Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Angles Way

My assault on the Angles Way began once more back at Yarmouth railway station. I had survived a well deserved…but nevertheless somewhat brusque…bawling out by a railway official in Norwich for leaving my rucsack unattended while I went to the loo. If you can recall my becoming jammed in the lavatory doorway in Kings’ Lynn , then maybe I’ll gain a glimmer of sympathy…not however from the very properly vigilant member of staff.

That, I could deal with…I was chastened…I was genuinely sorry…it was the fellow passenger who muttered at me all the way to Yarmouth about how it was for the benefit of us all and I really should have known better and didn’t I read the newspapers about leaving luggage and explosions and their job was hard enough without people like me and so on ….as we crossed the Grimpen Mire… I lay back trying to ignore her… dreaming of great movies like Throw Momma from the Train….Murder on the Yarmouth Express… and that one where two blokes swap murders. I felt that she must have many people in her life who would gladly bump someone off for me in exchange for my expelling her from the carriage window as we passed the bullocks.

I strode purposefully away from the station and straight into a fantastic café… definitely pronounced caff.. nearby . It was about elevenses time( i.e. almost anywhere between breakfast and lunch) and a fried egg sandwich almost never goes amiss on a trip like this. Likewise a mug or two of tea. There was a wonderful notice on the wall which read “ Look…this ain’t MacDonald’s right? You’ll get it when we’re good and ready “

Fortified or in my case - fiftified by this energy packed repast, I made my way over the Haven Bridge and entered the Peoples’ Republic of Cobholm. This is an area almost cut off from Yarmouth by the river YARE and the ancient A12 trunk road. This area has developed almost independently and I imagine the inhabitants speak some arcane language like Coblish. One almost expects to be stopped at the border, conjuring up visions of the old movie Passport to Pimlico.

Apparently comedian Jim Davidson had had a long term love-hate relationship with the town having bought a pier complete with theatre to put on his summer show. However, it seems that Cobholm pulled up the plank long before this.

The path threaded its way through tangled brambles and old derelict buildings …not the most scenic part of beautiful Yarmouth. After crossing a large treeless recreation ground( see earlier for the need to do things in the woods) I reached the stunning Breydon Bridge. This is a so-called “bascule” bridge….a sort of latter day drawbridge which opens to let shipping through. It carries the Yarmouth by-pass over the Yare and dominates the view for miles .

The path follows Breydon water for several miles…giving wonderful views of the estuary and it’s wildlife. I stopped for lunch…or “scrownie” as we said in my youth…by an old pumping station. Now equipped with a very lightweight folding stool, I made camp and unpacked the rations. For a few fly-free moments it was bliss. Inevitably the word spread that here was a mug with sandwiches who could be robbed blind with impunity. Wise to all that, I whipped out my 100% Deet insect repellent….tested in the equatorial forests…and, to be fair, it seemed to keep the tsetse flies away although Breydon buzzers are made of sterner stuff. In desperation, I slapped on yet more repellent …succeeding only in tainting everything I ate and almost poisoning myself. I swear the flies were laughing…as yet more boat crews grinned and waved .

Soon, the rivers Yare and Waveney diverge . The Angles Way follows the latter and across the water, I could see the elusive Berney Arms which I had managed to miss as I wandered the Grimpen Mire earlier.
Toiling on under a hot sun, I reached what proved to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. An ancient Roman fort—Gariannonum or Burgh Castle. The walls of the fort are remarkable well preserved and enclose a considerable area where the xvxvxvxv legion was once stationed.

I walked the perimeter taking in the fabulous views out over the marshes. I came across a friendly couple who were revisiting for the first time in many years. They reminisced about childhood picnics here and laughed as they recalled rather less innocent pleasures which followed in later years. I set down the pack and settled myself down for a while…imagining my troops hurling projectiles down on attacking Saxons…or Jim Davidson.

I whiled away a lazy afternoon watching boats sail by and birds sweep across the marshes. At last I had to stumble to my feet and set off for tonight’s resting place. Before I go on…it has to be appreciated that I had camped in fields and lived on a diet of Sosmix and done things behind straw bales and lived really rough….so the incredibly expensive yet luxurious site I had chosen seemed richly deserved.

I had rather expected the response I received in Hunstanton…and still being technically at least, a single sex party, I walked onto the site with some trepidation. The welcome could not have been more different…smiling friendly staff relieved me of a week’s wages for a night’s stay but also pointed out the shop, swimming pool, bowling alley….entertainment block…erm…swings..and so on.

