Rivers and Railways
Summary - Cromer to North Walsham, Distance 25 miles(ish) (40kms), Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 133
Day 12 - Cromer to North Walsham
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In the morning I returned to the Cromer Tourist Information Centre this time I was in high spirits feeling invigorated and ready for the for the off. I had completed the one hundred and seventy one miles of the Angles Way, Peddars’ Way and Norfolk Coastal Path. I felt quite pleased with myself in a self laudatory sort of way as I peered at the information on the windows. Entering the centre I bored one of the ladies serving with my tale of the Great Norfolk Walk but I did put her time to good use by asking for bus timetables for Alysham and more optimistically North Walsham, just in case I had to make my own way back to Cromer.
I arrived on the southern side of Cromer’s town centre and stood beside the first way marker of a new path, the Weavers Way, fifty-six miles that would take me back to Great Yarmouth. As I prepared to set out I caught sight of the bedraggled prospect of a bag lady seated in a corner beside the raised beds of shrubbery around her lay her worldly goods. Her appearance caused me to reflect on the likely fate that would have probably befallen my own, mentally ill, mother if my father hadn’t cared for her. These thoughts cast a melancholy air over me until took a deep breath and I lifted my head up and strode purposefully out of the car park, around a playing field, leaving the town south along a minor road bound for Felbrigg Hall.
I walked briskly along a short length of path beside the road past a castellated house – Cromer House - with ponies in its front garden resting after being ridden over low jumps while their mistresses stood alongside them. The Weavers Way led me across the road into a ploughed field. I wasn’t put out by the absence of a clear path as it was still in the process of being ploughed but the fresh deep furrows made it though going. On the far side of the field I turned to survey my progress. Cromer lay concealed by thick trees but above it, poking over the treetops, stood the bright white tower of Cromer light house. I had finished with this coast of marshes, sand dunes and cliffs, it lay behind me, I turned away south to the land of the Norfolk Broads.
The higher ground was level and the going became better so I progressed rapidly crossing over the Norwich – Cromer rail line for the last time. I encountered a couple sitting at a field edge drinking cups of tea poured from their stainless steel flask that now rested on the ground at their feet. Greeting them I wished them a good day. They appeared in late middle age; fit and kitted out for walking, sensible waterproofs, leather boots with trousers tucked into socks. They told me they were on a circular walk out of Cromer of about six miles. I, of course, recounted the story of my walk around Norfolk, my several failures and how it looked like I was going to make it this time. They said it wouldn’t do for them but they wished me luck all the same. With that it appeared I was dismissed.
A few miles further along the path I wandered into the well ordered grounds of Felbrigg Hall. This stately home is in the care of the National Trust that maintains both the hall and its seventeen hundred and fifty acres of grounds. The Trust have persevered the beautiful landscape surrounding the hall. The architecture of the hall dates back to the Stuart period, the regular features contrast strongly with the soft beauty of the grounds. It’s one of my favourite halls to visit, meandering around the Georgian interior. However, the Weavers Way passes by the hall and its lake before leaving the grounds to the south.
The landscape gently undulates under harvested and ploughed fields downhill to the Scarrow Beck a tributary of the River Bure. These empty fields provide an open vista that served to emphasise the vastness of the Norfolk sky and I stood there marvelling at the bright blue dome above me. The ploughed soil lay in corduroy lines of rich browns merging into light tan patches where the underlying sandy soil protrudes through the darker earth.
Crossing into grass covered fields I spied ahead of me strange linier markings dark against the bright green. Nearing them I realised that they are where grass had been cut away to make turf. The path traced its way beside these fields until it deposited me beside the Sustead church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul where I spent a few minutes taking in the architecture of the church with its round tower. In the village centre I took a seat beneath the village sign, a triangular wooden sculpture with three blue dolphins surmounting a platform with the village name on each face. I sat at the foot of the sign for a while relishing the early autumnal sunshine before I moved off again.
Approaching the village of Hanworth from the east along a narrow lane I found my way barred by a white metal gate across the roadway. Although I was a little irritated by this impediment to my progress at the same time I was sanguine because I’d come this way before so I merely pushed the lock to one side and levered the gate open pushing it closed behind me.
Hanworth retains these gates as it has cattle grazing loose on its common but I’ve yet to see any of them trying to escape. On the west the common boarders the Scarrow Beck while the houses of the village stand either side of the main road, on higher ground, that passes through it exiting to the village to the west over the beck and a cattle grid.
To the south the village of Aldborough presented a much more substantial prospect with its houses nestling around the large village green. There are a couple of pubs which I would’ve liked to have visited but once again I was pressed for time.
