The Great Norfolk Walk
Bob Cains


Day 1 - The Angles Way - Great Yarmouth to Somerleyton

Rob’s Rock

Summary - Great Yarmouth to Somerleyton, Distance 13.7 miles (22.05kms), Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 134

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  Day 1 - Great Yarmouth to Somerleyton
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I stood, panting, hands on knees, rucksack pressing into the back of my head, on the forecourt of Norwich’s Thorpe Station staring at the minutes ticking away on the roof mounted clock while a little part of my mind reflected how the building resembles a French town hall. The local bus, operated by First Bus, hadn’t turned up and so I had been obliged to wait for the next one. This bus had deposited me at Norwich’s Castle Meadow, almost a mile from the station; by necessity I had hurried down the Victorian curve of Prince of Wales Road, dodging through the Saturday morning shoppers and traffic. I had two minutes to spare. 

I dashed across the forecourt through the jammed, open, automatic doors and onto the concourse.  It was full of people scurrying hither and thither; I glanced up at the departure screen to locate the platform for my train, fortunately I'd bought my ticket the previous day.  My rucksack and I jigged and jagged through the throng to platform five.

I took the first seat I came to and thought, 'Here I am, at last, on a busy holiday train waiting to head out to the coast'.  Over the preceding two years, from my first attempt to walk around the county of Norfolk, I had made many early morning excursions out into the surrounding countryside. Several of them had been on the first trains of the day and occasionally I would be the only passenger on board.  I reflected on these previous experiences as the 09:36 Norwich to Great Yarmouth train began to fill with holiday makers heading off for a final weekend at the seaside, the last of the summer holiday. A family came and sat around me, I shuffled across to make room for them. They were an exceptionally young mother, an equally young father with a baby, and toddler, they had the grandmother with them too. They behaved in a boisterous way without intruding on me so I wrapped myself in my thoughts of the walk ahead.

When I conceived the idea of walking around Norfolk I thought it would be hard work but straightforward. My first strategy had been to walk as many miles as physically possible in the early stages then coast in toward the end. On that occasion I had taught myself the meaning of the phrase ‘blistering pace’ and ruined my feet on the first day. The intervening two years' worth of walking had, at least, served to prepare me for this walk.

It was important this walk was successful as I’d given a promise that I would complete it before my son’s third birthday and now that was now only three months away. This was my last chance to complete the walk or wait until retirement.

As I sat my eyes fell on the hands of the grandmother opposite me, resting on the table; she had strange tattoos on each of the knuckles of her hands made up of four short vertical lines crossed by a perpendicular one. Lifting my eyes I noticed another set on her chest just above her breasts. I tried to peer at them discreetly.  They could’ve been faded letters but I didn’t want to stare so instead I turned my gaze out of the window.

Great Yarmouth SignThe train trundled along the railway line beside the River Yare.  On one side we passed by the brick and tile eastern suburbs of Norwich and on the other sunlight glittered from the river’s rippling surface through waving green leaves. Having left the city the land turned to low rolling agricultural fields boarded by hedges and trees. The line skirts these as the train called at the villages along the way; Brundall Gardens, Brundall, Lingwood and Acle. The town of Acle marks a change in the terrain which becomes the flat fields of Halvergate Marshes that stretch away, east and south, to the hazy horizon.

Arriving at Great Yarmouth’s Vauxhall Station I stepped from the train and was immediately swept along by the tide of holiday makers, off the platform, like flotsam, on to the station forecourt. I crossed a road and stood alone beside the first way marker of the Angles, Way. I extracted my son’s teddy bear, Barnaby, from my rucksack and I perched him on the finger of the marker, ‘Angles’ Way Burgh Castle four and a half miles’, it declared. I photographed the bear but was troubled by an old nigglingBarney the Teddy Bear on the first Angle's Way Marker doubt, would I complete the two hundred and twenty seven miles around Norfolk this time? I snapped the picture, put Barnaby back in the rucksack, stowed my doubts too and took the first step of my journey.  

The holidaymakers had disappeared over the old iron bridge across the River Bure and I was attracting curious looks from drivers heading to the nearby ASDA store. It was time to make a start so I headed over the bridge.  This bridge, in the past, had carried my parents and I over the river for days at the seaside, much like today’s tourists. I hurried across the bridge recalling how alarmed I’d been, as a child, of the sight of the greenish brown water visible through the gaps between the wooden planks of the deck.  In defiance of tradition I turned right and made my way over the larger Haven Bridge, taking in the view, across the far parapet, of the second longest quay in Europe, apparently.

The Angles Way runs from Great Yarmouth seventy eight miles, south and then west, following the courses of the Rivers Waveney and Little Ouse, to Knettishall Heath near Thetford. The path passes through a riverside suburb of neat terrace houses, past boat yards; then suddenly out into countryside The Breydon Bridge and then under the Breydon Bridge at the mouth of Breydon Water, the large estuary to the west of Yarmouth. This white cantilever bridge is a landmark for miles around and lifts to allow river traffic to head up and down the rivers. 

