For some reason I have long wanted to cycle the East Anglia coast, I had even carried out some route planning but it just hadn’t happen. Then suddenly in May 2014 the weather looked particularly good and we just took off. I had originally intended to incorporate some familiar territory by starting in Essex but due to other commitments had to restrict the ride to just 6-days, so cut-out this part of the trip and hope to maybe return another day to undertake a dedicated Essex ride for old time sake and introduce Mrs G to the delights of this often maligned but actually interesting and attractive county.
As a result we first took the train as far as Ipswich and then cycled round the coast to Kings Lynn, in what did turn out to be outstanding weather. I was brought up in Essex as a teenager, my father lived subsequently in Norfolk and I had visited numerous parts of the region before but, as ever, seeing it by bike was a different experience which made for a great ride.
Day-1 Redhill to Rendlesham Forest: 20 miles
Being a Monday we needed to leave after rush hour in order to take the bikes through London by train but it was an easy journey and we were soon standing outside Ipswich station ready to start the tour. Once outside the home of the ‘Tractor Boys’ we headed east, first stopping at Woodbridge, an attractive and obviously well healed small town situated by the River Deben. Shortly thereafter the route unexpectedly passed close to Sutton Hoo, a famous Anglo-Saxon burial ground together with their boat, so we took a short detour to the site, which turned out to be very worthwhile.
As with most tours I try to locate a suitable campsite beforehand so that at least we know we have a reliable overnight stopping place. Apart from a general sense of where we want to go and looking for good cycling roads, this mainly determines the direction of travel and after that it’s down to serendipity; this isn’t always easy and can go wrong! In this case Tangham campsite was located in Rendlesham Forest, next to a disused USAF airbase and close to another operating UASF airbase, that later provided our evening’s entertainment whilst huge, very noisy Osprey aircraft flew at low altitude around the surrounding landscape into the night but thankfully, not too late; the Osprey is a weird, so-called tiltrotor plane, that allows it to fly both vertically as well as horizontally (VTOL) – thus making it very noisy. I only learnt recently that that in 1980 Rendlesham was also the location of one of the most famous so-called UFO sightings in the UK, so it could have been worse!
When touring with Mrs G a decent evening meal is essential and I was aware that the relatively remote campsite might make this difficult. It seems that there had been a pub with food just down the road but, like so many in the UK, it had recently closed. We therefore set off to Orford on the coast some 8-miles away in the hope somewhere was open on a Monday night. Although I would generally try and avoid this length of ride to find an evening meal, there was no alternative but, as it turned out, dinner there was excellent and Orford was an attractive village by the sea; the adjacent Orfordness Spit is a famous nature reserve and that evening was looking particularly serine and very beautiful as the sun set.
Day-2 Rendlesham to Kessingland: 38 miles
The area between Southend and Lowestoft is a flooded coastline dissected by numerous, often large flooded river valleys and estuaries that provide a major obstacle to roads and therefore our intended ride. There are some local ferries that will take a bike across in the summer season but often it is necessary either to ride around these natural features or avoid them completely. Cycling mainly north or north east today we therefore often had to stay inland rather than follow the coast, as we would have liked and unfortunately completely missed out Aldeburgh altogether. Notwithstanding, we managed to pass by Dunwich (the final destination of an annual 120 mile night bike ride from London each year called the Dunwich Dynamo) and skirted the RSPB Minsmere wetland and coastal bird reserve, before finding an old narrow bridge which took us across the river and into Southwold, a delightful seaside town, known also for its brewery and Adnams beer – one of my personal favourites. It would be indecent not to sample the local produce and the sun was by now hot, so we stopped for a crab salad and a pint of Adnams – most unlike my usual daytime abstemious self but, when in Rome……..
I don’t remember much of the subsequent ride, which had nothing to do with the Adnams, but an hour or so on we rolled into the Kessingland C&CC campsite. As usual the C&CC site was well kept but with one obvious and one less obvious problem. On each side of the campsite were two enormous wind turbines. Putting aside the visual impact on the countryside of these monsters, they look quite innocuous from a distance but close-up they are very noisy as every few seconds a large wooshing noise as each blades pass by. At first I did not think we could stay here and expect to get a good night’s sleep but after a couple of hours we became used to it and at midnight they at last stopped until 6.00 a.m the next morning.
The other problem was even more unusual and took me back to another continent where I had once lived. Immediately opposite the campsite was an African themed zoo and from time-to-time, we could hear African birds calling, monkeys and even lions. Whilst somewhat incongruous, I quite enjoyed it as it provided an unusual, not unpleasant atmosphere, which took me back to an earlier life.
Day-3 Kessingland to Cromer: 58 miles
Today the ride consisted in two contrasting stages. Unable to ride inland because of the Norfolk Broads, at first we had to navigate through and around Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, subsequently passing across the sandy, dune filled landscape of the far north east coast of East Anglia. As expected Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth was very slow going, taking some 3-hours before eventually heading onwards to Caister-on-Sea. Cycling in this part of Norfolk is exposed but has an attractive bleakness to it and thankfully the weather was good – I would not like to be cycling there in less favourable conditions though.
