South Coast to North Coast; World Turned Upside Down.
“You poor take courage/You rich take care/This world was made an earthly paradise/For everyone to share” song of the Diggers
On Friday morning four groups set off from the South heading North to Norfolk; Fred & Jim came by four trains, Mick & Anne, like Helen & Angela drove, while David & Terri got stuck in huge jam on M11 where an overturned caravan made their trip last twice as long. Fred, Angela, Mick & I stayed at the B & B on the clifftop at Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast, Jim & Helen at the YHA & David & Terri half an hour’s drive away on a farm, but we all met up, eventually at The Robin Hood Pub, which, gradually, provided us all with an unexciting meal, after requests from Angela to turn down their music, bring Fred’s veg & her salad, which had been shown the menu. Helen, who had a headache after all the driving, went straight to bed & missed the meal, but it was no great loss. Jim pleads in their mitigation that the beer “draught Speckled Hen, [was] a lovely treat, and every bit as nice as the Woodforde’s at Hickling, I don’t care what Richard says!”
Dawn chorus woke us all at the B& B & Angela said she heard seals from the North Sea. Sunshine had brought out a huge bumble bee which buzzed in through our window, but, Joyce will be pleased to know that Mick was able to release it back to the sunshine outside. Sunshine was a rare treat to us sun-deprived cyclists, but the wind was still almost as keen as it had been for previous wintry months. We all ate too hearty breakfasts & set out for the station to meet Helen. We had the usual dilemma as to whether to buy the groupsave, but the train guard recommended 4 on groupsave & 1 [nominate Helen, as she’d had her railcard for almost a year & not had chance to use it yet, plus hadn’t been able to cycle much recently], for the senior railcard ticket. No bother with the bikes as 2-carriage train had large space for all our bikes, though the 2 or 3 that got on later had to alight to set us free at Wroxham, then train nearly left 1 on platform as it headed on to Norwich!
At the station we met up with Jim, who’d taken an earlier train in order to save space for our bikes & to meet the others:- Amanda, looking peaky having caught 7.30am train from London & been nursing nasty cough all week, Angela’s cousin Richard, who’d driven the 60 miles from Bury St Edmunds, & David & Terri [who’d got lost in the narrow, dark lanes of deepest Norfolk when returning from the pub last night], with Zola their dog, cue banter on whether homage to Emile, Budd, or Gian Franco. Terri kindly took the group-shot while Zola obediently sat down rather than tying Terri up in knots with her lead.
We set off eastward into the customary headwind.
First stop was Horning & the River Bure, where we saw a paddle steamer & wide variety of ducks & geese among the grass & rushes, some declared to be Egyptian geese, far from home. Some of us were tempted by a leisurely hour and half boat trip but that was not in the plan, so we cycled on with the hope of a coffee stop to warm the cockles of some who had mistakenly dressed for summer, or, at least, Spring. However, sun shone & we pootled over little bridges & dallied along leafless lanes. [Sorry – lack of coffee stop was due to my new high-tech ride planning procedure using a spreadsheet, which erroneously showed us 15 minutes behind schedule at Horning when in fact we were 15 minutes ahead! Just teething troubles I hope – Jim]
As I turned right at a crossroads, the awaiting group of front-runners asked if I’d seen the giraffe? Giraffe! … in Norfolk? Eventually noticed huge [well-life-size] “giraffe” in the window of the nearby bungalow. Various deviant explanations were offered as to why & what it was. Hope there is a pic to prove it, but no time for me to photo, nor for coffee, though Hickling Broad & our pre-booked lunch-stop soon arrived. We were all quite chilly by then, in spite of the sunshine, but half of us elected to sit outside & half inside. The insiders waited ages for food & got even colder & the outsiders had watery views but chilly legs, though food was pretty good, when it eventually arrived altogether.
By then, most of us were cold & giving up on the idea of going boating, but some of us cycled round to the boatyard to investigate. Couldn’t see any of the promised canoes, as they were deemed to be too slow & cold for the unseasonal weather & motorboats were the only option. Most of us were daunted by the option of steering the vessels but Mick volunteered to be captain of the 6-seater. Angela then excitedly hailed David & Helen back over to the boatyard, so then we had to take another boat & go 4 by 4 – Jim steering Clarion Boat #2. Mick, with little experience of boats, but careful instructions from the boatman, attempted to leave the harbour, but bumped into the moored craft lining the entrance, to hysterical giggles from me & Helen , while experienced cox, Fred, attempted to keep the boat steady.