It was heavenly after spending weeks in the outback living on bush tucker. Took me right back to the site in North Norfolk with the appalling singing chef. I pitched my tiny tent amongst the magnificent canvas temples bedecking the leafy site and sat to watch the world go by.

New campers were arriving all the time. I watched in amazement as vast multi-roomed edifices arose. Interlocking kitchen units were assembled, armchairs unfolded ,televisions plugged in . Gas driven industrial barbecues roared into life, bicycles were unclipped from the backs of camper vans. Tempted to say something about all the comforts of home….except most homes would have been put to shame by the plethora of furniture and white goods being unloaded here.

Unfortunately, this was the sort of site where declining to join in the communal Frisbee flinging games attracts the soubriquet ” miserable old git.” ….at least that’s what it sounded like.( 22,000 xvxvxvx)
There’s no doubt that camping at this level provides a super holiday for young families. Kids love it( most of the time) and can even be conned into doing chores such as washing up that they wouldn’t dream of tackling at home. It is also the holiday of choice for the nation’s dog lovers. Hounds of all shapes, sizes and of course…voices...abounded. Well…bounded anyway. This was all a far cry from the small sites and rough meadows( and yes…caravans ) that I had been using most of the time, but it was great after a hard day’s walking to relax in the plush bar sipping a Merlot and reading my book without the head torch clamped around my skull.

Once more, in a triumph of hope over experience, I had aligned the tent to allow the first pink rays of the rising sun to kiss me awake . Kiss was nearly right. At about 5 am the heavens opened, drowning out even the baying dogs and once more I had to do some baling before zipping myself up safely. I determined to make the most of it and snuggled down to listen to the raindrops. May have mentioned before that this is great when you don’t have to contemplate packing it all away dripping wet in a few hours time.

Later, after a long snooze… punctuated only by the howls and yelps of the massed canine choir, I purloined a big scrunched up bundle of paper towels from the nearby loo and managed to mop the tent fairly dry and jam the whole enterprise back into my rucsack. The presence of a snack bar spared my long suffering stomach the usual muesli and powdered milk thus, burping gently and with a veggie burger sticking to my ribs, I headed off along the trail.

Mercifully the sun soon broke through as I tramped along a wide earth track between high hedges . Once more I took the opportunity to spread my damp equipment over a bush and relax in the sun as it all dried….and gathered an interesting selection of the local fauna to amuse and amaze me as it variously crawled crept and flew out of the folds of my sleeping bag in the small hours.

As the path swung left across a meadow of drying hay, I witnessed an interesting performance from a female marsh harrier. I saw her, as I thought, hunched over a kill of some sort, but as I drew closer she started to hop away slowly dragging what appeared to be a broken wing. I had read about birds luring potential predators away from their young by feigning injury, but never before witnessed it. I deliberately followed and was drawn about 100 metres away from what I took to be the nest site. As I walked on and obviously posed no danger, I looked back to see her glide effortlessly back to the starting point!

The guide to the Angles Way had mentioned the church at Fritton and rightly so. A typical Norfolk round towered Saxon tower constructed from flint….it xcxvxbxfx dgx

All day I had been wondering about the insistent BONG BONG BONG sounds in my head…..chief suspect was the Merlot from the night before…although the sound became louder as the morning drew on. As the path rounded Fritton Lake the drumming noise grew quite deafening. It was not unlike the soundtrack from an old John Wayne movie…one of those where some spotty, gangling youth utters the immortal words” Injuns paw!” just a dad cops an arrow through the Stetson. Turns out that the Lake was playing host to the so called Dragon Boats with drummers beating out the rhythm for the rowers. It certainly carried as I was to hear it for the next 6 miles or so.

Stopping to consult the map, I was left with the impression that the route must at some stage have been a few miles too short for someone’s liking. I could imagine a hastily convened council meeting at which the holder of the portfolio for footpaths and sundry wanderings…in a state of some animation, waved a copy of Ramblers’ Weekly aloft…” Honourable members…the new Cobblers’ Way in Northants is 10 miles longer than ours….we have to stick some extra mileage in immediately if we don’t want to become a laughing stock”
Thus, after a heated debate on lengthism….the route was extended . This would certainly explain why the path takes a whopping great swing to the north east. This would however be uncharitable as this proved to be a very interesting leg of the walk. It crossed farmland, lush meadows and thorny thickets ( sorny sickets?) before plunging through muddy bogs and reedy mires . Along the way I passed Ashby church standing in splendid isolation . Here… and in a remote spot further on, I came across sad memorials to the USAAF airmen who lost their lives during the second world war.

