I expected the Peddars Way to be easy. A tame, pancake-flat route of benign cinder paths and quiet lanes. I mean, this is Norfolk afterall: Pretty villages, endless fields of arable crops, rock-and-slot-machine coastal resorts. I’m pleased to say my preconceptions were wrong.
That said, this isn’t the Highland Trail or the Pennine Bridleway. Folk seeking those kind of gritted-teeth thrills should look north. However, the gun-barrel straight Peddars – a former Roman road – does have one or two tricks up its sleeve. These include a sense of remoteness along with unexpectedly challenging terrain and trail conditions that somehow creep up and tap you on the shoulder when the thighs start to burn.
The Way is part of the National Trail network. It is primarily a walking path and the official bike route diverts off the trail in places where the designated bridleway runs out. I’d never heard of it and the suggestion to put tyre to trail came from my girlfriend, Sophie, who has plenty of experience pedalling the flatlands.
We started at Thetford Station. I’d brought the trusty Ogre which seemed a little over gunned for what lay ahead (doesn’t it always?) while Sophie, who doesn’t suffer my Surly disposition, was on her perfectly proportioned Sonder Camino Ti. This, she insists upon reminding me, is a ‘multi-day adventure bike’ (‘It’s not a touring bike!’). Marketing semantics to one side, it was good to see it on a multi-day adventure at last albeit for what we both felt would be a very straightforward two-day bimble.
We followed the signs for the Peddars Way through Thetford and promptly lost them. They are there, just keep your wits about you as their tucked away locations appear more geared for more sedate pedestrians rather than cyclists. We eventually joined the trail near Thorpe Woodlands and hit the dirt. Roundham and Hockham Heath soon passed under our wheels and we got into the groove of the journey, stopping frequently for pictures and exploratory Blackberry foraging – still a wee bit too early perhaps.
The trail is well way marked and easy to follow with little need for additional navigation. A word of caution should extend to supplies though. It is perhaps not surprising that some of the numerous signs also pointed to convenience stores and pubs off route as the trail does plot a rather lonely course through this largely well populated county. If you were to stay on the route as we did you’d go hungry. Fortunately, Sophie is a great believer in carrying plenty of snacks (more so than I, thank goodness) and we were well fuelled as we pushed on.
For a number of reasons we booked an Air B&B a few miles off the route for our overnight stop. This proved to be an excellent choice and I can highly recommend Holly House Annexe in Tittleshall. To reach it, I made rather a mess of the navigation off the route near Sporle taking us along some very restricted muddy byways and we arrived late. Our hosts couldn’t have been more accommodating though and even offered to store the bikes in their utility room. After a quick shower we enjoyed some proper pub grub at the Fox and Hounds, a short bike ride away in Weasenham St Peter. A great boozer and not a gastropub pretension in sight. Amen.
We pushed off into warm sunshine the following morning pedalling along glorious quiet lanes while chatting away. With yesterday’s navigational nonsense behind us, we soon found the trail at just after Massingham Common and were Hunstanton-bound again.
Here the trail was now so straight you could calibrate a compass by it. The surface became challenging though. Tussocky grass and mild inclines made for draining progress while deep, muddy ruts and undulations along the multi tracked bed (no doubt the product of scrambling bikes using the route) further hampered out progress. Here, Sophie started to struggle on her tyres which lacked a sufficiently aggressive tread. I had the advantage of fatter boots and the larger wheels so the Ogre just about ploughed onwards.
After the climbs came some fairly rapid descents and I sped off jumping like some BMX bandit reliving a misspent youth. Benefitting from more common sense that I, the sandy sections again caused Sophie to exercise caution as her tyres were found wanting on the loose stuff. Her hands were raw too from the trail buzz which underlined the stony progress in places – cinder paths this ‘aint.
We pressed on, the trail providing a green vein amid intensively tended fields and occasional pockets of heathland. After reaching the affluent homes of Ringstead it was simply a case of dropping into Hunstanton on the road. A note of caution here, avoid the A149 if you can as it is seemingly full of blinkered motorists craning their necks for the sea.
We had both been fantasising about fish and chips for the last hour. As we hungrily sought a suitable fryer we bumped into a Lancastrian gent who wanted to talk bikes – he was particularly taken with my muddy Ogre propped against my leg. It became clear rather quickly that is was not going to be a speedy exchange but I struggled to find a natural break in the chat in order to weed my way out. A gentle, surreptitious foot tap on my front wheel from Sophie underlined the need to make my excuses.
Eventually, our friend relented but gave us a good tip for a lunchtime fish supper – Supafry. It was perhaps too plentiful yet rather fine.
We still had a ways to go. In order to make a connecting service back to Cambridge, we needed to get to Kings Lynn. I suggested we follow NCN Route One and this proved to be a decent choice, albeit the first few miles crossing some fairly lumpy country. The inclines had a wee bit more piquancy after the hefty lunch but the miles rumbled under our wheels at good pace. We stopped at Sandringham for a quick resupply and the route soon delivered us via a series of snickets, jitties and ginnels to the railway station.
Some thoughts on the bikes
The Ogre, heavy and ugly as ever, was a capable ride for this route. The Halo Twin Rails handled everything thrown at them reinforcing their position as my favourite all-roads tyre (thanks again to Tim at Life in the Cycle Lane for the introduction). Everything worked as it should, the Rohloff drivetrain reassuringly silent despite the chain being clogged with mud.
Sophie’s Camino was also a fine choice for this route although her tyres – Schwalbe G One’s – were found wanting in the mud and sand. Her Alpkit seat pack was a wee bit troublesome too given the Velcro straps did not fit around her seat tube, curious as the bike is supplied by the company. I think this is more a reflection of the size of her frame (tiny). There is very little clearance between the bag and rear tyre suggesting that some kind of rack or support is the only truly safe way to proceed with a bike of these proportions.
In a nutshell
Peddars Way. 46 miles, 750m of ascent. Take plenty of food – Be prepared for more challenging cycling in the northern sections – Don’t be put off wildcamping or bivvying as the potential spots are numerous – We took two days at a leisurely pace but a reasonably fit cyclist should complete this route in 6-7 hours – Bear in mind you need to pedal to or from your chosen public transport point at Hunstanton, in our case adding 18 miles.