As Christmas approaches, we love heading out for a wildlife walk to visit the seal colony at Horsey on the northeast coast of Norfolk. You can see these cute marine mammals at Horsey all year – and also at Winterton, just a few miles south, and most famously at the far end of Blakeney Point, where you can head out on a seal-spotting trip by boat (and rest your head for the night at boutique country pub The Wiveton Bell). But they're perhaps most plentiful at Horsey, and the festive season is a particularly special time to go, because that's when they come ashore to give berth to literally hundreds of seal pups.
Believe it or not, the majority of the world's grey seals hail from the British Isles, and a considerable number of them call Norfolk home. The dunes and sandy beaches of the northeast coast make for a particularly rich habitat, and every year the colony breeds in ever larger numbers. The seal pups are pure white when they're born in late November; by late December they're usually weaned and beginning to stand (well, flop!) on their own, their coats becoming mottled and darker, and after a while completely waterproof like their parents, by which time they'll be ready for the sea. Immediately after, the cycle begins all over again, when the females mate and get pregnant, in time to deliver more pups at the same time next year.
The beach in Horsey is lovely at any time of year, but it's roped off until the end of January – as is Winterton nowadays. However, it's a lovely walk across the marshy fields, and you're guaranteed to see lots of seals (and pups) from the path that cuts along the top of the dunes; indeed they're surprisingly unfazed by the presence of the crowds of camera-toting gawkers that often show up on sunny weekends during the December holidays.
But most of the time, you'll have the place pretty much to yourself – seals aside. It's a glorious spot: the dunes give a fine vantage point back across the marshes towards Horsey. You have a choice of two walks to get there – an easy one, parking up at the excellent Nelson Head pub and cutting across the fields for half an hour or so before returning for an excellent lunch; or leaving your car at Horsey Windpump, which is a longer walk and only offers a cup of tea and a slice of cake at the end. Both, however, deliver wonderful encounters with seals.
And if you'd like to make a weekend of it, check out our guide to the North Norfolk Coast.