Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Weavers' Way


And so it came to pass that three trips to the Podiatrist, a warm sleeping bag and several meals which did not include Sosmix later- I found myself back in Cromer ready to tackle the Weavers’ Way, a (XXX) long distance footpath which joins the North Norfolk Coastal path to the Angles way In Great Yarmouth .This time wearing proper breathable waterproofs and equipped to cope with all that the English summer could throw at me.

Perversely, it chose not to throw anything, but merely to drape me in a thick blanket of what the locals called sea mist, but which could have graced a Jack the Ripper movie set…..although had it been a smidgeon thicker, Jack would have had difficulty slashing a barn door from the inside.

After a break, it took a while to get back into the rhythm of walking with a pack. I tried chanting …especially that one about “My Mate Marmite” that I’d heard the Royal Marine Commandos sing in the advert… but settled for a feeble version of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as I sauntered through hedgerows dripping from the fog.

There isn’t much to share with you about the first few miles except that it looked somewhat grey and felt somewhat damp. The main excitement came when a couple of enormous cows loomed out of the swirling mists and after emitting foghorn like bellows…thundered off with that peculiar bovine gait which seems to involve more than four legs moving at once.

The mist began to thin as I arrived at the lovely Felbrigg Hall. A National Trust property set in park land through which the Weavers’ Way wanders. I took in the tea rooms and second hand bookshop, drawing back just in time from purchasing a particularly handsome edition of “Don Quixote” as I contemplated having to lug it with me half way across Norfolk.

The path meanders on alongside rivers , through water meadows full of buttercups and the truly evocative smell of cow pats. You can easily lose all sense of place and whilst hacking a path through a waterside wilderness easily imagine yourself to be miles from civilization then suddenly emerge through a kiddies play area into a village main street.

Eventually woodland paths lead to the next National Trust gem along the route….Blickling Hall.
This is a truly magnificent property. Indeed the view of the house from the road is almost too good to be true. If I were in charge, I’d plant a big Leylandii hedge to block it off so I could make people pay to look at it.

I decided to linger here a while and lunched at the estate pub…the Buckingham Arms. Staff here are obviously well used to walkers as despite my mud encrusted boots, passage blocking rucsack and general sweatiness, I received nothing but courtesy…well apart from a fairly substantial bill that is.

Blickling itself was built……..( XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX)

And is home to the celebrated ghost of Ann Boleyn..who (XXXX)

From here the very well maintained and signposted route leads over the fields to Aylsham. Norfolk has been called England’s “Sugar Bowl” and the path ahead lead through serried ranks of sugar beet as far as the eye could see.
I believe it was the great Aneurin Bevan who spoke of a land built on coal and surrounded by fish never needing to starve. Well, a lot less of both now….but I concluded that if we would settle for pigeon and rabbit pie and lashings of sugar, the same could hold true today. Everywhere I walked rabbits shot from beneath my feet and pigeons exploded with wings clapping overhead.

The day had by now turned hot and I eventually trickled into Aylsham, grabbed a cool drink and sprawled beneath the shade of a mighty Yew tree in the churchyard. As before, removing the pack brought on a strange sensation akin to moon walking…..or a kind of poor person’s Snowman flying through the air.

I wandered around the graveyard for a bit before spotting the resting place of the great landscape architect Humphry Repton whose handiwork I had already admired at Sheringham. It was great to see his grave planted with blooming red roses…doubtless nourished by his very own bonemeal ! It reminded me of the old advice to bury a dead horse when trying to establish a grape vine( or was it a fig tree?)

Aylsham itself is a very pretty little Georgian market town with a wealth of unspoilt buildings in the market square and beyond. (XXXGGGGKKKKK)

I planned to camp in a village not far away. Unable to find a proper tent camping site in the guide book, I had previously contacted a local farmer who allowed a few caravans onto his land in season. He was happy for me to pitch there but warned me that he lacked any kind of facility other than a tap.

I stocked up with expedition rations at the local Spar shop…chocolate, tinned pineapple and a half bottle of red medicine( Cotes de Rhone actually ) before heading out of town.

The Weavers’ Way now followed the track of the former (MGN ???) railway line.( BLBLBL) and before long dived into a cutting overhung with hawthorn trees. I soon reached an intersection with a country lane and clambered up to reach the farm caravan site above.

Mrs Cook greeted me warmly and invited me to set up camp around the back. She apologized again for the lack of facilities and suggested that I “do my business” behind some straw bales she said were in the adjacent field. I had only one caravan for company and a large lady in floral print shorts glared at me as I approached. “There’s no footpath through here you know!” she snarled . I explained, but had the feeling she felt that her VVVXXXXXXXX>???

