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  • Writer's pictureLuke Douglas-Home

Stretch 5: What value is a tent to a seal?

Stretch 5 (S5) of The Coastline Runner’s (#coastlinerunner) mission - to run as much as possible of the British Isles’ coastline, from the 1st November 2021 until 9th October 2022- Link here ‘LH’.

Monday’s 5th coastline run was the most epic of all so far; it involved running and swimming 31 km across sandbanks, shingle, marsh and mudflats.

● Previous stretch -S4- (link here 'LH') was 19 km

● Mission running total so far: 104 km

Epic, but here was one big negative – a discarded tent, half buried into the shingle.

Is that tent a symptom of the cheapness of plastic and our disposable society? There is no waste in nature. This discarded tent is disgusting to me.

1. Start: Cley

2. Finish: Burnham Overy Staithe

3. Distance: 31 km

4. How arrived: Public Transport, train and bus to Cley, where I was met by the wonderful Ronan at the Hanser B & B (LH)

6. How departed: given a pro bono lift from Burnham Overy Staithe by friend Emma, who was travelling anyway – thankfully, because my train tickets were in the destroyed phone.

7. S5 CO2e emitted (2): to date, total CO2e emitted for this endeavour is calculated at 114.7 kgs CO2e Kgs. For this S5 it is calculated at approx. 57.8 kgs – the huge increase largely because of the e-waste.

8. Plastic rubbish / trash observation:

Marine litter: bits of frayed rope, entwining with seaweed (LH)

Consumer litter: 1 buried tent (in shingle) near the seals; 3 popped balloons; 1 bit of polystyrene.

Short thought, and then the short report:

This week, the shortest of thoughts is – there is a very fine line that divides “bravery” and “stupidity” and is my behaviour on monday…. both?!

Short report-

On this crisp and chilly Monday morning, starting out at the edge of the shingle shoreline at Cleyafter staying at the superb Harnser B and B (LH)— I arrived at Burnham Overy Staithe after having crossed the mudflats, sandbanks, river mouths and estuaries of the River Glaven and East Fleet, Blakeney, Morston, Stiffkey, Wells-next-the-Sea, and Holkham.

I saw seals, seagulls, sanderlings and cockles. I ran through the different elements of marshland, mud and sand.

At different times, they felt like fudge cake, treacle, sorbet, and sometimes ice cream.

Setting off at 8 a.m., I had to detour and back-track so as not to disrupt the lives of the seals at Blakeney Point. I became aware of this necessary sensitivity on Stretch 2 at Hornsey (LH). The delay cost me dearly, I was a half an hour late for the best time to cross the channel at Wells after Bob Hall’s Sands [3]. As a result, I had to swim the large incoming tide up from the lifeboat station at Wells.

Continuing the sequence of unfortunate events, I also did not seal my bag exactly enough, and salt water got into my warm-after-run-clothes, laptop, and phone! I will know this weekend if any of the AMAZING images and video I took can be saved but, as of right now, they are both write-offs.

This mistake has been costly in finance and CO2e emissions. Both have been reduced by using BackMarket (LH) – 00s of £s and kgs of CO2e have been saved in replacing them through their upcycling and the refurbishing market model. They are the part of future for our WEEE habit.

This stretch of my run has also greatly cost my physical health. While running the shoreline, I soon realised it would be best for me to run bare-footed; it’s easier to run with no shoes in glutinous mud and raking marsh and gorse. My feet quickly grew numb with cold. I ran on, because all morning I had been worrying about the time of the incoming tide at Wells.

Stretch 5 was 4 hours in all, with the numb-feet-feeling as though I was running in boots. When I got to Burnham Overy and tried to warm my feet in tepid bath water, I saw that I had lost a toenail (photographed).

Then, I experienced the most excruciating pain for 3 hours, crying out to nobody “I’ll talk, I’ll talk, what do you want to know!?” before the pain eventually waned and painkillers kicked in.

While recovering for my telephone interview with BBC Radio Norfolk, things seemed calmer and then I received some blissful respite in the form of pizza and salad, magically prepared by Emma.

However, I was unprepared for the savage pain that would happen that night (and subsequent nights actually!) as my feet recover from not-quite-frostbite. I will get a medical update on my running possibilities this Monday, and hope that there has been no long-term damage to my feet. My GP asked "Were you running in snow?" "No..." I replied "......the North Sea."

The coastline wonders I saw that day are fresh in my mind. I saw the biggest seal colony in England (from a distance), laughed at two marsh harriers playfully jousting in the big wind, respected the turbulent, strong sea surf while running along the shingle motorways that heaving seals cause as they push their way up to the dunes.

In the awesome film BladeRunner (1982), the ‘replicant’ played by Rutger Hauer, says "I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… these moments will be lost…… like tears in the rain” (LH). I feel that way about the things I saw and heard – the haunting sound of seals, the erupting rise of marsh-resident curlews, for example.

I hope that this weekend the impossible happens – that Amod from Fix Inn (LH) works his digital magic and beats the fact that salt water damages everything! On Monday, I will report findings to you, and what the medical advice is. In the meantime, I’ll find some stronger pain-killers for my almost-frost-bitten feet.

Thanks again to you all - thanks everyone for reading and sharing this blog and JustGiving page (LH). I will now have to estimate the 'Lincolnshire chapter' and get planning! Where EXACTLY does Norfolk and Lincolnshire start on the shoreline? Psychologically, I would have said at the Ouse, but.....tell me?!



1: Family and work life allowing

2: The CO2e calculation will be based on all travel, accommodation and consumption necessary for this mission; savings by being given any of the above will not be calculated, but mentioned as probono. Mike Berners Lee (LH) (LH) and The Vegan Society (LH) amongst others are used. Thank you.

3: Bob Hall was the legendary time-keeper from Wells, who established and donated the famous “Tide Time Clock’ at Wells by the Quay (requisitioned during the second world war). It told the time and also signified daily when tides would turn, and lasted for many generations after his death in circa 1828. Professor Simon Stephenson (1965) said that “Without Bob Hall’s beneficence we would be under Nazi rule” as it was requisitioned by, and presumably used, at Bletchley Park during World War 2. Thus the huge expanse of sand adjoining Wells and Glaven river mouth is named after him (national archives link here).

A collection of the media coverage we are aware of so far:



BBC Radio Norfolk, 16:20 Stephen Bumfrey

"coastline running sounds epic!" says Emily Maitlis (BBC)

29th Nov - 17:45 interview BBC Norfolk


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