Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Angles Way - Knettishall Heath to Diss

Royden Church viewed from across the Waveney Valley with its interesting octagonal upper tower that sits on a round base

An 17 mile walk from the Breckland end of the Angles Way to Diss

This is a picturesque ramble through the numerous fens that follow the course of the Little Ouse and The Waveney Rivers. Thelnetham Fen, Hinderclay Fen, and Redgrave and Lopham Fen are all managed wetlands with well kept paths and a variety of flora, fauna and wildlife. The path also passes through Wortham Ling, an area of managed common land that dates from medieval times. Even though the start of the walk at Knettishall Heath is difficult to get to using public transport, the walk is well worth the effort.

Knettishall Heath to Diss Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Knettishall HeathView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
DissView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
17 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy

Accommodation:

Little Lakeland Camping and Caravan SiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Website
Description
A well kept camping and caravan site with numerous enclosed pitches. Lots of ducks across the site who are not afraid of wandering into ones tent.

Transport:

Simmonds - Bus Service
Service Number
191 - Simmonds School and College Service 191. Operates once a day, weekdays and term time only. Request Riddlesworth School for the start of the Angles Way
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2012-09-20
Walk Time
08:00 to 14:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm and slightly overcast

Walk Notes

Knettishall Heath

Knettishall Heath is an area of sandy heathland, commonly known as breckland, on the Norfolk and Suffolk border. As well as hosting Suffolk's largest nature reserve it is also the meeting point of four long distance paths. The Peddars Way, which runs north to the North Norfolk Coast, the Icknield Way which continues south from the Peddars Way to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and with the Peddars Way forms part of the Greater Ridgeway. The Iceni Way uses the route of the Icknield Way extension to Thetford before continuing onto Hunstanton and finally there is the Angles Way which follows the River Waveney to the coast at Great Yarmouth.

Having walked both the Icknield Way and the Peddars way, the knowledge of this being a remote place with no public transport was familiar to me. It lies about 8 miles by road from Thetford and a little more from Diss. On my previous walks a day had to be spent walking out to Knettishall Heath and then camping overnight at the Dower House campsite which is located in the woodland on West Harling Heath. The only other realistic option would be to use a car, either having a friend to provide a lift or, as a couple of friends recently attested, have two cars, one stationed at either end of the walk.

A Rather Embarrassing Story

I had to applaud the bright idea of using two cars until I heard the gory details of the actual event which is worthy of retelling the story. The couple, who are friends so I wont embarrass them by including names, had already walked the Angles Way from Great Yarmouth to Diss during the course of 2012 as a series of staged sectional walks. For the final section, with careful forethought, they duly drove down in two cars from Norwich and out to Knettishall Heath where, with permission from a local landowner, they parked one car in a field entrance close to the start of the Angles Way. They then continued in the second car to Diss where there is a reasonably priced pay and display car park next to the Mere. All they had to do was walk back to the first car and have ready made transport back to their starting point. Very clever, and with no schedule or timetable to adhere to, they could leisurely wander the miles between the two points.

I was told that the day was good and the weather was kind. The Angles Way scenery a delight and the walk a fulfilling and fitting end to this underrated long distance footpath. The final mile gave that feeling of achievement, the gratifying knowledge that over 78 miles of the Norfolk Suffolk border was just about to be completed. A worthy walk full of happy memories that would not be forgotten and something to recommend to others. As with all long distance walks, there is no ceremony at the end, no welcoming party, fanfare or medal, just the self knowledge and fulfillment of ones achievement. So it is not surprising that as those final yards were paced more practical things came to mind. Things like the location of the car. There are no specific landmarks at this end of the Angles Way and there was always that little bit of apprehension that the car would not be where they expected. Maybe they had misjudged the location of the start to the footpath, maybe the unfamiliarity of the area would disorientate them. Maybe. But no. The car was there. As they left it. Parked up in a field entrance.

I suppose it is just custom to expect ones partner to have the keys. But if both partners have the same supposition this can be a problem and in this instance the hopeful question of the whereabouts of the keys soon drew the conclusion that they had assumed the other one had the keys. Then the slow realisation occurred that the keys for said vehicle had been placed in the safety of the car glove box. The glove box of the second car that is. The car that sat at Diss Mere. 17 miles away. Not the most convenient place for the keys to be.

