The Great Norfolk Walk
Bob Cains


Day 3 - The Angles Way - Beccles to Homersfield


Summary - Beccles to Homersfield, Distance 17 miles (27.36kms), Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps 134 & 156

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  Day 3 - Homersfield to Harleston
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We had overslept; as a result we didn’t get to leave Weathercock Barn until 10:30.  My wife had to take her mother to hospital, in Norwich, and after a crazily abortive attempt to deliver me to Beccles I plumped for dropping off in the nearby town of Diss; there I could pick up the Anglian Coaches 580 service to Great Yarmouth at 11:02. After being dropped off and hasty goodbyes I found that the bus didn’t actually depart until 11:30.  So it was a long hot wait for the bus, beside the town’s main road near the entrance to the railway station.

Eventually the red and yellow Anglian Coaches bus did turn up and boarding it I joined my fellow travellers in a bouncy ride while we made our way through the villages and towns of the Norfolk/Suffolk border.  Being aboard the bus offered a new perspective to this journey as the distance to Beccles would probably take a couple of days to cover on foot.  Meanwhile I could spend my time looking from the windows with a transitory glimpse into peoples’ lives as we flashed by their houses.  Between the towns and villages I looked at my fellow passengers.  I was surprised by the number of people who used the service, particularly the elderly women who appeared to be travelling respectable distances; one was going all the way to Great Yarmouth.

When we passed through the leaving the town of Harleston, we found the road (a junction on the A143) blocked by an accident. A burgundy Nissan saloon lay slewed across the road the offside front wing and wheel a tangle of bent metal.  While to the left of the junction a silver Toyota had come to rest, at an angle, on the verge, its driver’s side panels crumpled like tin foil.  Police waved us through the wreckage while investigators surveyed the accident scene.

We arrived in Beccles at 12:45, the driver cursing at the road works in the narrow streets of the town, while I cursed at the lateness of the hour.  At the town centre I grabbed a pork pie, from a butchers and bought sun block from Boots, as the sun had become stronger.

Saint Michael's Church Beccles SuffolkI headed out past the fourteenth century St Michael’s church.  This is a splendid church with a tower that dominates the Beccles skyline.  At its western end I came across a terraced paved area on the high ground as it falls away to the Puddingmoor road.  I suspect it was built for the view, to the west, along the river valley of the Waveney.  It was framed by the nearby trees, of meadows dividing up the flat valley bottom as it stretched away to the west.  This scene was a leafy verdant one; this year's was not the soggy grey of the previous year or the dry browns of one before I reflected on my future and I considered my immediate past, I’d covered twenty eight miles from Great Yarmouth, another fifty were ahead of me to Knettishall Heath and the Peddars Way.

Heading out of Beccles I picked up the B1062 road heading west before turning off the road, south, on to a stony track. It was here on my first attempt that it began to dawn on me that perhaps I wasn’t going to make it around Norfolk.  The twenty-eight miles I’d walked the previous day had seriously blistered my feet and that day had been equally as scorching as the first. The combined effect of the heat, fatigue and the stony and dusty track took their toll and I had begun to hobble.  This year although hot and dusty again, I wasn’t in too bad shape, so far, and I made rapid progress to the bottom of the river valley.

Here the Angle’s Way threads its way along the southern edge of the Waveney valley, it’s flat terrain intersected by lines of trees to the north while the ground rises to the south.  Further along the path I could make out music drifting through the trees; I strained to catch the notes of a piano.  I fancied that it was coming from the houses built from the remains of Barsham Hall; looking south across the fields I could see the tower of Barsham church above some trees.  Catherine Suckling, Horatio Nelson's mother, was from Barsham where her father was rector.  I couldn't make out the tune but my spirits rose with the soaring notes.  I redoubled my pace passing the Geldeston Locks Inn, across the marshes to the north.  The Waveney, beyond this point used to be canalised, to make the river navigable to the town of Bungay; the lock gates lending their name to the pub, but the locks have fallen into disuse and they now mark the limit of navigation along the river.  I would have loved to have walked across the marshes to the pub for a pint but instead I left the river and made my way south, uphill, to the B1062 road.  I emerged on the roadside after struggling through a final patch of tangled thistles and nettles.

On the far side of the road I passed Shipmeadow church and I hunted for the Angles Way where it turns south away from the road.  I found the path but the sign had disappeared apart from a broken stump.  Stumbling uphill I drew level with the red brick pile of Shipmeadow workhouse, now converted into residential properties.  Turning I took a last look back at Beccles nestling in the Waveney Valley before resuming my journey.

