I love new travel discoveries, especially the sort that blow your mind – the sort that end with you saying, repeatedly, ‘But how did I not know about this?’ to anyone who will listen.
Horsey beach in Norfolk is one of those places, and you have to go in the depths of winter, and already I suspect I’m losing readers who are thinking ‘Hm, a freezing cold British beach, in winter? This better be good’.
But good it most certainly is, and that’s because of the seals.
Horsey – a grey seal hotspot
Half of the world’s population of grey seals is found in British waters and Horsey – being the seal hotspot it is – turns out therefore to be one of the finest places in the world to see grey seals.
They come ashore here to give birth to their pups between November and February, at which time thousands of seals make their way onto the sands – and with no entry fee or set hours, and few restrictions about where you can go, it’s one of the most exhilarating brushes with nature you can have in the British isles.
The video I made for the Jules Told Me YouTube channel shows just how close you can get at certain times.
Beached on the sand, or flopping in and out of the surf, the seals keep a studious eye on their white-coated pups – and it definitely isn’t a good idea to get too close. These are wild animals after all, and the females will protect their young if they feel threatened. Not only that, the males have a habit of fighting with each other for territory and mating rights, so keep a respectful distance.
But what a spectacle it is, on a glorious sandy, duned stretch of beach. Good-weather days attract significant crowds of people, which hasn’t seemed to put off the seals from their traditional birthing place (or ‘rookery’), as seal numbers are growing too.
Come in the wet and the cold to avoid the people – the seals don’t mind the weather of course. You can always warm up afterwards at the excellent Nelson’s Head pub, a short walk from the dunes – and the pub, by the way, is another one of those great travel discoveries, with local ales, great cooking and an open fire.
There are other places to see the seals in Norfolk, and up in Northumberland too, but it’s often on a cruise out to the rocks and islands where the seals usually congregate. Nowhere else in Europe can you get as close as you can at Horsey to where the wild things are.
Friends of Horsey Seals have an excellent website, where you can find out how to get there – and the dos and don’ts of seal-watching.
The Nelson Head is a brilliant country pub, with locally sourced food and up to 20 real ales and ciders available.