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Tag: hiking

Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 3

We left Downham Market in good time after a traditional and filling Full English breakfast. Well, I had the Full English; TheHusband was more restrained. We walked back out of town, pausing only to pick up a Cornish pasty and sweet roll at the bakery we’d seen on the way in. Our lunches had been a bit sketchy the previous two days because the pubs were either too early in the walk, closed, or too far off the road when we passed by them (and there weren’t many to begin with). The bakery smelled wonderful and was doing a brisk business at 8:45 on a Monday morning.

This was our last day and the walk to King’s Lynn was a straight 13-mile shot up the Great Ouse. For the first couple of miles we walked on a high bank that lies between the river and the channel, and the weather was cool and cloudy.

The river had turned tidal by this point, and there were fewer swans and birdlife overall, but the cormorants we saw looked like sleek fighter jets. Speaking of which, the quiet was regularly broken by very loud fighters which we couldn’t see but could definitely hear. Looking at our maps on a break, we discovered that we were quite near RAF Marham, a major base.

It was an uneventful walk through the morning, with bridges spanning the river every two to three miles. After a couple of hours we closed in on the Wiggenhall villages: St. Germans, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Mary the Virgin, and St. Peter. Wiggenhall St. Peter features a beautiful church that is now in ruins:

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Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 2

The second day of our walk fell on a Sunday, so we were a bit later starting out. But our inn was right on the path, so we hopped the stile and walked half a mile to the Littleport train stop. We then took a right and headed up onto the bank to the bridge that would take us to the east side of the river and the path north. This is one of the least attractive parts of the walk, because the path lies between the river and the A10 motorway. Since it was Sunday the traffic was lighter but it was still unpleasant, and we even had a White Van Man yell something out the window at us (we couldn’t make out the exact words but they weren’t words of encouragement). We slogged on in the wind and cold for about three miles, when we came to a junction where a creek joined the river. At that point we were more than ready to see the motorway fork right while we forked left.

In previous years’ accounts of this stretch walkers had talked about how difficult the path was. Luckily, it had been mowed by a large machine and so we weren’t fighting chest-high plants. We encountered a retired farmer who told us that the mowers had been through less than a month ago, so we really felt fortunate. We saw a few birds, including the ever-present swans, but not as many as on the previous day.

We also had up close and personal views of the agricultural productivity of the region. This is one of several hay buildings we saw on the way:

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Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 1

We skipped Thanksgiving this year in favor of another walking holiday. We didn’t have much time, because the semester is not yet over (*cries*) but we were able to put together a week and go to England. Given it was late November and therefore likely to be cold, rainy, and dark, we looked for a path that would be doable under a variety of conditions. We settled on the Fen Rivers Way, which runs from Cambridge to King’s Lynn along the Cam and Great Ouse rivers.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Cambridge (TheH has lived in or near there for stretches of time since he was a teenager), and we’ve visited Ely and its magnificent cathedral, as well as surrounding villages. And we’ve even walked part of the river path from Cambridge. But we’d never been to King’s Lynn or that corner of Norfolk. It is very flat, but the Fens are beautiful in their own way. Efforts to drain the Fens and make them agriculturally productive began in the 17th century and there are some impressive feats of engineering. In addition, people live in narrowboats along the rivers, so you have that culture as well. It can be very windy, but that part of southeast England gets less rain than a lot of the country, so we decided to chance it.

The path itself is 48-50 miles, and we allotted three days. These would be longer days mileage-wise than we averaged in Wales, but with no elevation and slightly lighter packs, we thought we could manage it. The main constraint was going to be the light: there would only be about 7 1/2 hours of sun a day at this time of year, and sunset would come by 4pm. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40s, with low 50s a couple of days, and the rain was supposed to be intermittent and rarely heavy (unlike the Midlands and the North, where there had been significant rain and flooding the week before).

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Offa’s Dyke walk Day 1

Our short walk last evening helped us get a sense of what the path would be like and how it was marked. But setting out for a 7+ mile day wearing backpacks which carry all our stuff is different. We had a lovely Full English breakfast food for sustenance and set out at 9:30 in a misty drizzle. As soon as we crossed the Chepstow bridge we started up a steepish lane to join the path at the same place where we had turned off the night before. I was panting in no time, which made me wonder about the rest of the journey. But I slowly adjusted and my backpack was comfortable.

The path does not always parallell Offa’s Dyke, despite the name, but in this opening section we spent a lot of time walking along it. It rises up to close to 20 feet in some places. We walked through fields and woods as well, and saw some spectacular scenery despite the rain:

We made one huge wrong turn in a field, which meant retracing our steps for about a mile out and back. And as the day progressed the rain became steadier and more penetrating. Even our waterproofs weren’t completely effective. But we kept going, squelching through the mulch and mud. When we arrived at the lookout just before the Devil’s Pulpit, though, the rain began pouring down and we could barely see Tintern Abbey through the mist and rain.

We were lucky to be under the canopy of a huge old tree, so we waited out the worst of it and went on to the Devil’s Pulpit.

We missed our turnoff to the path that would take us to the village of Tintern, but realized our error more quickly this time and doubled back. The footpath down hadn’t been described as particularly difficult, but it was rocky and occasionally quite steep, and the torrential rains of the last week had turned the upper parts into a creek. Thank goodness for gaiters over waterproof hiking shoes. And did I mention it was still raining?

After a somewhat grisly 45 minutes or so we made it down to the Tintern bridge and walked the remaining half mile to our night’s lodging, where we were welcomed with tea and cake. We rested, cleaned up, and walked backed to the Abbey for a closer look:

The Parva Farmhouse, where we stayed, is famous for its restaurant. We had booked dinner and were rewarded with a splendid meal. Needless to say, we slept well. Miles of hiking seemed to vanquish any jet lag.

Tomorrow, on to Monmouth. I’m holding up well but we have 6 days to go. The scenery and sense of being in a timeless place are well worth the effort. Here’s the map of our day, complete with the morning’s wrong-turn detour: