October 30 2014 Latest news:
Monday, April 21, 2014
We’d been going for about an hour. Starting in the heart of the forest we’d worked our way for a couple of miles along an idyllic and impossibly verdant riverside to reach a border town where we’d refreshed on an improbably cheap glass of local cider before setting off again towards open countryside.
You’ll find variations of many of these in lots of walking guides. With good reason!
• Burnham Thorpe church to Holkham Park, round the lake via the church to Holkham Gap, return on Norfolk Coast Path via Burnham Overy Staithe
• Brancaster to Cley, crossing the marshes on the Norfolk Coast Path. Lunch at the George and return via Glandford ford and Wiveton Down (we’ve done this on Christmas Day, using a travel stove on Brancaster car park to cook lunch)
• Felbrigg House to Cromer via Lion’s Mouth and Norfolk Coast Path, returning via Weavers Way.
• Thompson Water and Pingos from Watton, returning via Thompson Common, Merton and Wayland Wood.
• Chedgrave to Hardley Cross (a riverside monument marking the ancient boundary between the jurisdictions of Yarmouth and Norwich) via a path flanked on each side by the waters of the River Chet and Hardley Flood. Returning along the River Yare to Hardley Staithe.
• Castle Acre to West Acre on the Nar Valley Way, returning on a ridge looking down on the valley.
• Halvergate to Berney Arms (the most remote pub in Norfolk) by the Weavers Way, continuing along the River Yare before to Breydon Water before looping back across the marshes.
• Along the River Ant to Ludham Bridge from How Hill, returning via Ludham.
• Castle Rising to Roydon, returning via Roydon Common.
• Old Hunstanton via Ringstead Downs to Ringstead, Peddars Way to Holme next the Sea. Back along the beach to the stripey cliffs. Worth waiting for the sunset.
...and Ten Favourites
Leaving aside the classics, these are our (other) personal favourites. Challenging – but richly rewarding.
• Holt Country Park to Mannington Hall loop. It’s long (about 18 miles) but unforgettable. Easy to follow on good footpaths, including many elevated stretches. Try to pick a day when Mannington Hall’s tea-room is open.
• Shotesham to Saxlingham Nethergate on Boudica’s Way, returning via the ruins of St Martin’s Church. This is Norfolk as outsiders never consider it – beautiful rolling countryside.
• Along the Little Ouse to Brandon from Santon Downham, Weeting Castle and Grimes Graves.
• Rockland Broad to Surlingham and then on to Rockland St Mary and Claxton to find a wonderful cross marshes path to the River Yare for the return.
• South Repps to Gimingham on the Paston Way, returning via Trunch and Bradfield
• Garboldisham to North and South Lopham on the way to the River Waveney; through Redgrave and Hinderclay Fens on the Angles Way to Blo #
• Norton and the (here very) Little Ouse before heading cross country to return.
• South Creake to Syderstone and Syderstone Common. A long wild trek through some of North Norfolk’s most isolated landscape along bridleways following high ridges.
• Great Massingham to Gayton and Grimston, returning via Harpley Dams and Little Massingham.
• Reepham to Themelthorpe on Marriotts Way, returning via Salle.
• Roydon Fen to Diss on Angles Way, then along Boudica’s Way to Shrimpling before return via Burston (and the Strike School), Walcot Green and Brewers Green.
“The thing I love about walking is that you never know what’s coming next,” I told my backpacking companion – moments before the track turned a corner to reveal a graveyard of traction engines. Dozens of them lined up outside a farm and in the field opposite.
Before we’d done another couple of miles we’d passed what is reputed to be the longest terrace of thatched cottages in the country, explored a Norman castle and had our spirits lifted by the shrieks of hundreds of tiny pink piglets as we went between their pens before heading back into the forest on our way to one of the most important pre-historic sites in Britain.
