Summary - Great Yarmouth to Great Yarmouth, Distance 227 miles (365.3kms)
There you have it; that was the Great Norfolk Walk, an everyday adventure.
Many things have changed for me since I completed the Great Norfolk Walk. I, with my family, have relocated to the other side of the world, to Perth, Western Australia. And I have left behind my cherished Norfolk. Time and distance have given me a fresh perspective on the walk and has brought about this revision of the story.
From the time I completed the walk I have had time to reflect on my motivations for doing the walk and what it gave to me as an accomplishment. I could put the whole desire down to the fulfilment of a youthful dream. If that is the case it is a dream that took me nearly thirty years to complete. Some have suggested a mid-life crisis, which is an assertion I counter with the retort that it could be an extension of the trials of my youth. However, these days, I like to think that it was, of course, a combination of personal goal setting and fulfilment of that earlier ambition; it also had the added benefit of making me remarkably fit.
On the walks along the Peddars Way I came across a series of sculptures by to reflect the interaction of man and the landscape. In part the carvings were inspired by the book, Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin, which deals with the songlines of the Australian Aborigines. This reawakened an old desire in me to move to Australia and a couple of years later we realised the dream and here we are in Western Australia. I have had the time to rewrite the account of my journey around Norfolk; from an account purely for friends and family to one that anyone could read and enjoy.
I gained an appreciation of the comfortable landscape of my home county, and its occasional abuse by fly-tippers. The incongruous sight of an armchair protruding from the sucking grey mud of Breydon Water first brought home to me how some view the countryside as an open dustbin.
I met lots of people, of all ages and fitness levels, on the paths; with a full spectrum of outlooks and motives for walking. All with that irresistible urge to set foot on a path, to have an invigorating or relaxing walk, and attain their goal for the day whether that’s a target of distance or just a gently stroll to take in the scenery, or to the nearest pub.
In particularly I remember on one of my early training walks I found myself on the windy dunes at Holme-next-the-Sea, having completed a section of the walk, waiting for my wife to arrive from Hunstanton. I noticed a young woman, and toddler son, hovering near a way marker for of the Peddar’s Way; peering south toward the end of the lane that led north from the coast road. She approached me and asked if I’d just walked the Way and I admitted that I had. Then she explained that her husband was walking it and that it was his second attempt having broken down on the first attempt the previous year.
As we stood there talking a figure appeared at the head of the lane, a dark haired man of medium build; apparelled in walking gear. The little boy ran to him and his wife wrapped her arms around him then told him ‘Well done’, then kissed him. It was just a wonderful sight, and I have to admit to a lump in my throat. Then he and I compared experiences, in true blokish tradition. He admitted that his feet had given out on his first attempt, and that it was down to the wrong boots. I, of course told him about the 227 miles of the Great Norfolk Walk and he felt he wasn’t up to that sort of distance, yet. He understood my need to do the walk. There are so many of us walkers all over the country tirelessly, making their way along footpaths and tracks for their own reasons that they are rarely able to explain to the people they are closest to.
Maybe that’s the true nature of these personal adventures and expeditions perhaps we are all on pilgrimages, on little quests for our own inner needs; seeking out our own salvation on a footpath or a track. Calmness, perspective and fitness were my personal nirvanas from the walk while completing it gave me the bonus of a huge sense of success.
For my part I have seen the countryside from a perspective that few of us have the time to take in; our hectic lives so often don’t allow us the indulgence to travel at three miles per hour. Speeding across the landscape in our metal cocoons we are isolated from the experience and the reality of the world around us; missing out completely on the sheer beauty and variety of the landscape we live in.
I was fortunate that I lived in an area where it was possible to have an adventure on the door step, to slip from the urban setting, into the countryside – the Boudicca Way runs within yards of my old front door – to roam along the leafy paths and byways to the south of Norwich all the way to the town of Diss. It was also my good fortune to live in a country where there are an amazing number of public footpaths open to all of us, it’s a real privilege.
I loved navigating through the history and the landscape from the Broadlands near Great Yarmouth along the gentle verdant meadowlands of the Waveney and Little Ouse valleys on the Angle’s Way, then north up the straight line of the Peddar’s Way tracing its way along the chalk ridge that forms the spine of Norfolk to the coast near Hunstanton. Turning east along the Norfolk Coastal Path; through marshes and across some of the best sandy beaches in the world, then climbed the undulating ground between Weybourne and Cromer; before heading inland from Cromer on the meandering Weaver’s Way, returning through the Broads to Great Yarmouth across the Halvergate Marshes.
I had a lingering regret. At the end of the walk I didn’t get to walk across the Bure Bridge, outside Vauxhall Station, holding my son’s hand at the completion of the walk, as I had held my father’s hand when I was a child. However, just before we left Great Britain we did just that and we had a jolly day in the amusement arcades of Great Yarmouth.
The walk did change my life it gave me a renewed enthusiasm, an impetus for new challenges. I can’t say that it solved any problems but it did put them into perspective and enable me to tackle them with renewed vigour.
In the execution of the Great Norfolk Walk and the numerous training walks, preparing for, attempting and its final successful completion I walked in the region of fifteen hundred miles all over the Norfolk and North Suffolk countryside. I walked in spring, summer, autumn and winter; through sun, wind, rain and occasionally snow. I have been attacked by bees, dogs and bullocks.
I got through three sets of boots, two rucksacks and wore out a couple of waterproof jackets. I tried thick socks, double layers of sock sand in the end found that thin summer Brasher socks were the best for me. I endured bee stings, dehydration, chaffed inner thighs and buttocks – really very sore, and of course the horrendous blisters, I didn’t think you could get blisters upon blisters. I delved the depths of endurance of an ordinary middle-aged guy and survived...just.
Whatever my motivations or the pain I endured I can safely say I did it, I talked the talk and walked the walk, I walked the Great Norfolk Walk.
That was my account of walking my home county of Norfolk starting in two thousand and three and finishing in two thousand and five, with a couple of charity walks thrown in. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done requiring me to plumb depths of my character and personality I didn’t know I had. I thought that I would have to give up my enthusiasm for walking on my arrival in Australia, in the process of immigrating walking wasn’t exactly a high priority. I was wrong. Hiking is a popular activity and there are many walking groups. Tantalisingly nearby is the Bibbulmun Track, that runs from Albany on the south coast of Western Australia to Kalamunda just to the east of Perth, a near thousand kilometre walk. To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, Now, that’s what I call a walk.
Perth, Western Australia