Thankfully, it had rained overnight, as predicted by the forecasters. Jim, who has a towing caravan parked outside his house, has a novel way of cleaning its roof. When rain is forecast, and his caravan’s top is in need of a clean, he sprays it before bedtime with Fairy Liquid, and lets the rain do the rest! After breakfast overlooking Jim’s garden and pristine caravan, we said our farewells. Jim had proven to be an attentive and amusing host. His parting shot was, “You do the walking; I’ll do the housework” – if that’s not the title of a country & western song……well, then it should be!
It was raining, but the BBC East weather girl with blonde hair, and a dress a little too tight for her, had said that it would all blow into the North Sea by 9 o’clock. Before heading north, we popped around the corner to Little Cressingham’s St. Andrew’s Church. This church holds some kudos for being a bit of a wreck!
In the mid-eighteenth century, during a storm, the church tower came down and fell through the roof of the adjacent nave. Before the end of the century, the church authorities bricked up the undamaged part of the church, leaving the forlorn tower and the wrecked part of the nave as it was. And that is the way it has stayed; the only subsequent work has been to ensure that the ruined part has not become a health and safety issue. So, we entered the church via the ruins, the door being on the west side. The neat and bright church has a truncated (obviously) nave, much shorter than the chancel. This would have been the ideal church for many of the services I attended in my youth where the congregation were heavily outnumbered by the choir!
So it was nearly 09.30 when our energies became focused on Peddars’ Way. It was still raining. The Tarmac road was a sea of mud, the cause of which soon became apparent – there was a relay team of tractors conveying sugar beet from the fields. Some drivers slowed down when they saw us; others didn’t. We were pretty mucky. The Way passes the village of South Pickenham to its east. We knew that there is a church of some renown in the village (All Saints). But the road to take us west, the B1077, was busy and without adequate verge, and so we continued our plod northwards.
Still raining, but before North Pickenham, the Peddars’ Way took us off road and farm tracks, to cross meadows down by the River Wissey. Our feet appreciated the springy texture of turf. On reaching the village, we detoured off the Peddars’ Way to look at the centre of the village. North Pickenham boasts a ‘bus shelter! It was 11o’clock and therefore time for coffee from the flask. It was throwing it down, so the ‘bus shelter was put to good use. I found myself humming a song by Townes van Zandt that laments that a yellow-headed woman will only tell you lies.
Continuing north-east, we followed a narrow green lane called Procession Lane – presumably because you have to proceed in single file. It was beautiful in its early autumn verdure, but two miles long, and I found myself pining for a little scenic variety. The rain had stopped, and the sun had appeared bashfully from behind the clouds. Eventually, Procession Lane emerged onto the A47, just east of Swaffham, where low and behold there was a Macdonald’s drive thru! We not only enjoyed the fast food and milkshakes, we also got a buzz from the proximity of humans! As it happened, we did not pass or meet a single soul on foot, all the way from Little Cressingham to Castle Acre.
After lunch, Procession Lane continued its march NNW, but now it was wider and more prosaic. We had to contend once again with mud rivers. The terrain was much more rolling than on the previous day, with gentle climbs and descents. By the time the priory at Castle Acre came into view, we were making our final descent of the day to a ford over the River Nar. The ford looked rather deep, but luckily there was an adjacent footbridge.
It was now 3.30p.m. and we thought that the priory was about to close at four. Our Trailblazer guide to The Peddar’s Way shows a dotted line running parallel to the river on its north bank, which then veers north to the priory. We followed this dotted line, which might have represented a footpath at some stage, but was now overgrown with reeds and nettles. On battling our way through towards the priory, we came upon a metal perimeter fence with arrows pointing us to the entrance. I followed the arrows, but unbeknownst to me, behind me Julia’s patience had worn out. She took off her rucksack, threw it over the fence, and then followed it! I arrived at the ticket office proffering both my own and Julia’s membership cards for English Heritage, but with no Julia! Having found out that the priory was open until 6p.m., I set off to find Julia. This took some time, but eventually I caught her waving triumphantly from within the grounds. The girl at the ticket office was totally unconcerned when I told her that my wife had already broken in!
The priory, like its counterpart in Thetford was an establishment for the Cluniac order, but is much better preserved. In particular, it retains a magnificent western facade. The accommodation for the prior is also impressive.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and an idyllic setting, and so we lingered before taking the conventional path from priory to village, and on to our accommodation at The Old Red Lion (ORL). Like several properties in Castle Acre, it was an ex-public house.
Alison is the impressive proprietress of the The ORL. Petite and nimble, she exudes an impish charm. She runs the ORL primarily as a yoga retreat, the property boasting exercise rooms and dormitories. She also maintains a beautiful garden and patio. We were allocated a double room overlooking Bailey Street at the front of the house.
In the evening, we climbed up the narrow street, passed through the impressive Bailey Gate (originally the northern entrance to the adjacent castle’s outer Bailey),and turned left into the High Street. On the right, stands the Ostrich Inn, by my reckoning the only habitation in Castle Acre that retains a licence! When we arrived, the inn seemed to be in the throes of boisterous revelry. But I presume that this was just high jinks at the end of the working day. The atmosphere soon quietened down, and we enjoyed a really good meal – a grilled sea bass with octopus, and a spiced chicken shawarma, followed by a cherry & chocolate brownie. They also had their own Ostrich Ale, brewed for them by Greene King.
Back at the ORL, Alison sat with us in the living room, and quizzed us about The Ostrich. I got the distinct impression that she wished it would serve more traditional fare rather than follow its Gastropub ambitions. We had to be truthful, and report rather disappointingly that it had proved to be an excellent eatery. As we said our good nights, Alison promised us that the mattress in our room was firm and uncompromising. Sure enough, it was like a board! Not that it inhibited our slumber.
Going back to the amphibian, who crossed our path before we descended to Castle Acre, I am not sure if he is warty enough to be a toad. If he (or she) is a frog, it could be the rare pool frog, Pelophylax lessonae! If someone knows, please get in contact!