The Great Norfolk Walk
Bob Cains

Day 5 - The Angles Way- Harleston to Thelnetham


Summary - Harleston to Thelnetham, Distance 22.2 miles (35kms), Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps 156 & 144

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Day - 5 Harleston to Thelnetham
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I was behind schedule, I had intended to have covered at least sixty miles, and I had covered only fifty-one of the seventy eight of the Angles Way or of the two hundred and twenty-seven of the Great Norfolk Walk.  I should have been near the start of the Peddars Way at Knettishall Heath. I needed a big walk.

Harleston was busy again and we struggled to find a parking space but in the end we squeezed into a supermarket car park.  I hugged my son and kissed my wife goodbye then headed off on my way.  I turned to leave them and felt a lump in my throat it would have been easy to have given up the walk then and there.

I walked out of the town centre carefully looking for the Angles’ Way’s southerly exit sign; I’d missed it every other time passing through Harleston.  Along the Mendham Lane that I’d walked down the previous day. I found the sign beside a grey gabled house just my the guide book said…

Map of the Angles Way…OK the sign was a little overgrown by ivy but I was surprised to have overlooked a four by three foot map.  It was an illustrated map of the Angles’ Way – from Great Yarmouth to Knettishall Heath.  The towns along the way were shown and some of the monuments such as Thelnetham Mill, Burgh and Mettingham Castles.  The sign’s condition wasn’t too bad; a few burn marks, a little graffiti and some damp but legible nonetheless. I took a tissue from my pocket and gave the sign a cursory wipe and stood back to admire its elegant simplicity. It gave an impression of the distance I had travelled – about two thirds of the path’s length.

I headed back to the A143, where it bypasses Harleston to the south.  Climbing a wooden stile I found myself at the top of a flight of concrete stairs down the face of the embankment to the level of the road.  I was about to step out on to the carriageway a when figure, of a man in a white shirt and tie, emerged out from the bushes on the opposite side of the road.  He stood, with his back to me, holding a clipboard and took notes for a while before disappearing back into the bushes.  It was such an incongruous sight that I stepped back off the road missing a gap it the traffic, by the time I’d managed to cross the road he had vanished.

The ground continued to descend gently into the Waveney river valley.  I followed a lane until the Way leaves it, to the south, over a meadow where the path crosses the Waveney back into Suffolk.  I paused in the shade, on the bridge, to watch the soothing dark water flow over a weir as it passed beneath me.

From the river the Way switched backed around a house, then a couple of cottages on to the corner of a field. This had been an easy path before, between field and wood but there wasn’t a gap between the crop of maize and the head-height stinging nettles. With care I forced a passage through them holding my rucksack before me as a shield. On the far side I came to a farm gate and beside it a stile which I proceeded to climb.

As I leant forward my rucksack, that I had slung over one shoulder, swung round and over balanced me, pitching me forward in a somersault.  I landed on my back on the ground with a thud. Winded I lay there unmoving looking at the clouds sliding across the blue sky, faintly I thought, ‘What a beautiful day,’, ‘I could just lie here for the rest of it’.  Then, other thoughts of the folly of my adventure chased around my mind for a few seconds.

Contemplating my circumstances and state of mind I continued my prosprate repose for a few moments.  Fortunately nobody came along and eventually I raised myself on to one elbow, no damage except for my pride, and then got, a bit stiffly, to my feet.  After all, I had a journey to complete.  Proceeding from the place of my downfall I soon came to the fields of Instead Hall Farm.  Untroubled cows were scatteredInstead Hall Farm Sign around the field as I walked by them.  They stood chewing the cud, and watched this lone walker pass by.  I had travelled this way before on the previous two years’ walks, perhaps they remembered me.

On the 2003 walk I had managed to confuse the farmer’s wife and her grandson with my addled request for directions. In my poor condition, I had kept asking her for directions to Instead Hall Farm, not realising I was already there. Finally I grasped what she was saying and I bid them goodbye stating I had another ten miles to go and walked away with the young boy calling after me, ‘Ten miles, only ten miles to go!’.

In 2004 the meadow on the approach to the farm had been very muddy and I picked my way across it as the farmer was calling in the cows. He held a flexible electrified ribbon across the gateway while the cows gathered around us. I said my ‘Hello’ and asked him how things were with the weather and all.  He replied in laconic sentences that things were tough and gave me no other reaction until he realised I couldn’t get by and lowered the ribbon so I could hop over it.