The Way describes a loop to the south of the B1062 from Shipmeadow before turning north again toMettingham Castle Suffolk Wainford.  A notable part of this section of the walk is my discovery of Mettingham Castle.  The previous year, I had been struggling along a stretch of road once again and in a downcast state of mind I managed to miss a turn for the Way.  I was surprised to find myself walking by castle walls, the kind you would only see in a Hollywood movie.  Standing there I half expected to see Errol Flynn ride from the gates.  It was a worthy piece of serendipity and this time I deliberately walked to the gates take in their splendour once again.

I returned the way I had come and rediscovered the path where it disappeared, off the road, into a dark opening in a hedgerow. Trees closed over me and I followed a gentle gravel incline downhill.

Ascending again a quiet road walk led me uphill and while the road veered to the right the path itself carried on straight ahead.  I followed a corridor cut through the crop until I came to the top of Watch House Hill and below me lay the town of Bungay in a tight meander loop in the River Waveney valley.  On both sides of the river the flat green flood plain stretched into the distance divided into regular fields.  In some black and white Frisian cows stood out in relief against the emerald grass.  Descending the hillside I came again to the B1062 crossing it to dogleg into the lane for Ditchingham.

Nearing the river I found it overshadowed by the buildings of Wainford Mill on the either bank; on theWainford Mill southern bank the old Victorian ones were derelict, unused and overgrown their windows broken and boarded. Just over the river lay a modern industrial mill complex with articulated lorries and trailers arriving and departing from its gates. Past the entrance I was forced to return to the roadway again.

This was a particularly unpleasant stretch of road as once through the hamlet of Wainford there was nowhere to take shelter from vehicles. I scanned for the place where the Angles Way turns off the road according to my trusty ordinance survey map. I missed it, again!  After quarter of a mile of buttock clenching tramping I came, with relief, to a redundant junction to the A143. After relaxing I walked toward the Ditchingham roundabout while looking over my shoulder for a gap in the traffic.

At the roundabout I came across the world famous Bungay, actually Ditchingham, chickens.  These vivacious chickens, whether escaped or released, have established a successful colony on the A143/B1332 roundabout, just north of the town, and they spend their days scrabbling around the junction. Indeed their increasing numbers have prompted the local council put up signs up to discourage people from feeding them as the scattered food encourages rats. Hesitating at the roundabout I weighed whether to head into Bungay A Bungay Chicken and grab a pint at the Green Dragon. The pubs in the town have always provided a welcome diversion from walking.  Maybe I could visit St. Mary’s church where on Sunday, 4th August 1577 the spectral dog Black Shuck is said to have attacked the congregation killing two and injuring another.  It is thought, with some authority, that Black Shuck was Conan Doyle's inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles.  I wanted to follow the proper course of the walk and decided to forego the town with its various distractions and continue on the Angles Way as it traces the curved course of the River Waveney.

I sat at the edge of the trees chewing thoughtfully on a cheese sandwich I contemplated missing Bungay while the scent of the pines filled the air around me. I cast my mind back to the walk two year previous when I passed through Bungay and found solace in the Chequers Inn. Where I engaged in a conversation with a guy whose son was having a trial for Norwich City FC that day, I wonder how he got on.  Then I had been glad of the diversion from the growing pain emanating from my feet, the beer helped too, before heading off to the Angles Way on the western edge of the town. It wasn’t for the first time on that walk I wanted to quit; however I carried on nonetheless.  I pulled my copy of the Rambler’s Association The Angles Way Guidebook, from my rucksack and leafing through it I discovered that H. Rider Haggard, the author of King Solomon’s Mines, had lived at Ditchingham Lodge. While I mulled these thoughts a man emerged from the woods, on the far side of the driveway, and proceeded uphill toward me. As he approached I could see that he had a large pair of binoculars hung around his neck.  He gave a taciturn acknowledgement as he passed.  This was my first encounter with a bird watcher, on this walk at least, and he was true to type in that he didn’t particularly want to talk to a non-bird watcher.  Don’t get me wrong some of my best friends are bird watchers and perfectly sociable people they are too. It’s just when they get that unwavering focus on their quarry they quite lose sight of normal social niceties.  He disappeared into the trees while I finished my repast then I followed after him.  I found him a little further along the path but his binoculars were held to his eyes I don’t think he even noticed me passing.

The Angles Way and the Bigod Ways merge to follow the same course curving around Ditchingham Lodge along the high ground, the path sheltered by trees.  In the surrounding foliage I could make out derelict brick buildings perhaps the last remnants of bath houses of those fed by the cold springs found in the area.  On emerging from the trees I found the day warm and sunny, my spirits lifted with the temperature.

