Hiking the Peddars Way Footpath
Lowland Walking in England’s East Anglian Region
The Peddars Way Footpath runs through Norfolk, among fields and by the sea, introducing walkers to the delights of lowland England.
While most of England’s National Trails feature spectacular mountain or coastal cliffs, the 93 miles of the Peddar’s Way and North Norfolk Coast Path provide more relaxed walking through low lying landscapes.
Grand Landscapes, but Easy Walking
Yet the big skies of East Anglia, and the expansive sandbanks and saltmarshes of the coast, give this landscape its own grandeur. And while this long distance footpath doesn’t have steep ascents or mountain scrambles, it has its own challenges – mud, tides, and long stretches with no accommodation or refreshment. It’s surprising just how remote this track can be.
Following a Roman Road
The Peddars Way starts at Knettishall Heath, near Thetford, and follows the track of a Roman Road – and possibly an original prehistoric route – north towards the coast. It runs through the Breckland, its sandy soil supporting dramatic Scots pines and conifer forests. Hidden away among the trees are pingos, where lumps of glacial ice left by the last Ice Age melted to form little circular ponds.
After the first day, the Peddars Way leaves the Breck, and enters a more lush, green landscape, intensively farmed but still with its ancient hedge and tree lined green lanes. It crosses a small ford to reach the ruins of Castle Acre Priory, and then the village of Castle Acre with its excellent Ostrich pub (a chance to make the acquaintance of a range of real ales) and ruined Norman castle.
Green lanes lead onwards, the path of the Roman road running dead straight over low rolling hills. The sky is big overhead, and fine oaks shade the way.
The footpath reaches the coast just to the east of Hunstanton, a fine resort built in the early nineteenth century by local magnate, Henry Styleman Lestrange. The characteristic brown carrstone of the cliffs, tinged by their rich iron content, is used in many of the buildings.
Saltmarshes and Sandbanks Line the Trail
From here onwards, the trail becomes the North Norfolk Coast Path, heading east between saltmarshes and the sea. Occasional villages of flint cottages offer a respite from the bracing sea air. At Holkham, sand dunes, capped by marram grass, line the beach; natterjack toads, with a vivid yellow stripe down their backs, live here, and can be heard at evening. Between here and Wells next the Sea are fine sandbanks – but be careful if the tide is coming in; it advances with unexpected rapidity.
Passing Cley and Blakeney Point, you can choose to watch the birds – or watch the birdwatchers, who’re usually out at weekends with their huge binoculars. Redshanks, stonechats, marsh harriers, sandpipers, all kinds of gulls and terns, and the neatly striped black-and-white avocet with its upturned bill, can all be seen at different times of year.
Finally, the path heads along the top of low cliffs, through the attractive landscape of Sheringham Park, to Cromer – the end of the route, signalled by the fine Perpendicular tower of the church, the tallest tower in Norfolk.
Anyone who’s walked the full 93 miles deserves to feast out on a Cromer crab, or perhaps fish and chips; or head to the Victorian mahogany bar of the Red Lion Hotel for a pint of real ale.
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