The Peddars Way
“Peddars Way”- said to be derived from the Latin “pedester”, meaning “on foot”
Back in 2016, I completed The Ridgeway. I quite enjoyed this ancient trackway, walking from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon, and resolved then to complete the Greater Ridgeway which comprises a number of ancient (and not so ancient) paths that stretch some 360+ miles from the South Coast at Lyme Regis in Dorset to the north Norfolk coast at Holme-next-the-Sea. It is mostly made up of four long distance paths- the Wessex Ridgeway, The Ridgeway, the Icknield Way and the Peddars Way. The latter is half of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, a National Trail that I completed last month.
I had considered walking the trail with Mrs Three Points of the Compass last year but reading up on the route decided that, if not actually likely to be boring, that there probably wasn’t going to be much of interest for the two of us. Nonetheless, on 1st April 2017 I set off to walk the 92 miles. Hopeful of at least a night or two wild camping, just a little preliminary research revealed that I would find water sources difficult to locate. To make it far easier, I stayed at recognised camping sites where water would not be a problem. I took my single skin Nigor WikiUp 3 SUL, the inner nest being correctly deemed unnecessary. The remainder of my gear can be seen here.
Other than my tent, which will be changed later this year, this walk was a bit of a final ‘shake-down’, seeing if my current kit list is where I want it for my Three Points of the Compass walk that starts exactly a year after I set off on the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path.
Instead of being a boring route, I found much of interest. Both halves of the National Trail were a bit of a homecoming for me. I spent some time as a teenager, when I was an Army Cadet, traipsing through dripping foliage in the Military Training Areas of the Brecklands of north Suffolk and South Norfolk. The heavy, rubberised poncho I wore then proved to be excellent protection from the heavy rain all those years ago. The ponchos eventually gave way to lighter silicone coverings that were equally as effective when strung as tarps for night halts. No rain was experienced on this last trip, unsurprising in one of the driest parts of the country.
Catching a series of trains from home to Thetford, a £19 taxi ride took me to the start of my walk. It wasn’t long before I was in to acid grasslands, chalk grasslands, heathers and pine woodlands. The first couple of days also saw me passing more pig farms than I had ever seen before. Overhead, Buzzards were frequently seen but sadly no sight of the Stone Curlews for which I used to visit this area to see a couple of decades ago.
Where a walk of a mile or so would take me to something of interest, I would occasionally turn off the well marked path. The unique water and windmill at Little Cressingham is just the sort of little gem that adds so much to a walk such as this. I passed a number of windmills in Norfolk, few, if any, now filling their original purpose.
On just a few occasions I reined in my forward motion and paused for a few minutes to indulge in a brief sketch. Again, I am narrowing down my lightweight art kit that will accompany me on my Big Walk in 2018 and wanted to see how my small selection of materials is performing.
Other than halting to poke around ruined churches and the like, I happily stepped in to just a handful of pubs. Entering Stonebridge, I followed a road for no more than a couple of hundred metres, but walking past the door of the Dog and Partridge close to the end of a days walking was enough to tempt me in for a couple of excellent pints of Woodfordes Bure Gold. After all, it is almost a duty to put a little trade the way of the local businesses, isn’t it?
It was near Stonebridge that I was almost flattened by a group of off-road motorcyclists. Leaping to the side of the path to avoid being hit (and no, it wasn’t a By-way) I lived to walk another day.
“You’ve got to call it Swaaaaffam these days…” Tony Garrod
The path crosses right through, and close to, much of interest, even if there is often very little remaining to actually be seen on the ground now. I was thankful that I took my trail guide as I walked along the quiet and lonely Procession Lane. I would never have known that to my left was where B24 Liberators of the 492nd Bomb Group had set off for their 64 missions in just 3 months in 1944. It was here that the Thor ballistic missiles had been sited in 1959, setting off vehement anti-nuclear demos. Nothing remains of that to be seen. Little remained too, of the former Swaffham – Thetford railway that crossed both former airfield site and my path.
Each of my camp sites was more than adequate. Day one saw me 8.5 miles to Puddledock Farm, day two took me 11 miles to Brick Kiln Farm and the final overnight halt on the Peddars Way was at the lovely Bircham Windmill after a 22.5 mile yomp.
Every now and then on my three-ish days on the Peddars Way, there was a reminder of the thousands of people- soldiers, traders, pilgrims and the itinerant, that had used this route in the past. Fields are dotted with marl pits, there is the occasional tumuli from the Bronze Age, but I had to look hard for the traces of Roman Forts. I suppose the finest record of their passing is the trail itself.
While there was a great deal of easy going trackway, I had to contend with quite few miles of road walking. This had already begun to cause me problems with my feet, but I will write about that issue another day.
Is the Peddars Way worth doing? Absolutely. However I would add that it is essential to also complete the Norfolk Coast Path in order to gain the contrast. My next post will cover that section of the trail.
Another piece in the Greater Ridgeway jigsaw completed…