Two minutes in and my shins were nettlestung and I was watching as my tire tread clogged full with mud. This was my welcome to the South Downs Way, a trail in use for thousands of years extending 100 miles through chalk hills from Winchester to Eastbourne. I had been warned that the ride demanded the right tires and low gears, but emboldened by my bouncing through Thetford Forest, I waved aside the warnings as caution for families and older riders who couldn’t push as hard as I can. In another few minutes I’d cleared the wooded path and was onto my first climb. Huffing and puffing, chest heaving, I dismounted on a small level patch while two older riders cycled on. “You’ve done the hardest part!”
Last weekend I finally went on a cycle trip that I’d been planning before I even arrived in England. My travels have taken me to mountain tops, rushing down white water, and left me lost in thick wood, but I’d never yet ventured into the Earth. So I set my sight on Grime’s Graves, a neolithic flint mine in the midst of Thetford Forest.
(The route of the first day is in blue, while the second day is in red.)
I took off from Brugge along a broad canal headed in the direction of the Zwin. By my guess, the channel used to bring ships in from the coast via the Zwin back when Brugge was a major inland port, but over time the Zwin silted up and Brugge lost its status as a hot spot of trade. But the Zwin still sees its fair share of comings and goings, only these days the traffic is comprised of birds rather than ships. It brought me to the northernmost corner of West Flanders, so much that I crossed into the Netherlands and back into Belgium twice in the course of cycling there.
As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, Norfolk’s history has been well preserved. But the heritage that the region wears on its sleeve is not the only offering of culture in the area. Many of Norfolk’s residents are actively working to celebrate the region, and those that I met helped me feel welcome there.
Castle Rising, built by William d’Albini circa 1138.