Friday, February 27, 2004

Walk 97 -- Dersingham, via Sandringham Park and Castle Rising, to King's Lynn

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 295 days. Rosemary was 59 years and 72 days.
Weather: Snow flurries, but it didn’t settle. Cold.
Location: Dersingham to King’s Lynn.
Distance: 11½ miles.
Total distance: 740 miles.
Terrain: Woodland walks and pavements.
Tide: Don’t know, because we didn’t get near the sea!
Rivers to cross: No.33, Babingley River near Castle Rising.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.85 in Dersingham. No.86 in woods after Castle Rising. Nos. 87 & 88 in South Wootton.
Pubs: ‘The Ouse Amateur Sailing Club’ in King’s Lynn, where Colin drank Iceni ‘It’s a grand day’ and Elgood’s ‘Old Wagg’, and I enjoyed Cheddar Valley Farmhouse cider. (We actually visited this club at a later date as it was closed when we got to it.)
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.31, Castle Rising Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying with Paul and Caroline in Isleham. We drove up to King’s Lynn where we parked on top of a building, which was the ‘long-term’ car park. There was a heavy fall of sleety snow as we were changing into our boots and we very nearly didn’t go. But it stopped after about ten minutes, so we changed our minds again! We walked to the bus station, and caught a bus to Dersingham – the bus passed Sandringham House which we were just able to see over the wall. We walked from the bus stop in Dersingham to the old railway station where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we walked from the ferry to the car park on top of the shops. (I had difficulty getting up the steps because my knee had given out!) After drinking tea, we drove back to Isleham.