Still marching in time to the steady beat of the bass drums…I entered Somerleyton.
Morton peto blahx blahc( railway pioneer..businessman xvxvxvx)
After stocking up on chocolate and ice cream at the local store, I marched on…however even by my standards what follows beggars belief. ( 23000 xvxvxvx)

You may need four matchsticks for this next bit. Ok ? Arrange them in a diamond shape….Now imagine that they represent the next section of the footpath. Somerleyton lies at the top of the diamond. The path goes from the top heading south west to the boatyard….then turns south east towards the railway, before heading back north east to complete three sides of our diamond in an anti clockwise direction( OK so far?) The route then departs from the diamond and heads off to the south.. Now…imagine some nitwit reaching Somerleyton and heading down the wrong side of the diamond….worrying a little at first, but soon delighting at the sight of markers for the Angles Way. The problem of course is that said nitwit is now following the route in the reverse direction…he slogs on past the station…past the boatyard and arrives…somewhat hot and bothered back where he started.

I THOUGHT the drums were getting strangely louder again and when I realised what I had done I got so mad, I kicked a tree. A real Basil Fawlty moment.
I cursed whoever planned the route…wondered where on earth to go….so settled for the ice cream shop again, and the humiliation of asking directions from the shopkeeper about an hour after leaving the same establishment and striding off like some visiting Olympian.
I decided that the view would be little different seen from an anti clockwise perspective…so settled for taking the shortcut back to where the track headed south.

The next stretch follows the edge of Somerleyton and Blundeston marshes. Broad tussocky swamplands grazed by yet more half wild cattle with snuffly breath and dribbly chops. I paced myself now, which is another way of saying- I was now so tired after the dopey detour that I had to keep stopping. Fortunately, I had tucked away in my pack a pocket guide to British birds. I spent my lengthy stops trying to sort out my redshanks from my Lapwings and my pipits from…well...sparrows and various other little brown jobbies.

I trudged on across the wet meadow , a real joy with its abundance of wild flowers and butterflies. A long while since the beautiful butterfly reserve in Felmingham cutting and what lovely creatures they are. As with any new interest, as knowledge grows , the more enjoyable it becomes and the more you realise that there is to know. I had spotted the stunning Swallowtails back at Hickling Broad…now the various meadow species delighted me. When you are walking day after day after day….you begin to notice so much more. The varieties of wild flower…the birds…the bees ..the mosses…lichens ..fungi.. too much to really master even in a long lifetime…although some of the Feature writers in the local newspaper come close.

After the beauty of the marshes, the final section of this leg of the walk comes as a bit of a shock. The green heaven comes to an abrupt end in the back gardens of suburban Oulton Broad. After having to navigate my way across the mire using a large scale map and compass…it’s now Borrow Road into Romany Road on to The Maltings into Caldecote Road and so on. The brave urban guerrilla struggled on battling uneven pavements and vicious Chihuahuas. Barging past old ladies clutching Tesco bags…….only to be overtaken by them a few yards further on. Pounding the mean streets as they in turn pounded me. It had been a long day and I was happy at the thought that my intended camp site for the night was only a mile or so away.

I emerged from the tangle of residential streets and after risking death on the busy A146 , I stopped …that is to say, collapsed on the patch of grass by Mutford Bridge and admired the engineering which had gone into the construction of the adjacent lock . This links Oulton Broad with Loch Lothing, the long narrow stretch of water flowing into Lowestoft docks and out to sea. There is a yacht station close by and the whole broad is alive with boats of all descriptions. There are sail boat enthusiasts in craft of all shapes and sizes as well as power boat fanatics who race here .I especially liked the look of the big tourist boats with their shore-based touts loitering by boards with chalked adverts offering cruises on the broads. A mental note was made to return another day to taste life before the mast.

The “other day” came sooner than expected. But, more of that later. For now, I walked on through the attractive Nicholas Everitt Park which fringes the Broad. Looking for peace…looking for tranquillity...but most of all looking for the Gents. Sadly, as so often on this trip, I found them boarded up . This led to an impromptu expedition into the shrubbery nearby….as I imagine it does for many.

