Tuesday, September 23, 2014

23 Sept: Great Yarmouth - Stowmarket (107km)

Well, that was a little further than I expected! Mainly due to poor navigation in the morning. I shall say this once and for all: you cannot find your way through a town using a 1:100000 map. As such I saw a lot more of Yarmouth and Lowestoft than I ever want to again.

Once I escaped those two, things got a bit more bucolic. I lunched in Beccles which was a cute and buzzing town. The early afternoon was swooping downlands and pretty, empty lanes. The latter part of the afternoon the roads were a bit bigger, the legs a bit tireder and (perhaps) the hills a bit steeper.

All of which lands me at Stowmarket station in time to scoff a cheese toastie and a bar of chocolate before catching the 5.35 train home to Cambridge.

Suffolk really is a peach of a county. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

22nd Sept: Sheringham- Great Yarmouth (88km)

Last week of freedom.

Another misty start, but offset by a cooked breakfast: YHA luxury. I headed down the coast road, through a wind and wave-swept Cromer which isn't doing badly, for an old resort town. Missed the turning out of town so ended up continuing on the relatively busy coast road and then, once I realised, heading across country on designated 'Quiet Lanes'. I don't know what these are, technically, but they are signposted with pride and certainly lovely and quiet indeed.

After coffee at Mundesley I deserted the national cycle route for a spot of Broads. Now in truth it's hard to get near a Broad on bike, as there aren't really many roads to choose from, and only the very fast A-roads actually cross the water. Nonetheless I had a nice time pootling some heavily boatie villages and plenty of pretty lanes that looked quite a lot like Holland/Cambridgeshire.

My random historic find of the day (it seems to be the way of this trip) is St Benet's Abbey. Once the centre of trade and power in this area, it was - uniquely - not closed down by Henry VIII. It didn't last much longer though, and as usual the stone was soon taken for building material. The gatehouse still stands, sort of, though in the 18th century someone did build a windmill in and around it. The Abbey is still technically part of the Bishop of Norwich's domain so he holds a service there (ie in a field with some historic stones in it) once a year. You've got to love the multilayered history of East Anglia. 

The latter section of the day was rather head down as I used a moderately inadequate map to cut east back to the coast, while trying to avoid the biggest of busy roads. It gradually became more suburban and I emerged into Great Yarmouth. This is a pretty big town for these parts, and has a fairly rough reputation (according to Vic). The only but I have seen this far is the seafront which is one lovely long sandy beach, and even a bit sunny.  It also has clean, pleasant, central ensuite B&B for £23. Can't complain about that.

Finally, can I just mention a rather amazing thing? When travelling by train and bike in East Anglia (albeit only with booked tickets, which I do not have), the train people will, for free, come and rescue you and bring you to a train station if your bike breaks down or gets nicked. Isn't that nice of them?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

21 Sept: Wells to Sheringham (50km)

love Norfolk. The whole place feels like a very small community and people just assume you are friendly and want to talk to them. I've had more random chats today than in ages.

I knew I didn't need to cycle far today, so took advantage of the available pottering time to have a most enjoyable day.

I left my pannier at the hostel first thing and biked down to see the sea. The tide was half in, meaning a long way out: Wells is raising funds for a new lifeboat as at low tide they have to tow their current lifeboat 2.5 miles across the sand to launch it!

I walked the beach and dune forest which is an old favourite haunt and then got briefly rained into the beach cafe. It's dog-friendly so on a Sunday morning, great entertainment for the dog-deprived like me. It was also packed, so I shared a table with a very nice family whose child was also commenting on every incoming dog ('that looks like your dog grandma but it's much fatter' 'Sshh, you can't say that!').

Reunited with my pannier I headed east-ish, first up and down some slightly hairy green lanes then through the back roads a bit inland of the fast coastal road.

I stopped at Binham priory, an extraordinary place. It was a Benedictine monastery set up by a Norman baron in the stated hope that it would count in his favour come judgement day (presumably he had done terrible deeds during the conquest). It thrived through till Henry VIII when it was sold off and ripped up for building stone - but the central building has survived and is still the parish church. In fact as I poked my head in to have a look the Sunday service had just finished and a very friendly retired farmer offered me a post-church cup of tea. 

A few sets of sunshine and showers later I cruised into Blakeney, which was looking as lovely as ever. Apparently there were several feet of water in the quayside buildings during the storm surge last December. I planned a few future art purchases in the gallery where my hare pictures came from, and then was fed coffee and cake by two lovely ladies running a cafe out of the Methodist church.

More quiet back roads, flint-built villages and cycle route that was nicely undulating but not painfully so, and I found myself in the Felbrigg estate, a National Trust place. I bought a cycle map and admired their cows but as yesterday, wasn't tempted to join the house-visiting masses.

A final few miles, in which I had to face the main road, and I reached my destination of Sheringham. The YHA here is a former children's home, and looks it, but I have to say it works pretty well.

Sheringham is in the midst of a 1940s weekend. That makes the world seem a little odd, because loud speakers all over town are blaring 40s music and there are people in airforce uniform rolling out of pubs everywhere. Not to mention the odd tank. The place has really gone the whole hog, the  streets are covered in bunting and and every café is displaying Camp Coffee ads etc. I did wonder what was going on this afternoon when I saw biplanes flying overhead and a Routemaster bus...

The wind got up this afternoon and there's a hell of a sea now. After a little wander round town, it must be time for some food.


PS: the Round Norfolk Relay that I kept seeing yesterday looks AMAZING! The concept is the whole county border in 24 hours, with 17 people per team. If anyone ever wants to do this I am IN.

PPS: how lovely Norfolk looks:

20 Sept 14: Cycling Downham Market - Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk (82km)

One last mini-adventure before working life returns.

On a misty moisty morning I took the train north from Cambridge, accompanied by Horace all spick and span after an 87-quid (!) service. The Fens were under layers of gloom and it looks a lot like my good weather luck has for the present run out. 

I debated a bit about where to start and eventually got off at Downham Market. This was perfectly pleasant, once I'd found my way out of the housing estates, but probably a mistake in that one can have too much of fens in the mist...

First stop was King's Lynn. I had been following good national cycle route signage but as always, I lost it instantly on entering the town. I've been to KL before but only the scuzzy bits, and was surprised to find myself in a lovely park with a sweet little chapel on a raised mound. In fact apart from an excess of Jehovah's Witnesses, the town gets a definite thumbs up on second sight. 

I was also happy to find signposting for an off-road cycle path along an old railway line towards Sandringham. Sandringham estate really does have super woods.  Even though the trees haven't turned yet they are particularly lovely here, perhaps because it seems to be a massive mix of species. I took advantage of the coffee and cake opportunity presented by the estate but didn't feel inclined to venture into the house/gardens.

Had a bit of a low mid-afternoon. Not sure why as I was plenty sugared up, but everything has felt like very hard work today and it's been hard to stay the right temperature. It's basically cool and very clammy and Norfolk is hilly enough that several times an hour you get sweaty and then chilled all over again. 

Enough moaning. I bucked up on nearing the coast. Passed briefly through Burnham Market which looks like a lovely village, though it's rather hard to tell due to the 100 white 4x4s and similar parked all over it. Then Burnham Thorpe: Nelson's Village! (Says the sign). It's tiny. The biggest treat was following cycle route signposting through the tiny rear entrance (so small Horace had to squeeze through) into Holkam Park. The house was all shut up but the parkland, full of deer, was glorious. You've got to love a stately home that allows a national cycle route to cut through its property where there is no public right of way.

I came out the bottom of the estate into the sandy dune land of the coastal forest. A bit of almost uncycleable sandy cycle path led round to the front of Wells. I meandered slowly round town and up to the YHA which is hidden among the quiet backstreets.

Wells seems to be further upmarket - it has just got a supermarket (!) and bistro-like cafés seem to now outnumber amusement arcades and fish and chip shops. It also seems pretty busy and as well as it's usual weekenders also had the Round Norfolk Relay (relay marathoning by the looks of it) and a wedding or two going on. 

The clouds are closing in. With any luck some actual rain will happen overnight and then clear to a beautiful sunny September morning!

Hmm. The weather forecast thinks not.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

4th Sept - Nolton Haven to Marloes Sands

find that the more spectacular the day, the more difficult I find it to describe. Today has been completely spectacular. 

For one thing it's been roasting hot. I've had Factor 30 on and still have a few burnspots. In Wales. In September. 

For another it's just been one amazing walk. Apart from a couple of villages near the start (of which more later) it's been a mostly flat path alongside spectacular cliffs and isolated bays, a jade sea, red rocks, and a handful of sailboats and canoes pulled up in the inlets. There are other walkers, but only a few each hour. The coastline twists and turns and sometimes what you think is a far-off headland turns out to be an island, and vice versa. The heat haze kept the tankers coming in and out of Milford Haven just as shadows on the horizon. Every passing conversation is about what a stunning day it is.

Having left my toothbrush and toothpaste in the bathroom of the hostel two nights back, I was delighted to finally find a 'normal' shop today in Broadhaven. I don't think I have ever been so glad to see a Londis in my life. It provided not only the necessary to make my teeth fit for dorm-sharing tonight but also some bread, cheese and tomatoes to double as both lunch and supper today. Super.

This YHA is in a set of cowsheds, the girls dorm appropriately enough in the henhouse. As there are still no clouds in the sky I have high hopes that I may finally get a full sunset. On all previous nights this has been denied by sea-level cloud on the western horizon...

Totally exhausted by so much sun, I shall sleep well tonight I think.

Mini-adventure ends tomorrow, with a short final coast path section and then a bus, a train, a drive home. 