This year it was different again the cows stood scattered around the meadow while beyond the farm’s barn a tractor moved busily to and fro.  A couple of sheep dogs lay near the farmhouse and, upon laying eyes on me, leapt to their paws and ran toward me.  The youngest of the pair slipped nimbly through the metal gate and approached me barking.  Fortunately when I called out a friendly ‘Hello, boy’ he stopped in his tracks and began to wag his tail.  I walked by him he set in beside me following me at a trot, through the gate and along the farm track, stopping only as the older dog barked at me.  Despite my encouragements to the contrary the young dog continued to follow me along the track and out on to a narrow country lane.  As I stood there telling the stupid mutt to go back the farm a motorcycle hurtled round the corner narrowly missing me and the dog but the rider, as he passed, called out to the dog and it charged after him back down the track.

I paralleled the course of the River Waveney; through paddocks and meadows, accosted by horses, cows and alarmed by the occasional bull.  The Way turned right over the River Waveney along an avenue of trees to the village of Brockdish.

Here, the Angles Way performs an unnecessary loop around the village and as I didn’t want to be tempted by the pub I took the slip road, to the A143.  At the road's junction with the A143 there remains a piece of redundant highway, left by the straightening of the main road.  Beside it stands a gas pumping station with an Angles Way marker on it.

Redundant piece of the A143 roadThis is a poignant place for me as two years before, on my first attempt, I reached this place in a state of near collapse.  The soles of my feet had been reduced to a collection of blisters, both heels were each a single large blister, several toes were individual blisters and the balls of each foot had developed intensely painful pressure sores.  I had hobbled into this sheltered lane on the third day of that year’s walk and felt every step of the fifty miles I had covered.  I couldn’t continue so I took my rucksack and put it down on the narrow tarmac path and lay in the blazing sun and closed my eyes. Laying quietly I listened to the traffic beyond the hedge as it roared by but it was drowned out by the internal turmoil, the struggle between the urge to quit and the deep emotional need to carry on.  The tumult had continued for a few minutes then I opened my eyes, felt marginally better got to my painful feet and carried on.  I didn’t need any relief this time but did need to press on.

I followed the path, turned left, down into the valley of the river where it traces the course of the river. It describes an indented loop opposite the village of Hoxne on the far side of the river.  Hoxne is an interesting place. It not only gives its name to an inter-glacial period, it also is the site of a remarkable Roman find.

In 1992 Eric Lawes, found a hoard of over 14,000 gold and silver coins as well as spoons and jewellery. It was a substantial find and he was awarded £1.75 million for it.  When I read about the find, at the time, I couldn’t help but think of the people who had hidden the treasure all those centuries ago fleeing from an unknown foe, hoping to one day recover their treasure which, of course they never did.  These days the Anglo-Saxon settlements are viewed merely as change of overlord but I can't help but feel that there was a lot of blood split in the process and the owners of this treasure were fleeing for their livres.  With a shiver I shook off this melancholy thought and hurried along the Way beside the river until it turned uphill again.

I crossed the A143 and headed north then west to the village of Scole.  It was in the Scole Inn that I was deposited by my wife after my first day's walk and I was in such sorry state that the staff brought food to our room to spare me having to walk to the dining room.  The Angles’ Way takes the walker to the north of the village over the dual carriageway of the A140 Norwich to Ipswich road. I paused on to the bridge over the A140.  From this vantage point I was astonished by the speed of the traffic, and relieved I didn’t have to dodge through it.  On the far side of the bridge I had to negotiate a stretch of road.  This wasn’t at all pleasant.  It carried traffic eager to get to the A140 and had a couple of blind bends but I made my passage as quickly as possible and turned off to the south into open countryside once again.

This was the first time I’d taken this cross country route, that arcs to the south toward the A1066 road, preferring previously to follow a country road toward the hamlet of Frenze. This year I kept to the proper path tracing the edges of ploughed fields that offered views south over the tree filled Waveney River valley.

Needing a rest I seated myself at the foot of an electricity pylon.  Taking in the view I could see the A140 curving into the distance to the south while the A143 bisected it east to west.  Immediately to the west I could make out the rooftops of the town of Diss.  This was familiar territory and as my mother’s family had originated from the town, I guess it’s my ancestral home.  I felt that I was moving through my own family history.

Norwich to London Intercity train The path headed west and then north and passed Frenze Hall with its small redundant church.  The Angles Way is joined from the north by the Boudicca’s Way, after queen of the Iceni who rebelled against the Roman occupation.  I crossed a small stream and walked along a rough track toward the embankment of the Norwich to London railway line dodging a four by four belting down the track.  Spewing gravel and dust it disappeared under the railway track.  On top of the embankment a London bound intercity train had come to a halt, the driver peering from the cab door down the track toward Diss station.  He jumped down from the engine and began to walk down the track donning a fluorescent jacket.  Looking up I called out, ‘Trouble ahead?’, ‘Fuck knows’ he replied tersely and continued along the track.  I walked under the line and made better progress than the travellers on the train into Diss.

