Walk the line - the best walking routes in East Anglia on the Greater Anglia network
East Anglia is at its glittering best in summer, so why not dust down your hiking boots and stride out along one of the region’s many walking routes? We ask three writers to put their best foot forward across the network.
East Anglia may be predominantly flat, but that’s not the sole reason it’s a rambler’s paradise. The region is criss-crossed with miles of walking routes to suit all ages and abilities, a vast proportion accessible by train and all of them offering surprisingly varied landscapes and a wealth of wildlife.
So whether you’re into the drama of Norfolk’s craggy coastline and huge beaches; Suffolk’s bucolic countryside and picturesque villages; the nature-filled fenland waterways of Cambridgeshire; or the ancient forests and historic parkland in Essex, you’re guaranteed photogenic views at every step. And, with exceptional pubs and cafés across the region, there are plenty of pit stops along the way.
THE ARTY WALK
It’s easy to see why Thomas Gainsborough was so inspired by his Suffolk hometown of Sudbury and its surrounds. James Litston follows in his footsteps
The tragedy of the Beeching cuts and their closure of thousands of miles of railway may be one of the worst hangovers of the 1960s – but it does have a silver lining. Many former tracks have been transformed into walking and cycling trails.
I’m following the Meadow Walk, a 3.5mile, way-marked trail that begins on a linear stretch once plied by trains serving Lavenham and Cambridge. It’s the first of three circular routes collectively known as the Gainsborough Way, which once complete will wind its way through 12 miles of Suffolk countryside.
Much of this is scenery that would have inspired Thomas Gainsborough, the 18th-century artist who was born here in Sudbury and for whom the trail is named. I’d started my morning by visiting the artist’s childhood home, a handsome Georgian townhouse that’s now the Gainsborough Museum (gainsborough.org). It’s filled with the colourful, characterful portraits for which he made his name.
As I heed a Meadow Walk signpost and step down from the wooded railway embankment, the path leads me into the very landscape that so captivated Gainsborough. It’s a wide, open, flat expanse of ancient water meadows. This timeless view over the River Stour’s flood plain can hardly have changed since the artist’s time, when he came to wander and sketch.
In spring and summer it’s dry underfoot and blooming with pastel-pink spikes of flowering rush. The meadows’ popularity with dog walkers rather discourages other kinds of wildlife, though I did spy a brilliant-white egret stalking the water’s edge.
The route eventually re-joins the disused railway for the final stretch, its raised embankment providing a panorama of the meadows crowned by Sudbury’s three churches. It’s easy to see how Gainsborough felt compelled to capture such wonderful scenes. Perhaps next time I’ll bring some paints myself.
The walk: bit.ly/2pDBOHn
Length of walk: 3.5 miles
Difficulty rating: Easy. It’s all level terrain. Allow 2 to 3 hours to complete the circuit.
Rest weary feet at: Appropriately called Painters (01787 312 690), this Sudbury tea shop is good for sandwiches, salads and scones.
Getting there: Begin and end at Sudbury station.
THE COASTAL WALK
The North Norfolk coastal stretch of the National Trail is a popular choice for walkers. Harriet Cooper soaks up the big skies and breathes in the sea air
With its independent coffee shops, quirky street art and tiny lifeboat museum, I could have quite happily spent the morning in the seaside resort of Sheringham. But linger I must not. For I’m here to embark on a section of the National Trail, which follows a 93-mile route from Knettishall Heath Country Park in Suffolk to Cromer in North Norfolk.
Much of the Trail (a combination of Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path) runs through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and my 8.5 mile stretch from Sheringham to the village of Cley-next-the-Sea doesn’t disappoint.
As I leave the town behind and follow the undulating grassy path along the clifftop, I’m afforded spectacular views of the North Sea and its photogenic coastline. After pausing to take in the huge horizons, I press on, past the Old Coastguard Lookout with its bird’s eye view of the water and Sheringham Golf Club.
At Weybourne, the cliffs come to a gentle end and I’m greeted by the shingle beach, which is peppered with fishing boats. The next few miles follow the shore, through Salthouse and on to Cley. The path isn’t always clear, but simply continue straight along the beach and you’ll be fine.
Sadly I don’t spot one of the grey or common seals – often to be seen bobbing around this area of the coast – but as I turn inland from Cley beach to the village through the marshes, a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve, I spot two long-legged herons in the reeds. During the summer months in particular, the area teems with birdlife – look out for avocets, spoonbill and various waders.
Once in Cley, with its iconic 18th-century windmill and attractive high street, I pop into the ever-popular Smokehouse to pick up a few goodies, before catching the CoastHopper bus back to Sheringham and my train. I may be a little windswept and a tad achy, but with my lungs full of fresh sea air and the prospect of smoked kippers for supper, I’m happy.
The walk: bit.ly/2HeuCIk
Length of walk: 8.5 miles
Difficulty rating: Easy to Medium. It took me just over four hours to complete.
Rest weary feet at: Look out over the marshes at Artemis Coffee Shop (artemiscoffeeshop.co.uk) in Cley.
Getting there: From Sheringham station take the CoastHopper bus.
THE SPOOKY WALK
Rolling fields, leafy woodland and a riverside packed with wildlife… The Saffron Trail in Essex ticks every rambler’s box, as Ellie Ross discovers
It’s 10am and I’m walking through an open field, the sun warming my face. I’ve spotted three pheasants, a rabbit and listened to a chiffchaff sing. It’s hard to believe that I was in central London just an hour before.
I am walking part of The Saffron Trail. Though its name conjures up exotic images, this route doesn’t have anything to do with the spice; instead, it gets its name because it ends in Saffron Walden, in Essex. The entire route stretches 71 miles across the county, from Southend-on-Sea, but is broken down into seven walkable sections. I’m tackling the 14.75 mile leg between Battlesbridge and Chelmsford.
Minutes after setting off from Battlesbridge, with its antique shops and pretty pond, I reach the first of many wooden signposts, emblazoned with the Saffron Trail’s purple flower.
Early in my walk, approaching East Hanningfield Hall, I come to an overgrown graveyard. Twigs snap eerily underfoot as I pass cracked headstones. Grace’s Walk, a one-mile avenue flanked by fields in Little Baddow, holds other spooky connotations. A handful of places in this area, including Grace’s Lane and Grace’s Farm, are named after the young woman who drowned around the end of the 19th-century. Crossing Sandron Brook, I look out for the ghost of another unhappy female, that of Lady Alice Mildmay; the child-bride of Sir Henry, she supposedly drowned herself here in 1615.
Happily, the only beings I encounter are a few dog walkers, and a friendly local. Tracing the river, I make the final push, the urban skyline now in sight, back to the city again.
Book your travel at greateranglia.co.uk
The walk bit.ly/2HKAP02
Length of walk: 14.75 miles.
Difficulty rating: Easy to Medium. Takes six hours.
Rest weary feet at: The Folly Bistro (thefollybistro.co.uk) in East Hanningfield or The Cricketers Arms (cricketersarmsdanbury.com) in Danbury.
Getting there: Begin at Battlesbridge station.
If you fancy exploring Norfolk and Suffolk by foot, why not step out on one of a series of guided railway walks taking place throughout the year along the Bittern and Wherry Lines? The walks, which set off and finish at local railway stations and are headed up by experienced walk leaders, are free to train ticket holders. Walks run on 24 June (Buckenham to Cantley); 15 July (Brundall Circular) and 19 August (Sheringham Circular). Visit bit.ly/2GAV1jf for more.