If I had more than two thumbs I would put them all up for the Pembrokeshire coast path!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3rd Sept - Whitesands to Nolton Haven

This morning I set off into a misty overcastness that made the world a rather mysterious place. Deserting the coastline briefly I headed due inland for St David's. I followed a handsome fox down some quiet lanes, and then several young male runners taking advantage of the hills for early morning training. It was too early for anything to be open in the city/village, but I did sneak a peak into the cathedral and momentarily considered attending the 8am Welsh language morning prayer. In the end I thought I might stick out a bit, and instead enjoyed the view from the churchyard.

The main beauty of the cathedral, and indeed the ruins of the Bishop's palace next door, is in its perfect fit within the landscape. Alone it is a nice little country church. In context it is a really lovely old thing. Seems to be my lot to spend this year in sites of pilgrimage. Those arriving at St David's would certainly have been less overwhelmed than Santiago pilgrims, methinks.

I had planned to wait for civilisation (a cafe) to open but instead decided to head on down to the coast path. I do feel quite sluggish today though nothing particularly hurts and - thus far - there are no blisters.

I struck civilisation at Solva, a little harbour and village with a cafe and pub, and half a dozen non-useful shops (I haven't met a useful one, ie one that sells bread or milk, since leaving Fishguard).

Caffeinated, I headed on over lovely headlands with the sun glinting off the sea and kayakers and sailboats the only humans in sight. Lots of steep ups and downs, and my knees are currently knackered enough that I have joined the ranks of people who hurt more going down than up.

The sun came out around midday, and by the time I hit the lovely long beach at Newgale I was feeling a little sun-frazzled. With not many more miles to go I spent the afternoon lolling around the low-key cafés and beaches between there and my 6pm appointment at the Mariners Inn at Nolton Haven. 

'Tis a funny old place. There is not only a VHS player but also a Betamax in my room. I'm not sure I've seen a Betamax before. Anyway, despite the stuffed albatross in the bar, it's in a beautiful spot. I am fairly confident I shan't be kept awake by mad revelling from below.

Sunny days and an endless and endlessly beautiful path make the world seem a wonderful place. Hurrah for mini-adventures.

2nd Sept - Pwll Deri to Whitesands

A pleasant night last night with a friendly and mostly empty hostel, including a guy who looked younger than me but turned out to be an on-sabbatical vicar with 3 teenage daughters. I had a room to myself and the most amazing sea view. If only all hostels could be like that!

I thought today might be a bit long so was on the road not long after 7. In the first 3 hours I met a total of 3 sets of dog-walkers and no-one else. In fact the only civilisation today was the small village of Trefin, which sports a pub and a cafe-cum-gallery. I took advantage of the latter for coffee and eggs benedict. My absolute fave.

Glorious weather made the walking just perfect and the ups and downs and various body-grumbles didn't put a dampener on it. The morning was again full of choughs and the afternoon seals, including several sets of babies. The pups tend to be well tucked in under huge cliffs on the most inaccessible beaches - but you can often spot them because of the large visible adult guarding the mouth of the cove.

There's a lot of Welshness around here. My favourite sign today was for 'Tato newi' - new potatoes!

To find tonight's hostel I left the coast path and headed up over some tors and high ground. Breaching the top a huge flat stretch came into view including (ahem) 'city' of St David's. Well, it has a cathedral.

The hostel is an old farmstead at the bottom of a big hill. There's a rather sad story attached: in 1943 an American Air Force place crashes into the hill, killing all on board. Apparently it was one of a group of planes flying a relief flight from the US to the UK. The last leg was Morocco to Cornwall but to save weight (and hence fuel) only the front plane of any group had a radio, the rest just did it by sight. Unfortunately they flew into fog and, absent any navigational equipment, half the planes went down. They found a propeller from it only a few years back.

After a bottle of cider, a peaceful night in a dorm with some very sleepy ladies.

Monday, September 1, 2014

1st Sept 2014 - Fishguard to Pwll Deri

With the big adventures beginning to fade from memory, I have decided to maintain 'choose life' momentum through mini-adventures. 

Mini-adventure number 1: the Pembrokeshire coast path. There is actually now coast path the whole way around Wales but Pembrokeshire is the oldest section and still reputedly the finest. Mum and Dad visited earlier this year while I dog-sat; their comments on returning were 'well, it's just like Cornwall. But without the tourists'. Sounds good to me!

So far I would concur. It's beautiful, and I have managed to line up some good weather. This morning was occupied with getting out here, so I walked only this afternoon, about 10 miles I believe. (Worryingly enough, say my legs and feet already. Gulp!).

Saw two seal pups lounging in coves, with two adults swimming in the water. Was telling this to a man with a nice collie and he pointed out that circling overhead were five choughs. So, two top wildlife spots in the first few hours of the odyssey! I then saw loads more choughs, and it is rumoured that there are seals just below the hostel. 

I am staying tonight in a youth hostel with an amazing location high up on a cliff with a perfect sunset-watching spot. For a sunny evening like this you simply could not ask for more.

So far Pembrokeshire is completely excellent.