I continued over more brown harvested fields and I followed the Weavers’ Way as it paralleled the course of the Scarrow Beck. Often the path was distinguished across the fields by a dark gash through the beige crop stubble. Bypassing or passing through the villages Alby, Thwaite, Calthorpe and Erpingham I arrived at the River Bure only to find my way blocked by an electrified cattle fence. I could see the footbridge I needed to get to on the far side but couldn’t determine how to get to it. Thinking I missed the path I followed the fence parallel to river hoping to find a gap. After a hundred yards or so I thought, ‘Sod this!’ took off my rucksack dropped it on the far side of the fence and then crawled after it under the electrified ribbon. Unscathed on the other side I reflected that having walked the best part of two hundred miles I wasn’t going to be deterred by such a simple obstacle.
I entered the parklands of Blickling Hall through a small car park that was busy for the day of the week, and the time of year. After a small wood I came to the edge of the mile long artificial lake, to the north of the hall, and a beautiful autumnal scene lay before me; the lake reflected the blue of the sky and small waves caught brilliant golden facets of the sunlight. I stood just inside gate by the lake and took in the view. Mature oaks, beeches and chestnuts boarded the grass running down to reeds at the lake edge. Amongst the reeds platforms dotted the lakeside with anglers relaxing beside their rods as they basked in the autumn sunshine. At the far end of the lake sat the majestic hall. While I stood taking photographs a pregnant woman walked by me pushing a fancy all-terrain buggy; with an excited toddler pointing at a pair of swans on the lake. Meanwhile another woman rode up on a push bike with a toddler strapped into a small seat behind her. Holding the gate open for her I commented on what beautiful day it was and she agreed. All over the parkland people seemed to be roaming; walking dogs, chasing children or simply strolling.
I walked around the northern end and down the western side of the lake to the hall. Nestled in the trees at its southern end, Blickling Hall was built between 1616 and 1627 is an impressive Jacobean house in the ownership of the National Trust. Its red-bricked facades with stone adornments, lead domed roofed towers, topped by chimneys and curved Dutch gables. The hall’s style is typified by the mullioned transomed windows looking out over the surrounding parkland. To the front of the hall the Dutch gables extend out from the hall and their line is continued by wall-like hedges of dark yew flanking the approach to the entrance. Standing before these gates I took a picture of this beautiful building recalling the first time I was brought to it on a coach trip with by my aunt who was always concerned for my cultural welfare.
Ahead of me lay a brief but time consuming arc on the southern side of the B1354 road to the outskirts of the town of Alysham . I had to walk along a short stretch of the same road back to the north before re-crossing to pick up the Weaver’s Way again. At this point I would have preferred to have to diverted into the town to the Black Boys pub for a couple of pints – Two years previously I’d staggered across the pub’s threshold after walking from Sheringham to find it had just been converted into a gastro pub, as I didn’t appear at my best the barman was reluctant to serve me until he heard my story. On this walk I debated whether to carry on; but if I did I would be left with another five miles to cover the next day. I called my wife to let her know I was pressing on to North Walsham. However, I didn’t realise, in my fatigued state, that I’d just made a big mistake from where I was standing, on the north east side of Aylsham, North Walsham is near to seven miles away, nearly an extra hour’s walking.
Returning to the Weaver’s Way I was taking to the course of a disused railway line, the Alysham to North Walsham line, that was once owned by the Midland and Great Northern Company, sometimes disrespectfully called the ‘Muddle and Get Nowhere Railway’, it now serves well as a recreational path. It’s straight and even, lined with trees and hedges of hawthorn sometimes enclosing it with their branches to shade the path. Here and there a small iron-railed bridge would carry the path over a ditch or stream allowing a brief view out over the surrounding countryside glowing golden in the evening sunshine. For the next two miles I continued to toy with the idea of diverting back to the pubs in Alysham, as I passed north of the town until I came to the A140 Norwich to Cromer Road.
After a hair-raising crossing of the busy A140, I gathered myself for the walk to North Walsham and set off with the fastest pace I could muster. The path was straightforward to follow variously leading the walker through tunnels of trees, under fire-brick bridges that once carried roads over the railway line and along the bottom of verdant railway cuttings.
With the sun setting behind me the shadows began to lengthen my pace began to falter and I started to stumble with fatigue. It was with some relief that I drew near to the outskirts of North Walsham. The approach to the town is a bit narrower than other parts of the path and it seems that the local residents use it as a dog toilet so I wasn’t surprised to find that I stepped in some dog shit, typical after all the cow and sheep crap I had avoided. The final section of the path into the town itself is a small stretch of fenced off grassy path; that I learned from previous experience is used almost exclusively dedicated to the ablutions of our canine friends. Avoiding it I took the normal street paths into the town centre and wearily ended my day’s walking.
Weather: Dry, sunny but with a cool chilling breeze Finished 18:30