Friday, 9 December 2016

Around Suffolk and Norfolk

I slept well on the ferry. The North Sea was as calm as could be and there was a holiday atmosphere on deck as the sun went down.

Leaving Hoek van Holland

In the morning as we slid into the docks at Harwich it was a grey, drizzly Sunday morning. The whole of the Harwich old town was closed, but then, it was very early, so I had some breakfast in a seaside shelter and admired the run-down, crumbling seaside architecture while I waited for the Harwich harbour ferry to take me across to Felixstowe.


Breakfast spot

Luckily the pier had a nice little cafe beside it where a small group of travellers was waiting to cross, among them a Dutch couple who came regularly to Suffolk on their bikes to escape the overcrowded Dutch bike paths.  They loved the fact that in Suffolk you can cycle all day on the dense network of small country lanes and hardly see a car - or another cyclist.  After my own experience I had a lot of sympathy with them.

Harwich harbour
Landing on the beach

The ferry arrived late, with lots of apologies.  It was a very small boat, but fitted us all in and ten minutes later deposited us on the beach at Felixstowe, on the far side of Harwich harbour. By now the sun had come out and I cycled along the sea front to pay a visit to my cousin, and then on to the small ferry at Bawdsey across the mouth of the River Deben. There was once a grand Victorian house here  and if you walk along the beach you can see the ruins of the gardens. It was a radar research station during WW2 and a military base for a long while afterwards.

Suffolk farm buildings

Farm near Halesworth

As soon as I left Bawdsey I was very struck by the hilliness of the landscape. People always talk of Suffolk and Norfolk as flat places, but they are not flat compared to the parts of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands that border the North Sea. Thinking about it, I realised that was the first solid, unreclaimed land that I had cycled on since leaving Sweden. The rock beneath me was only boulder clay, but it was a huge contrast to mud and sand. I also couldn't help noticing the churches. I've lived most of my life in East Anglia and I'd forgotten how amazing it is to find these wonderful mediaeval buildings everywhere you go, just sitting there in the landscape.

I didn't really follow the official North Sea Cycle Route through East Anglia.  There are dozens of possible route choices here and I'd already cycled around the coast more than once.  I made my way through Snape, Saxmundham, Halesworth and Beccles to the small village of Aldeby, where I stayed the night with friends.

River Yare at Reedham

The next day I crossed the River Yare at Reedham Ferry and went to visit my parents in Horning. After that I cycled through Aylsham and Melton Constable to camp at Stiffkey on the north coast.

Towards Holkham from Stiffkey

Stiffkey is a great place. When the tide goes out there are miles of salt marshes, sand and mudflats stretching to the horizon. It's always an adventure following the tide out to find the sea. In the morning I was up early and saw several barn owls quartering the marshes. I set off quickly and managed to cycle the coast road to Hunstanton before there was very much traffic about. In Hunstanton I had coffee in an old-fashioned sea front cafe with a view across the Wash to Lincolnshire, where I could see the famous tower of Boston's church quite clearly more than 30km away. More like 100km by road though.

Across the Wash towards Boston
Summer fields with the Wash in the distance

From Hunstanton I rejoined the NSCR and visited Sandringham and Castle Rising on the way to King's Lynn, an ancient Hanseatic port which seemed like a perfect place to take a break in my journey. I tracked down the Hanseatic warehouse which has been restored and now hosts art galleries and cafes. It couldn't be more different from the wonderful Hanseatic museum in Bergen and you'd need a lot of imagination to picture how it must once have been, but it's easy to imagine King's Lynn's quayside bustling with ships. It's just a pity that the centre of the town (where I once went to school for two years) was gutted in the late 1960s to make way for one of the country's most hideous shopping centres.

The Hanseatic warehouse in King's Lynn

I found a pizza place and had a meal to celebrate the end of the first part of the trip.

Maps:  To Aldeby;  to Horning;  to Stiffkey;  to King's Lynn

  • You have to book a cabin on the crossing from Hoek van Holland to Harwich. It's probably best to do it early!
  • National Cycle Route 1 keeps inland along the north coast of Norfolk. I like this route, but if it's a quiet time of year, or a quiet time of day, then the coast road is very nice. Unfortunately, when it gets busy it gets very busy. Completely avoid it on Bank Holiday weekends.

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