The urge to get on the road again was too great, and we found ourselves with a week off at Easter, so at 22.30 on Friday night we decided to go away for a week in Boris. The advantage of a campervan is that we keep Boris 80% ready to go, so 2 hours of adding water, toilet cassette, maps, clothes and food, and we were ready to leave at 8am the next morning! As usual, we looked for the area with the best weather forecast! Nowhere was great, but East Anglia was driest!
Places Visited: Cambridge, Kings College Chapel, Oxburgh, Norwich, Norfolk, Suffolk, Hickling Broad, Minsmere, Dunwich, Strumpshaw Fen
(Summary of Campsites, Parking, Activities etc is at the end of the Blog!)
After a day visiting Margaret in Sussex, we headed north over the Dartford Crossing (Remember to pay in advance online or by phone – no paying at the crossing anymore), and aimed for our first Britstop south of Cambridge 216 – a tiny, very old pub next to a river with a Pizza oven! Excellent stop – faint noise from the M11 but it didn’t disturb us.
Next morning, just 11 miles to Cambridge. Park and ride excellent, so we were in the city by 9.30 on Easter Sunday morning. It was deserted, and we enjoyed a super walk around this wonderful, compact and historic city before the crowds began to arrive. One of the great charms of Cambridge is the proliferation of stunning buildings and history all around you, but you are just a few steps away from what is essentially a country walk along the river in the area known as The Backs. Added to that, there is an aura of achievement everywhere – here DNA was unravelled, there the electron was discovered. Stephen Hawking works here… Isaac Newton worked there – what a super place to visit. We took a free walking tour with Footprints Tours. http://www.footprints-tours.com . It was excellent – Charlie our guide was both a student and resident of Cambridge, and a mine of information. We were left in no doubt about Cambridge’s superiority over Oxford (89 Nobel prizes to Oxfords 48 – although he did acknowledge that was partly due to Cambridge having more science options!), and we were very glad that Cambridge won the Boat race later that day!
We also learned that in days gone by they had some interesting interview techniques. One professor threw a rugby ball at prospective candidates. if they dropped it they were rejected, if they caught it they were offered a place and if they threw it back they got a scholarship! Another gave the interviewee a brick and told them to throw it through a particularly historic stained glass window! He had to intercept a few throws – they were rejected. if you could argue a good reason why you weren’t throwing you were offered a place but the scholarship went to those who opened the window first before throwing !
Admission charges to the colleges vary, but we had been told that to see Kings College and is amazing chapel free of charge, the best way is to attend evensong, which is open to all.
We were so glad we did. Because it was Easter Sunday we had the full choir. The chapel is unbelievably beautiful- it’s ceiling and windows have to be seen, but where it surpassed anywhere was with the acoustics. As the choir sang, you were covered in tingly goosebumps! This is the choir that sing the televised Christmas 9 lessons and Carols, and they were amazing. What an experience to end our day in Cambridge. There were lots of places left to explore further – just how we like it. We will be back!
A night at Britstop number 255. This was a super little pub with rooms. The carpark was tiny but sheltered, which was just as well because Storm Katie made her presence felt that night. Its full force hit the south coast, and at 2am we had a message from my son saying that one of our chairs had blown over a 6ft wall into the neighbours garden, and our little plastic greenhouse had broken loose and was now on the study roof! Luckily that was our only damage – other people fared much worse. In Boris we were snug as usual.
Next day the wind and rain were still in full force, so we visited Oxburgh Hall, a super National Trust moated manor, with a priests hole, which was quite a challenge to enter and leave! Highly recommend a visit! There was an EasterBunny Hunt for children – the person setting the trail had a sense of humour – Can you spot the bunny in the 2nd photo?!
By mid-afternoon the sun had come out and we did a lovely walk at Salhouse Broad before heading to Britstop 251 for the night. This pub is attached to the Woodforde’s Brewery, so of great interest to Chris as he uses their Home Brew kits! Large Car Park and a very peaceful night.
Next day we caught the Park and Ride at Sprowston, into Norwich. It is a real mix of old and new, partly due to extensive bombing in the war, particularly as part of the Baedecker raids, when cities like Bath, Norwich and Canterbury were targeted, having been chosen from the Baedecker guide books as having great cultural significance.
The Cathedral is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It is a huge and beautiful Cathedral – started in 1069. The Cloisters are beautiful too, and the cloisters and Nave are famous for the carved and painted ceiling bosses at every junction.
In the city there are lots of old areas of narrow, historic lanes, and interesting shops and restaurants, as well as a newly opened riverside walk. The Catholic Cathedral is also worth a visit, and next to it is a super garden in a quarry pit – the Plantation Garden – a real oasis of peace.
