Summary - The A47 to Harpley Dams, Distance 15 miles (24.1kms) , Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 144
Day 8 - The A47 to Harpley Dams
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Having woken early and loaded our belongings into the car we bade our hosts' farewell. They waved as I reversed our car out of the barn’s parking space and we waved back. In mid-manoeuvre I knocked one of the driveway’s squat wooden posts over. I stepped form the car and offered profuse apologies to my host. He walked up to the post without concern and picked it up and said, ‘No harm done’. He showed me the flattened bottom of the post and it simply sat on the concrete, ingenious.
We made a brief visit back to our home in Norwich to pick up fresh clothes, check the mail and resupply our provisions. We left the city west along the A47 and travelled to the McDonalds Restaurant on the Swaffham bypass where I had completed the previous day’s walking. Inside we munched our way through our Big Macs and a Happy Meal while the sky darkened outside, the morning that had been bright and promising but now it had turned to rain.
I returned to the car and robed myself in my walking gear. Bidding my wife and son goodbye I walked to the start of the Peddars Way, on the north side of the A47. Looking across to the opposite side I was relieved not to have to cross the road today as there was a continuous stream of traffic to and from the nearby roundabout.
I turned and started to walk north only pausing at a gap in the hedge to call my wife on my mobile. In the distance I could just make out their tiny figures in the McDonalds, waving, I exaggeratedly waved back; then I turned away and headed up the path.
A short way along the path I came to a bridge over the redundant line of the old Dereham to Swaffham line that was once part of the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway). The spitting rain became heavier so I placed my rucksack on the parapet; I rummaged through its contents extracting my jacket and waterproof trousers. The jacket wasn’t a problem but the trousers got stuck on one of my walking boots. Hopping madly around with one foot through one trouser leg and the other wrapped around my foot, I eventually fell over. ‘Sod it’, I yelled as I thudded to the ground. Then sitting up I looked about me hoping my antics were unobserved; fortunately for my ego they were. I sat and untied the intransient boot took it out of the waterproofs and then put the leggings on again properly.
A misty drizzle enveloped me as I approached Castle Acre from the south. The higher ground here forms the southern edge of the River Nar valley. I began a descent into a vale stretching south from the main valley. Dripping oaks and pines lined the sides of the road where the Peddars Ways diverts off the carriageway to run parallel behind a hedge.
Two years before my feet had been in a terrible shape; I’d actively sought the softer grass to cushion my feet. Now the beads of water from the grass clung to my boots saturating them further so I returned to the road. The heat of that earlier year had been unbearable compounding the feeling of misery that stemmed from my feet. Checking my map, I found this area was called Bartholomew Hills. I stowed the map to protect it from the swirling rain and mist while a deep uncanny humming filled the moist air around me. It came from the overhead power-lines, the strange sound lent an eerie atmosphere to the place. I squelched as I approached and crossed the puddle strewn A1065 just avoiding a speeding car that threw up rooster tails of water.
I climbed uphill to South Acre at the summit I came across an odd sight. On a mound of earth a TV stood abandoned its screen staring sightlessly downhill to the village. Ah, the joy of fly-tipping. At the foot of the hill is a ford over the River Nar. As I arrived at it I happened upon a family crossing the footbridge. Allowing them to finish their passage they said ‘Hello’ to me and passed comment on the wet weather and that the Ostrich (pub) was open and warm. Thanking them I made my way across the footbridge and made my way into the village.
I passed through the impressive thirteenth century Bailey Gate on to Stocks Green in the centre of Castle Acre. I had at last come to a place with tangible historical remains. The village itself has twelfth century castle ruins, South Acre has its own moat and West Acre has the fine remains of a Clunac Priory dating from the eleventh Century. I’d been brought here, as a kid, and loved clambering over these ruins. This little village was very important in the Middle Ages and, of course, in Roman times as it lies directly on the line of the Peddars Way.
I stood on the edge of the tree lined village green taking in the sight of the Ostrich and Albert Victor pubs I was tempted to jack in the walk for the day. I’d staggered into the Ostrich two years before in terrible pain; my feet in cadaverous condition and I spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking – to kill the pain of course – chatting with my fellow drinkers, arguing with one of the local ‘locals’, that I was a local in the broader sense. All in all it had been a very enjoyable afternoon excepting where the young barmaid tripped over one of my painful feet but another pint soon made amends. I toyed with these memories, and the temptation, but despite the wet weather I felt the fear of failure pushing me on.
