Walking in Norfolk

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My new Cicerone walking guide, Walking in Norfolk is going to be published in a week or two’s time and so here is a small taster of what to expect. The book contains 40 circular walks in all, and covers all parts of the county from northeast Norfolk to the Waveney Valley to the Fens.

Here’s a bit from the Introduction:

‘Very flat, Norfolk’, asserts Amanda in Noël Coward’s Private Lives, reflecting pretty much the commonly held view of the county: a place, with attitude perhaps (think of its heroes – Horatio Nelson, Thomas Paine, Delia Smith, Stephen Fry…Alan Partridge), but certainly not with altitude. The stereotyped view, although misleading, is understandable enough, as most people have some sort of image of Norfolk even if they have never visited the county. Many will have seen the vast sandy expanse of North Norfolk’s Holkham Beach in films like Shakespeare in Love or TV programmes like Stephen Fry’s Kingdom. Many more will think of boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads, or make associations with the low-lying Fenland region of the far west of the county: aspects of Norfolk, certainly, but not the full picture by any means.

…and here’s a snippet from Walk 10: Burgh St Peter and ‘The Triangle’:

039‘The Triangle’ is a local name that was sometimes used to refer to the parishes of Aldeby, Wheatacre and Burgh St Peter in southeast Norfolk. Bound on two sides by a bend of the River Waveney and on the other by the now-dismantled Beccles to Great Yarmouth railway, the triangle of land so defined has something of the feel of an island to it. There is no through road here, just a quiet single-track lane that links the farmsteads on the marshland edge. To the north, east and south a large flat area of marshes lies between the relatively high land of ‘The Triangle’ and the river itself.

041Burgh St Peter’s Church of St Mary the Virgin is one of Norfolk’s oddest churches as its tower is in the form of a five-section ziggurat (or, as some have fancied, a collapsible square telescope). The body of the church dates from the 13th century but the tower is an 18th-century addition, supposedly inspired by the Italian travels of William Boycott, the rector’s son. A dynasty of Boycotts served the church for a continuous period of 135 years and Charles Cunningham Boycott, the son of the second Boycott rector, gave the term ‘boycott’ to the English language when he behaved badly over absentee rents in Ireland and was socially ostracised as a result.

Suffolk Coast Walks 2

Just to update the previous post – Nick Marsh, countryside officer at Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, went on BBC Radio Suffolk a couple of days ago to talk about my new Cicerone guide and the walking potential that the Suffolk coastal region offers. You can listen again here (fast-forward to around 2:37). It is available online until March 5.

Suffolk Coast Walks

If I might be allowed a little shameless self-publicity, my new book Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks: Three Long-distance Routes in the AONB is published today by Cicerone. A bit of a  mouthful, I know – let’s just call it ‘Suffolk Coast Walks’ for the sake of brevity.

The book gives a detailed account of all three long-distance trails within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). All three routes make for excellent walking, either in their entirety or as selected day stages.

OS map extracts for the various stages are included and the book also has considerable background information outlining the history, geography and wildlife of this attractive region.

It is lavishly illustrated too, with photographs taken by yours truly (the cover shows the River Blyth at Southwold).

For a look inside the book, a sample chapter and downloadable PDF file you can visit the Cicerone website here. It is also on Amazon.co.uk here.

Here’s a brief sample from the introduction and a few images from the book.

Introduction

The sky seems enormous here, especially on a bright early summer’s day, and the sea beyond the shingle almost endless. Apart from the gleeful cries of children playing on the beach, the aural landscape is one of soughing waves and the gentle scrape of stones, a few mewing gulls and the piping of oystercatchers. Less than a mile inland, both scenery and soundscape are markedly different – vast expanses of heather, warbling blackcaps in the bushes, and a skylark clattering on high; the warm air is redolent with the almond scent of yellow gorse that seems to be everywhere. This is the Suffolk coast, and it seems hard to imagine that somewhere quite so tranquil is just a couple of hours’ drive away from London.

The big skies, clean air and wide open scenery of the Suffolk coast has long attracted visitors – holiday makers certainly, but also writers, artists and musicians. The Suffolk coast’s association with the creative arts is longstanding, and its attraction is immediately obvious – close enough to the urban centres of southern England for a relatively easy commute, yet with sufficient unspoiled backwater charm for creativity to flourish.

It is not hard to see the appeal – east of the A12, the trunk road that more or less carves off this section of the East Anglian coast, there is a distinct impression that many of the excesses of modern life have passed the region by. The small towns and villages that punctuate the coastline and immediate hinterland are by and large quiet, unspoiled places that, while developed as low-key resorts in recent years, still reflect the maritime heritage for which this coast was famous before coastal erosion took its toll.

