Under the silver birch and oaks of Stow Bedon Covert, shallow ponds lay dotted across the peaty ground, their mirror-still dark water skinned across with pond weed and tufted with clumps of rushes.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
They have lain here in the flat dry landscape of Breckland, south-west Norfolk’s great belt of sand and pebbles, since the end of the last glaciation 10,000 years ago – pingos, Ice Age holes where ice blocks melted and left a string of lakelets behind.
We followed the Great Eastern Pingo Trail as it wound between the pingos. They lay absolutely still, like pieces of polished sky dropped in among the trees. The trail snaked over former commons, now grazed for wildlife conservation. We passed a group of Highland cattle with extravagant horns who stared at us from their bower of apple blossom with utter indifference before resuming the grooming of their nostrils with long pale tongues.
This maze of pingos and flowery fields is just made for sauntering. At last we found ourselves on a country road that declined to a flint-pebble track and then a green lane where an avenue of big old oaks and willows formed a double guard of honour for travellers. Chiffchaffs chirped out their twin tone calls; wrens chattered, greater spotted woodpeckers rattled the hollow trees, and some unseen and unidentified sweet singer glorified a may-bush right beside us as we sat on a stump to take it all in.
We followed a sluggish little river, petrol-blue with peat iridescence, and came to Thompson Water, where a cramped little bird hide gave us an Attenborough’s-eye view of the reedy lake. A swan sat on her egg twenty feet away; another sailed with her six fluffy grey cygnets, oblivious of our presence. Over the water swallows circled like circus acrobats around a flight of hobbies, small dark raptors that zipped across the mere, every now and then hunching their heads between their legs to pick a dragonfly victim from their claws and crunch it in mid-glide.
The puddled track of the Peddar’s Way, an ancient high road through Breckland, brought us south past MoD ranges of sheep-grazed heaths and sombre blocks of conifers. Then we swung north along the track bed of the Great Eastern Railway’s old Thetford-Swaffham branch line, a homeward path by Breckles Heath and Cranberry Rough where the pingos lay thick with water violets. Along the way we discovered that crab apple blossom smells of roses. A day of wonders, truly.
Start: Great Eastern Pingo Trail car park on A1075 near Stow Bedon, Norfolk, NR17 1DP approx. (OS ref TL 941966).
Getting there: Car park is on A1075 Watton-Thetford road, on west side, 3 miles south of Watton.
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 237. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Walk away from A1075 to ‘Old Station Yard’ notice. Turn right through car park; on through kissing gate (‘Thompson Common nature reserve’). Cross boardwalk, and follow ‘Great Eastern Pingo Trail’/GEPT arrows through trees for ½ mile to road (934966). Left, and follow GEPT for 2 miles to pass Thompson Water and reach Peddar’s Way (913948). Left (‘Stow Bedon 7’). In 1 mile pass chicken farm on left to reach crossing of tracks (921933). Left off Peddar’s Way’/GEPT; follow fence on left for 500 m. At ‘Peddar’s Way Circular Walk’ arrow (926936), right down grassy ride; ahead to old railway line (928931). Left for 2¼ miles to car park.
Lunch: Chequers Inn, Thompson, IP24 1PX (01953-483360; thompsonchequers.co.uk)
Accommodation: Olde Windmill Inn, Great Cressingham, IP25 6NN (01760-756232; oldewindmillinn.co.uk)
Information: Watton & Wayland Visitor Centre, Wayland House, High Street, Watton IP25 6AR; tel 01953 880212; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.wayland-tourism.org.uk