The Peddars Way leaves Castle Acre to the north-west along a country road that follows the straight line of the old Roman road up a gradual incline for nearly three miles. During the summer, this road can be busy with traffic. This is somewhat alleviated by the provision of a grassy path to the left of the carriageway for part of its length. Today the grass was far too wet for my liking so I stuck to the road taking my chances with the cars. It turned out the passage wasn’t too bad after all; the poor weather kept people at home I suppose. I was passed by just two or three cars of the less lethal kind. Trudging along in the intermittent rain I passed a place that evoked memories from the walk two years earlier.
I came to a narrow stretch of road, without a path, about a mile out of Castle Acre. I’d met a couple who were walking down the road from the north. These guys looked more hard-core walkers than I, with full-sized backpacks extending over their heads. The man, leading, greeted me, sweat glistening on his happy face. The woman, red-faced, was bent nearly double under her oversized burden. She looked as miserable as anyone possibly could be carrying a heavy pack on a blisteringly hot day. My painful feet kept me from these other peoples’ troubles and I continued past them along the road but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
It is such a joy to leave a road walk and this day’s example was no exception. Approaching Shepherds Bush, where the modern road turns right while the path carries on straight ahead, one last car hurtled round the bend and bore down upon me. I was forced to jump up on to the roadside bank. The car passed close through a large puddle causing a wave of water to break over me. In a miserable state of mind I trod the last few yards diagonally across the road to stand at the start of the track that forms this part of the Peddars Way.
Here was another batch of country fly tipping; garden chairs, an old Hi-Fi and other household goods that were on the side of the track. I was captivated by a huge number of trophies that lay scattered around on the grass. Small gilded plastic figures lay there holding pool cues, darts surmounted on dart boards and a few football trophies. Someone’s life was here, whether they’d cast it away themselves’ or it had been stolen from them I couldn’t say but there it was. With my foot I turned a few of these sad mementos over looking for a name but I gave up my fruitless search and walked away. A little further on at the start of the track a triangulation pillar stands at one of the highest points along the Peddars Way. On this pillar some wag had put one of the trophies. A vertical wing emblazoned with a football, it pointed north-west, my course was set.
Walking the track itself I kept to the central grassy section between the ruts as they were filled with muddy brown water. Trudging wearily on through the gathering gloom I came to, and crossed, the B1145, the Gayton to Litcham road. This section of the walk is pretty portentous for me as it is where I gave up on the first attempt. Before that final day I’d spent the night in a splendid B&B in the grounds of a former stately home. The high rooms of our apartment were resplendent with gilding and the free standing oval bath was welcome receptacle for my aching body. After the bath I sat cleaning my feet with surgical spirit but the pungent smell of it could not conceal the odour of decay that came from my blackened and ragged feet. The following morning my wife tried to prevail upon me to give up on the walk before breakfast but I refused to listen and was duly dropped off back in Castle Acre. A gruelling five and half miles hobble later I came to a painful halt to the west of Great Massingham, where my wife was taking advantage of a car boot sale.
I turned east to walk the mile or so into this the most classic of Norfolk villages. The houses nestle around a large pond lined with neatly trimmed lawns and trees; the only blight on the place, to my mind, is that the pub had closed down. Note for 2010; a pub has been reopened in Great Massigham it is called the Dabbling Duck - looks pretty good. On this walk, when I crossed the lane where I’d given up I had a sense of elation, even though it was hammering down with rain. I’d walked 110 miles at this point almost half way.
Today, it was cold, wet and windy and I had to thread my way around the rain-filled potholes. The light was fading but I pressed on along the track avoiding two or three cars that came at me out of the gloom from both ahead and behind. This little track was turning into quite a busy thoroughfare. Darkness fell as I came to the roadside of the A148 at a place named Harpley Dams. I had told my wife I would meet her at the Rose and Crown in Harpley, the village to the east. This seemed to be a good idea in the comfort and warmth of a cosy country barn but now seemed to be the height of folly as the dusk and rain wrapped themselves around me.
There ensued another road walk, a surprisingly steep, for Norfolk, track and the final walk into the village. It was only a mile and half but it seemed to take forever, luckily the exit of the path was a few yards from the pub and I saw our car in the car park. I made a soggy entrance into the pub and was greeted by my wife and son. She’d found that they couldn’t fit us for food but I had a couple of fine pints of IPA and then we took our leave.
Weather: Wet, then really wet! Finished 18:00