The morning arrived cool and misty. After a light breakfast, and bland coffee, we were on our way. We had booked a taxi to take us to Knettishall Heath, some 5-6 miles south-east of Thetford. We had planned to commandeer the Brecks Bus, a demand responsive transport system. It sounds grand, but when I rang to book it, they had nothing available before 10 past 10. As we were due to walk about 15 miles for the day, I felt that we should be starting out a little earlier. Hence the taxi.
The tiny car park at Knettishall Heath had but a standard signpost to signify the beginning of the way. So without any ceremony, we started out, heading NNW. This would prove to be an incredibly straight path, not only for today, but until we reached the coast in three day’s time.
The Peddars’ Way and Norfolk Coast Path resembles a backward 7 – on reaching the North Sea, we would then turn sharply to the east to follow the coast to Cromer.
The walk, despite being arrow-like in its NNW trajectory and towpath flat, was very beautiful along its many woodland miles. However, it proved to be sparsely peopled. All day, we passed three people dog-walking and were overtaken by a couple of taciturn hikers who were walking “part of” The Peddars’ Way. Other than that, we saw a young man in a hard hat near a gas pipeline pumping station south of Stonebridge. And that was about that!
In addition, there was little evidence of human habitation. The only settlement of note before Little Cressingham was the aforementioned Stonebridge, a small village hugging the A1075 road; its only concession to human sustenance, The Dog & Partridge, would remain closed until 4p.m. Stonebridge interestingly has another name; it is also known as East Wretham. How many places do you know with two names? And this is for a tuppence ha’penny village whose pub is shut at lunchtime!
In actual fact, we knew that the D&P wouldn’t be open for lunch. We had looked at their website that morning, and therefore asked for packed lunches back at The Thomas Paine in Thetford. This they had provided, but couldn’t find a way of charging us as their computerised accounting/till facility hadn’t been geared up for packed lunches! Arrrgh! By heck, who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
Not far north of Stonebridge there is a wonderfully sylvan spot known as Woodcock Hill. Beautiful place; beautiful name. We sat on a grassy bank next to the deserted road; the smoked salmon sandwiches were delicious.
From Woodcock Hill, for the next four miles, there were signs to our left warning us that we were adjacent to the Stanford military training zone, and that we must keep out. Our progress was punctuated by automatic gunfire and the occasional BOOM. I found myself wondering about our young militia and who they imagined was in their sites as they unleashed their array of firepower. Was it that shadowy nebula of ISIS, or was it the more substantial figure of the North Korean leader? I suppose that a standing defensive force has the difficult task of always having to be prepared; its potential adversaries can be of various shapes and sizes, that can declare their hostile intent without warning. But it would be nice to know that this great country of ours has a diplomatic equivalent to Stanford, where young people learn to listen and to negotiate in words of conciliation. Where they develop the art of solving problems without the loss of young lives. Always worth a try.
For the last 3 miles or so, we emerged from woodland, and the surrounding farmland gave us an opportunity to take in the big Norfolk sky.
The last mile or so of our day’s walk involved a sharp turn to the west to follow the busy B1108; the footpath was protected from the road by a hedge, but it was an ugly end to the day. Maybe we were just tired; it had been a long time since we had walked 14-15 miles in a day. Little Cressingham is tucked in a dell off the B-road. It has an old red telephone kiosk, which has been converted into a library. As it was too late to take out a book, we carried on down the hill to Sycamore House at the centre of the hamlet.
It is a modern-looking large house run by Jim and his energetic Jack Russell. Our room was all lilacs and violets! But once we got over the purple haze, we found that it very much met our needs.
When we were scrubbed up and clean, Jim ran us the 2-3 miles to the Olde Windmill Inn in Great Cressingham. This proved to be a very friendly, popular pub. We ate well – country vegetable pie and lamb jalfrezi. Both featured an unusual salad with crisp, peppery cress. Not what you would expect with an Indian dish, but it was gorgeous. Julia said that her Bakewell tart was light and tasty, whereas my lemon meringue had lost its joie de whatever in a refrigerator.
Now I’m no Professor Higgins, but on the way back to Sycamore House, I plucked up the courage to ask Jim if he hailed from London. Sure enough, he’s a Walthamstow lad, his accent still perceptible despite over 30 years in Norfolk. Before becoming a B&B host, he worked for decades as a joiner specialising in fitted kitchens. His anecdotes about his renowned customers brought a mirthful end to the day.
Today had been a day of mushrooms. We did what our little mycology book warned against – taking photographs and trying to identify them with this limited two-dimensional data! We think that we’ve got the above four correct. Please make contact if you disagree!