Leaving Norwich, we headed to a campsite so that we could shower, empty the loo etc! After finding the site at Ludham, we drove to Hickling Broad Norfolk Wildlife Trust centre and did a wonderful early evening walk to the raptor roost. November to February is the best time of year, but it was a lovely evening, and we were rewarded with seeing 7 Marsh harriers flying in over the reed beds, and 3 Chinese Water deer grazing close by. A group of small birds appeared and we are sure they had literally just arrived from their migration back to the UK. They were feeding frantically. Then we heard a Chiffchaff calling – the first of the year for us.
Next day we did a different walk at Hickling Broad, but some of the view was obscured by the reeds which was a shame. However the beautiful Potter Heigham church was a real treat, with a super hammerbeam roof and beautiful embroidered kneelers. Then we headed south to Norwich Camping – a huge camping and accessories shop at Blofield, east of Norwich. Excellent base for supplies! Then onto Strumpshaw Fen, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve where we did a super 5 mile walk and saw our first Swallow and sand Martins of the year – Spring and summer can’t be far away! We need reminding of this as the temperatures at night have been around, or below freezing, and in the daytime the windchill has made hat, gloves and scarves essential. But it is dry!!
Tonight was Britstop 246. The pub has new owners who are really trying to turn it around. there was a bit of noise from the road but we slept well.
Thursday we drove to the National Trust carpark on Dunwich Heath and used the Geocaching website to plan a 7 mile circular walk on the Heath and in Dunwich forest. A great walk (which included spotting a Dartford Warbler), and by finding a sheltered spot we were able to remove our coats and have a picnic on Dunwich beach. A long history of coastal erosion has meant that Dunwich, which was an important, thriving port in Roman times, is now virtually all buried under the sea. At very low tide, remains of buildings etc can be seen and mapped.
After the walk, we headed a few miles to the lovely RSPB flagship reserve at Minsmere for an evening walk looking out over the Brackish ponds and scrapes where birds gather to breed at this time of year. Lovely.
We stayed at a small campsite a few miles away at Eastbridge Farm – very basic but just £8 and so peaceful – and a Tawny owl flew right past Boris!
Friday we made an early start back at Minsmere and walked all around the reserve. Lots of different birds but highlights were the Avocets, a close up view of a Cetti’s warbler and 2 rarities – an Iceland Gull, and Mediterranean Gulls. Oh.. and did we mention the wonderful Marsh Harriers hunting very near the hides – great views. They have also created an adder walk, and there were 3 good sized adders basking in the sun – apparently they are quite predictable first thing in the morning, when they need to bask in their favourite spot to warm up before they glide off to start feeding.
Finally, we started the long drive home, but made much more enjoyable by stopping in Beaconsfield to visit Peter and Tracy and have a super dinner in the Thai Rack restaurant in Goddards Green – their treat!! Then we couldn’t resist staying for a game of Diminishing Whist – so home about 1am! A great Bimble!
Cambridge – Park and ride excellent. £1 to park, £2.70 return on bus. BUT ONLY the Trumpington Park and Ride just off M11 Junction 11 has no height barrier – look for the special lane. All other P&Rs are 2.1m. No overnight Parking
Norwich – Park and Ride excellent. £3.50 return on bus. No parking charge. No overnight Parking
Dunwich – Free car park at Beach. National Trust Car park on heath free for members. No overnight Parking
Minsmere – Free parking. No overnight parking.
As usual we made great use of the Britstops Guide – just £27 for 1 year. We stayed at 5 different ones – all pubs this time. Ate a meal in one, had a drink in all the others, so most nights cost us about £5 – and we might well have gone to a pub for a drink anyway.
Tuesday night we stayed at Ludham – Grove Park Barns, a Camping and Caravan Club certificated campsite near Hickling Broad which was a lovely quiet location, with 2 toilet/shower units. Very clean but not the most powerful shower we have ever had! Still – all freshened up again! We thought £16 was a bit expensive for what you got.
Thursday night, in the absence of any Britstops , we stayed at Eastbridge Farm Campsite – just £8, but you need your own loo! there is a water point, and CDP. Essentially just a field, but SO peaceful and within a mile of Minsmere RSPB reserve.
Places to eat:
Cambridge – very busy but we had an excellent meal at Cote Brasserie near St Johns College.
Norwich – Excellent lunch menu – Soup, Sandwiches, Paninis, Quiche, Jackets etc, but all excellent quality and great value – in the Refectory at Norwich cathedral.
Things to do:
Cambridge – Kings College Chapel, Walk along the backs, Take a guided walk, Visit Colleges – Trinity plus Wren library, St Johns, Granchester,
Norwich- Cathedral, Plantation Garden, Meander the lanes. Excellent Tourist Information has many walks.
Birders – Hickling Broad boat trips, walks and raptor Roost. RSPB Minsmere and Strumpshaw Fen.
National Trust – there are lots of great properties in this region – we only visited Oxburgh on this trip – excellent.