Diss is a small historic town on the Norfolk – Suffolk border with a population of just over six thousand seven hundred inhabitants.  I entered it through its north-eastern suburbs of neat houses before passing on to the older centre.  Rejecting my normal practice of having a pint in the first pub I come to on entry to a town or village I went instead to the First World War memorial on First World War Memorial at Saint Mary's Diss Norfolk the western wall of Saint Mary’s, the 13th century church on Mount Street, at the northern end of the town centre.  I was here as an act of remembrance as the name of my maternal grand-uncle, Cpl. R. Bryant, is inscribed on the memorial.  Reginald Bryant was the brother of my grandfather, Clarence Bryant, and one of six brothers who served in the First World War.

Reggie was killed in Mesopotamia and his is one of more than forty thousand names on the Basra memorial in Iraq.  With British forces, at that time, and their Allies, in Iraq I reflected how often history repeats itself and how often our leaders never seem to learn from it.

Reggie is accompanied on this memorial by a Private P. Bryant, not one of hisClose up of Cpl R Bryant's name brothers but perhaps a cousin.  It was Reggie’s story that I pondered as I stood there, shoppers and traffic passing by me, how although he died in 1916, his death impacts on my life, and my family, to this day. He died on the 22nd April, 1916 while my grandmother, Patience, was pregnant with his child in Britain. His son, also Reginald was born in London later in the year.

Things may have just stopped there, a simple story of a child born out of wedlock, a war baby, but this is where fate takes a hand.  Reginald’s brother Clarence met Patience and they married, eventually moving to after he had served in France.  Another moving aspect of this story is that Reggie junior was left in London with his grandmother as it wasn’t seemly in those days for a woman to be in possession of an illegitimate child.  It was going to be twelve years before Reggie was reunited with his mother and stepfather, and several brothers and sisters from Clarence and Patience’s marriage.

Following his grandmother’s death he was despatched by her ‘partner’, by train, to Norwich with an address card around his neck bearing the name and address of his mother.  I don’t know how welcome he was made to feel but he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Norwich, including my mother, in a family that was to be traumatised by the subsequent world war.  But that’s another story.

Taking off my rucksack I rummaged through its contents to locate a small plastic folder containing a selection of photographs. I found a copy of my grand uncle and grandfather from 1913.  In the picture they stand leaning against the rails of a wooden fence in well presented matching pin-stripe suits, wearing flowers in their buttonholes, so I presume they were at a wedding.  How poignant to think that a year later they would be swept up in the maelstrom of the First World War.

Around me the guests of a wedding were emerging from the church so I took a quick picture and stepping over the barrier I touched a finger to my granduncle’s name on the memorial.

The town centre was bustling with mid-week shoppers and I walked amongst them on the mainDiss Town Sign thoroughfare, Mere Street.  At the Mere itself I stopped at a cream and brown ice cream stall standing beside an old Morris Minor van.  As the day was now very hot I grabbed a quick vanilla ice cream. The guy who served me was lean, of middle years and eyed me curiously. ‘Are you walking eh?’  I said that I was.  I gave him my usual story about the Great Norfolk Walk and this was my third attempt and I was hoping to get to Thelneatham today.

He reacted with an impressed tone and started to question me about the practicalities of doing such a long walk and how long it would take.  He looked at my equipment, asking what the components were, ‘You carrying your own water?’

I had a flexible drinking tube attached to the right shoulder strap of my rucksack that led to a Platypus water bottle – a polyurethane water bag – inside the body of the rucksack. I explained that all I had to do was to bite on the mouthpiece of the drinking tube and suck to drink the water thus dispensing with the irksome need to stop, take off the rucksack, get a bottle out, drink the water and then reverse the whole process.

‘And what’s that?’ pointing at the metallic grey ellipse on the left shoulder strap.

‘That’s my radio, pedometer and clock,’ I offered.

‘You’re pretty hi-tech’, he laughed and so did I.  It wasn't for me to tell him that the, pedometer kept resetting itself, the clock never set properly and the only component that worked with any reliability was the radio, tuned to Radio 4, of course.  I took my leave of him and strolled to the edge of the Mere and seated myself on one of the benches at the water’s edge.

