Wonder of walking

Travel, May


There might be no mountains to scale but Norfolk is hitting new heights as a great destination for walkers, writes Rowan Mantell.

Norfolk is circled and laced with footpaths. Long distance tracks cross the county, tracing the routes of ancient traders or a warrior queen. And the coast and rivers which fringe the county are lined by paths, along cliffs and saltmarshes, through watermeadows and estuaries.

Step on to a Norfolk footpath and it can be the start of a journey which takes you into the heart of the county’s history, and through scenery varying from seascapes to forest and from bleak and beautiful heath to pretty, bustling villages.

Now several Norfolk towns are joining a national initiative to extend an extra-warm welcome to walkers, by becoming part of the national Walkers are Welcome network.

The latest town to get accreditation is Aylsham. Three long-distance trails converge on the historic town and there are also plenty of shorter walks out to nearby countryside, parkland and villages. Andrew Barnes, who chairs the Aylsham Walkers are Welcome committee, says he and his wife, Susan, had enjoyed walking holidays in places like the Peak District, Devon and Yorkshire and began noticing that some of their destinations were part of the network.

“We knew that there was a huge network of walks, many of which are completely traffic free, emanating from Aylsham,” says Andrew. Lots of those walks are along former railway lines and Andrew is particularly aware of the joy of railway footpaths – as general manager and a director of the Bure Valley Railway, which runs between Aylsham and Wroxham as a train track, footpath and cycle route.

The bid to become a Walkers are Welcome town brought together people working in tourist attractions, cafes, shops and accommodation to work out ways of promoting Aylsham as an ideal destination for hikers.

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“People don’t necessarily think of Norfolk as great walking country but we have got so much to offer,” says Andrew. And it is not just the landscape, but the history of the county, and the number of traffic-free paths, which makes the county a great place for walkers.

Swaffham was Norfolk’s first Walkers are Welcome town, and the first in the whole of East Anglia. As well as being on the long-distance Peddars Way trail, which links the north Norfolk coast with the Norfolk/Suffolk border near Thetford, there are walks ranging from a town trail of less than a mile to rambles around nearby villages.

Cromer is part of the network too and ideally situated to be a walking hub, with the Norfolk Coast Path running along the seafront and both the Weavers’ Way, to Great Yarmouth, and the Paston Way, to North Walsham, beginning (or ending) in the town. From here Cromer is linked into the mesh of long distance and local paths across the county.

In Cromer, enthusiasts are keen to provide access for pushchairs and wheelchairs where possible, create catch-your-breath seating, and encourage as many people as possible to enjoy walking in and around the town.

Walkers are Welcome towns now cover the country from Cornwall to Shetland. Each one has a group of enthusiasts keen to welcome walkers, whether residents or tourists, to a community boasting well-maintained and well-signed paths, plus cafes, accommodation and public transport geared up to encourage walking.

Find out more

A series of guided walks around the Aylsham area has been planned as part of its new Walkers are Welcome status. An eight-mile circular walk around Brampton is planned for Bank Holiday Monday, May 25, with a walk taking in part of the Weavers’ Way and Marriott’s Way around Aylsham on Sunday, June 28; aylshamwalkersarewelcome.weebly.com

Pull on your walking boots

The first ever Norfolk Walking Festival will be held this autumn. Covering north-east Norfolk, along the coast from Weybourne to Yarmouth and including Holt, Aylsham, North Walsham and Norwich, the fortnight-long festival will showcase the joy of walking. Guided walks will open up history, folklore and nature along the way and there will be activities tailored for families, long-distance hikers - and brave souls keen to walk or run a Halloween marathon.

The first Norfolk Walking Festival, runs from Saturday, October 17 to Sunday, November 1; www.norfolktrails.co.uk

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