As we walked across the beach, another couple pointed about 100 yards down to the area where dozens of seals were resting on the beach. From where we stood, they blended in with the large grey rocks spread across the sand. We slowly trudged through the wet sand, our feet sinking in with each step as we squinted in the harsh wind. Then my toddler took off towards the rocks ahead. These were clearly just rocks, and the seals were still over 50 yards away, so I wasn’t sure what he was up to. He had spotted it first. There, laying on her back between the rocks was a sleeping white seal pup. I rushed ahead to stop him before he got too close to the resting pup. Surreal. We stood a safe distance away and just stared at this lone pup sprawled out on her back sound asleep.
If you live in eastern England and have not checked out the seals at Horsey Beach, you are missing out! We made the spontaneous decision today to drive the 90 minutes to Horsey Beach since the sun was shining and the weather was (almost) warm.
Everything I read made it sound like the seals at Horsey Beach were only on the beach from October through February when they come to the shore to mate and have their babies. But there are daily boat trips from Blakeney Point that take people to see seals throughout the year. And TripAdvisor and the Friends of Horsey Seals Facebook page (check out the Visitor Posts) both had recent posts about seal sightings at Horsey in the past week. So we decided to risk it and go. Totally worth it.
For just £3 for parking we spent nearly three hours exploring Horsey Beach, climbing dunes, building sand castles, and staring at hundreds of magificent seals sun-bathing on the shore. £3 for the experience of a lifetime. Why are you still reading this? Go. Go now. Seriously. The beach is open daily until 8PM.
Friends of Horsey Seals is the best source of information about the grey seal colony based at Horsey Beach. While Horsey Beach and the surrounding North Sea waters are home to this colony of Atlantic grey seals, there is no guarantee that seals will be present on the beach each day. However, it is likely you will spot at least some adult seals in the area on any day of the year. The seals breeding habits over the past ten years have made the months from October to February well known as optimal times to view the momma seals and their newborns. In fact, this winter was a record-breaking year for the seal colony with over 1000 births recorded and the first recorded wild birth of grey seals twins in the WORLD! (It would be awesome to say we spotted little R2-D2 and C-3PO, but sadly, there were far too many seals and they all look a lot a like!)
Update: Friends of Horsey Seals has explained the seals are currently in such large numbers at the beach because of their annual moult where they come back to the beach to shed old hair and grow new hair. A few weeks after the pups are born the adult seals leave the beach to feed and replenish their lost weight. Large numbers of seals are often gone from the beach for this period of 6-8 weeks following the winter births. After this 6-8 week period they come back to the beach to moult. Once they have finished moulting they’ll head back out to sea to resume feeding and their numbers at the beach may again dwindle.
Basics of Getting There
Just type “Horsey Gap” into your GPS and follow the directions all the way to the parking lot. Even on a sunny weekend during half-term, there was plenty of parking (and spacious enough for our minivan). Parking was £2 for two hours, £3 for three hours, and so on. There are NO bathrooms in the vicinity, so be prepared to get creative if your little ones need to go. But there are plenty of tall shrubs surrounding the parking lot if nature calls. On weekends and (UK) school holidays there is normally a food truck serving hot food (hamburgers, hot dogs) and cold drinks throughout the day. But if you go on a weekday, pack a snack.
From the parking lot, you can either cross the dunes and go directly onto the beach or follow the large sign that says “SEALS” and follow a dirt path along the dunes about a mile to the main seal area. Sometimes seals will be sighted at multiple locations along the beach closer to the parking lot, but the best place to see the seals requires walking about a mile along the dune path before cutting over the dunes to the beach. (Tip: If it’s rained within the past week, bring your wellies (rain boots). The path will either be full of puddles or one giant puddle!)
We opted to follow the dirt path along the dunes to the seals. We took our monster stroller since we didn’t want the walk to take all day with three little ones trudging alone. The walk along the dune path was easy with the stroller and we saw many families riding bikes and pushing strollers along the path. I’d recommend you park the stroller, though, when it’s time to cross the dunes onto the beach. The soft sand is nearly impossible to push a stroller across. In hindsight, I should have worn my littlest, but I’d left his front carrier in the car. It was super WINDY once we crossed the dunes. Even though it was 50°F and sunny, we were wearing our winter jackets zipped up and pulling our hoods over our heads to protect our freezing ears.
Other Places to See the Seals
Horsey Gap is just one place to park and see the seals. You can see the seals at Horsey Beach from other locations in the area as well. Horsey Windpump and Nelson Head Pub also give you access to the beach. Explore Norfolk UK has great information about what to expect and where to park.
You can also take a boat tour from Morston Quay in Blakeney Point to see the seals. There are multiple companies offering tours each day. This National Trust page offers great information on how to view the seal colony along the beach or by boat.
I whole-heartedly encourage everyone to check out the seals at Horsey Beach. Seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild is spectacular. That said, please remember they are WILD animals and should not be touched or approached. Keep a safe distance away and make sure your children do the same. Seals do bite. And if you bring your dog, make sure it’s on a leash and kept a good distance from the seals.
A visit to Horsey Beach could easily be combined with a trip to Great Yarmouth. While I’m not a big fan of its beach and amusement park atmosphere, the Sea Life Centre could be the perfect addition to a day learning about aquatic animals.