Diss Mere view back to Saint Mary's ChurchThe six acre Mere is a natural lake formed during the last ice-age and it is the focal point of the town which surrounds it and lends the town an attractive natural arena.  The Mere is reputed to be eighteen feet deep with a fifty foot layer mud beneath that. It’s a very English place; I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to find a Beowulfian monster down there.  On this day it was thronged with people; mothers and children feeding ducks, while elderly folks simply sat with me, on benches, enjoying the view.  And what a view; the buildings on the opposite shore crested the higher ground, while the green of the trees and grass form a lush surround to the Mere.  I relaxed on the bench, a luxury on a long walk, and hungrily consumed the ice cream while I watched all the people enjoying a sunny day.

Crossing the A1066 I followed the Angles Way to Denmark Street that leads south from the town centre to Fair Green.  Here on the green another Angles Way board proclaimed the path but the way marker gives the impression that it turns right across the green.  In previous years I’ve wasted hours looking the ‘official’ route, so this year I headed past the Cock Inn and over the Denmark Bridge, over the Waveney, turning west along the Ling Road.

Road walking, again, I hate it.  The usual dangers of having to be really alert to oncoming traffic take away the pleasures of walking and several times I had to bury myself in the hedgerow to avoid being run over by inattentive morons.  So imagine my dismay to hear the excessive throaty roar of a boy racer exhaust behind me.  I didn’t have anywhere to go as the steep embankment was overgrown.  I half turned to see an old white Vauxhall Nova, with go-faster body kit, barrelling down the middle of the road.  With screeches of derision bottles flew from the open windows of the car as it passed me.  Then it sped off into the distance narrowly avoiding a Ford Fiesta rounding a corner from the opposite direction.

A bit shaken I redouble my pace and I came to an area of heath with gorse bushes and enough space on the verge for me to avoid setting foot on the carriageway.  I referred to my map this was Wortham Ling, a large area of heath land to the south of the Waveney.  It was quite flat, with occasional stands of goldenrod, its bright yellow flowers contrasting against the dark green leaves. Looking at the map again I saw that just north of the river was Roydon Fen on the western edge of Diss.

It gradually dawned on me that the Fens started at Diss.  I’d always envisaged that they were confined to the area immediately south of the Wash… Alright, I know “Fen” is a term sometimes used for a low lying area of marsh or bog.  Norfolk must have been really isolated in earlier times.

Saint Mary's Church Wortham SuffolkI made my way over a series of fields until I came to Saint Mary the Virgin Church, Wortham.  This small church stood alone except for the large farm it abutted and was notable in that its semi-ruined tower is probably the largest example of a round tower in England.  It’s a full 10m across and while it tapers very gradually it has three distinct diameters.  The floors in the tower have long since disappeared and now a small wooden bellcote sits at the junction of the tower and the nave.  Its utilitarian 18th century style black timber panels contrasting with the grey-browns of the flint work and tiles.

On this walk I’d rounded the church from its eastern end and this time I made my way through the headstones in the graveyard and I came to the war memorial at the edge of the cemetery.  The names on it were, in the main, from the First World War.

The dedication reads:

In Grateful Memory of the men of this parish who fell in the Great War 1914 – 1918, Faithful unto death.However, it was two names that caught my eye; Arthur Bryant and Roland W. Bryant, perhaps another brace of my relatives who laid down their lives for this country.  With a sigh I passed through the latch gate and left the church behind me.

Heading up hill from the church I followed the Way along a small country lane before turning left out across large open fields on the crest of the hill.  I recalled how much pain I had been in two years before as I dragged my protesting body across the fields.  I turned up another sand strewn lane and then west on to a track.  It was flanked by buildings on either side, farm buildings on the left and residential on the right. These caught my eye, they were roofed with turf.  Quite novel, I thought.

While I stood looking at them a couple of young lads came running along the veranda, stopping at the sight of me they said ‘Hello’ and I replied with a ‘Hi’.  A male voice called from behind them stating lunch was ready and a fair-haired guy in a check shirt came out on to the veranda and scooted the boys inside.  Turning to me he asked if I was ‘OK for the Way?’ I said I was and headed up the track.  Looking back at the house I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful place it was to bring up kids.

At the end of the drive I came upon a small orchard with a small homemade bench overlooking it while the ground gently fell away back down toward the River Waveney and Redgrave Fen.

I’d followed the path down to the Low Road running at the edge of the marshes beside the river.  This road was easy to walk along and the verges were not high and without hedges, so I could see any approaching vehicles.  The only noise, and dust, came from a large tractor harrowing a field ahead of me.