After tea and a bun in the attractive café in the park, I walked on towards my intended campsite…….clearly marked on the map with a little blue tent symbol. Well, maybe it took little blue tents in the distant past, but now the camping ground had become home to rows of permanent chalets. I asked nicely, but was equally politely turned away. Can’t blame them—people were paying good money to stay in these elegant garden sheds and certainly didn’t want some old tramp camping amongst the petunias.

I stomped off and plonked down on a nearby bench. Where now? I pulled out the map and searched around for alternatives. I had been using the excellent Ramblers’ Association guide to the walk but found nothing of immediate help there. The map showed plenty of sites along the seafront at Lowestoft but lacking phone numbers there was no way I could check before walking miles off the path. It was then that an idea struck me…and it has to be one heck of a strike sometimes to get through…what about the train?

A few yards away was the railway station. My imaginative use of public transport had stood me in good stead earlier in the …erm…walk. Why not now? I checked and found a train for Beccles was due at anytime. A quick glance at the map showed a campsite just outside the town.
Eureka..! Onto the platform and away. My feet singing a tune I hoped they had forgotten back on the North Norfolk coast …I laid back and chuffed quietly towards Beccles. The master plan was to come back on the train the following day and complete the walk basically on foot( there’s a novelty) Looking out of the window of the carriage and consulting the map…I couldn’t help but notice that the route of the Angles Way followed the river bank in a rather straightforward and potentially tedious way….oh well.
I arrived in Beccles in no time at all….the station bore signs of having been attacked by a bunch of malformed graffiti artists on a Youth Training Scheme. Shame, as Beccles is such a nice place. I walked into town and found the tourist office tucked away down by the quay. A delightful spot, populated by the usual assortment of feral ducks and ferocious duckies. The tourist office lay beside a shop typical of the kind I had encountered on the walk. It stocked everything from postcards to shredded suet …including some excellent ice cream which I bought purely for the sake of the local economy.

I decided to ask for help from the Tourist office in locating the campsite so prominently marked on my map…and so obviously missing on the ground. I was greeted by the very beautiful Claire …indeed, so enchanted was I that I failed to remember any of the fine details as to where to locate the campsite. Apparently it was quite a long way away…in another village or somewhere…but- hey-she was lovely. I think she asked if I could manage to walk much further, but I believe that I just smiled stupidly and nodded. Anyway, what followed was me and heavy pack and sore feet tramping off across the water meadow…up the embankment to the by-pass and a further 3 miles on hot tarmac to a farm based campsite , where I collapsed in a damp heap.

It turned out to be one of the nicest sites I have ever visited. Lush camping lawns set beside a large pond overhung with willows, A traditional washroom and loo block and cheery owners who only laughed a little at my feet. They also laughed at my route. I could have saved a mile and a half by using the tow path alongside the river…..which is what I now believe the delectable Claire was trying to tell me. I treated myself to a sort of pasta concoction and took a hot shower before laying back on the turf to savour my current reading matter….the, in my view…book of all books...Don Quixote. Tiredness and my ever fervid imagination carried me away to the dusty plains of La Mancha.

Before deciding to seek fame as a long distance walker, I had previously sought recognition for my exploits on a rusty old motorcycle. In the true spirit of Don Quixote, the misguided old dreamer who’s addled imagination had been perverted by reading too many cheap thrillers…I had ridden my motorbike across Spain and communed with the memory of that sad knight. Where he had mistaken a windmill for a wicked giant, I had managed to get lost on the council refuse tip while trying to reach a hill top windmill to take photographs.

I too had an encounter with a flock of sheep. He saw them as an oncoming army to be vanquished….whereas I merely saw a very large flock of sheep bearing down on me as I lay on the grass picnicking. The end result was similar…a hasty retreat from a toothless shepherd and his far from toothless sheepdogs. As I lay on the lawns before a centuries old farmhouse, I fancied that like the Inn in the story…it too might be magically transformed during the night to a fine Castle. Later as I slipped of to dreamland, I fancied I heard poor Sancho Panza being tossed high in a blanket by village ruffians.

1 comment:

Tony and Joyce on the road said...

Just done the Yarmouth - Eccles part as a two dayer and grabbed the 581 bus back again for the car. Lovely walk! Sore Feet!