The Peddars Way is one of the National Trail’s long distance paths. It is 46 miles long, running in an almost straight line from Knettishall Heath in Suffolk to Holme-next-the-sea on the north Norfolk coast.
Having spent my formative years just a few miles from the start of this path, and having regularly walked my dog on the heath, I thought it about time that I actually took a stroll northwards along this trail. It is the 25th anniversary of the national trail this year, 2011. But the path has been in existence much longer, being a fine example of Roman engineering.
I set off late Friday afternoon with just a daypack, carrying sleeping bag, thermarest, bivi bag, camera, some warm clothes and food. I figured I’d walk until I’d had enough or until I reached the coast.
Walking for four hours until well past sunset, I left the heath through a forest of leafless trees. Crossing a small stream and and the river Thet. It was peaceful and quiet except for the wind rushing through the trees and the occasional partridge that took noisily to flight as I disturbed it from the undergrowth. Rabbits hopped across the fields and squirrels darted across the ground and then with an abrupt change of direction were soon high up clinging to a tree trunk. A pheasant walked slowly across a ploughed field and a muntjack deer stood motionless in a forest opening, watching me approach until too close for comfort and it ran off, head-down like a hunchback, and disappeared into the thick trees.
I crossed a couple of roads and a railway line, walked through the village of Wretham and onwards in the direction of Thompson Water. By now the light was fading and the red-glow of the setting sun across the military range failed to provide any warmth. The Great Pingo trail follows this section of the Peddars Way. What is a pingo I hear you ask? Well, it’s not a cartoon penguin that’s for sure.
Pingo’s were originally small hillocks that formed 20,000 years ago during the last ice age, when water beneath the surface froze and pushed the soil upwards. During the summer thaw, the soil would sludge off and form around the edges of the hillocks. When the ice finally thawed, the hillocks collapsed to form craters that are now filled with water.
I slept well in my bivi bag, sheltered by trees and thick undergrowth, and awoke as the sun rose. Off to an early start, I walked for three hours across an agricultural landscape, with the path following the edges of fields and thick hedges, until North Pickenham. By now, time for breakfast, I sat and ate on the bench by a wooden sculpture of an Anglo-Saxon warrior.
The path continued to Castle Acre, with the priory ruins in view across the rolling land. A pub lunch and then onwards. By now I had huge blisters, sore muscles and aching hips. I may be cycling fit but I haven’t walked any significant distance since well before I hurt my knee nearly four years ago. And it’s even longer since I donned my walking boots! The last couple of hours I’d been bored and so I decided to call for a lift home (aren’t parents great). Making it to Great Massingham, I’d chalked up 30miles in the 24hours.
Now with a car, we drove the last miles to the coast for a fish and chip dinner and watched the sun set over the sea. Now that was a lovely day!
For more information about the Peddars Way and planning your own trip – see the National Trail website.
For more on the history of the the Peddars Way, there is a short article in the web version of the local EDP paper.