The county of Suffolk lies at the heart of East Anglia, in eastern England, sandwiched between the counties of Norfolk to the north, Essex to the south and Cambridgeshire to the west. The county town is Ipswich, by far the biggest urban centre in the county, while other important centres include Bury St Edmunds to the west and Lowestoft to the north. Much of the county is dominated by agriculture, especially arable farming, but the coastal region featured in this book has a wider diversity of scenery – with reedbeds, heath, saltmarsh, shingle beaches, estuaries and even cliffs all contributing to the variety. There is also woodland, both remnants of ancient deciduous forests and large modern plantations. Such a variety of landscapes means a wealth of wildlife habitat, and so it is little wonder that the area is home to many scarce species of bird, plant and insect.

This region can be broadly divided into three types of landscape – coast, estuary and heathland, or Sandlings as they are locally known – and the three long-distance walks described in this guide are each focused on one of these landscape types.  All three have plenty to offer visitors in terms of scenery, wildlife and historic interest, and the footpaths, bridleways and quiet lanes found here make for excellent walking.

Almost all of the walks featured here fall within the boundaries of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which stretches south from Kessingland in the north of the county to the Stour estuary in the south. The whole area – both coast and heaths – is now one of 47 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, having received AONB status in 1970, a designation that recognises, and protects, the area’s unique landscape.

Walking the Edge

The latest issue of Geographical magazine has a feature by Alastair Humphreys on walking around London following a route as close to the M25 orbital as possible. The focus here – other than the testing of outdoor clothing and equipment – seems to be that of ‘micro-adventures’ in one’s local area: a worthy notion in this information-bloated age where, if truth be told, there are few exotic places left to explore. The adventurers of yore usually had an ulterior motive anyway – empire carving, resource procurement, trade – and so latter-day explorers, unsponsored by king and country (and usually publishers) and wishing to find something new, have to look instead at the finer detail, examine the way countries have changed, focus on the small print of ‘place’.

The writer Iain Sinclair has already written about the M25 at length in his book London Orbital where, instead of sleeping in a bivvy bag in green belt fields (and tweeting about it) as Humphreys has done, the author completed the circuit by way of day-long excursions from his Hackney home in the company of a handful of friends. Sinclair’s clockwise plod reveals a twilight zone where megalopolis begins to morph into leafy shires. Most revealingly, he identifies a ring of vanished mental hospitals and institutions that trace the course of the future motorway with uncanny accuracy. Like plague pits located beyond medieval city walls, it appears as if it was decided in Victorian times that illness – especially the mental kind – had to be kept at arm’s length and well beyond the city’s grasp lest it infect the metropolitan populace. The distance necessary for this physical and spiritual separation seems to coincide almost exactly with that of London’s orbital racetrack.

Turning to a more rural setting, here in East Anglia both Norfolk and Suffolk may be circumambulated (more or less – let us not quibble about precise boundaries) by following a series of long-distance footpaths. In Norfolk, begin with the Angles Way in Great Yarmouth, follow it along the Waveney Valley almost as far as Thetford in Breckland and then take the  Iceni Way along the River Great Ouse and across the Fens north to Hunstanton where the Norfolk Coast Path can be picked up to continue east. At Cromer, the meandering Weaver’s Way can then be followed through the Broads to arrive back at Yarmouth. In Suffolk, the Suffolk Coast Path can be walked from Lowestoft to Felixstowe before continuing around the Suffolk estuaries by means of the Stour and Orwell Walk to Cattawade. Here, the county boundary may be traced west to by means of the Stour Valley Path, straying occasionally into Essex and Cambridgeshire, as far as Sudbury before continuing to Bury St Edmunds along the St Edmund Way and Icknield Way path to Breckland  from where the Angle’s Way completes the circuit back to the Suffolk Coast.

Last year I had a notion that it might be interesting to split the Norfolk boundary circuit into four seasonal portions, four lengths of the county rectangle that would be walked around each of the year’s cardinal points: the Angle’s Way in mid winter; the Iceni Way in spring and so on, completing the circuit to arrive back at Great Yarmouth around the autumnal equinox. Starting out with good intentions, I walked the length of the Angles Way in late December 2009 and early January 2010. Plans for setting out on the next section, the Iceni Way, were abandoned however – or, rather, put on hold – when a commission to write a guide for Cicerone Press on the three long-distance walks within the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB turned my attention to trails a little further southeast. My forthcoming guide Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks: Three Long-distance Routes in the AONB will be published in November this year.