Whether or not expletives were exchanged I do not know but I can well imagine that some colourful adjectives may have been used to describe their predicament. Even so, with Stoic contemplation of their situation, another plan was hatched. Luckily, there was a mobile phone signal and it wasn't long before a taxi was summoned to rescue them from the predicament. Not quite the plan they had anticipated at the start of the day and a little more expensive than they had bargained for. Nonetheless something that the memories of The Angles Way will latch onto. I had to laugh.

Alternative Methods to get to the Starting Point

Unfortunately Kat and I only had one car between us and as stated earlier there is no regular public transport between Diss and Thetford that could gain us access to the start of the trail and the only other public transport services were to Bury. The nearest point these buses came to the Angles Way left a good 7 mile hike to Knettishall Heath. After weighing up the alternatives, and about to reconcile to the fact that we may well have to begin the walk from a point other than the official start, I chanced upon one overlooked service. This was a Diss to Bury school and college service which happened to run via Thetford. It only ran once a day, at 7.40, and then only during term time, but the timetable was published on the web and to all intents and purposes it appeared to be a service open to any member of the public regardless of their educational status. Operated by Simmonds Coaches this service appeared to follow the main A1066 to Thetford and would pass close to the start of the Angles Way. This was an opportunity we had to take.

On the day it all went to plan. We parked up at the Mere car-park. The bus was on time and, as expected, was full of juveniles. The driver, although he did not have the traditional ticket machine, was able to take our fare and despite being dubious as to the location of The Angles Way he agreed to drop us off on request providing it was safe to do so. Luckily, two girls who sat behind the driver and spent the journey exchanging friendly banter were able to offer a little advice. They picked out the landmark of Riddlesworth School as the place we needed and sure enough the lane just beyond this historic boarding school famed for having Princess Diana among its former pupils, was the one that led to the start of the Angles Way.

The Walk

The start of the trail is an easy ramble along country lanes and tracks. The outstanding section is most definitely the wandering path that meanders through Thelnetham Fen and Hinderclay Fen following the Little Ouse river and then through Redgrave Fen which contains the official source of the River Waveney.

Other points of interest include:

  • The start of the walk passes through open countryside in front of Riddlesworth Hall which is now a school. This area used to be the parkland to the hall which was laid out around 1792. The park included an extensive area of woodland and a large thin boating lake made from widening the river. After WWII the majority of the park reverted to agriculture and the boating lake drained.
  • The Old School House at Riddlesworth with a fine sculpted mural on the walls. it is thought the building was constructed around 1792 and was probably designed by Thomas Leverington who was the architect for Riddlesworth Hall. Today this is a private dwelling.
  • The ruins of St Nicholas's church at Gasthorpe which can be seen across the fields
  • Thelnetham Windmill also known as Button's Mill which dates from the early 1800's and was restored in 1979
  • St Marys Church at Wortham with its ruined round tower which is the largest round tower by diameter in England
  • Diss Mere, a six acre lake which local folklore states is an extinct volcano with bottomless depths.
  • The former Dolphin Inn in Diss which is now an Indian Restaurant, the building is said to date back to the 16th century.

On this particular walk we also caught sight of an distinctive large delta winged jet. It was a sight to behold and we took a few minutes out to stand and view this craft as it banked steeply round a full 180 degrees displaying its huge delta wings. There was not much sound as it gently manoeuvred a line of flight which appeared to be ready to come in to land. Probably the military air bases at Mildenhall or Lakenheath. An awesome sight nonetheless.

The big disappointment to this walk was the lack of drinking holes. According to the OS map there are pubs just off route at Hopton and Thelnetham but as the bus service deposits the would be walker in the early morning such establishments are hours away from opening. In the event we found a wooden bench overlooking Redgrave Fen and had an early lunch of pastie, mars bar and soft drink and left the well earned pint of beer for when we completed the walk in Diss. However this did present challenges to relive oneself and a few trees did get watered along the way. Isn't it typical that one can wander a lonely country lane for miles and see no-one and as soon as one finds a suitable tree every man, woman, dog and van driver arrives to listen to the gentle sounds of rushing waters.

Thelnetham Fen
Thelnetham Fen

Directions

The Angles Way starts on Knettishall Heath and follows the fenlands surrounding the Little Ouse and Waveney rivers through to Diss. The course is well marked out with the distinctive Angles Way waymarkers.