This modern bridge lies almost in the position of the old Breydon Viaduct which used to carry the railway line connecting the Yarmouth Beach and South Yarmouth railway stations.  The lines are long gone now as is the steel swing bridge.  It was, however, one of these lines that served to inspire me all those years ago when I came across, in the mid-seventies, the dashed line of a former railway wending across the creased paper of an Ordinance Survey map between the eastern suburbs of Gorleston and the town of Belton.  I thought then maybe I would be able to follow that line around Norfolk.  Bruce Chatwin had his Songlines and I have my ghost lines. 

The A12 road now follows the line of the railway while the path follows the flood defences on the curving southern shore of Breydon Water as it heads toward Burgh Castle. This area is well known for its wildfowl but on this occasion only an occasionally a gull swept overhead gliding on the steady breeze beneath the light grey overcast.  The wind blew across the mud coloured water of the estuary as it curved away to the south.  I walked without shelter as the banks of the flood defence were shorn of their summer foliage.  But I was afforded great views of the marshlands that occupied me as I progressed.

I only encountered a solitary dog walker on the path until I came to Burgh Castle. Here I stepped aside to allow a walker to pass me in the opposite direction. We exchanged ‘Hellos’ and I mentioned I was attempting to walk around Norfolk; his was a more modest walk to Great Yarmouth. He wished me luck on my journey and I watched him depart, he was tall and his long strides soon carried him out of sight.

I arrived at Burgh Castle, climbing a steep tree shrouded wooden stair from the riverside path I came to a field before the northern wall of the Roman fort, Gariannonum, and made my way into its interior.  This fort was built in the third century AD as part of the Roman Saxon Shore built to protect Britain from the marauding Anglo-Saxons. Now three well preserved sides remain of this impressive rectangular structure.

Rob's Rock Burgh Castle At the southern wall I seated myself on a small flinty remnant of the wall, which I’ve modestly named Rob’s Rock, in my own honour, of course. It’s high above the river and offers panoramic views west across the marshes. Around it a ring of dried grey mud has formed from a mixture of the Roman mortar and the action of sitters’ feet. I sat on it overlooking the Rivers Yare and Waveney, the fort’s western wall having long since fallen into the river. To my right lay the flat grey brown expanse of Breydon Water, straight ahead of me was the River Yare, snaking across the marshes to Norwich, with the black tower of Berney Arms mill erect against the flat landscape.  To the south the marshes follow the River Waveney, my course for the next few days.

The sun was breaking through the overcast; I could see the vapour trails of an airliner passing overhead. Below me a cruiser chugged its way up the Waveney its wake indenting the surface of the water.  I got Barnaby out my rucksack again and placed him on Rob’s Rock and took a couple of pictures. While I was placing him back into my rucksack a family came up a path from the river, at their head a boy of about seven ran pushing his bike up the slope of the ground, its wheels bouncing over the uneven grass. ‘Look, Dad, a Roman fort’, he cried excitedly, ‘a real Roman fort!’ He ran past and jumped on his bike.  The boy’s father followed, puff and panting, plodding slowly uphill, pushing his own bike. Further behind them the rest of their family, in a group, walked their cycles slowly up the path.

From the fort the Angle’s Way diverts back to the Waveney along a very narrow path before turning left past the Fisherman’s pub.  Looping to the right through a marina it then turns back to the river and another turn to the south-east onto a green lane leads to the town of Belton.

The lane deposited me on Station Road. I walked along its length near to where the old railway line used to bisect the town, Belton was linked to Great Yarmouth by rail, before the line closed in 1959. The way turns right opposite the Railway Tavern. The lane is lined with attractive houses and trees but as it turns south west it becomes sandy as it passes between Belton Common and Caldecott Hall. I took a rest at the entrance of the hall where golfers crossed between the two sides of the course. I sat watching the golfers pass me, I thought of Mark Twain’s remark about the pastime, ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled’.

I walked on and recalled the family who’d cycled past two years previously trailing a little girl behind them. Her bike sank into the sand and she finally threw down it down in disgust and screamed out to her mum and dad. Returning they tried to cajole her into getting back on the abandoned bike. I’d drawn level the girl’s mother and she spotted my map and said they were lost. I gave them directions to a parking place in the Waveney Forest where they would, hopefully, be met by her parents.

Turning toward the village of Fritton I passed the Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the indifferent horses watched my progress. The day was warmer now and I was beginning to become a bit over heated. On the edge of the A143 I found the traffic between Great Yarmouth to Beccles very heavy and I wandered nervously along the grass verge waiting for a gap to cross to the entrance of Fritton Lake Country Park.