It was just another day of walking in Norfolk. In this case an 11-mile circular voyage of discovery from Santon Downham along the Little Ouse to Brandon before calling at Weeting and the Neolithic flint mining wonders of Grimes Graves.
It explains why, for two decades, we considered Norfolk to be our walking paradise.
At least once a week we would set off on a fresh adventure, having scoured the Ordnance Survey maps for a new set of unexplored footpaths to follow – never entirely sure of what challenges or treats would lie ahead.
It became more addictive with every excursion as we became increasingly aware of how infiinitely rich, varied and full of surprises this landscape is.
Everyone knows about the big skies, the forests, the marshes, the wildlife, the endless beaches and, of course, the Broads – all wrapped in a unique brand of peace and relative isolation which is not so much a time warp as a time pause. A spiritual space.
But it is only when you get away from the beaten track of the motorised tourist that you find not only ‘another’ Norfolk but many. The joy of walking here is not just to savour the traditional attractions you can anticipate before you set out – but the unforseen delights which you can’t.
And now we’ve left it all behind!
The fanciful dream of walking every public right of way in Norfolk before polishing off those we missed south of the border, has been abruptly ended by a move to Somerset.
But rest assured that the dog-eared OS maps, covered in highlighter pen loops showing where we’ve been, were safely stored away among our most precious treasures – every marked route representing a cocktail of memories.
Not all of them were positive at the time: we had a few ‘too close for comfort’ encounters of a bovine kind, had our nerve tested by thunderstorms and sometimes suffered the frustration of finding footpaths which have been blocked or even obliterated.
But we lived to laugh about them afterwards. It’s as much a part of the buzz as finding yourself arrested, as we once were in a field near Wayland Woods, by the magical sight of a dozen hares, oblivious to our presence, racing and chasing around a field.
We were similarly stopped in our tracks on the Peddars Way near Thornham a couple of months ago when finding groups of geese swooping into a big field to join thousands of their kind.
Not one had strayed into the neighbouring fields and there was none of the cacophony you’d expect from such a gathering of notoriously noisy birds. They all waited in hushed silence as if for some signal to set off together, a huge black cloud setting off, one assumed, for warmer climes.
A very different kind of abstract scene was found at Longham on a bone-chillingly cold foggy December morning. Is that really a family setting up cricket stumps in the middle of the playing field to act out their own version of the on-going Ashes series? Indeed it was. Dad and three kids playing in overcoats and woolly hats; Jack Russell (canine version) regularly disappearing into the mist to recover the ball.
Then there’s the jaw-dropping thrill of detouring down a dead-end track to check out Boudica’s hill fort above Warham – and finding it to be enormous and magnificently intact. In few parts of the country could such a site be so little visited or, indeed, known. In Norfolk it is one of many in which you can sit and enjoy your sandwiches, your space shared only with sheep and the ghosts of Iceni warriors.
There are countless wonderful churches, often in the middle of nowhere, which do so much more than help your navigation and provide a sanctuary from the elements. To open a creaking oak door and find medieval wall paintings or an extraordinary carved font cover or brasses depicting Norman knights is to feel as though you’ve stumbled on a treasure trove.
More often it is simply the splendour of the landscape. Breckland, Thetford Forest, the beaches, saltmarshes and the Broads are all magnificent natural icons of Norfolk, each providing very different delights.
Less well known are the bridleways which traverse the (relatively) high ridges in the north-west of the county, offering the kind of extensive views you’d normally expect from mountain tops; finding yourself walking a cliff edge a couple of miles from the coast at Wolferton – the forest below had, 6,000 years before, been the ancient sea bed; the ‘cowboy country’ feel to places such as Ringstead Down and Roydon Common; gin-clear rivers full of watercress.
And sometimes, perversely since much of the atraction is getting away from people, it is the like-minded country lovers who se paths you cross – a brief sharing of the sheer joy of exploring the best preserved county in England, armed only with a rucksack, a thermos and a map.
This week’s Ramblers’ walks can be found in the main pages of the EDP