There is a point in a 12-mile hike in open shadeless countryside on one of the hottest days in a long hot summer where you wonder whose idea this was. There is a point where a walk in the country becomes a soulless trudge and you realise just how long it is since you seriously walked, and you realise that coming out without a hat was foolish, and that 1.2 litres of water is nowhere near enough.
That point kicked in somewhere before Upton Dyke…and I wondered about short-cuts. Then I remembered a recent Talmudic quotation about not relying on such things and decided that even if I didn’t enjoy all of the doing of this walk, I would enjoy the having done it. I would enjoy knowing that (including getting to and from the station) I’d have clocked up 16 miles on my first foray back into an lapsed hobby.
Oh – and the idea was entirely my own… I want to get back into walking and the simplest way seemed to be to dig out the old books and start again at the beginning.
In broad terms the route was Acle to South Walsham and round and back again. My guide was published in 1993, so I had to accept that things might have changed in the last 25 years. But this is Norfolk, so possibly not really so much. I went awry a little in the middle, but then that’s why I factor a WAGL time contingency into all of my walk-planning. WAGL? Wallying-about And Getting Lost. Dad always said we hadn’t had a day out if we hadn’t got lost.
I didn’t get lost. Not much. I just had a bit of time when what I’d marked on the map didn’t agree with the lay of the land, and what the guide book said didn’t fit either. Plus: put me in a woodland and spin me round twice and I’m hopeless. So yes, I’m old school enough to carry a compass even when it really shouldn’t be necessary. (It wasn’t.)
I’m also ok with the notion, in life as on walks, that sometimes you have to turn around and retrace your steps, before striking out in a different direction. Net result: I’m sure I didn’t follow the plan exactly…and it doesn’t matter at all.
What matters is that I got to walk through fields of wheat, harvested and others still ripening, with fading poppies struggling in the heat on field margins. I got to breathe in the deep damp air of marshy woodland, wander round country churchyards in the middle of nowhere, and wonder why a ruined priory has a ruined brick-built pump mill growing out of its majestic walls.
To walk any path anywhere is to tread in the footsteps of time. It is impossible to walk in Norfolk without realising that you are walking parish paths. So many of the trodden ways across the fields have a church tower as their focal point. And if you stop and look around, you’ll virtually never be out of sight of the next-nearest church.
The most peaceful spot on this particular jaunt was the churchyard of St Mary’s, Fishley. Historic England’s website talks about and early 12th century round tower church, while the local knowledge via the Norfolk Churches website states that it was largely rebuilt in the 19th century…Pevsner agrees, sparing the place the only a single paragraph in which the expression “much restored” occurs twice. Pevsner dates the restoration to 1861…and leaves me wondering why?
Why was it thought worth doing in the 1860s? Why did the community it served disappear? My guidebook suggests that “the church was once at the heart of the village of Fishley, but no-one has “got to the bottom of how or why the community dwindled” – I can’t help wondering if that thought starts from the wrong premise. Was there ever a village at Fishley? The map shows scarcely any place for one to have been, with Acle to the south and Upton to the north. It seems more likely to me that this tiny isolated church was built for the de Veile’s who were granted the tenancy of ‘Fishley Hall’ (or maybe only the land upon which it would come to be built) in 1201. Roger de Veile was falconer to King John, so perhaps this was a retirement gift. It’s known that the family were still living there in 1277, and Sir John de Veile (Roger’s son) was entombed in the church. His stone coffin was discovered in 2011.
On other days I might have sat and pondered the ruins of St Benets, or taken station on one of the fishing staithes that reach across the marshy banks from the berm on which the path around Upton marshes sits and simply contemplated the river. But on this day, the sun was fierce and (after the welcome woodland of The Doles) shade was scarce, so I simply walked on.
Even the marsh grazing cattle are hunkered down in some shallow gulley, seeking cool, disinterested in passers-by.
And yes... I am possibly at least just as pleased to have done it, as I was in the doing of it...because I know I have made a start.
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