The infant River Waveney Following the road through a pair of right angle bends I came to a couple of homely bungalows on the right.  To the left of the second bungalow the Angles Way runs beside a beech hedge to a low metal footbridge over the infant River Waveney, now choked to a narrow neck of a stream by reeds on either bank.  I rested on the step of the bridge as I had done a couple of years before, but this time, to my relief, I wasn’t experiencing excruciating pain from my feet.

Crossing over the Waveney I walked along its northern shore, the Norfolk side, by the Great and Middle Fens until I came to a sluice gate across the river.  This is at the edge of Redgrave Fen, famous for its Giant Raft Spider.  The sluice serves to retain the water to prevent the fen from drying out; there was a very real risk of this happening in the past.  I crossed the sluice into the trees on the edge of the fen to find them, unsurprisingly, rooted in sucking black mud.  I carefully threaded my way along the path balancing myself on the blackened roots of the trees sticking prominently from the mud. This was much easier than my passage through the woods two years before.  Back then each tap or knock against these roots was excruciating making me gasp in pain.  Now I breezed along until I came to a section of impassable mud.  Fortunately an earlier walker had laid a few branches on to the mud, which were now semi-submerged in the mire.  Footbridge across the WaveneyTightening my rucksack straps I balanced across the branches to the firmer ground and then into the woods.  At the western edge of the woods I came across a newly finished wooden bench overlooking Redgrave Fen and with relief I seated myself upon it.

The sun was low in the west lending a golden blush to the marshes before me. The greens, of the trees and reeds, were subdued in hue but the blue of the sky was vibrant.  I sat appreciating the view when a young couple walked by.  They said ‘Hello’ and asked me what I was up to, with just a hint of suspicion, and I told them of my great walk.  They said it was quite an ambition but wished me luck and made their way into the woods.

I walked from the edge of the fen long the last few hundred yards of the Waveney to its source.  The path turns south and then right along a minor road to the B1113, I crossed it and was then in new territory, in the marshlands of the Little Ouse.  The sources of the Waveney and Little Ouse lay respectively to the east and the west of the road.  These few yards of land is the only connection the county of Norfolk has with the rest of Britain; the county is almost an island.  With a few scoops of a digger Norfolk could cut itself adrift from the rest of the country. 

I turned right off the road on to a green lane north toward the Little Ouse.  A broken four bar gate lay ajar at an angle across the track and I passed around it for a few yards beside a field to my right and a poultry farm to my left.  Inside the enclosure geese were beginning to waddle out of the shadows of the rearing huts into the evening sunshine. They looked like a crowd of people just finishing work, a few of the dominant ones taking up position on the feeders or the drinking troughs. These funny white fowls watched me with hundreds of beady eyes as I passed by.  Then I turned left at the end of the pens and I headed west alongside the infant Little Ouse.

Hinderclay Fen Walking by Hinderclay Fen I contemplated the flora and fauna of this fenland, particularly the Adder’s Tongue.  It is a small fern-like plant that is distinguished by a leaf blade and a fertile spike.  Always confined to fenlands it has become reduced in habitat through drainage and modern farming methods.  I also kept my eyes peeled for a sight of a bird, the Water Rail, without luck, for either, on this outing.

Eventually I came to the end of the fen walk emerging on to a narrow country lane leading past a few houses.  The Angles Way continues to the west but I headed straight ahead, to the south, into the village centre of Thelnetham to the White Horse pub.

On an earlier training walk I had this place recommended to me by a chap refurbishing Wortham Church.  He spoke particularly well of the food and I can now attest to its quality.  On my earlier visit I had arrived, at the pub, in the middle of a thunder storm and wandered into the place dripping wet.  A well-spoken guy, who had evidently over indulged in the beer, immediately accosted me with ‘Hail, Captain Scott, what brings you here?’ and proceeded to make fun of me.

He was obviously well known to everyone there and it was a great way to break the ice with the others in the bar.  Soon I was engaged in several conversations and I was able to tell them of my Great Norfolk Walk, of course, and they were kind enough not to show any resentment that a lot of it was in Suffolk.

Well on this occasion I wasn’t soaking wet but again I became the centre of attention regaling people of my adventures and what I intended to do.  And I took pleasure in their stories too.  A middle-aged woman recounted a tail of a sponsored walk in Derbyshire, called the ‘Light Weight Walk’, a walk of 40 miles in 24 hours?  Phew, what a walk.  In my tipsy state I actually miss-heard her and thought that she’d said 70 miles, but that leads to another story.  I had several more beers and when my wife and son arrived we all partook of the pub’s excellent food.  Then sated and refreshed we retired to our holiday cottage a mile up the road.

Weather: Good  Finished 16:00

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