Ever get the feeling the world just doesn’t want you to do something? It drops little hints, those small annoyances that you just ignore as part of the adventure. But how many times in one go do you just brush it off as one of those things? A trip up Peddars Way from Thetford to Hunstanton would prove to be one of those trips where the world just dropped a few too many such hints.
The history surrounding Peddars Way is up for debate, many think of it as a Roman road but some believe it pre-dates such developments. Whatever the history surrounding the long distance path, I’d been hoping to explore it by bike for a number of years as it’s one of the few recognised long distance trails local to Norwich. I knew the surface was mostly gravel or light bridleway, so it would make a good adventure route for the gravel bike. However, hoping to make the most of gravel bikes abilities, I wanted to avoid roads as much as possible, meaning some serious route planning.
Many lunchtimes spent poring over Google Maps, Streetview, OSMaps and Strava left me with a route with approximately 70% off-road. Brandon in Suffolk, onto the Peddars Way up to Hunstanton, a mix of road and gravel tracks to Reepham and then down Marriott’s Way back to Norwich. Two overnight stops would give me around 50 miles a day to do, giving a nice leisurely pace to enjoy whatever I might find along the way. No other plans than this, i’d find food and drink along the way and work out bivi spots when I got there.
To achieve the start point I first needed to get to Brandon, which handily lies on the Norwich to Cambridge train line. But herein came the first issue, having loaded up the bike and cycled into Norwich station I found the departures board lit up with those dreaded words, “DELAYED”. Not my train, but three others, I started to worry. I soon discovered that there was an issue at Brandon and no trains were passing through. The announcers voice piped up, stating that my train would only travel as far as Thetford.
World 1 – Matt 0
Only a few miles away from my planned route, no problem. I adjusted my plan and was soon on the bike rolling out of Thetford station towards the forest. I stopped at a pub along the way and chatted to a few locals over a beer.
World 1 – Matt 1
Having finished my drink and with lightning flashing across the sky to the South I pressed on, heading North towards the forest to find somewhere to bivi for the night. I’d often seen a feature on the map called the Devil’s punchbowl and been intrigued, so headed that way to see what it was. Upon arrival it was nothing particularly inspiring, a big depression in the ground with no water in it at all. Suitably unimpressed and with thunder and lightning rolling ever closer I set off to find a bivi spot somewhere close. I wasn’t quick enough though, the heavens opening before I’d managed to get my tarp fully up or my bed setup for the night. I was soaked!
World 2 – Matt 1
Completely soaked and chilly I laid down, watching as the massive storm lit up the forest floor every few minutes. I Eventually got to sleep, though woke regularly with worry that I was going to be floating away. With the biblical amount of rain coming down, I was seriously expecting to see deer, squirrels and ants start walking past in pairs towards an ark ready for the floods. But my shelter held up and I stayed dry, if not a little dirty from moving leaves around to make my own miniature tidal barrier.
World 2 – Matt 2
However, I was tired from lack of sleep and uncomfortable, my sleeping mat having deflated overnight, leaving my laying on the ground. Initially I guessed i hadn’t done the valve up fully, but on later inspection it had clearly sprung a leak somewhere!
World 3 – Matt 2
Still all would be resolved, it had stopped raining and looked like it was going to be a reasonable day and I’d get some breakfast to sort out my mood. I started getting my cooking gear together, but found I’d lost the igniter for my stove (and stupidly thought when packing that I wouldn’t need the backup matches!). No breakfast for me then, I’d pack up, get going and find a cafe on the way.
World 4 – Matt 2
The trail started off well, a mix of gravel and well packed dusty bridleways. Perfect terrain for the Thompson R9300 Gravel bike. I was making good progress, but remembering to stop every few miles to get photos and enjoy the route rather than just riding on. However, the storm (which was now over and gone) had left a surprise behind for me. A tree brought down by lightning completely blocked the trail. A runnner stopped and we chatted that he might be able to squeeze through but I had no chance and would have to detour around by road, adding about 5 miles.
World 5 – Matt 2
The only up-side of the detour, which was entirely road based and included a long stretch on a fairly busy route, was that I passed through the village of Thompson, so had to get a photo of the Thompson in front of the village sign! Not a great bonus, maybe just half a point for that one.
World 5 – Matt 2 1/2
Soon after Thompson I got back onto the gravel trail, bringing a smile back to my face. Though it was short lived, I was quickly presented with another tree brought down by the storm. This tree being much smaller than the last one, I managed to lift the bike over. I think that can go down as one point each.
World 6 – Matt 3 1/2
But in lifting my bike over the tree, the world decided it would strike it’s final blow. As I remounted the bike a sharp pain hit me on my thigh, within minutes it had turned red and started swelling. I tried to ignore it and cycle on but it was starting to cause my entire right thigh to ache. After a few miles, with everything that had been thrown at me I decided that I had had enough. I’d completed half of the Peddars Way, so only a quarter of my planned route, but decided to head home.
World 7 – Matt 3 1/2
This still left me with about 15 miles of road riding to get home and clouds started to build, threatening another downpour. I dived into a cafe for a bacon and sausage roll as the rain once again came down, eventually making it home around lunchtime.
So in the end it was still an adventure, I still have a story to tell from it and enjoyed alot of aspects of the trip. I’ll just have to plan another attempt sometime soon. As a friend said, sometimes it’s about knowing when to hold and when to fold. The stinging pain? Well I think that it was a particularly strong horsefly bite, still swollen and red for about a month after!