We started to walk through Dersingham ‘station’ with its beautiful wooden canopied roofs, but we seemed to have lost the path.
The area is now a builders’ yard, and one of the workers took us back to the road to show us the clearly marked footpath running behind the station buildings. (Never mind, he’ll be an old geezer one day!) After a few yards it opened out, and there seemed to be a lot of building stuff strewn about. It was very untidy and a bit swampy. We followed the ‘railway’ until it merged with the main road that we had been trying to avoid, but the ‘line’ had disappeared before then leaving us in a kind of limbo.
We saw the path we wanted to follow through the southern edge of Dersingham, but it was the other side of a dyke. Colin gingerly led me over a grating which spanned it, thereby saving us about a hundred yards of walking to get round the end. We negotiated our way along a few streets and across the first bit of Dersingham Common okay, but after we crossed a road we got lost! The problem was the number of footpaths which radiated out from the point where we were standing, none of which were marked as the public footpath we wished to follow. We chose the one we thought was right, but it curved round too much to the left so I was unhappy about it. We wanted to get into Sandringham Country Park, but on our map was a solid black line between it and Dersingham Common. However a green dotted line led to the barrier on the Common side and a black dotted line led away from the same point on the Park side, so we were hoping there would be a gate. We came to a ditch and an impenetrable rhododendron hedge with a wooden plank and a gap—Bingo! we were there!
But once inside the path led us all over the place ending up behind some buildings. I looked at the map again, said we must have come through the wrong gap and suggested we looked for another one further down. We returned to the gap and the plank, and walked a very long way on the outside of the rhododendron hedge. When we started going round a bend to the right I realised that there was no other gap—but it took another fifty yards of insistence before I could persuade Colin to turn round because he always gets so arsey when we go wrong. It was only when I promised to take full responsibility for all the ills of the world that we returned to the one and only gap. I tried another route through the bushes on the other side, and came out exactly where we wanted to be! Did I get any praise for it? Don’t be silly!
We walked along to a picnic area, decided it was time for lunch and sat down at one of the tables. That was when it started snowing. So there we were, eating our measly sandwiches in the Queen’s back garden in the snow, and she didn’t even ask us in for a cup of tea! I used one of her rhododendron bushes as a loo—I bet she’s never done that! It stopped snowing, so we continued on our way. We followed a road between the trees which seemed rather grand. Ahead we saw a pair of ornamental gates which looked awfully closed and unclimbable! What if we can’t get out of the Park? It’s miles round to the proper entrance! Fortunately they were not locked (relief!) and anyway they were only there for show because there was no fence or wall and we could have walked round either edge of them!There was a folly up on a knoll to our right just before the gates, but we couldn’t see it and we didn’t have time to go looking for it. We had wasted enough time getting lost, and we still had a long way to go before dark. We took the path opposite through some woods, and came to a crossroads. We thought we would have to walk along roads from thereon, but there was a parallel path through the woods alongside the first road for about half a mile which made it much more pleasant. Then we came to the hated main road, and for nearly a mile there was no way we could avoid it. We crossed, and found there was a cycle track running parallel—so again we were fortunate. (We only had to listen to all the traffic and breathe in their polluted air, we didn’t have to play ‘dodge-the-cars’!)
We passed a corrugated iron chapel with a thatched roof. Apparently it was built in the early 20th century to replace St Felix’s Church which is situated about a mile away out on the marshes, and is now a ruin. The cycle track turned away from the road (blissful silence!) and out on to the marshes towards Castle Rising. We crossed the Babingley River—which is hardly more than a stream—and were really out in the open exposed to miles of marshes when it started to snow again. The wind got up, and we were freezing! I suppose it was some consolation that we hadn’t tried to walk along the sea wall between the marshes and the sea, but we did wonder why we were not snuggled up in our centrally heated home back in Bognor! We struggled on, and it soon stopped. We took a back route, which was a bit damp with the snow, into the village because it was the nearest path to the coast.
On reaching Castle Rising, we made a short detour to visit the church. It is late Norman with round arches above all the doors and windows, but they are decorated because this was the second church to be built in the village. The first church was much more plain, but it was in the way when the castle was built. The original church was buried beneath the castle mound, and only discovered in the early 20th century when renovation work was carried out on the ruined castle. The font is from the early church, one of the few fittings that was transferred. It was cold, so we sat in the shelter of the church porch to eat the second part of our lunch. The church clock ringing three o’clock reminded us how time was getting on, so we abandoned plans to revisit the castle, and set off towards King’s Lynn.
Castle Rising
When the castle at Castle Rising was built in the 12th century, the village was a port and King’s Lynn did not exist. Over the intervening centuries the marshes took over, the sea receded and Castle Rising lost its importance. The village was built first, and the Normans constructed a stone church when they arrived in the 11th century. Then the King, Edward II, was murdered—by having a red hot poker shoved up his backside, so I believe! A nasty ending, but apparently no one much grieved at his passing.
The problem was — what to do with his widow, the dowager Queen Isabella? She was implicated in the plot, as she wanted to put her son on the throne, but she was an interfering formidable woman known as the ‘She-Wolf of France’ and needed to be kept out of the way. The small port of Castle Rising (perhaps it had some other name before the castle was built) was considered sufficiently isolated out there on the edge of the Fens, which were in their natural flooded marshy state at the time and practically inaccessible for most of the year.
So a castle was built on the only bit of dry land for miles, and there she resided holding court whenever anyone came to visit her. She was permitted to go out riding with her ladies-in-waiting, for she couldn’t go far without getting very wet. She was visited by her son and many dignitaries of the land, but she was too far away from London or Winchester to have any more influence on the politics of the country.
In the early 20th century, when the castle had been a ruin for many hundreds of years, some renovation work was carried out on the earth ramparts to stop the building slipping any further down the hill. That is when the ruins of an early Norman church underneath the earth bank were discovered. Obviously, this church had been in the way when the castle was built, so they built another and more elaborate one on the other side of the village, moved the font to the new church, removed the roof of the old one and simply piled earth over it. It is a rare example of an early Norman church of simple design, and still has stone seats around the side so that ‘the weak can go to the wall’.We had already visited the castle, on a cold snowy day back in January when we’d had to cancel our Walk because of the weather. We wanted to look more closely at the old Norman church because we didn’t have time that day, but time also ran out on us today. We did eventually get to photograph it a couple of months later when we were in the area walking across The Wash.
We took a path across a field and through some woods, but eventually we had to join a road. We were in an urban landscape for the rest of our Walk. We entered the village of North Wootton, and stepped inside the church to get out of the cold. The inside of the church was quite plain except for the hassocks. Every place had a hassock with a colourful tapestry design, and they had all been put on top of the pews making a wonderful display. It quite cheered us up to look at them! We went outside and sat in the porch out of the wind to eat our chocolate. While we were there, one of the church wardens turned up with some flimsy excuse as to why he was calling in at the church. This often happens when we visit churches, and we honestly don’t mind that they are really checking up on us. It means the church is well looked after, and at least it is open which is very important to us. We had quite a long chat with this man, and such people can often be a mine of information about the history of the church and village.
We continued southwards through a residential area on the very edge of the marshes. At first it was neat bungalows and detached houses, but the nearer we got to King’s Lynn so the quality of the housing deteriorated. In some places we could take a footpath behind the houses, then we got to the main road and had to walk along a cycle lane next to it. We crossed the main road with the cycle lane, and found we were following the track of the defunct railway again—only now it was passing between an industrial estate and a huge housing estate.
We cut through a residential area of North Lynn, trying to stay as near as possible to the River Great Ouse without walking through an industrial area or along the main road. (We had long since left the sea behind, having come inland to cross the river.) The grot housing we were passing got grottier and grottier! Instead of vases of flowers or bowls of plants we had seen in people’s front windows earlier, we were now passing bunches of plastic flowers, cheap looking brass and pottery horses—even a plastic sailing ship in full sail! We turned right to walk down a footpath next to a drainage ditch. In a fifty yard stretch we counted six shopping trolleys, five bikes, three push chairs and a sofa!! On the other side of the ditch, people had thrown their household rubbish over the fence and left it trailing all down the bank. Inevitably, we saw a RAT! It was as big as a cat!
What an introduction to King’s Lynn!
Colin said, “I wouldn’t like to walk down here on a dark night!” To which I replied, “It is a dark night! We have been losing light for the past hour, and we are using the street lamps now to navigate!” I was amazed my photos came out. We couldn’t believe a gap made in the fence and a wobbly ‘jetty’ constructed over the mud—surely they don’t let their children play on such an unsafe structure amongst such filth, or do they?
With some relief we emerged on to the main road at the top end of the town. Now all that remained to do was to find the ferry. Easier said than done. We got to the river bank in several different places, but never quite where the ferry was. It was very difficult in the dark, but eventually we found it. It was down an unlit narrow alley, and the ferry was still running backwards and forwards. It was only a quarter to six, and it runs until 6 o’clock each evening for commuters who live in West Lynn. The sailing club, where Colin wanted to have his ‘real ale’ was also at the end of the alley right next to the ferry, but it was shut.
We had walked all round East Anglia !!

