We heard about them from the man in the hut serving a huge old wind pump once used to drain the Broads; one of those people who vocalises everything they think. On the last day of the holiday we parked up again by the pump and walked in rain for nearly an hour to reach the spot on the coast he’d described. I don’t think my daughter really believed there would be that many. But then neither did I.
We breasted the dunes and looked down. From that distance, if you stumbled upon them without knowing they were there, you might think that they were rocks, because they blended in with those which form the groynes on this quickly eroding coast; and perhaps because they were lounging post-prandially, there wasn’t a lot of movement. 300 grey seals, actually a variety of colours, spread across four sections of beach. An amazing sight. Carefully we edged to within about ten metres. Any closer and they lumbered nearer to the swash.
Seals are strange creatures; fatty blobs on land, swift and true in water. Though the grey’s scientific name Halichoerus grypus translates as ‘Hooked-nosed sea pig’, there was something canine about them; they seemed both alert and inert at the same time. They didn’t make that ‘arf arf’ circus seal sound, instead producing more of a keening ‘oooo’, which I imagine translates as ‘mate, watch out for that slim, shifty camera-wielding biped at five o’clock from you’.
My previous sighting of seals in the wild consisted of a single bewhiskered pinniped swimming close to a jetty in St. Ives. I never dreamt of seeing 300 together so close to human habitation. My daughter was thrilled. For once, on a walk, we had delivered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.