A short trip to the seaside: cycle touring in Norfolk

A short trip to the seaside: cycle touring in Norfolk

In October, with one week left before Paddy had to go back to work, we decided to take the bikes away to escape reality. With only a few days available and looking for some fun rather than a challenge we decided to head to Norfolk to explore a part of the UK neither of us knew.

Home to the Broads and hundreds of canal boats, Norfolk is famous for being flat. We had a great few days pedalling around the Queen’s backyard and hope to return for a longer tour when time allows.

Day 1, Downham Market to Dersingham

Entering Kings Lynn on Routes 1 and 11
Entering Kings Lynn on Routes 1 and 11

Having finally discovered the extension to Kings Cross station (another thing that has changed since we were away), we took a mid-morning train north-east towards Downham Market. It was a relatively short journey, with entertainment in the form of chat from beer-guzzling Liverpool fans on their way to a football match in Norwich.

Today would be just a short day and we started on the National Cycle Route 11. It stuck to flat roads making for dull scenery but we made quick progress and were soon in Kings Lynn, where we sat feeding ducks the dry bits from our sandwiches.

The cycling picked up in the afternoon as we joined National Cycle Route 1, part of the North Sea Cycle Route that we have been following around mainland Europe. We found ourselves on quiet country lanes, passing woods and even had a bit of a climb up to Castle Rising. We didn’t see any castles, but there was a tumbled down building in a field that we passed as we whizzed down the hill, perhaps that had been it.

It didn’t matter too much though, as soon after we came across a real life royal home when we passed the Queen’s country retreat, Sandringham House. We hadn’t realised that it was open to the public and we made our way through the groups of day trippers to the entrance. With our bikes, going in wasn’t an option, so we pedalled around the corner and stood on a wall to get a glimpse of the suitably grand house.

Taking a peak at the Queen's house
Taking a peak at the Queen’s house

From Sandringham it was only a short hop to our night’s lodgings in Dersingham. We stayed at a friendly B&B above a pub in the village where they were happy to lock our bikes up in their garage. That evening, we tucked into a good pub meal in the restaurant downstairs, probably not deserved after such a short day on the bikes.

Day 2, Dersingham to Cromer

Today was a lovely route with lots of things to see. The only problem was not having enough time to stop and explore, partly because we started late as it was difficult to drag Paddy away from the B&B breakfast.

Soon after we left we started to pass other cyclists coming the other way on a charity ride. Unlike your normal cycle competitions, these competitors were mainly dads helping small children up hills that they must have all found pretty steep. They looked as if they were enjoying it though.

In the morning we passed through the tiny village of Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of Lord Horatio Nelson, and had our photo taken next to a plaque about him. We had made good progress, so when we got to the optional loop that passes through Holkham Estate we decided to take it.

Paddy enjoying seaside chips and peas
Paddy enjoying seaside chips and peas

In total the detour is about an extra 15 miles, but it was well worth it. We squeezed through the gates to the estate and followed a long drive up to the top of a hill, where we had a fantastic view of Holkham Hall the private home of Viscount Coke. We hadn’t expected to stumble across another grand house, although gradually we came to realise that Norfolk is full of them.

The route took us through to the other side of the estate and down towards the beach with its impressive sand dunes. It was a busy day so we didn’t get off to explore, but enjoyed cycling parallel to the coast along the forest path where we popped out at the harbour at Wells next the Sea. We hadn’t planned to stop for lunch, but couldn’t resist the seaside scene of people enjoying fish and chips, so bought some chips and mushy peas to accompany our sandwiches, absolutely delicious.

It was hard to get going after that, but we still had many miles to cycle to Cromer where we were staying that evening. Fortunately, we were back on beautiful country lanes and were able to stop every now and then to pick fresh blackberries from the hedgerows. The route was quiet and instead of cars we were on the lookout for pheasants which seemed to be everywhere.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in Cromer a traditional seaside resort town, with winding, cobbled streets and a pier. We checked into our B&B and then went out to explore. The local pub seemed quite busy as there was a tribute glam rock act performing in town, which people seemed to have driven all across Norfollk to see. We decided to go for a curry instead, feeling slightly less guilty today about eating so much.

Day 3, Cromer to Stokesby

Enjoying homemade fudge in the rain
Enjoying homemade fudge in the rain

We woke up to rain, set off in it and spent the whole day getting wet. It meant that the landscape wasn’t as entertaining as thick clouds rolled in off the coast. We struggled to keep on the route as we kept losing the signs for the cycle route, which up until now had been very clear. When we did follow it the route was on quiet lanes which was lovely, but we were quite happy on the main roads to make quick progress in the wet weather.

Friendly cafes warmed us up temporarily and the advantage of being in a tourist area meant that there was somewhere open to dry off at lunch with a hearty meal. We met two other cyclists that day that looked as sodden as us. If they had passed us just a little bit later they would have seen us stood in somebody’s driving scoffing homemade fudge which was on sale in an unmanned stall. It reminded me of some of the stalls we passed in South America, apart from this one had a CCTV camera and a sign saying if you stole you would be prosecuted. Obviously the fudge was too good for thieves to resist.

Later that day, as we got closer to Great Yarmouth, the terrain was flatter still and as we headed inland we began to see aspects of the Norfolk Broads. We had intended to go through the seaside town and do a loop through the Broads up to our B&B in Stokesby, but the miserable weather meant that we cut the day short.

Fortunately, by the time we’d showered and had a nap the weather was clearer and we walked down into the village and had a great meal in a pub on the edge of a river with fantastic views over the Broads. It was a perfect opportunity to thrash out some ideas for our book about our South America which we are starting to write.

Day 4, Stokesby to Acle and home

Don't leave your bike at Acle Station
Don’t leave your bike at Acle Station

We cycled all of 30 minutes as we made our way to the tiny station at Acle. We obviously aren’t the first cyclists to stop at the station, but unlike the person who’d had his bike turned into a flower pot, we took our bikes back with us. Fortunately, Paddy had remembered to bring our booking confirmation with us for the train as there was nowhere to print or buy a ticket at the station and the conductor was insistent for exactly the right bit of paper.

On the journey back to Liverpool Street we slept. It had been a lovely few days on the bikes and a great reminder that we don’t need to travel to the other side of the world for some great cycling and interesting sights. If only the weather could be relied upon.

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