I love Norfolk!

If there is one thing this temporary “house arrest” has taught me it is just how much I actually love the outdoors AND how lucky we are to live in this amazing county! Big blue skies, fields glowing with almost every colour imaginable and the lush green of the trees. The sea-side, The Broads, community-run cafes in the smallest of villages. Ohhh, the villages: not two the same, all with their own personality and secrets.

I remember a cycle ride I did two years ago. It was one of those days where things just seemed perfect. Today I just close my eyes and imagine that I am back there. We found a “Smultronstalle” for sure! That is one of my favourite words in Swedish: Smultronstalle (don’t worry, I EXPECT you to sound like the Swedish chef trying to pronounce that 😉 ). Translated word by word it means “wild strawberry patch” but the meaning is “A lovely little spot” or “hidden secret part”.

We set off after the obligatory morning coffee (or two in my case). Water bottles filled, wheels pumped up and a welcome light breeze as soon as we started to move. The heat of the summer sun made it feel more like Italy or Spain in the height of summer than Norfolk. I remember when I first moved here, over 10 years ago, and I was told that it always rains in England; well I’d say that about 200 hosepipe bans since would tell a different story! Ok, maybe not that many but as a happy amateur wildlife gardener it sure feels like it 😀

The first 10 miles took us around the city and I can’t say that the ring road is my favourite road as a cyclist. I much more prefer the small back lanes with little or no cars so that was what we were aiming for. As we cycled past the River Wensum and the Sweet Briar Marsh I thought to myself that I must explore that more one day. Did you know that our Wensum is one of the most protected rivers in Europe? Oh yes, it is indeed! Another thing to be proud of for sure. The Sweet Briar marsh is an SSSI, or a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and there has been records or both water voles and orchids! Something for all the keen photographers to have a look at.

Anyway, back to the road. Crossing the River Yare at Old Lakenham we biked past White Horse Lane. Just a couple of hundred metres to our left is the site of Arminghall Woodhenge. Spotted from the air by Gilbert Insall, a military pilot, in 1929 and excavated 6 years later by Grahame Clark it was dated to 2500 BC! Today there is not much left to see but I have always found these places magical, whether that is all in my mind or actually has a deeper meaning, well, I’ll let you be the judge of that 😉

What I think we can agree on is that it must have been a magnificent sight with it being 75 metres across and oak posts over 1 metre in diameter! For you who want to take a closer look at this place, the grid reference is TG 2399060. It is also a great place to start Boudicca’s Way, a walk that takes you all the way to Diss!

After what I would describe as “the never-ending mountain” and Dean as “a short hill” we decided to take a break at the Octagon Barn Willow tea room. Ok, so I say that we decided, truth is that Dean took pity on me after seeing my bright red face. Lesson learned: don’t use sunblock on your face. I was overheating! If you have never stopped at this fab little cafe please do when this is all over! It is the perfect place not just for an emergency ice cream (local and delicious!) but also for a quiet coffee with friends and a browse in their shop filled with locally sourced gifts and crafts.
After cooling down slightly we took off again. Next stop would be St Mary’s Church in Howe! Through Poringland and out on Howe Lane. Now, before I continue with the story: How do you pronounce Howe! How? Houe? Hau? Haue? Honestly, you people in Norfolk know how to make up place names to confuse us outsiders 😀 The church in Howe is one of allegedly 181 round tower churches in England. Norfolk hosts an amazing 126 of these! Did you know that old churches are not just amazing to explore but also important for bats to roost in! 😊

Finally back-roads! Down Backwood Lane, slight detour to look at All Saints in Woodton. On to Ditchingham and then finally Bungay. In Bungay we had lunch at Ma Belle Bakery. Honestly – what an amazing place! Red onion marmalade to die for and a cappuccino that would make any Italian proud! Back on the road again we took a 10-mile beautiful detour to avoid the main roads and ended up just south of Saxlingham Nethergate. We walked the bikes through the woods to find the ruins of a church and this is where things turned magical. Suddenly it feels like the world stops, like it’s holding its breath. Sky is the brightest blue I’ve ever seen with just a few fluffy white clouds dotted about. Sun warm and air completely still. The fields around us green and golden and the path in front of us deep brown.  We are just standing there in awe enjoying the moment and then I see it: a kaleidoscope of blue butterflies. It looked like hundreds of them just sitting there on the path further ahead. For a few seconds nothing moved; then a sudden breeze and they all set off at once surrounding us like a blue cloud! Honestly, no words can describe the view! It is by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and of course neither of us had a camera to capture it 😀 I guess in a way that made it even more special 😊

Now my lovelies. I want to hear your favourite stories from Norfolk. Tell us about your “smultronstalle”, your perfect day and your favourite cafés, restaurants, pubs and other places in Norfolk. Or maybe you run a Norfolk business and would like to tell people what you do and how they can support you through this crisis? Write, post, link and share! Remember – these small businesses will just like us need you more than ever when this is all over!
xxMaria (Hallswood Animal Sanctuary)

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