Day 8: Hunstanton to Thurlby

‘If I have kids, I’ll make sure they’re boys’ – two women in conversation at the Horsehoe pub, Thurlby.

The mental overstimulation of travelling is taking a toll. Right now I’m happy to pay. I’m loathe to leave Hunstanton, but I’m hungry for new sights, and besides, I’ve never been to Lincolnshire before. Now is that time.

I awake tired and preoccupied with more fretful dreams. I strike up conversation with my dorm-mate, a young architecture student who tells me about his bold vision of pedestrianizing Parliament square. He describes his plan in detail, with a great public structure representing freedom at its centre. It’s the first new vision I’ve heard in a while, and the courageous belief in something new is heartening. His name was Mischa, and I wish him well.

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Day 7: Hunstanton rest day

“English weather!” – heard at least five times during the course of wandering round the rain-swept town.

Does it always rain at the English seaside resort? The weather seems to always be at least inclement, at least as I recall. These last few days have gone by in such a blur that, were I not writing down everything I came across, I’d struggle to tell you where I’d been.

Great torrents of rain come down as I get up, disrupting any plans for the town’s visiting families during the school half term. For me it is an opportunity to observe how we spend our leisure, and spend more time talking to people about life here.

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Day 6: Wymondham to Hunstanton

“Pray for us, sinners now, and at the hour of our death” – Walsingham.

This is perhaps the most two-sided day of the journey so far, containing elements of dreadful and wonderful in an exhausting yet bizarrely life-affirming drama.

I awake early in a large playing field, and after putting away my tent, sneak away and devour a breakfast of currants. It’s a sunny and pleasant day, and I book ahead a youth hostel bed in faraway Hunstanton, in order to avoid the following night’s predicted rain. From the kid’s centre I pedal up to Norwich via Hethersett, along a deserted A-road and then threading through some suburban back-ends, before spotting a Tesco Express. These stores are now omnipresent where ten years ago they were relatively unknown. Everything here is probably more expensive than a local independent store, yet there’s something irritatingly comforting about the place. It’s the McDonalds effect, the comfort of knowing what to expect. I buy some water and the materials of my lunch and dinner for the day.

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Day 5: Blaxhall to Wymondham

“Don’t worry, I’m not a ghost!” – myself, speaking to a group of scared teenagers in a park near Norwich in the middle of the night.

Today is a marvellous day, covering some extraordinary sites across Suffolk and into Norfolk. It’s the first day where little goes wrong either, apart from my jumper getting eaten by my bike chain. The stories and scenes I came across are striking.

So far in Suffolk the country roads have been mainly flat, surrounded by serene forest and seemingly gentle coastline. It’s curious then that the area is so enshrouded with its own ghostly folklore, most recently by M.R. James, of strange hauntings of malevolent supernatural creatures. James attempts to unlock the hidden and dark histories and myths that must lurk beneath such seemingly tranquil and ancient landscapes. Among the ruins I come across today, intimations of a lost world of the dead and disappeared recur. ‘If I’m not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!’ was the feeling James sought to produce in each story. Let’s see what happens then today.

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Day 4: Holbrook to Blaxhall

“Just let nature get on with it” – Darren, Holbrook.

Today is horrible and wonderful. Just imagine spending many hours travelling through a painting by John Constable, matched with torrential rain. That’s been my day, a combination of gruelling, wondrous and inspiring. It’s an unlikely combination that can only reflect the unlikely moods of the Suffolk weather, which today passed from blissful sun to torrential rain to something in between.

Today’s also when my digital camera acquires a second spot, and my bike pannier acquires a large hole. I give it 3 days before all my equipment dies.

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Day 3: Essex Marina to Holbrook

“Good luck to ya mate” – John the ferryman.

This post reflects the length of my day’s travels, but the upshot is that Essex is far more strange, beautiful and intriguing than many of us might realise.

Despite the previous day’s setbacks, I awake with a hunger for adventure. Travelling often fills your sleep with strange dreams, full of people and places you’ve never perceived before, and my head was fogged up with odd thoughts, in a good way. The weather was luxurious, and after packing up, I went to pay the somewhat steep charge of £16 for my spot of grass. But, London councils take note! That charge is for seven days camping. Imagine how cheaply could be housed all the homeless and overcrowded families of inner London out in tents in the quiet scenery of Wallasea island?

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Day 1: London to Canvey

“You been chucked out or summat mate?”

It’s a fair point. Appearing in the later hours in a pub on Canvey Island carrying two full panniers of stuff and all my sleeping gear, I’d clearly fallen on hard times.

Yet this is me chucking myself out into the world. For what yet, I’m still not sure. But after about six hours of riding, and plenty of getting lost around Noak Hill, Pitsea and Basildon, places I probably couldn’t even tell you what county they were in a few weeks ago, I was bloody glad to be there. Everything had gone well so far.

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