Sunday, 6 January 2008

I slept wonderfully well and woke to sunshine streaming through the tent entrance. I also woke to a cacophony of assorted waterfowl greeting the new day. Looking at the blue sky and fluffy clouds, I thought it might turn out to be a …erm…quacker. I planned to catch a train back to Oulton Broad and then walk back to Beccles. I booked the campsite for a further night and thus unencumbered by a whopping great pack, set out along the river back to Beccles.

Naturally I needed to call in at the tourist office . I needed to check something. Can’t remember what…but it must have been important as I waited ages to see Claire. She thought I looked a little peaky…and said “Good thing you came here and I was able to tell you about the shortcut eh? Otherwise you could have gone miles out of your way”
I explained my plan to walk back along the Angles Way. She became quite heated as she lambasted the authorities who had apparently closed the path to carry out maintenance right in the middle of the tourist season. I fancied that with the number of walkers that I had encountered, it might cost the shop next door about 3 quid in lost revenue…but joined her in condemning the thoughtless apparatchiks who would frustrate a bunch of ramblers in order to prevent the whole area flooding .

News that there were diversions on the route reinforced my observations from the train carriage yesterday that this was a section of the walk, which although obviously intensely interesting to potential drainage engineers, might best be kept unviewed until I had time to really savour it. As I grew up in the Fens around Wisbech, I had seen all the old dykes one might wish to encounter in a lifetime.

Thus freed by conscience from a further day’s painful trudge, I took the train with the idea of enjoying Oulton Broad and returning the same way. The conductor…for this was a rural train where you buy a ticket on board… asked my destination and after learning that I planned to return, delved into his book of fares to inform me in conspiratorial fashion, that I could save ten pence by booking a saver return to somewhere I didn’t really want to go. I smiled and shrugged. “ Ah yes!” says he “ Thass all very well saying thass only ten pence….but you try saying that to Sainsburys at the checkout if you hint got it!”
Fair enough I thought and thanked him for his kindness.

I hopped off the train. In fact I tended to hop everywhere since yesterday’s marathon haul. Heading for the quay and the lure of the pleasure steamers, I sat for a while in a gateway …nibbled on a Mars bar -obviously as it’s the snack food of the Olympics or something…it’s just the stuff for an athlete like me.
I lay back in the morning sunshine….a long long way from that first gateway in Norfolk with wet clothes strewn over the hedge. I ran my hands over the smooth warm timbers of the gate as I stretched out like some lithe toned feline. Then…with a tom cat like screech…I recoiled in agony as I impaled my hand on a sliver of wood.
Being a backwoods hero, I hoiked out most of the splinter and bandaged my hand with Elastoplast before setting out to find the boats.

I had always wanted to run away to sea. I believe my parents probably shared that dream. My sisters certainly did. The Quay could, in some lights, put one in mind of far flung oriental docks with memsahibs boarding tea clippers while sturdy native peoples busied themselves loading trunks, hat boxes, hockey sticks, pianos and all the other obscure paraphernalia hauled to the furthest reaches of Empire by the mentally deficient British.

I blinked and the whole scene dissolved before my eyes. A stout, but definitely un-exotic citizen asked gruffly - did I want to go on the Big One..? This apparently was the trip upriver into the darkest regions of the Waveney …beyond civilization…beyond even the sailing club.
I planned to haggle or work my passage…but that certain look in his sun narrowed eyes said….pay up and shut up lad.

I tripped up the gangplank….sniffing in a superior manner at the grinning crew member who gripped my elbow to steady me. If only he knew how far I had walked and over what terrain. What an insult.
I made my way forrard…as I believe matelotical folks say…found a comfy seat and settled back to clutch and suck my now throbbing hand. It clearly was not going to go away, although when clamped under my armpit and deprived of blood, the pain was bearable.

A jolly crowd of holidaymakers clambered aboard the boat and with a toot on the whistle we creaked away from our mooring and headed upriver. We reefed the topsails,luffed our jib and made way against an ebbing tide. I’ve no idea what that means but it sounds the sort of thing one does on a boat. Chugging on across the broad we left a trail of mayhem in our wake as rubber dinghy paddlers bounced spectacularly on our bow wave.

As we entered the river proper we came across a group of sailing dinghies aimlessly pirouetting and flapping in mid stream. The captain turned to us and said” Don’t want to panic anybody…but they’re all learners and on the first trip this morning ,one of the daft buggers smacked into us”
As we sailed along we were entertained by a lively commentary on the history of the Broads and it’s wildlife. I noted that I had the pleasure of not seeing the shy elusive bittern here as well as not seeing it in Cley! Most other wildlife remained shy and elusive too.
Where do birds go? One day the whole place is alive with the blessed things. If you fell overboard you’d land on a Godwit or Garganey…the next..…nothing, zilch. Perhaps it’s a case of alternate days….maybe they move around so on a given day one place is full and another empty. Maybe there’s a duty roster? Who knows? Bill Oddie probably.

