This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 147.
With UK camping breaks likely to be first back on the cards as we emerge from lockdown, Steven Williams inspires us with tales of a Norfolk break in 2019.
As part of an attempt to reduce our carbon footprint, Roxanne and I had talked about combining two activities we enjoy: camping and cycling. The late May bank holiday offered us a chance to set off on our first adventure.
I planned a route that wasn’t too strenuous and was largely off the main roads. We agreed that Norfolk was a good choice as it is fairly flat.
Roxanne was much better equipped for touring, as her Genesis Tour de Fer has both front and back pannier racks. In contrast, my Trek 1.5 road bike has only a rear rack. While I’ve swapped in some Continental Gatorskin tyres, it still isn’t really that comfortable riding on gravel or rough terrain.
We took the train from Cambridge to Norwich, arriving around 1pm on a Friday. From Norwich station we cut through the centre of town to get to the start of the Marriott’s Way (at the St Crispin’s Road/ Barn Road roundabout). The Marriott’s Way (tinyurl.com/MarriottsWayNorfolk) follows the line of a disused railway, now a 26-mile walking and cycling trail that runs north-west from Norwich before curving back to Aylsham. Most of the trail is compacted earth and very rideable, but some sections do have large amounts of gravel and rocks. There was also a section of steps which could be tricky for those with mobility issues. There are several cafés on the trail that make for good break spots, particularly in some of the old railway stations. It is a lovely trail shaded by trees, with plenty of elderflower at that time of year. The old bridges that cross the trail have information boards that highlight the history of the railway and the region.
Once we made it to Aylsham, we followed our noses through the town to get to the Weavers’ Way. This runs all the way from Cromer to Great Yarmouth. While mostly footpath, from Aylsham to Stalham the trail is a bridleway that follows another old railway, and is rideable if you have a bike that’s capable of tackling gravel and sand. In the wetter months I imagine it would also be quite muddy. Unfortunately, the trail is also interrupted at each road crossing by gates that are not very cycle-friendly.
We followed the Weavers’ Way east towards North Walsham, roughly six miles. Our destination was the Canal Camping between Honing and Dilham. Signage for the Weavers’ Way wasn’t always obvious, and I hadn’t managed to find a detailed map online. We lost the Weavers’ Way at North Walsham so followed back roads for the remaining four miles, which was fine. In general, we’ve found car drivers in Norfolk very respectful and safe. Later on, we were surprised to see that the Weavers’ Way actually led all the way to our campsite.
We arrived at the campsite by about 6pm. We travelled fairly light with a small tent, a sleeping bag and mattress each, a small gas stove and a small amount of food. We managed to get a pitch with a wooden bench and a campfire grill. If you’re after a pub meal, there’s also the Cross Keys in Dilham and the Butcher’s Arms in East Ruston, both easy rides.
The late May bank holiday offered us a chance to set off on our first camping and cycling adventure
Exploring the Broads was high on our list, so we took the opportunity to hire a canoe and paddle down the Dilham Canal one day. After that, we cycled to Hickling Broad Nature Reserve where we got the chance to spot some of the birdlife, including avocets and reed warblers. The swallowtail butterflies were also gorgeous. Getting to Hickling Broad was also very easy, as from the campsite we simply followed the Weavers’ Way at the bottom of the field most of the way there. Lastly, we visited the East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens, a private property that has opened its gardens to the public. While many of the spring flowers were past their best, and the summer blooms hadn’t yet arrived, the gardens still inspired us with their use of texture and colours.
We returned to Norwich on the Monday by the same route. However, armed with some better knowledge of the route, we were able to stick closer to the Weavers’ Way from the campsite to North Walsham. Similarly, getting around Aylsham we were able to follow some NCN signs to avoid the town, though that was more by luck than design. On the Marriott’s Way we stuck to the trail rather than following the NCN1 route signs that take you through Reepham. An alternative route to consider would be to cycle south from Dilham to Hoveton and connect to the Bure Valley trail that runs back to Aylsham.