The Peddars Way proved to be a very pleasurable walk. Here’s one view. You’ll probably get others from Alan and Darren.
I was up earlier on Wednesday morning than anticipated as my watch had flipped over to Continental time for some reason, so I was up at 4.15 rather than 5.15. After a bit of confusion I had another hour in bed. Trains to Cambridge and Thetford, then a taxi delivered me at the start point to rendezvous with Alan and Darren at 9.15.
Off we go
The first section of the Way from Knettishall is through some delightful woodland, where Alan and Darren had a surreptitious wild camp the previous evening. The sun was out and the there was a beautiful dappled light through the trees. It was a little bit like Epping Forest near my home. Alan was in charge of route finding, but in truth a map was hardly needed. It was surprising how many potential sites for discrete wild camps were on offer, despite being in managed land. Indeed this was a theme for most of the walk.
The first stop was a burger van in a lay-by just off the A11. Bacon butties were ordered and there was huge amusement when Alan mistakenly took one that had been ordered by a policeman in the queue before us. Fortunately the correct ownership rights were established without resort to a caution and arrest. The policeman concerned was about 6’5″ and almost as wide, so the ceding of ownership rights was a sensible decision.
Alan eating the correct bacon buttie
Suitably nourished we were off again, crossing a railway line. The pub was now calling Alan, so we made rapid progress to Stonebridge and the Dog and Partridge. Darren and I had orange and lemonade but Alan had a couple of pints of famous something or other. I never pass up an opportunity to have something to eat, so I had a plate of ham, egg and chips.
We didn’t linger too long as today was scheduled to be the longest day of walking and there was another 17km still to go. The next few kms were mainly through woodland and very pleasant. Darren started to lag behind a bit, so we moderated our pace somewhat. After a couple of hours or so we were in more open land interspersed with woods. We had a break for a quarter of an hour to have a snack and allow Darren a bit of respite. We saw a buzzard being attacked by crows. By now the weather was a little cloudier and there was a threat of showers. We saw one pass us by, but fortunately we stayed dry.
Somewhere along the way
From Merton Park onwards the land was much more open and less interesting. Tiredness was creeping in. Darren was getting slower. My hip was a bit sore and one knee was uncomfortable, although the discomfort was relatively minor. The short road stretch from outside Watton to Little Cressingham was dull. At Little Cressigham we found somewhere to sit and have a rest. We followed a minor road towards North Pickenham before taking a footpath shortcut to the Brick Kiln Camp Site. We had to wait for some time for Darren to catch up and it was clear that he was suffering badly.
We pitched tents just as the sun set. After a quick meal, I had a hot shower. Alan made Darren a coffee to try to revive him. There was no socialising as we were all tired. In the night, there was the occasional smattering of light rain and the morning dawned overcast and damp. Fortunately there was no rain as we packed. The target and incentive for Darren was the McDonald’s just outside Swaffham.
North Pickenham “windmills”
In the meantime, we passed the wind farm just outside North Pickenham. I think you can guess how the conversation went! Turning off the road onto an unmade lane was a pleasant relief. At a bridge over a disused railway line, Alan had a faff. While he was sorting himself out, I looked over the parapet and was shocked to see a load of rubbish which had been fly tipped. This was a feature that we occasionally saw elsewhere along the trail.
The path to McDonald’s
Alan and I decided to forge on to McDonald’s for brunch. Alan had a big Mac meal, thereby, in an instant, destroying his gastronomic credibility. I tried to keep mine intact by having the Fillet o’ Fish. We were almost finished when Darren arrived. He looked trashed. He arranged to be picked up to go home and to meet us in the pub later that evening.
The trail to Castle Acre mainly followed minor roads, which was a bit dull, but made for easy walking despite a few ups and downs. There was a concern that we might have to ford the river just before Castle Acre, but at the last second, a bridge was revealed. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the impressive priory ruins or the castle.
Castle Acre is very picturesque. The tea room was closed but the pub (The Ostrich Inn) was open. I had a pot of proper leaf tea. Surprisingly, Alan had a pint of beer. Although it was a lovely pub, the edge was taken off the ambience by a rather loud gentlemen slagging off just about everyone he knew.
Outside there were a few spots of rain so I put on my overtrousers. The rain then miraculously disappeared. The path from Castle Acre followed the road, but parts of it followed inside the field boundary or on the wide verge. Where the path was on the verge, there appeared to be no coordination between the trail managers and the highways managers as there were drains cut across the path and it was generally lumpy, so we mainly stayed on the road. This strategy provoked a minor confrontation between Alan, a horse box and a “lady” driver of uncertain age. I can report that her attempt to drive over Alan’s foot was unsuccessful.
