Looking for a Bank Holiday walk? Here are ten Norfolk classics
- Credit: Archant
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.
'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.
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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.
- 1 Couple turn grain store into 'James Bond' home
- 2 Man found dead in Norwich hotel
- 3 Rose-tinted reaction to Duke's death was so out of proportion
- 4 Local pub splashes back into action
- 5 Man died after knife fight with housemate
- 6 'Loving and devoted' - Family pay tribute to mother-of-five found in park
- 7 Police swoop after £400k cocaine parcel delivered to Norwich house
- 8 Norwich pub allowed to reopen after licensing u-turn
- 9 'Illegal and unsafe' - Rave attended by 100 revellers is shut down
- 10 Roadworks cause traffic chaos in north Norfolk town
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