Once out in the main channel Mick put his foot down, as is his wont, & we left the left Clarion #2 boat way behind, as we headed off to the far reaches of the broad. Turning round proved OK, in spite of the crew’s trepidation, & as we headed back to harbour we thought we saw Clarion #2 approaching us, so Mick veered towards them so we could take some close-up shots of each other! But, it was not to be! They were not Clarion #2, who had disappeared completely, but innocent tourists who must have been alarmed to see us heading towards them, in spite of the boatman’s instructions to avoid other craft on the water. Didn’t see [m]any birds, probably too cold for much duck dabbling, but did see some modern windmills & some ancient looking reed-thatched lake-dwellings. Crew of Clarion #2 was waiting for us on the dock & told us we had over-run our time & had been going much faster than recommended, but it was all lies, Mick assured us & nimbly docked the boat, a feat which Clarion #2 had not achieved without the boatman’s assistance.
Decided to give St Benet’s Abbey a miss in the morning, as Jim said not worth the effort, but continued to next highlight Sutton Mill – “tallest windmill in Britain”; Photo op all round & intriguing huge nest in nearby tree; who would live in a nest like that?
Shortly afterwards Angela spotted even more unusual sight – 3 large camels in a farm barn with lots of notices about trespassers being prosecuted & awful sound of irate guard-dogs threatening to get stuck in to tasty Clarion interlopers. Did the camels give rides on the sandy beaches of North Norfolk in the summer? Were they some Arab sheik’s favoured pets? My Norfolk cousins later told me that there were camel races in Fakenham, so maybe there are camels all over Norfolk ensconced in farm barns, just waiting for the racing season to start when [?] the weather warms up a bit. They do things differently up North.
We were all flagging a bit on the last little hill into North Walsham for the train home to Sheringham & worried by the groupsave ticket as the ticket-holder [Fred had assumed the position of responsible adult] had dismounted to push & lagged behind, but we were an hour up on Jim’s schedule. However, this was to bring its own worries as platform was crowded & we were told the 6ish train was the football special from Norwich with no bike space & crammed with footie fans. Most of them seemed to get out at North Walsham & fortunately, we were all able to entrain, apart from Richard who was cycling back to his car at Wroxham. All tired & split up, undecided where to eat, but, eventually all met up at The Lobster & had excellent local fishy food, mussels, crab & all delighted & refreshed. Biked back to B & B in time to watch the latest Nordic Noir on BBC4 in bed.
5 of us for breakfast at the B&B on Sunday as Amanda stayed there too, but she was looking very poorly again & vowing to go straight back home on the train. Breakfast perked her up & she decided to give it a go on the steam railway with Fred & Angela etc. Mick & I zoomed down to the station for the early rendez-vous with Jim. We waited nearly half an hour for Cambridge Clarion to join us, but had to give up on them in order to meet the steam-fanciers at Holt when their train arrived. Jim did try hard to contact them & enlisted Sally’s help at home. She was busy making her placard for [or rather against], the EDL march in Brighton, where, it turned out the fascists were outnumbered by the anti-fascists by, at least 5 to 1, & police were expensively brought in from all over the south to protect the nasty EDL
Sheringham Park was beautiful, undulating track, first paved then footpaths, with views to the sea to the North – upside down & anti-intuitive to me. Highlight was the Gazebo, with nearly 200 steps up to the top of the viewing platform, among the huge, old rhododendron bushes – very Himalayan for level Norfolk. Photos were taken from the top of the tower before we raced down again to check our bikes were still there.
Met several walkers but no other cyclists, as we were mainly on narrow, dry footpaths. We emerged from the park by a mid-way station on the steam railway, to a field of about 30 ponies – all with their winter coats on, wisely. Over the railway bridge we looked down to the pub garden beneath & saw a strange, blue papier-mache effigy, such as Lewes use for the bonfire guys. As it was lying on its back with high heeled legs in the air & had a large, distinctive nose, plus a blue cone “hat” by its side I believe it was a Maggie Thatcher image for a “Ding, dong the witch is dead” party to parody the elaborate £10m funeral service “given” by a grateful Tory party government to celebrate Thatcherism & the recent death of their icon.