Veering away from the A143 the Angles Way passes down a sunken path over hung with trees to the western side of Fritton Decoy. The lake at nearly two miles long nearly bisects the isle of Lothingland (the island formed by the rivers Yare, Waveney and Oulton Broad and Lake Lothingland).  I crossed a metal bridge, over a small stream; as I passed I made it resonate with my footsteps. At its far end I rested on the steps. On my first attempt, two years earlier, this was the point where I realised I brought enough water to cope with the heat of that earlier day’s walk.

Pressing on I made my way uphill before turning left on to a lane to Herringfleet Hall.  Road walking isn’t pleasant, at any time, but the weather was good and the traffic was light, only one delivery driver made a serious attempt to kill me, forSt Mary at Ashby which I felt very grateful.  After passing the hall I climbed a style on the right of the road and I found myself in a dark wood.  I quickly made my way through it before emerging on to open fields.

Following a series of paths that laced themselves around field edges I came to a church standing on its own in the middle of the fields St. Mary’s at Ashby just south of a junction of four paths, this junction is by all accounts ancient and the track running past the church is a medieval road.  I’d been here before and I knew there were a couple of benches on which I could take a welcome rest.  Divesting myself of my rucksack I placed it on the first of them while I went into the churchyard.  I took a picture of the intriguing tower of the church round at the base, hexagonal for the upper two thirds. But I was drawn back to the poignant memorial stone in the fence. It is a testament to young lives cut short far from home, it reads:

To the memory of;

1st Lt. Ralph W. Wright

Lt. Jack W. Roper

Lt. Richard Curran

Lt. Carl A. Herrmann

S/Sgt Randolph C. Moore

Who lost their lives near this place on May 7th 1944.

Also on April 8th 1945

Lt. Russell P. Judd

F/P. Louis S. Davis

The former men came from a B17 Flying Fortress from the 100th Bomb Group stationed at Thorpe Abbotts, nicknamed the "Bloody Hundreds". Setting out in the morning of 7th May 1944 for a raid on Berlin the plane caught fire and crashed after the pilot fought to maintain control of the plane while five members of the crew made their escape. The two other names are the pilots of a pair of P47 Thunderbolts from the American 5th Emergency Squadron based at Halesworth.  Their planes collided over Fritton Lake one crashing into the lake and the other into fields nearby.

I recall, as an eleven year old, in 1972, visiting Fritton Lake and seeing a propeller blade from a P47 that had been recently recovered from the lake and being excited at a piece of wartime hardware. These days I feel sadness at the thought of the tragedy and the waste of human life.

I was shaken out of my thoughts by a father and son turning the corner from Snake Lane, the direction of Lound to the east, and now noisily advancing up the path toward me.  Drawing near to me they asked me how the walking was going and I volunteered my story of walking around Norfolk.  The father pointed out that I was, quite correctly, in Suffolk and I countered that it was a mere detail.  He was an accountant who, he said, spent a lot of his time commuting into London and was taking the opportunity to have some fun with his young son. His first reaction to my story was one of disbelief and ridicule but it gave way to an impression of envy and understanding. They wished me luck and they waved enthusiastically as I went on my way.

A cottage at SomerleytonI walked the last few miles into the village of Somerleyton, famous for the nearby Somerleyton Hall a Victorian mansion built in an Anglo-Italian style. In nineteenth century the hall was owned, and rebuilt, by the entrepreneur Samuel Morton Peto. Peto, in partnership with his cousin Thomas Grissell, was extensively involved with the expansion of the railways in the early-mid eighteen hundreds; in addition their company constructed many famous landmark buildings in London not least of which are the brick sewer network and Nelson’s Column. So prominent was Peto that he became an MP, initially in Norwich, then Finsbury and eventually Bristol. He even had involvement with the financing of the Crystal Palace But as is the way with such stories, Peto went bankrupt, had to resign his seat, went into personal imposed exile in Hungary and eventually returning to England and dying in eighteen eighty-nine. He’s barely remembered today his name is recalled in Peto’s Marsh near Oulton Broad.

I paused under the village sign, a Viking astride a long ship, and weighed up the pros and cons of pushing on to Oulton Broad or going to the local pub, the Duke’s The Duke's  Head Somerleyton SuffolkHead. The pub won. The Duke’s Head is a traditional country pub redone in a modern gastro-pub format, with real ales and the usual beers, and the food’s not bad either. It was busy with a wedding party who milled around me as I ensconced myself at one of the outside tables, spreading my trusty ordinance survey map on its rough wooden surface. 

A wedding guest came and sat at my table. A middle aged woman with yellowed blonde hair engaged me in conversation and as was now becoming usual I told her about the walk. She, for her part, was living in Dubai where her husband works in the oil industry.  We chatted until my wife and son arrived and I took my leave of the wedding guests. After buying my wife a drink I placed my son in the lower branches of a tree and we played together for a while in the afternoon sunshine overlooking the marshes beside the River Waveney.  Then we set out on the long journey across Norfolk to our home for the first week of the walk, Weathercock Barn.

Weather: Hazy at first clearing through the morning to bright sunshine

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