Albert Einstein was getting a seriously hard time from the Nazis. In the 1930s the Jewish physicist had been critical of the regime. They accused him of “lying atrocity propaganda against Adolf Hitler” and published his picture with “Not yet hanged” written underneath. They stole all his savings, ransacked his Berlin apartment and put a £1,000 bounty on his head. So, he fled by boat to England in November 1933. His first stop was three weeks in a humble wooden shed on a Norfolk heath, very near the final destination of our walk. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stephen walking by the sea

After seven months hiding from the winter, I was back on the path, to complete this 93-mile trek to raise money for Aspire. I approached the more picturesque section of the Peddars Way & Norfolk Coast Path with great expectation. Having left London in biblical rain, the skies cleared on the journey north and the sun welcomed me as I reached my starting point. Our friends Ali and Tim were joining me again but they missed the first day, bucketing floodwater out of their house on the south coast. And my dear wife Bridget had taken a nasty tumble a few weeks earlier and was hobbling on a crutch so was out of action.

So on the first day I walked alone from Brancaster Staithe to Burnham Overy Staithe, great Norfolk place names that get even better as the walk progresses. It was some of the first sunshine I had seen in a long time and the birds kept me musical company. As I reached my destination at Burnham Overy Staithe high tide was approaching and Range Rovers, BMW 4X4s and Jaguars descended on the boat club, decanting excitable children squeezing into wetsuits while mums and dads rigged a variety of sailing craft. Future Admiral Nelsons no doubt.

Ali and Tim were on parade from Day 2 as we set out for Wells-next-the-Sea and we spotted many wonderful birds and Ali took fabulous photos of colourful flowers. Most of the walk was along a raised flood defence with marshes on the left and reclaimed farmland on the right. The next day it was on to Cley-next-the-Sea (pron. Cly). We walked close by the village of Stiffkey which some people insist should be pronounced “STOO-key”. I warned you about those names.

Stephen and friends walking

Stiffkey has a storied past. Harold Davidson became its rector in 1906 but he quickly began spending much of his time in the fleshpots of London and Paris where he explained his mission was to save fallen women. Showgirls visited his rectory, sometimes 20 at a time, to the consternation of his long-suffering wife, the church and the village. He served in the navy in the First World War and got caught in a military police raid on a Cairo brothel. He said he was trying to find the women who were infecting his men with STIs. Back in Stiffkey after the war the tabloids found out about his philanthropic activities and had a field day. He never wavered from his caring attitude towards prostitutes and showgirls but the case against him was building. A photo taken of him in 1932 with a fifteen-year-old girl, naked but for a cloak he was holding round her shoulders, rather sank his defence and inevitably, the Church had him defrocked. His miserable later life ended when, while performing with two lions in a cage at Skegness, he stood on one animal’s tail and the other one ate him. Things were a little quieter in the Stiffkey we visited.

All day we trudged under the rolling thunder of fighter jets, either RAF or USAF, tearing up the skies. They honed their Top Gun tricks, chasing each other in tight circles, eating up the tax dollars with every deafening pass, doing their noisy bit for global warming. And the defence of the realm.

Stephen walking on the beach

The fourth day was the most difficult walking since I began this odyssey 10 months ago. It started well enough, leaving Cley along narrow paths between beautiful old houses, past the famous windmill and along the side of the River Glaven to the coast. There began four miles of pebble beach. I had on inappropriate open walking sandals which filled with stones at every step. My arthritic knees and my lack of balance as a result of the nerve damage from my spinal injury made every step painful. I could only put my head down and press on, cursing wildly under my breath. Lunch and firm ground arrived none too soon and the gallant Bridget joined us to crutch herself along the final two miles into Sheringham in the afternoon.

Four miles on the final day was a relatively easy stroll, even though the bones were getting tired from four straight days on the path. After a climb to Beeston Bump with its panoramic view in all directions, it was a gentle walk along the clifftop to where erosion had swept away the path and we were forced inland to a busy A-road. The last mile took us back onto the beach with Cromer Pier, our finish point, ahead of us. Bridget met us and we celebrated the end of the walk with crab sandwiches and prosecco on the pier, something we’d promised ourselves from the outset.

It's all over and I think of the people who made this all worthwhile, my three fellow walkers and all my wonderful family and friends who took my fundraising for Aspire to over £3,000. It was a good cause and a thoroughly enjoyable experience, discovering parts of the area I and my Norfolk-born wife had not been to before.

It was just inland from Cromer that Einstein chose to hide from the Nazis in an isolated hut on Roughton Heath, guest of the eccentric Conservative MP and naval commander, Oliver Locker-Lampson, and guarded by a couple of stylish young women wearing jodhpurs and riding boots and toting shotguns and rifles. In the hut the physicist scratched away at mathematical problems that would lead to his unified field theory. Albert must have reckoned that Hitler and his secret agents didn’t read the British papers because he gave interviews to Fleet Street reporters, several papers publishing details and pictures which could have led to his whereabouts. He got away with it and was soon off to America, never to return to Europe.

Stephen at the end of a pier

As I reflected on my experiences of this third section of the walk I imagined a scene in which the physicist bumped into the rector while buying an ice cream on Cromer Pier.

“Fallen women eh, Harold. Save one for me.”

“What you’re looking for Albert is ‘e=mc2’.  Relatively simple, isn’t it.”

 Sponsor Stephen

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