Actually, we were besieged by a flotilla of attack ducks similar to those seen around Potter Heigham. They soon learn that soppy holidaymakers equals free grub . The Mallards squabbled over crusts thrown to them by the boat’s inmates whilst the Mute swans struggled to drag small children and other delicacies overboard. We passed jolly fisher folk, only too happy to pull in their lines as we approached. At least I think they were happy. One said something about having a laugh anyway. As we chugged along beside the earthen banks of the Waveney, I once again congratulated myself on being strong willed enough to avoid tiresome stretches of the various walks.

It proved to be a lovely trip…not to be missed. However, my hand had by now swollen further and was throbbing away with a vengeance. Once back ashore, I lost no time in boarding the train and heading back to Beccles. Now a wounded soldier and hence doubly attractive to a caring woman, I made straight for the tourist office and it’s very own Mother Teresa/Madonna/Florence Nightingale figure. She gave me a verbal thick ear for dawdling around all day with a lump of wood embedded in my hand( I may have made it sound a wee bit worse than it maybe was) . She packed me off to the Cottage Hospital nearby.

My poor bits have seen many a small local hospital…or maybe that should be the other way around? This one proved little different. After the hurly-burly of your average mega university Hospital it comes as shock to have to stomp around and holler to see if anyone is around.
Eventually, I was checked over by Nurse Rosie , a trained midwife who had spent time on Oil rigs, trained people in survival and presumably dealt with any births that may have occurred offshore. One might forgive her being less than overwhelmed by my wounds, however, she maintained her professional standards as she dealt with the eedjut with a splinter and a bit of swelling. Indeed she dug and probed with her needle and tweezers as though looking for shrapnel. Unable to extract all of it…she requested that a Doctor be asked to come and operate or at least mine a deeper lode.

We sat and chatted for ages waiting for the Doctor to finish open heart surgery or whatever it was that he was doing. When he did arrive , he bounded in, snatched up the implements, and dived in where Rosie had left off. A jolly, cheery chap, he grilled me as he dug deeper and deeper. “The Angles Way you say? I walked it last year.. how long are you taking? God what a wimp.. I did it in half that..” Imagine the above punctuated by howls of pain as the instruments bit into my inflamed flesh… not nice.

Eventually… bandaged up and clutching antibiotics, I trundled back to camp. I recall a particularly lovely walk along the riverside track with the sun setting fiery red over the marshes. Everything is so different on foot. You see the detail...hear the sounds…smell the smells…feel the textures.

The right of way passed through a large modern farm. I wove my way between aluminium silos…around mountains of bagged fertilizer and past locked stores of pesticides and fungicides. A Swedish built lorry window bore stickers saying “ Save our way of life” and “ Hunting is natural….foxes do it”

Back at the campsite, a posse of fresh faced youngsters with guitars and smiles had moved in. Their green ridge tents set up between the pale yellow patches on the grass left by departing campers, a mini bus parked nearby. Who were they? Maybe a youth group, a community church fellowship … outdoor chapter of the Cliff Richard fan club? It’s all part of the fun when camping…trying to stereotype the neighbours….while secretly envying their humour and happiness.

(26420) XXnXXX After another good night’s sleep, I woke early and ambled over to the wash block to shower. As I towelled myself vigorously whilst crooning my way through the Waylon Jennings songbook….a soft deep feminine voice breathed
“Good morning…my…you’re early…It’s a beauty isn’t it? “
I pulled the towel tighter- wondering how she knew.
“Where’s the ladies loo?” she asked huskily
“Erm round the back “ I said in a cracked parched instant-tea-less voice
“ Never mind...I’ll use this one. No-one around eh?”
And she did.

Camping brings out the primitive in people. I atavistically wolfed down my muesli and packed everything away. Bidding farewell to owner and all round good egg, Terry Goodwin , I trundled off in the general direction of Beccles town. In bidding Claire a fond farewell, I learned that her mother looked just like her and they were often mistaken for one another. I asked for an introduction should she ever want to meet a rambling legend with sore feet and a bad hand.

The sun blazed down as I made my way across the water meadows in the direction( well…general direction) of Bungay. I had read about the especially picturesque Geldeston Lock pub and diverted across a water meadow and through a herd of lowering heifers…and all that goes with them… only to find it closed . Apparently it was weekends only at the time. Shame as it is in a truly lovely spot.

