanton Tourist Information Centre
- Norfolk tourist active map
- Tournorfolk.co.uk: An introduction to Hunstanton
- Carstone Formation photo gallery
- Geocaching.com: Hunstanton cliffs
- Geograph.org.uk: Hunstanton cliffs
- Tournorfolk.co.uk: Hunstanton
- Amusingplanet.com: The red chalk cliffs of Hunstanton