Cycling in the heart of Norfolk

Cycling is not only one of the best ways to keep fit, it also gives you the opportunity to see our beautiful region from a different perspective. David Gallant mounts up for a 23-mile cycle ride around north Norfolk with his son, Theo.

Starting at Blickling Hall, one of the best preserved early Jacobean houses in the country, this is a ride that takes in one of the lesser known corners of central Norfolk, where the landscape undulates from windswept rise to tree covered valley and where rivers, streams and brooks are never very far away.

Blickling Hall is well worth a visit either before or after your ride and  whether you take in the house and the formal gardens, or just take a walk around the surrounding park, it’s the perfect way to make the most of your day. The ride itself starts at the National Trust car park for Blickling Hall and before you take to the saddle, you may well like to stock up with some provisions for the ride at Samphire’s organic food shop (wonderful sausage rolls!), which specialises in local produce and has won some coveted ‘foody’ awards.

Our route sets off along the road used on the recent East Anglian section of the Tour of Britain winding through a small wood set with mature copper beeches, oaks, and chesnut, which is a riot of colour in the late autumn. A little further along we pass the quirky, tower like brick built hunting lodge that was part of the Blickling estate before taking the sp to Itteringham and the Tudor Rose route. Theo’s away on this long stretch of straight road, making the most of his new front set as he powers across the open landscape before dropping down into the beautiful Bure valley and the attractive little village of Itteringham. Passing the Walpole Arms, I finally catch up with him as we cross the river Bure and follow the narrow road between the neat rows of cottages up past the church and on out of the village. Peaks and troughs punctuate the road as it runs between high hedgerows unevenly divided by the odd bush and tree. A Tudor Rose and a signpost  to Mannington Hall passes on our left. Our research tells us that this fine, flint faced medieval pile is well worth a visit and we make a mental note to return on another occasion.

Following signs to Matlaske, we go straight on over the triangular junction. The narrow lane is lined with a few young oaks and as we cross between the open fields, there are some spectacular views to either side where on a bright, clear day you can see for a good ten to fifteen miles. But being Norfolk, this sort of view comes with a trade off  – we’re almost blown off our bikes!

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We finally reach the crossroads that is Matlaske gap and bear right into the village. Over on the left is Barningham Hall, yet another grand country pile set in stunning parkland. Matlaske itself is a very attractive little village with a pretty little Saxon church with a circular tower that appears just before the sharp ‘S’ bend that denotes the end of the village. Going up through the gears we pick up speed along another straight and level stretch of road with a very attractive backdrop of mature coniferous trees. Our ground speed gives us the momentum for the surprisingly steep little incline through the woods and we turn sharp left turn at the top of the rise out onto another exposed section of road. After passing (almost literally!) through a farm, and avoiding the mud clods, we turn right down into the village of Bessingham. Passing through the village we finally reach the flint church of St Marys, where we turn sharp right and track back along a narrow lane with passing places and on past the strange, thatched, towerless church of Thurgaton. Going straight over the crossroads, we again find ourselves admiring the views, while keeping a careful eye on this narrow lane – locals seem to delight in walking their dogs up the middle of the road! As we head towards the village of Hanworth, we realise that our route skirts the village. We decide to pay it a visit and stop for that well earned sausage roll. Its large common rimmed by mature deciduous trees  makes it the the perfect place for a picnic – the peace and quiet is almost tangible.

Avoiding the cattle grid, we retrace our route and carry straight on up the hill. Taking a double left, the narrow lanes wind their way through  woods before crossing a narrow bridge and we continue on past a surprisingly large school for a small village. We reach Middle Hill and Theo comments that it would be impossible to miss this turn, as there’s a very unusual brick built post box sitting on the corner. Middle Hill is a very attractive downhill tree lined way, and we freewheel for most of it’s length before hitting the first of two short stretches of ‘main’ road. We’re relieved that we’ve only joined this main road for a hundred meters or so, as there seems to be no set speed limit. We take the unsignposted lane to the right on the left hand bend. And just in case you’re already passing the church – you’ve gone too far!

This quiet country lane with its grass spine twists and dips between hedgerows and farmland before reaching the village of Erpingham. Look for School Lane and follow it’s meandering way, but beware it’s  sharp ‘S’ bends – we were almost caught out on a couple of occasions. Having turned right at the top of the lane, the landscape once again opens up as we pass the grand ‘Grange’ with it’s paddocks and ponies.  Dark Lane might be so named because of a dark past, but it pleasantly winds it’s way across undulating farmland before joining the second stretch of ‘main’ road that runs through the village of Ingworth. We cross  over the ‘weak’ bridge that spans the river Bure, and Theo once again utters profanities at a passing motorist that gives him the narrowist of berths.

Leaving the main road is certainly a relief and all the more so as we turn onto a section of the route that passes between the Blickling and Wolterton estates separated only by the valley of the river Bure. The picture postcard landscape with cattle grazing the lush, green water meadows is peace personified. There is not a sound to be heard except for the odd dancing flycatcher. Take this ride at twilight however and you might be lucky enough to see one of a number of barn owls that regularly nest in this tranquil spot. As we ride past Blickling Mill and  the Great Wood we marvel at the scenic beauty that surrounds us. And  then from the tiny hamlet of Itteringham Common we once again drop down through the gears to help our weary legs push us up to the top of the rise. Back onto level ground and we’re catching the breeze as we allow ourselves to open up on the downward stretch back into Blickling. âہ“How about a pint at the Bucks’ Arms,â€Â says Theo. Good idea!

Starting Point: Blickling Hall car park

Distance: 23 miles

Grade: Easy

Map: OS Explorer 252.

Nearest Station: Norwich. www.nationalrail.co.uk

Food & Drink: Walpole Arms. Itteringham. Tel: 01263 587258 www.thewalpolearms.co.uk/ Buckinghamshire Arms. Blickling. Tel: 01263 732133. www.bucks-arms.co.uk Samphire foods, The Estate Barn. Blickling. Tel: 01263 734464.

Accomodation: The Buckinghamshire Arms. Bli
ckling. as above. The Old Pumphouse B&B. Holman Road. Aylsham. Tel: 01263 733789 www.theoldpumphouse.com

Bike shop: Aylsham Cycle Centre. 31a – 33 Red Lion Street. Aylsham. NR11 6ER Tel: 01263 731731 www.aylshamcyclecentre.co.uk

Tourist information: Aylsham Station. Norwich Road. Aylsham. NR11 6BW. Tel: 01263 733903

Places to visit: Mannington Hall. Mannington. NR11 7BB. Tel 01263 584175. ( gardens open May – Sept sundays 12 – 5. June, July , August  – Wed/Thurs/Friday 11 – 5). Blickling Hall. Blickling. NR11 6NF. Tel: 01263 738030. e-mail: [email protected]  Varied opening hours – check website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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