Tramping on…wilting in the heat...I once again marvelled at how attractive my insect repellent seemed to be to all flying creatures great and small. This section was hard work. Some beautiful views over the river valley, but as much sugar beet as I ever want or need to see close up in a lifetime and miles of rough cloddy paths on field edges. I did sterling work with my Swiss army knife on the overgrown stiles and signposts though….and arrived as they say Hors de Combat at an attractive riverside campsite in Bungay. Once again, I was totally spent…feet of fire...knees of jelly…brain overheated.

The sympathetic owners told me where to pitch and strongly advised a long relaxed luxurious shower. Sadly, they forgot to tell the big hairy bloke from the next tent who, clearly concerned about my welfare, bashed on the door enquiring as to was I bloody drowning in there or somethink?

After showering, I retired to my tent completely exhausted. Surveying the remnants of my feet, I came to the inescapable conclusion that should I wish to walk anywhere the following day carrying a pack…those feet were most unlikely to accompany me. Thus after a
night’s sleep, I decided to book in for another day and rest up .

I spent the time slowly exploring Bungay. I confess that I also called in at the bus company office and picked up timetables to work out how soon I could get back home. Something of a low point on the journey.
I loved the ruined castle and tea rooms. Also the church with it’s famous Black Shuck story…the hell hound which snatched a parishioner or two during a violent storm. Wonderful stuff…although had I been camping wild on the river bank and heard a howl…I just might have felt differently. I did once have a similar experience in France when retracing the route of Robert Louis Stevenson’s walk with a donkey in the Cevennes ….having read about the legendary man-eating wolf-the Beast of Givaudan……I spent a rather restless night in the heather!

In Bungay, I had the good fortune to meet an expert on sore feet.
I was rummaging through the Dr Scholl department of a chemists shop seeking salvation, when the assistant asked if she could help. Turned out her son played rugby and frequently needed his feet patching. She sold me some hi-tech gel filled artificial skin type plasters plus foam tubing which were to transform my poor plates of meat. A real find.

The campsite offered canoe hire and other strenuous pursuits totally beyond my capabilities at that time. I settled for a picnic on the riverbank. As I entered the camp shop to buy my usual salad ingredients….chocolate…crisps...nuts etc...the lady said
” Ah I’ve heard about you and your feet” Fame at last.
It must have surprised her no end when I all but hop skipped and jumped past her the following day on the next leg of the journey.

This was to be another day of beautiful views coupled with long straight farm tracks through crops. However, this was an excellent section for wildlife. I saw a water rail, buzzards, a little owl and several marsh harriers. I took a leisurely lunch sat high above a water filled gravel pit watching the birds and defying the ants. After a steady day’s walking and with feet in reasonable shape, I arrived at Little Lakeland Campsite…an extremely well organised, tidy and well equipped site.

I did my usual soft shoe shuffle laundry routine…stomping naked on my dirty washing in the shower and then made for the cafĂ© beside one of the eponymous fishing lakes. One veteran angler was feverishly scanning the framed photographs on the wall ;
“Am I still here then ?” he demanded to know.
“Oh yes…I’ve just shuffled them round a bit “ said the woman behind the counter
And there he was indeed…a yellowing photograph from years back...him clutching a carp the size of a sheep.
An amazing sport carp fishing, I hadn’t realised that the big fish often have names.
Anglers brag…”Hey...I caught the Black Pig again yesterday..!”

After a pleasant meal, I traipsed off to the local pub…The Bell. A very enjoyable evening reading and sipping red wine. Everytime I guffawed at my Terry Pratchett book, a big dog started to bark at me. When I say “big” I’m not kidding…..turns out it was a cross between an Irish wolfhound and an Old English sheepdog .XX,ii,X 27;409 kXX
It certainly amused the regulars…me chortling...the dog barking…it’s owner cussing –Aye….we made our own fun in them days.

As I sat sipping the red lifeline, food started arriving for my fellow diners. It looked absolutely delicious and I made a mental note to return one day and sample it for myself.

Eventually it was time to stagger back to the tent…obviously any slight tendency to walk less than straight was due to exhaustion from walking in the heat of the sun. The wine may have added a little…but it was definitely exhaustion. After some searching and the occasional nose dive from badly sited guy ropes…I managed to find my tent and collapse within. I slept very deeply and soundly for several hours, until the inevitable corollary of taking in large quantities of liquid enforced more guy line slow motion skipping en route to the toilet block.

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