“Now can I make a sandcastle?” Freya asked, as if standing mere feet away from a colony of wild seals was something she did everyday.
While her reaction was a tad anticlimactic, Mark and I were awed by the sight of so many seals, flopped on the windswept beach before us.
Originally from the Midlands, seeing seals, and the sea in general, was a rare treat for him growing up – and even though I spent much of my childhood by the water, it has never lost its magic, particularly when a shiny head bobs up amid the waves.
When we were first dating I took him on a trip to Wells, in North Norfolk, where we went on a boat trip to see the seals (grey and common) at Blakeney Point, which was amazing.
We’ve seen one or two in the sea during our trips to the beach over the summer but when a friend posted on Facebook about his recent visit to Horsey Gap, which is within the Broads National Park, I knew we had to go.
While Sunday dawned dark and drizzly, by midday the sun was out and the sky a brilliant blue and so, after Freya’s nap, we packed a picnic tea and hit the road.
Horsey is about a 45 minute drive from Norwich and just down the road from our favourite beach at Waxham. I can’t believe we haven’t been there before – it just goes to show how much more of our adopted home-county there is still to explore.
In the summer it looks like it would be a lovely unspoilt sandy beach to while away a few hours in the sunshine (with no facilities to speak of, just like Waxham) but in winter it becomes home to a colony of grey seals.
Apparently about half the world’s grey seal population is found in Britain. While they spend most of their time in the water they come ashore for the breeding season. You can find out more here.
Even when we arrived at about 4ish with the sun already starting to set, the car park, which is owned by the National Trust, was still really full. We managed to find a spot, pay the parking fee and were soon following the big white sign that read SEALS.
It’s quite a walk for a three-year-old (and the mum who has to carry her) but absolutely worth the one and a bit miles. The path was dotted with large puddles after heavy rain recently and while it was great fun, if you happened to be in your pink wellies, it is not particularly pushchair (or wheelchair) friendly.
We started off sticking to the path but Mark spotted a second world war pill box he wanted to explore and so we continued walking up in the dunes and then did the final bit on the beach.
It was easy to see where the seals were by the small crowd of people standing watching them. We were quite frankly amazed by how close some people were.
Apparently during the main pupping season, from November until March, when there are normally hundreds of seals on the beach, they are much more protected.
Many thousands of people (I’ve seen figures of 30,000 and even up to 60,000 reported) make the trip to see them in the winter months and, as I understand it from talking to people who have been there, the beach is cordoned off with special viewing platforms available for visitors during that time. This helps to prevent the seals being disturbed but also protect the public, as seals move faster than you think, especially when protecting a pup, and can bite.
It is easy to understand why people come. Grey seals have long, almost dog-like faces, with gorgeous dark, rather sad eyes. I couldn’t resist taking about 50,000 photos of the adults so I can only imagine how many I would have snapped if there had been furry white pups too.
On Sunday I would say there were between 40 and 50 seals where we were and they were more curious than anything, from what I could tell.
We walked back to the car just as the sun was dipping over the horizon and I had some more fun with my camera while Freya, now sandcastled-out, enjoyed some more puddle time.
Top tip: Wrap up warm. It’s windy on top of the dunes and you want to be able to enjoy the experience for as long as possible.
Want to see the seal pups? Check out our return visit here.