Bob Cains at the Earsham Gravel PitsI strode past the aptly named Cold Bath House and came to another great view out over the Waveney flood plains toward the village of Earsham.  The Way descended from the Bath Hills leading out on to a small country road running past a series of gravel pits to the north of the of Earsham.  I could see summits of  gravel mounds beyond the security fence like a range of small brown hills.  A single excavator worked backwards and forwards moving loads of shingle to form an infant mound.  I pressed on past the works entrance following the road dodging the occasional aggregate truck as it bowled down the road.

Again I stood on the side of the busy A143.  The road is wider and busier here and it was difficult to find a gap in the traffic big enough to scuttle across the road. Once on the far side I found that the path passes nearby the old railway station, the A143 now follows the line of the old Waveney Line (built 1860), into Earsham. I quickly walked through the village to the village sign opposite the Queen’s Head pub, tempted again but closed and unhitched my rucksack to relieve my shoulders.

Looking at the sign noticed it was of a large white mill topped by an Otter.  A reference to the nearby otter sanctuary that I’d been taken to on its opening day back in 1971 by my Aunt Cathleen and Uncle Frank, I felt surprised at the clarity of the memory, another grand day out.  I checked the time, it was after three, I could just stop here and call my wife to come and get me but I wanted to keep the mileage up and resolved to carry on to Homersfield six miles further (via the Angles Way).  I let my wife know where I intended to finish this day's walking, hitched the rucksack and set off at a redoubled pace.  Out of Earsham past All Saints church with its fourteenth century tower and squat spire, across a mill race via a narrow wooden bridge where a couple of lads were fishing and over the Waveney. I came to the B1062 yet again and crossed it for the last time I hoped.  The ground climbed steeply away from the floor of the flat green river valley and I took one last look, just as I did outside Beccles, back along it to Bungay.  I turned and headed to the crest of the hill, over it and the view disappeared from sight.

Remains of the runways at Flixton AirbaseThe ground was level here and it had been the wartime Flixton airbase.  During the Second World War it had been the home of the 446th Bombardment Group, 2nd Division of the 8th USAAF.  B-24 Liberator bombers were flown out of the base.  I had made Airfix plastic models of them as a kid they had seemed exciting, their surging power from their engines and lots of guns of course at the time. Now, I thought on the bravery of the young men flying those machines to face a implacable enemy a long way from home.  Today everything was calm, the planes gone, the hangers and buildings demolished even the runways now farm tracks or piles of ballast for new roads. Standing by one of the rubble piles I thought of the activity that must have happened here. 

The ground was level here and it had been the wartime Flixton airbase.  During the Second World War it had been the home of the 446th Bombardment Group, 2nd Division of the 8th USAAF.  B-24 Liberator bombers were flown out of the base.  I had made Airfix plastic models of them as a kid they had seemed exciting, their surging power from their engines and lots of guns of course at the time. Now, I thought on the bravery of the young men flying those machines to face an implacable enemy a long way from home.  Today everything was calm, the planes gone, the hangers and buildings demolished even the runways now farm tracks or piles of ballast for new roads. Standing by one of the rubble piles I thought of the activity that must have happened here.  And that wasn’t untypical for this region through the decades and especially during the Second World War when the countryside was dotted with RAF and USAF airfields. East Anglia was the flight deck of HMS Great Britain; the very air used to thrum with the sound of bombers and fighters forming up for missions to attack the Nazis. Even into my time, the Cold War, it was common for American and British military aircraft to be seen in the skies, which was great for a small boy.

I remembered what I was supposed to be doing and as the light was just beginning to fade, I snapped too. I headed straight down one of the taxiways to save time.  My view was constrained by a wall of cylindrical Black Swan Homersfieldhay bales to my right and mounds of runway rubble to my left but this didn’t matter as I was intent on getting across the old airbase as quickly as possible. Out in the open again I could see to my right (the North West) low grey poultry sheds snug against the ground. With these as a reference point I didn’t seem to be making any progress but of course I was running parallel to them.  At last I made it to the road running down from north-south Flixton village to St Peter South Elmham.

This was the last leg of the day I hurried past the Heavyland and Coombe Woods.  Then down a long sandy track through a belt of trees to Home Farm near Flixton Hall until I came to another sand and gravel works. The dark fresh pits were surrounded by mounds of tan gravel but turning west to walk beside the gaping pits I came to redundant gravel working landscaped and natural in appearance.  I’d walked by this lake the previous year, it had teemed with wildfowl and had been vibrant with colour but now the colour was draining from the scene as the sun began to set.

The sun was nearly at the horizon when I walked up to the Black Swan, on the north side of Homersfield and I made myself at home with a beer waiting for my wife and son to arrive.  The Black Swan is a great pub, one of the best on the walk, the beer’s good and the food is excellent so it wasn’t too difficult to make the decision, when they did arrive, to stay there for an evening meal before heading back to the Weathercock Barn.

 Weather: dry and hot Finished: 17:30

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