Knettishall Heath to Diss

The start is on the lane between the A1066 just beyond Riddlesworth School and the road that borders the northern side of Knettishall Heath. The path is easy to follow and, together with an OS map, navigation is simple. The only areas that maybe a little confusing are at Hopton where the path leads around the edge of Hopton Fen and is not signposted. It can be confusing walking through Redgrave and Lopham fen where other trails around the fen are also marked out and at one point it does appear as if one is walking in the wrong direction. Just trust instincts and keep the OS map handy.

Sculpture at Thelnetham FenDiss town sign - which depicts John Skelton, the rector of St. Mary's Church from 1504 until his death teaching Henry VIII
On the left Sculpture at Thelnetham Fen; On the right Diss town sign - which depicts John Skelton, the rector of St. Mary's Church from 1504 until his death teaching Henry VIII

Pubs

White Horse, Diss View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub

This Grade II listed building has records of being a pub from the early 1800's and has been under the ownership of several breweries during its life including The Diss Brewery, Lacons, Whitebread, Adnams. In 1998 it was bought by the tenants and is currently (August 2012) up for sale)

A traditional old pub with beamed open plan bar, pool room. Accommodation offered. Ales supplied by Adnams

Review

This is a traditional old local. There was not a large selection of ale but the Adnams Bitter was a rewarding end to the days walk.

Riddlesworth School
Riddlesworth School

Features

Thelnetham Fen and Hinderclay FenView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Thelnetham fen is made up of several fens including Old Fen, Middle Fen, Blo Norton Fen, Bleyswycks Fen, Bettys Fen and Parkers Fen and together with Hinderclay Fen they come under the watchful eye of The Little Ouse Headwaters Project which is a local Charity dedicated to the restoration, conservation and promotion of enjoyment of the wildlife and landscape of the Little Ouse valley.

These areas have been important for many centuries having giving local people an income from cutting the peat for fuel, sedge for thatching, litter for animal bedding, and by grazing stock and shooting. This has moulded the area into what it is today, a rich patchwork of sedge beds with alder and sallow woodland and heathy pastures on the valley sides.

The 18th century saw the river course canalised and the second half of the 20th century saw the channel deepened which led to drying out and the conversion of the surrounding area to arable land. This resulted in the decline of wildlife, the lowering of the water table and dehydration and reduction in the water quality. Despite this small pockets of fenland survived and today they are recognised as being of international importance and include two Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

There are several wooden sculptures and information posts along the footpath.

References

Redgrave and Lopham FenView in OS Map | View in Google Map

At the headwaters to the Waveney and Little Ouse rivers is the area known as Redgrave and Lopham Fen. For centuries this area has been used for cutting peat for fuel and sedge and reed for thatching and gathering furze and other vegetation for bedding. Grazing livestock kept the invading scrub at bay which created this habitat rich in its variety of plants and wildlife.

In 1954 the area was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because when it was the first site in the UK to have a population of fen raft spider recorded. Today the site is managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust which uses their own Hebridean sheep, plus local cattle to graze the areas of shrub and heath and on wetter areas Polish Konik ponies are allowed to graze.

Wortham LingView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The area around the village of Wortham and bordered by the River Waveney, characterised by a mixture of woodland, scrub, grassland, heathland and ponds is known as The Ling. Historically this and the surrounding Greens are part of the old common land given over by the Lord of the Manor to the commoners during medieval times. Such land was generally rough pasture or wasteland that was not good for growing crops and as such the Lord would allow his tenants to use it within a range of stipulated rights. The rights of use on the ling included the removal of sand, gravel and stone for use on holdings, removal of wood or bracken for fuel, and the allowance to graze animals and cut and use turf and peat.

As is the case with all English Commons, the land is still owned by a public or private body but the public have a statutory right to wander across it, plus the additional rights granted by the landowner. Today The Ling is owned by the De Lancey and De la Hante Foundationa and is cared for by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The area is designated as a site of Special Scientific Interest providing a mixture of habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife. Such species as Golden Rod, the Dwarf thistle, Wild Thyme, Meadow Saxifrage and Dropwort populate the area among the abundant Gorse and Heather. As the right to graze sheep is no longer in common use the Ling benefits from a yearly mow which assists in keeping the character of the land and prevents the open grassland being invaded by shrub.

A notable building on the Ling is the Old Millhouse which was the former home to a series of millers dating back to the 1600's. The actual mill was demolished in the early 1900s but the barn adjoining the house still survives and was the engine room to the mill.

Wortham Ling
Wortham Ling

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15

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