I had been looking forwards to reaching Cromer, famous for its crabs but the section after Great Yarmouth turned out to be quite long and the landscape in and around Cromer was hilly, never good on a loaded bike after a long day. Furthermore, the campsite proved very difficult to find – in fact, it was some way past Cromer which we therefore only glimpsed as we passed through, and up and over a very large hill, well away from shops and potential eating places. Being quite exhausted when we eventually arrived at the attractive C&CC campsite, we really didn’t have the energy to ride out over the hill again to find dinner – then we got lucky, as it was the night when a fish and chip van visited the site!
Day-4 Cromer to Wells-next-the-Sea: 26 miles
I suspect the purist’s cycle route along the north Norfolk coast is using the North Coast Cycleway. However, in order to keep away from busy roads and improve the overall ambiance, this route often zig-zags some way inland and makes the ride longer, more hilly and often takes you well away from the coast itself, which was the main reason for us cycling here. We therefore almost exclusively just followed the A149 from here onwards, which was nonetheless OK and we got to see the coast most of the time; it was still early June and the roads were relatively quiet but I suspect in high season they would be much busier.
First stop this sunny morning was the pleasant seaside town of Sheringham, where we found an excellent café for full English breakfast. Thus fortified the ride onwards across the north Norfolk coast was outstanding – numerous bird and nature reserves, including Blakeney Point known for its seal colonies, with exquisite vistas out to sea and along this sandy coastline before eventually reaching Wells-next-the-Sea, a gem of a small town and our overnight stop. Following yesterday’s long slog, today we reached Wells shortly before lunch and had much of the day left during which to relax and investigate the area.
In the end we took a small tourist boat out along the Heritage Coast and found a quite old fashioned but outstanding restaurant in the evening specialising in crab, we had struck gold! I had not originally intended to stop at Wells but then decided to split the north coast section and take things slower, what a stroke of genius (if I say so myself); Wells-next-the-Sea is the UK and especially Norfolk at its very best.
Day-5 Wells-next-the-Sea to Sandringham: 28 miles
Sheringham to Wells was, in my opinion, the best part of the north Norfolk coast. As we continued onwards to Hunstanton on the A149, the road was a little further way from the coast which, although still pleasant with wide coastal views, lacked the visual impact and interest of the previous day’s ride.
This was all new territory for me and on reaching Hunstanton I got my first view over the Wash – so that’s another tick in the box – which was otherwise quite unexceptional. At this point we turned south and headed for the Queen’s country retreat at Sandringham, well the C&CC campsite there anyhow! Sandringham is usually the Queen’s Christmas home each year and features on the TV when the Royal family attends church on Christmas day – we therefore had an evening spin around these places before finding a pub, where surprisingly there was no sign of Her Majesty.
Day-6 Sandringham to Redhill: 10 miles
For some reason I was keen to look around Kings Lynn the next day, originally the main market and port on this part of the coast but in order to catch the London train there was not time. From a brief glimpse it did look interesting, so is maybe worth returning one day?
From here on the journey would usually be quite straightforward: train to London, cycle across London then the train home. Unfortunately we had overlooked that today was the Queen’s Trooping of the Colour ceremony at Horse Guards Parade in London; this may have explained why we didn’t see her at the pub the previous evening? The impact was twofold. First, although we did get a seat from Kings Lynn the train was soon very full and got fuller, presumably with visitors going to the Trooping ceremony and secondly (we did not at the time know it was the Trooping of the Colour), we cycled straight towards Trafalgar Square in order to get to London Victoria station and found all the roads closed – thus requiring a major diversion. Oh well we were soon home and thinking about where next?
STATS – MAPS – STUFF
Tour: 9th to 14th June 2014, 6-days
Total Mileage: 215 miles (including other cycling)
Maps: OS 1/50,000 132 / 133 / 134 / 156 / 169
OS 1:100,000 Tour Travel Map (for motoring but good overview + town insets)
GoldenEye Maps: Suffolk & Norfolk
|1||Redhill to Ipswich||TRAIN TO: London Bridge – Liverpool Street – Ipswich c£29.50|
|Ipswich to Redlesham Forest||Ipswich to Woodbridge to Rendlesham Forest via Sutton Hoo||20.00|
|2||Rendlesham to Kessingland (South of Lowestoft)||Via Southwold||38.00|
|3||Kessingland to Cromer||Via Lowestoft & Gt Yarmouth||58.00|
|4||Cromer to Wells next the Sea||Via Sheringham on A149||26.00|
|5||Wells to Sandringham||A149 to Hunstanton then south||28.00|
|6||Kings Lynn to Redhill||TRAIN ( First Capital Connectc 1h 40 mins) £18.10||10.00|