The End of the Angles
Summary - Thelnetham to Knettishall Heath, Distance 3 miles (5kms) , Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 144
Day 6 Thelnetham to Knettishall Heath
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We had been staying at the Weather Cock Barn near Market Weston just inside the Suffolk border mid-way between the towns of Diss and Thetford. The rationale for this was that each day I would be walking toward the barn thus cumulatively reducing the distance from my family. Well, all can say is it seemed like a good idea at the time. Arriving at the barn the owners had made us feel at home while I regaled them about the Walk. It’s only a mile to the south of the Angles Way and conveniently a farm track runs from the front door to Thelnetham where I’d left the Way the previous day.
So it was that in the early morning sunshine I set off with my wife and son waving me on my way as I walked down the track. Not for the first time, I could’ve easily given up the walk and just spent the day with them but of course I didn’t and continued down the track with a lump in my throat and fetters of regret slowing my steps. One last time I looked back and could see them both still standing beside the barn waving vigorously at me.
In Thelnetham I picked up the Angles Way and turned west again paralleling the Little Ouse River until I came to the village of Hopton on the B1111. The path doglegs through the village slipping between residential buildings before passing out again on to the fields around Hopton Fen. Unfortunately I missed a turn and ended up trying to make my way around the overgrown boundary of a field through chest-high stinging nettles until I returned to the Way at the eastern side of the fen.
Here the path was clearer and I proceeded rapidly until I came to an odd gateway formed of hay bales; they stood like drunken sentries at the sides of the track, leaning in toward the centre of the track. Beyond the land opened out into neat flat green meadows leading north to the Little Ouse River.
Crossing the river on a tiny wooden bridge I found myself in penned meadows on the northern side. A few hundred yards ahead of me, in a small pen, a man was bent over shearing sheep. Gripping them between his knees he deftly divested them of their fleece and moved them into another pen to his left. Taking a rest between sheep he spied me making my way toward him, ‘Hot day for a walk’, he said wiping sweat from his brow and taking a sip of water from a bottle. ‘And for shearing sheep’, I laughed in response. ‘Got far to go’ he asked, ‘About twelve miles’, I guessed. ‘Well good luck to you’, and turned back to his flock.
Making my way through the village of Gasthorpe I passed a chatting trio of women who wished me a ‘Good Morning’, in unison in reply to my ‘Hello’. Then I skirted the lawn in front of Riddlesworth School, once attended by Princess Diana. It’s imposing Georgian architecture standing erect in contrast to the soft rural scenery around it. Continuing along a tree lined track I came to a narrow country lane and turned left down it to Knettishall Heath Country Park.
In the lane sunshine was broken into golden shafts of flickering light through the stirring leaves; this caused a couple of dazzled drivers to nearly run me over. Eventually I reached the safety of the country park over a hump backed bridge.
This little brick, flint and stone bridge was one of places that had lodged in my memory as a child. I’d been brought here in the early seventies by my Aunt Cathleen and Uncle Frank in their beige Austin Allegro. While they sat, on a rug, by the river eating neatly cut sandwiches drinking coffee served from a vacuum flask I played at the water's edge near the bridge. Returning for a sandwich I told them of the bridge with a small coat of arms on its parapet and they told me that this area had once been part of a country estate. Chewing on a cucumber sandwich I felt on the very edge of the known world. Then this place had seemed unbelievably remote, the heath land and pine trees adding to the sense of isolation. At the time I hadn’t thought to ask the name of the place and as a consequence it took me nearly twenty years to find it again.
I felt quite familiar with this place as it was bright and sunny as I walked into the country park beside the bridge. I rummaged inside my rucksack for an old photo of a twelve year-old boy peering sulkily over the same parapet. I recalled that far off day had been a bank holiday and the newly opened park teemed with people. In contrast although the weather was kind there were only a pair of grandparents playing with their grandchildren and a middle-aged couple bedecked in denims and leathers walking a tiny dog.
Taking a seat at one of the wooden picnic tables I admired the beauty of the day with the clear late summer sunshine accentuating the vibrant colours of the trees by the river, their leaves tinted with the first hint of autumn and a faint scent of pine trees pervaded the air. The country park itself has become more developed with a central office and toilet block, car park and barriers to prevent people in cars, usually youngsters in clapped out Vauxhall Novas, getting in at night.
I sat at the table and in my mind looked back down the seventy eight miles of the Angles Way back to Great Yarmouth through the river valley of the Waveney. I thought of the lonely plodding days, the weary footslogging days up and down the sides of the valley. Although I wasn’t surprised by the absence of any other walkers on the way but I had missed some company nonetheless. I had however seen evidence of other walkers; of flattened grass and footprints on many of the stretches. I had completed the first leg. It had been beautiful criss-crossing the soft green meadowlands beside the river Waveney watching it turn from a broad waterway near the sea until it dwindled to a reed-choked trickle. Now, I would be leaving the fertile lands of the rivers behind and I was looking forward to the next path of the Great Norfolk Walk, the Peddars Way.