I camped beside some ornamental shrubs which were to prove a useful modesty barrier in the night. However, feeling an urgent need I looked in vain for the promised straw bales but they had clearly been whisked away without her noticing. I waded off cross legged through a cornfield and several bramble hedges in search of somewhere to drop my drawers. Looking back to check that I was safely out of sight, I was
amazed to see Mrs Big-Pants watching my every move. I blundered on through nettles and thistles, everything clenched, frequently glancing behind me to see the daft woman rising up on tip toes to try to keep me in sight. Eventually I was able to drop down on my haunches in a wild patch at the corner of the field. O the joys of camping. By the time I fought my way back, I felt that I needed to go again.

Later, I sat and cooked up a tasty mixture of Spam and Smash instant potato. The Spam stuck to the frying pan…well, it would wouldn’t it?
As I did battle with a mean spatula, I heard Big-Pants yelling orders and turned to see her jerk and drag a reluctant German shepherd (dog that is) from her caravan. It was obviously going for a walk… or a drag… whether it liked it or not. She grabbed a large plastic jerry can and hauled the hound over to the water tap nearby. As they passed me, the inquisitive dog started to bark. The loving owner stopped this in its tracks by whapping the poor thing over the head with the jerry can. German Shepherds have an entirely undeserved reputation for ferocity…..but I thought…O just this once..go on..have her leg off.

Hygiene not being my strong suit, I ignored the corner of some distant field and settled for the shrubbery after dark, then settled down for the warmest cosiest night ever under canvas. The scrummy new silk sleeping bag liner was worth the wait. I had also reluctantly decided to leave my Woolworth’s pillows at home and had bought instead a compact camping pillow which did an excellent job. It poured down towards dawn and I snuggled down and listened to the rain lashing against the canvas only inches from my head. This is a wonderful experience…until you remember that the tent has to be taken down and folded into the rucsack in a few hours time.

I lay listening to the rain and slipping blissfully in and out of consciousness until I could no longer withstand the urgent promptings of my bladder. Mercifully, the rain stopped and I was able to scramble off to the distant…although by now somewhat damp, hedgerow...which I left even damper. Yet another reminder of the joys of camping. Back at the tent, I was greeted by Mr Cook the site owner. I offered to pay for my stay but this was waved away with the request that I drop something into a charity box on my travels….bless him.

After a tasty breakfast of Kit Kat and dried apricots, I packed away the wet tent. Sadly, Big Pants had obviously not been mauled to death in the night. Apparently en route to the water tap, she paused and stared as I struggled to jam the wet and swollen tent into my rucksack. I smiled and ventured a cheery good morning. She managed a grunt and a shrug before stomping off. No German shepherd this time maybe she’d eaten it.wwwwwwwwwords(14184)

The Weavers’ way appears to have been so named as it weaves its way all over the place. In fact, this section continues to follow the defunct railway line towards North Walsham. Following this lush green tunnel, I was once again aware of how you can be tramping along on a deserted track feeling as though you are miles from anywhere, yet pass really close to human habitation without realising it.

You plod on, playing out some daft fantasy about being lost in the bush…well…idiots like me do…only to happen upon a pile of lawn clippings, hedge trimmings and an abandoned plastic wheelbarrow flung through the hedge from a neighbouring garden. The trick is to just imagine it’s all a mirage and just stick with the fantasy. Eyes watching you from the undergrowth could well be native tribes-people resenting your intrusion. Anytime you could be shot in the neck by a poison dart…although in North Walsham that’s a distinct possibility!

The track curved ahead through cuttings and over bridges, over rivers and streams and eventually through the marvellous Felmingham Cutting. This is a steep sided cutting now designated a butterfly reserve. There are information boards and viewing platforms to view the lovely butterflies all around. I slipped off the pack and settled down to watch. Far better to let the butterflies come to you rather than chase them. The slightest shadow and they are off.

After a fascinating Lepidoptera packed lunch , I toddled off towards nearby North Walsham. Trying to learn from the battered foot syndrome of the first leg of the journey, I had planned shorter stages at the start of the walk to let my feet reacclimatise after the break. Good thing too as the sun now began to blaze down and the fantasy scenario changed to the one where I get to cross the Great Australian Desert with Flanders and Swann….or was it Flinders and Swann?

