Monday 17 July 2017

Sunny North Norfolk and a Teddy Bears Picnic (LGD -300 Days)
Monday 17 July 2017, 115 Miles

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Unlike yesterday which was defined by a leaden-grey overcast sky, sunshine was on the menu today. And what better way to enjoy it than a ride up towards the North Norfolk coast. I was on the road by 7:45 am bound initially for Castle Acre. It is one of those simply delightful villages that is absolutely overflowing with history. The village takes its name from the walled 11 and 12th century Norman castle. The castle was founded shortly after the Battle of Hastings by William de Warenne (the first Earl of Surrey) and an associate of William the Conqueror. The Bailey Gate, which I rode under reinforces the power of the castle’s defences. If that wasn’t enough, the now ruined Priory, which was established in 1090, is one of England’s best-preserved monastic sites.

The water meadows to the west of the village date from the 17th century and a complex system of ridges and channels was used early in the year to run water across the slopes and valley bottom. This ensured the availability of good pasture early in the year for livestock with a good hay crop later in the year. About 25 years ago I took part in a visit around the meadows, led by a local archaeologist who provided a captivating account of the agricultural practices of the time and their impact on the economy of the village. The ridges and channels are still visible today – if you look closely. Oh, there is one other piece of information that I must share with you. Castle Acre sausages, made to a secret recipe, are legendary. Although they are no longer available in the village, a visit to Impson’s Butchers in nearby Swaffham will reward you.

From Castle Acre I continued northwards and gently upwards along an old Roman Road and part of the Peddars Way National Trail arriving eventually at the entrance to Houghton Hall. This was built in the 1720’s for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It sits in an impressive deer park. Sadly, the Hall has had a chequered history but shortly after World War 1 the house was restored to its former glory by the then owner, the Marquess of Cholmondeley. Today it is open to the public and houses an impressive collection of art and artefacts. This summer, Richard Long the Turner Prize-winning landscape artist has an exhibition (Earth Sky) in the grounds. Reading about the exhibition on the Hall’s website is enticing me to make a return visit and see the exhibition for myself.

Leaving Houghton I headed for Burnham Market where, being the halfway point of the ride, I had planned to stop for some refreshments. Unfortunately the place was awash with what felt like half the population of East Anglia attending what looked like an upmarket outdoor bric‑à‑brac sale. Faced with this I decided to put my fall-back plan into action and I carried on to a rather nice café on the site of the former Creake Abbey. An excellent and very generous slice of coffee and walnut cake washed down with a cappuccino set me up for the homeward 55 miles. Looking at the map when I got back home I discovered that I had been just a couple of miles from the site of Nelson’s birthplace so I’ve made a mental note to look that up when I’m next here. All the threshold signs for Norfolk refer to Nelson’s County, presumably as a tourist marketing gimmick, sorry ‘thing’.

The return leg took me through Fakenham and a busy Dereham towards the edge of Attleborough. Just before Attleborough I passed through Great Ellingham which I have written about before – specifically the astronomical telescope (see blog for 29 October 2016). I may have underestimated the place though since today I came across another great surprise – a Teddy Bear Trail. This is part of a bigger Teddy Bear Festival which was started in 2004. The Festival raises money for good causes but its main aim is to celebrate village life an encourage community spirit – the motto of the Festival is “Teddy bears are a sign of comfort and friendship.” Well, in an era where everyone seems to be in a hurry and wrapped up in their own worlds anything that encourages people to acknowledge each other and be sociable has to be a good thing. Of course, the friendly wave that (most) cyclists give each other as they pass by shows that we are ahead of the curve. So on that cheery note readers, I’ll sign off here.

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