Heacham Beach & Sunsets
Heacham Beach was once wild and unspoilt, visited only by local residents who had to cross the Heacham River by a wooden footbridge to gain access. Cocklers, shrimpers, and local fishermen with nets and rods have also harvested at Heacham Beach for more than 100 years. In 1887, as a result of over-subscriptions from parishioners in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a new bridge was built. It marked the beginning of the development of the beaches and a recreation and holiday area.
The area in front of the bridge became the centre of the beach. As one faces the sea, the stretch of beach to the right was designated North Beach and to the left, South Beach. Heacham Beach has long since been a magnet for fans of kites, jet skis, kitesurfing, windsurfing and other outdoor activities.
Heacham has many claims to fame. Amongst them, was the renowned Wash swim undertaken by Mercedes Gleitz on 20 June 1929.
Miss Gleitz started out from Butterwick, Lincolnshire, with the intention of landing at Hunstanton Beach. However, she struggled against strong tides for three hours and was instead diverted to Heacham. After a remarkable 13 hours 17 minutes marathon swim of 25 miles she arrived safely on our shores.
Heacham was delighted to welcome Miss Gleitz and has marked her achievement with a memorial plaque at the access ramp on Heacham North Beach. The 75th anniversary of the swim was also marked by a weekend long celebration in Heacham in June 2004 (click for details).
The disastrous east coast storm of 1953 devastated the area but it was eventually restored. There was a second such disaster in 1978 which trimmed the 500 beach huts down to just 80. To prevent a repetition of 1953 and 1978, in 1990, thousands of tonnes of sand and shingle were brought by barge and pumped ashore in order to raise the profile of the beach. This task was repeated in 2005.
Both North & South Beach face West looking across a huge bay which is 20 miles wide – almost the width of The English Channel. Yet this is shallow, sheltered water – not open sea. It is often like a millpond with just the odd breeze rippling through the shimmering water, giving the beaches a sheltered safe feeling and providing an essential ingredient for fabulous sunsets. If the sun is out you are guaranteed a memorable “highway to the heavens” – a reflection of the sun in a golden and silver road across the water. This phenomenon is what makes Heacham sunsets world class.
Tides also play a role in creating these fantastic sunsets. When the tide is low there will be a stretch of shimmery, rippled sand with a light covering of water. The reflected sunlight forms breathtaking colours and patterns. This goes on for hours after the sun has set when the reflection turns deep indigo, crimson and deep silver blue. At times it is almost surreal in its effect. But why is there light on the water hours after the sun has set? Because the upper atmosphere is still bathed in sunlight and from a higher altitude the clouds and ice crystals act like billions of tiny mirrors on high.
It is well known that Norfolk has big skies. This is because there are no mountains and valleys to limit the horizon. On any day you can look skywards above the setting sun and marvel at the delicate wisps of cirrus clouds and feel truly close to nature. It is real soul food – get your soul food at the Heacham beaches now!
Even the Australian sunset cannot equal the sunset you find along our sunset coastline. The difference in sunset times for the longest and shortest days of the year is about 2½ hours. In Heacham it is 5½ hours!! This means that, during mid-Summer, the sun lingers over the task. So when it is a great sunset (which is very common in Heacham) you have hours to enjoy it. In Australia you literally have minutes. Once the sun goes below the horizon in Heacham it remains light for hours after – often aided by a beautiful moon rising from the East.