That ended Walk no.97, we shall pick up Walk no.98 next time at the ferry across the River Great Ouse in King’s Lynn. We walked from the ferry through the very run-down shopping centre to the car park on top of the shops. About half the shops were boarded up, and the whole area was a concrete jungle. We couldn’t find the steps up to the car park at first, and when we did I had difficulty climbing them because my knee had given out! We were tired and cold, but agreed it must be warmer than when we left the car because all the snow had melted and nothing had turned to ice even though it was dark. After drinking two cups of tea each, we drove straight back to Isleham.
When we continued our Round-Britain-Walk in April, we at last got to visit the sailing club at King’s Lynn which was our pub for this Walk! It is a private club, but since it was in the ‘Good Beer Guide’ for 2004 we were able to get in because Colin is a CAMRA member. No one seemed to know what the procedure should be, whether we should sign the visitors book or not, etc. The barmaid was very friendly and laid-back, but one of the female members was obviously unhappy that non-members were taking advantage of their cheap prices and their privacy. Anyway, we bought our drinks and sat on a wooden terrace overlooking the river to imbibe. It was very pleasant, watching the comings and goings on the river, and the ferry plying back and forth.
(It was interesting to note that the sailing club did not appear in the 2005 ‘Good Beer Guide’! Did our visit have anything to do with that decision?)

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