The path outside Castle Acre
By now, there was light rain. There had been a certain amount of wry amusement over my M&S SUL umbrella (211g). However, this turned to a measure of envy as I unfurled it, and it proved its worth over the next hour or so. We passed a large pig farm and then had a quick break under a tree. Alan tried to engage an energetically barking dog in a conversation across the road but to no avail.
Onwards, onward towards Great Massingham and The Dabbling Duck. Passing the pond (with ducks), the rain became more persistent but we arrived at the pub just in time. We pitched our tents on a bowling green flat surface in the pub garden in the rain. I made a cup of tea in the tent before we repaired to the pub for dinner.
The Dabbling Duck (taken in the morning!)
Alan depressed himself by reading The Times, while I avoided the details of the travails of the eurozone. We sat by the fire, luxuriating in the warmth. Before ordering our meals, Darren arrived, looking much happier. A soak in the bath had revived his spirits. After we sat down to eat, Martin Rye turned up. A jolly evening ensued, mainly involving incidents from previous TGO Challenges.
Not long before last orders Darren and Martin left. Back at the tents, the rain had stopped. A slightly disturbed night ensued. The sodium lighting and a noisy extractor fan prevented complete nocturnal bliss. Although breakfast was not scheduled until 8a.m., the staff opened the side door at 7, so I availed myself of the facilities for a quick wash and brush up. Alan was up slightly later than me. The cooked breakfast was most welcome and very tasty.
Morning in the pub garden
The early morning mist had cleared to reveal unbroken blue sky. The tents were wet from dew and rain but we packed quickly and were soon on our way. The sunshine revealed what a pretty village Great Massingham is and if you are there, The Dabbling Duck is highly recommended. I spotted a heron at the edge of the village pond. Alan’s attempted at wild life photography was thwarted by his clumsy approach work. A little further on, we encountered an Australian themed bungalow, complete with concrete kangaroos!
Typical scene on Friday morning
Back on the Peddars Way proper, we followed a wide unmade lane. Looking north, the landscape was more undulating than the previous day. The sunshine added to the attractiveness of the views. After crossing the A148, we sat on a log for a quick rest. A mountain biker came down the lane and had a short conversation with us. He passed on a couple of useful route finding tips, recognising Alan’s navigational deficiencies.
Spot the tumulus
After climbing a small hill, the views opened out. We passed a couple of tumuli and then at a cross roads, we met our mountain biking friend again. The path here is maintained by the Sandringham Estate and was certainly a joy to walk on. However, the views were somewhat restricted on either side with ferns and hedges. Lunch was taken in the sun just before crossing the Great Bircham road. We resisted the temptation to sit there forever. I could feel the end of the walk beckoning.
Just before lunch
We walked at good pace past Fring and then through the only tricky bit of navigation around Sedgeford. Actually, it wasn’t that tricky apart from a fallen signpost. The thought of a sugary, fizzy drink at Ringstead was pushing us on. We also caught a glimpse of the sea (and associated offshore wind farms). Ringstead is another pretty village. At the village stores, fizzy drinks were purchased. Alan couldn’t resist buying a bargain pork pie. We had a conversation with a lady who had an adorable Jack Russell bitch, which looked very similar to my own dog. The dog was more interested in the pork pie than me.
We climbed the hill out of Ringstead and had our first proper view of the sea. Leaving the road, we followed a footpath and then spotted Darren with his dog Strider. He looked fully recovered from Wednesday’s ordeal.
The final walk to the sea was along a slightly dispiriting road. Finally we passed the car park and walked on to the dunes and the end of the trail, in the middle of a golf course. Cresting the final dune we walked on to the beach but the tide was out, so there was no dipping of shoes.
Darren kindly gave me a lift to Kings Lynn station. The London train was slightly delayed and was surprisingly full, especially after Cambridge. I was safely home just after nine o’clock, where a hot bath revived my aching body.
The Peddars Way is a fine walk. The scenery is surprisingly attractive and varied. The middle section is a bit dull with too much road walking, but the sections at either end are superb. I’ll do another post with some observations and information. It’s an excellent three day walk. If you want to extend it, you can do the North Norfolk Coast Path, which takes you to Cromer. I shall be returning to do the extended walk at some stage.