A pilgrimage from St Benet’s back to Bury St Edmunds is proposed for 2020, and work must be done to plan for it. What are the obstacles? An inspection of the map confirmed that St Benet’s is on the far side of the river Bure with no near way to walk across. Further, there was no obvious footpath back to our first proposed stop at Norwich.
I started by contacting the ferry man at Horning. He was more than helpful, but needed to fix his engine, and then sort out insurance and river tolls. He has assured us that all will be well for 2020, but we could not rely on it for now.
Then how to get there? I went with Canon Philip Banks from Bury St Edmunds, using two cars and leaving one in Norwich Cathedral. The main issue was whether roads were acceptable for walkers if there was no foot-path. We were strongly advised that the obvious route, the Salhouse Road, was no longer suitable for pilgrims, with photos sent across from Norwich to demonstrate the problem:
Philip studied the map carefully and came up with other possibilities, but these were also rejected by the team in Norwich, who knew the terrain.
In the end we agreed to start walking from the South side of the river at Ranworth, opposite St Benet’s, and followed the route advised by Richard Woodham from the East Anglian Pilgrimage Network. Many thanks to Richard for his patience.
The day was sunny, and we met up with Sarah Friswell and her husband at Ranworth church to head back to Norwich. Reaching the top of Ranworth church tower involves a narrow spiral staircase and a couple of ladders, but the view across the Broads was well worth it, including a distant view of St Benet’s across the water. The interior was pretty amazing, too, with St George (rather than St Edmund) to send us on our way in the company of angels:
There were very few footpaths, but the lanes were so quiet it scarcely mattered. I wondered if this would be the same during the summer? We passed by a few trees, but mainly it was open countryside, dry for the time of year.
And there was no need to worry about facilities! Woodforde’s Brewery soon came into view with a malty slurry being excreted from a pipe into a green tank at the back.
Also, the thing which many pilgrims privately worry about, a set of public toilets!
We turned off the road after that and crossed over a railway track only to find the footpath had disappeared under a freshly ploughed field. Whilst we were puzzling this out a man in a tractor appeared and advised we just walk across ..
We ate our lunch in the churchyard of All Saints, Rackheath, off the main track: standing alone on a hill and redundant. There were building works going on and the place was covered in scaffolding, but there was no-one about.
We had been advised to continue to Spixworth, but took the chance to turn South at the North Waltham Road- a mistake as it turned out to be busy and without a pavement. Crossing the A1270 things improved quite quickly as we turned down Church Lane, reaching the delightful church of St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston. This was full of interesting details, and a welcoming feel.
After that the walk was easy, with suburban roads and pavements until Mousehold Heath , now a nature reserve, and full of woodland paths which took us over the hill and down into the centre of Norwich over the Bishops’ Bridge. Walking up from there to the precinct of the Cathedral we passed The Great Hospital , which looked very much like a former pilgrim hostel. Entering the Cathedral precinct from this direction gave a very “pilgrimy” feel to the experience- as if repeating the views taken by pilgrims centuries before. And coming through the cloisters how lovely to find the refractory still open for tea!
What did we learn? Overall we were pleased that such a pleasant walk was possible. We should have listened more exactly to the advice given and will need to return to check the route by Spixworth again- there is no substitute for local knowledge: Thank You, Norwich! I am also reminded of the impact the motor car has had over such a short time in our history: less than 100 years ago a direct route would have been easy to walk, but equally we would have found it more difficult to get to Norwich in the first place.