Day 2: Brecklands and Broadlands - Norfolk 'n Good - CycleBlaze

May 31, 2021

Day 2: Brecklands and Broadlands

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A perfect undisturbed camp, but boy did I feel cold again. My little tent is extremely lightweight, and though it can stand up to some heavy weather (like I had in Austria) it has several panels of just mesh which I think means it isn't nearly as well insulated. My down bag is now over 10 years old and has lost a lot of feathers too, so I think in combination it means I'm just getting a lot colder than I was. 

Still, I slept pretty well, and was up with the birds singing at around 6ish. Even though there was nobody around, I got the tent down quickly anyway and had more hot chocolate and a sweet Chelsea bun for a breakfast sugar-rush.

The plan today was to ride to the edge of the Broads, the picturesque swathe of wetland beyond Norwich, and meet up with Caroline. The first stretch I'd planned would take my all the way through the woods on off-road tracks to the Norfolk border.

I was a bit worried about how sandy they'd be - in the converse to the mud problem, the drier these tracks got the harder progress could be. At their worst they could be like riding through sand dunes. I started off gingerly, but found that while it was a challenge at times and I couldn't get much faster than about 5mph, it wasn't too much effort and the leisurely-going was enjoyable in itself.

The sandy main track through the King's Forest
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Large stretches of the forest are broadleaf beach, and I saw lots of little deer
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The early haze burned off quickly, and it was soon very warm again. The tracks lead out the forest, but still off-road, and through enormous farms owned by the manor estates. The sandy soil seems a bit marginal for crops, and I passed several big, free-range pig farms, with (huge) adult pigs and (tiny) new piglets loping around between their bunker-like shelters.

Farming the sandy soil on the edge of the forest
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The big irrigation rigs that are needed to keep it watered
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These are byways, which mean (some of the time) you can even drive motor vehicles down them. Fortunately, on these minor ones, it doesn't seem anyone does
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Conditions really were very good
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The big free-range pig farms. The pigs looked pretty happy, would come up towards me and give me a curious look as I approached.
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I could just see tiny piglet ears poking above the grass.
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It was an enjoyable slow roll through the lanes, but when I finally regained the road in Euston, I realised I'd taken 2 hours to travel barely 20km. I had a good 60 to go, and had planned to meet Caroline by mid-afternoon, so I needed to get a move on.

The Brecklands, the countryside around this part of the Norfolk-Suffolk borderland is weird, almost feudal - instead of individual farms, there are huge estates, and the villages are comprised only of the manor house and a few surrounding worker's cottages - no shops, industry, or much else. Elveden, Barnham, Euston - I spent the first three hours of the day passing through land owned by these big estates.

Beyond this was an even emptier stretch of heathland, Knettishall Heath, which I'm afraid I rather sped through in order to make time. I stopped in Hopton to buy more fluid and some lunch - it was very hot now and I was running low on water again - and was pleased to see my appearance didn't inspiring too much fear in the locals. Then I sped towards Diss, the only real town in this area, following the river Waveney through beautiful countryside and intriguing, sprawling and tumble-down properties.

The lovely road through Knettishall Heath. I really should have appreciated this more, but I was making time.
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I was pleased to reach Diss. I'm not dissing Diss, it's a nice place, and the town council clearly likes a pun too.
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After Diss I squeezed through a tiny path, part of the Angles (as in Anglo-Saxon) way. It was still early, but I thought I'd made up enough time now, so I had some lunch.

Then it was back on the back roads. After weaving through yet more small villages, and the larger one of Harleston, I joined an official cycle route - part of route 1 which goes all the way from Dover to Shetland. This followed the main road, crossing over a number of times.