Sweaty and ponging, I emerged from the backwoods into downtown Walsham. I soon found the kind of café which one instinctively knows should be pronounced “caff”. A decent unpretentious establishment where a sweat-soaked moron who flails around trying to undo his back pack without demolishing too many tables might go almost unnoticed.
A slab of lardy cake and a mug of milky coffee later and I was ready to seek out the campsite I knew to lurk beyond the town boundaries.

The town has a wonderful motorcycle museum and a church tower which looks as though some cosmic backpacker had done to it what I had almost done to Mildred’s Café. I walked out through a housing estate and across poppy filled cornfields eventually joining a narrow country lane with raised banks ablaze with wild flowers. Just as the legs were writing a distress message , I came upon my goal for the day, Two Mills campsite.

What a relief. A brilliant, clean, well run site with really nice welcoming owners. I was shown to a fresh piece of grass on which to erect the tent. I say “fresh” as so often campsites offer a succession of rectangles in various shades of yellow where tents have stood for weeks… the area where the tent entrance had been ..churned to mud.

By now, I had become something of an expert on choice of pitch. I tested the wind direction by dropping a handful of leaves, felt for hollows and calculated the direction in which the sun would rise. Looked for shelter from the prevailing wind and carefully checked the slope of the land. Sadly, as any camper will tell you, these things are always at odds with one another and usually you can have any three from five but never all of them. In fact often you might just as well toss a coin.

With the tent up and all in place, I set off to shower. Facilities were excellent with one notable exception. And in truth, that was a matter of taste. Some people like piped music. Some people like Frank Ifield the yodelling Aussie…….however the only thing he did for me was to make my constipation even worse. Possibly I would have been grateful had I needed anything drowning out but each trip to the loo thereafter became a contest between me and Cliff Richard as to who would go first. I rather fancied that when I DID produce…Cliff would burst into “Congratulations and celebrations..…”


The site was otherwise excellent and I have nothing but praise for the owners who went to enormous lengths to try to find a campsite for me for the next stage. They ‘phoned ahead and asked around….but it appeared that the only one marked on the map had long since closed down. However, I had a trump card hidden somewhere. A friend of my sister lived not too far off the Weavers’ Way …up at Sea Palling , which, as the name rather implies, is on the coast. A quick phone call and I had permission to camp in her garden.

I rather reluctantly packed away the next morning and traipsed of through the romantic White Horse Common…where a big black dog snarled at me…over Meeting Place Hill and back onto the old railway line.
I walked on in glorious sunshine , listening to the birds , kicking stones and humming Frank’s “ I Remember yoo-hoo”

I had just sat down to rest and eat a wee snack of a Wagon Wheel and a Turkish Delight, when a strange figure approached. A man clad entirely in motorcycle leathers and carrying a helmet trudged towards me , hampered by his knee length leather boots. I knew for sure that we were a long way from a road and pondered what on earth he could be doing.
Turned out that he had a strong interest in World War 2 searchlights. Yes, that’s what I thought! He liked to seek out old sites and photograph them. Why not do something sensible like walk around Norfolk with a leaky backpack?

This is a very attractive section of the walk and runs close to the historic North Walsham and Dilham Canal. Amazingly ,this was the only official canal in the whole of Norfolk. Opened in 1826 and long since closed, I learned that it was constructed wider than canals elsewhere in Britain in order that it could accommodate broad Norfolk Wherries . However, the romance fades a little when one discovers that the main cargo was offal and skeletons from abattoirs to feed the bone meal mill at Antingham.

Nearby Honing Hall is yet another site where Humphry Repton worked his parkland magic. This is an area where it definitely pays to wander off of the path and take in some of the surrounding villages.

Speaking of which, I now had to leave the track at Stalham and head off for Sea Palling and the lovely Jill. The next few miles were a real nightmare as the lane offered few chances to escape from the traffic hurtling through. Leaping onto a grassy bank with a 20Kg Pack as juggernauts bore down on me became almost instinct…just as well or I might otherwise have become more extinct. I managed to avoid becoming strawberry jam, although my lurches into the weeds have probably stored up spinal damage for my dotage.

Sea Palling suffered badly in the great floods of 1953 and has always been under attack from the sea . Massive artificial reefs made up of huge granite blocks have been erected just offshore to stop the beach being completely washed away. Instead, there are now strange curved bays between the reefs. I found Jill’s house and set up my tent in the flower garden. After a lovely evening ,it seemed truly odd to say goodnight…go out of the back door and walk down the lawn to camp amongst the dahlias. I thought I had a better offer when my beautiful host said “ Don’t forget if you get too cold… can always come inside…..”
Adding, as I smirked…” and push the dog off the sofa...he won’t mind”

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