How could I resist the chance to combine two of my favourite things? Cycling and the north Norfolk coast.
Make that three of my favourite things, with @SkyOrla.
This area of England has been the holiday ground of choice for three generations of my family. We used to rent a cottage twice a year as a family, joining friends who also did the same or had caravans down there. Now my parents have a cottage we can use and my grandparents live there.
I know the area well. Or so I thought. In truth I go there and I look, well, out. Out to sea… to Norway… the Wash… the offshore wind turbines towards Skegness. I think of beaches, sand, sailing and windswept coastal walks. I don’t tend to look inwards much. More fool me.
Over the first may bank holiday I took part in Pedal Norfolk. My friend Orla Chennaoui from Sky Sports was helping to host the event at Holkham so the chance to join her spurred me on to take part this year.
We were both pretty much ruled out of taking part in 2015 for recently given birth reasons. And for the same reason we were both unfit for 2016. But that’s the beauty of the event. You can cycle 20, 50 or 100 miles. Either once, twice, or three times as the event is spread across three days.
Anyway, back to the great British countryside, another of my favourite things.
The 20 miles route on Sunday took us inland to South and North Creake. We started on a non public road, Golden Gates Drive, taking us southeast across Holkham park and out towards more of the estate. With over 6000 hectares farmed by them it’s likely we were shouldering the estate most of the way round.
Turning right we hit our first climb. Norfolk does have hills but they are far from Box Hill in Surrey. Thankfully. It was a very gentle climb that warmed us up nicely.
Next we turned onto the Roman Road south, towards South Creake, passing a team mending a puncture in the shade of the trees and a chap at the crossroads of Walshingham Road waiting with his camera. As we were cycling with Peter Flett from FatBirds, one of the sponsors of the event and in charge of risk assessment there was lots of ‘are you ok’, ‘can we help’. I didn’t mention it had taken me about 20 minutes to get my tyre back together just a few days before.
For the next 40 minutes or so things are a little hazy. I know we cycled into South Creake, took a left over the River Burn on to Avondale Road with calls of ‘this is just so beautiful and picture perfect England’ from Orla. (She’s Irish.) (And also correct: it was was idyllic.)
But then we carried on the left fork to calls of reassurance from Peter. I’m convinced he knew it wasn’t the official path. We ended up in Syderstone, contemplating a tea stop at my Grandparents, but pedalled on to South Creake, again, coming in at the back near the church. It was this little bit I found most surprising. I’d only ever driven through the main road of the village but this little area was postcard perfect for an edition of Country Life.
Feeling pretty good I decided to add a detour of my own adding in a loop of Burnham Market to show Orla more scenary before heading back to Burnham Thorpe up one of my favourite named roads: Joan Shorts Lane. I don’t know who she is but she sounds fun and I used to love cycling up this lane when I was younger for a drink at the pub with no bar. I took great joy in telling Orla about The Lord Nelson and it’s Nelson’s Revenge and Nelson’s Blood beverages. (I think adding a fuel stop at the pub with a few testers isn’t going to happen for Pedal Norfolk.)
With the promise of organic flapjacks and energy bars on my return I trundled on, passing the 20 mile mark on my computer…
We ended up back on the Walsingham Road ready to enter Holkham Park via The Avenue to give us the best photo opportunity. It felt very liberating to be cycling at speed along the straight road and despite my legs definitely feeling it I picked up the pace, making it to the top for the full view of the Hall in all its palladium glory. A quick photo shoot and then a wheel down the hill we crossed the line together, 24 miles later.