Grass growing in the middle of the road is always a good sign
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Green wheat and tower
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American WW2 cemetery. From VisitNorfolk: "By 1944, Norfolk echoed to the roar of B24 Liberators and B17 Flying Fortresses as huge aerial armadas took to the skies from a countryside so freckled with bomber bases that it became known as ‘Little America’". A strange fact: "there was also segregation. It is shocking to us today, but Diss was a town that only black servicemen were allowed in, and in Harleston there were alternate days for black and white."
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Kathleen JonesHow charming of the white folk to allow the Black folk to have a place to themselves. Oy.
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1 month ago
Suffolk is one of the few regions in England which can successfully commercially produce wine. A lot of it has quite a decent reputation.
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This is a proper New Age-traveller bus. It also had a sign on the back saying "follow the hippy way, don't litter" which I rather liked
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It was really warm now, 25 degrees or so. I'd made up a lot of time and was well on target for getting to Loddon, our agreed meeting place, by 3 - but was really thirsty. I pulled into Bungay, another pretty town with an odd-sounding name, where I had a sequence of confusing encounters fuelled by my incipient dehydration.

First I had a good naturedly comical chat with chap asking me where the nearest petrol station was. Despite the fact I had no clue whatsoever, I kept trying to think up useful advice, and he kept politely listening and agreeing with me. Then I tried to buy a soft drink in a chip shop - no, they only took cash, and I like an idiot I had less than a pound on me. Finally, I found an open shop, where the shopkeeper kindly allowed me to pay for a £1 drink with a card, but confused the hell out of me by joking around the whole time. Apologies to all the people I puzzled in Bungay.

Bungay. It was *very* quiet
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I now had an hour to get to Loddon, it was only 12km or so, and I knew I could make it easily. Some lovely countryside took me mostly downhill, to this surprisingly substantial town on the edge of the broads. These are an extensive network of wetlands and channels that drain most of the rivers of East Anglia, the Yare, the Waveney and the Bure.

Well, this is confusing
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I like the perspective here, with the small round trees and church tower
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Pretty good riding
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I pulled in at Loddon near the free boatyard, where I had a amusing conversation with some rather drunk boatmen who wanted to draw my attention to how much a middle-aged couple on one of the other boats looked like Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton (he kept singing "Islands in the Stream"). Five minutes later Caroline pulled into the carpark - we'd not arranged a meeting place, it was just chance. 

After she got parked up, we went for a short walk (or in my case, a stagger) into the Broads. Then it was off to the pub for a pint and to listen to some spirited, but somewhat amateur, singing. The locals were pretty well lit, and it was good-naturedly ramshackle.

Caroline in front of the big church in Loddon
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I think it's the compass watch which really brings style to this ensemble
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Kathleen JonesHow could the compass watch NOT bring the style. So well accessorized.
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1 month ago
Jon AylingTo Kathleen JonesIt's the little touches that make this outfit. It wouldn't work without the broken Slovak sunglasses, too.
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1 month ago
Out in the broads. We really wanted to get to the other side but there was no bridge - we were kind of tempted to ask for a lift in the rowboat
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Just the one drink nearly knocked me out, so it was good I remembered I still had to dismantle the bike and get it in Caroline's car. This was a lot easier than the last (dark and freezing) time and took about a third of the time. I also rather brazenly changed my clothes right there outside the church.

Then it was into Norwich for a dinner out. I was worried it would be dead, on the bank holiday, but the city centre was pretty lively. We'd picked a Turkish/Kurdish restaurant by the station, but it was actually packed when we got there at 7. No worries, we went for a drink and then they seated us at 8. Our first meal out for 8 months, and really fantastic food and nice people - I was ravenous but the Moussaka certainly satisfied.

Norwich castle is a big square block of a thing
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The Wensum in Norwich. We, er, avoided the Premier Inn pub, even though it was doing a roaring trade
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I was very thankful to then be driven home - I would not have enjoyed the 3-4 hours of changing trains it otherwise would have taken. I actually slept in the car, which is a near impossibility for me normally, and when I woke up we were driving through the villages right next to Potton and I must have been half dreaming - I didn't recognise them, it was a really odd experience.

Today's ride: 86 km (53 miles)
Total: 167 km (104 miles)

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