Leaving the bridge & entering the village, a sign in Norfolk “Slow You Down” which was wasted on me as I had to catch up with Jim & Mick. A long hill slowed me down even more, but was encouraged up both by descending “lycra” cyclists who assured me I was almost at the top & by Jim, who dallied to see if I was OK & took a pic. Mick raced on to Holt where we all three had to halt as we’d beaten those on the train by 15 minutes at least. We awaited their arrival in sunshine seated outside an interesting café with accolades from 2005 proclaiming its foodie credentials, ordering choc flapjacks, tea, coffees & apricot & almond cake. Still no sign of Cambridge Clarion, but we were all enchanted with the cafe, its idiosyncratic architecture & sculptures & the sunny, sheltered spot.
Had to leave to cycle on to Cley [pronounced locally as Clei, German hard i] admired from other side of the road the pottery shop & the ‘local food’ grocers & smokery. Passed The George Pub, which was deemed too gourmet for today but Mick & I sampled it the following day with my cousin & loved our dishes of pigeon breasts & lentils or mixed meat plates, from interesting menu. Went to the coast, which popped up disconcerting in the North with miles of wind-swept sand dunes & reedbeds. Turned up Old Womans Lane & stopped for photos of a frivolous nature.
Tackled a few more small hills, then swept down to Newgate with its huge church & village Green, but not much else, apart from The Three Swallows pub where we sat in the garden & chose our food. Today local crab was on the menu, having been told the night before that all local crabs were still buried under the sand as it was too cold to emerge & be caught in the traps. Were told that waiting time for food was 40 minutes, but, in fact, good grub appeared in record time, so maybe it was a Norfolk joke, similar to the sign for the toilet.
On the way back up the hill I noticed a sculpture of 3 swallows, but it was camouflaged by the blossom on the bushes & didn’t like to pry too long. Further up the hill was a garden decorated with gargoyles which was asking to be snapped so we did.
Didn’t see any deer on Salthouse Heath, nor signs of Spring among the leafless trees. At crossroads we bade goodbye to Amanda & Fred, who were taking the steam train back to Sheringham, while the rest of us risked the extra miles & hills on the bikes. At Sheringham, Mick & I cycled off back to the B&B to reclaim the car & head South again to Tuttington & my cousin, while the others decided on the evening meal for the final night, though Amanda had the long trek back that day to London for work on Monday.
As on our Clarion rides, so on the way out of Norfolk in Norwich, we saw loads of Labour placards up in gardens & just 1 or 2 UKIP – no Tories, so hope they have a real pasting in forthcoming local elections & that this vile government has nasty shock, turning their world upside down – as Leon Rosselson sung in his Diggers tribute to heroes of our past.
Report by Angela on the steam train ride from Sheringham to Holt.
On our second day Fred, Helen, David, Amanda and I gathered at Sheringham station for a steam train journey to Holt, the beginning of the next ride. Jim, Mick and Anne had already set off by bike from Sheringham and we were to meet them at Holt.
The station at Sheringham reminds me of my childhood. The colours of the paintwork are very 1950’s green and cream and the platform has trolleys full of old suitcases and trunks similar to those which my mum used to pack with clothes and swimming stuff for our annual holiday.
The steam train was already waiting for us to board. Fred, along with other steam enthusiasts, went to survey the little puffing engine at the end of the platform and to take pictures. Then, having put our bikes in the guard’s van, we settled down on the very comfy seats. We noticed that a rather strange thing was happening on the opposite platform – a boy of about 10 years was standing very still holding a blue balloon and a man was standing further down the platform, dressed like a character out of ‘Foyle’s War’, complete with a pipe in his mouth. Evidently they were making some kind of retro movie.
Anyway, off the little train puffed and I took the opportunity to lean out of the window to get a better view of the engine as it went round bends in the track. Then I remembered doing that on train journeys when I was a child and getting a piece of grit in my eyes. So I thought better of it and decided to go back to the carriage whereupon Fred and David starting laughing at me! They said that my hair and face were all black from the soot from leaning out the window. Helen and Amanda joined in laughing and for a few seconds I was really taken in.
The journey continued through the absolutely beautiful Norfolk countryside which, like most of Sussex, seemed very behind in terms of the signs of spring. Nevertheless, the lack of leaves on the huge oaks and sycamores meant that you could get wonderful views through them across the landscape. The sun was shining and it really was the beginning of a very lovely day.
Many thanks to Jim for super Spring cycle excursions with loads of fun & fellowship, loads of very fresh air & the most healthy exercise many of us could manage [even when we weren’t sure we could!]. He had all the preparation & reconnoitring to do in foul weather & kept us all safely together as we enjoyed all the pleasures, treasures & surprises of North Norfolk.
Lots more pics on flickr.
Anne and Angela