Inspired by the massive success of the King Alfred’s Way ‘time travel gravel’ route around the historical highlights of southern England, the Kernow Way in Cornwall, The Great North Trail up the Pennines and the Cantil Way in Kent, Cycling UK are adding another route. This cyclo circumnavigation of Norfolk is designed to be the perfect warm up for those more challenging routes or just an easy introduction into multi-day off-road touring. Who better to tell you about it than our own Guy Kesteven who worked with access and advocacy charity Cycling UK to create and narrate the route...
Easy riding hot spot
Considering how much I like hills and challenging trails, I was genuinely shocked how much I enjoyed riding round Norfolk researching and refining this route. Not only does the fact it tops out at a maximum of 100m above sea level make it very easy on the legs, East Anglia is also generally several degrees warmer, sunnier and drier than the rest of the UK. That was certainly my experience when I tested out the route in July, making the most of glorious golden light blazing across cornfields and strobing through forests near Thetford. Or watching stunning Norman castles and priories rising out of the dawn mist at Castle Acre. You’ve even got the only opportunity to see the sun set into the sea on the east coast – if you time your ride through Hunstanton right.
What the route lacks in contours it makes up for in variety under your wheels. Mile after mile of utterly deserted forest riding, Roman Roads, prehistoric droveways, farm tracks, medieval commons, paths alongside steam railways and seaside gravel tracks through nature reserves are mixed with grass centred back roads. There’s even a hill with some singletrack on near Sheringham which we really weren’t expecting. For the most part though it’s blissfully easy, all-weather surface riding where gear changes are a rare interruption under vast panoramic skies and getting out of the saddle is only done to stretch your legs and air your undercarriage.
The Rebellion Way name comes from the fact that while it’s mostly library quiet now, Norfolk has historically been a hotbed of revolution and rebellion. This started when Queen Boudicca of the local Celtic Iceni tribe went on a revenge rampage against Roman occupiers that saw her army burn St Albans, Colcheser and London to the ground. The lesser known Robert Kett also successfully fought off royal armies when he led a peasant revolt against land enclosures in 1549. Add in Roman forts on the east coast, the Viking army of Ivar the Boneless hanging out in Thetford for a while and the fascinating shine village and self styled ‘Nazareth of the UK’ in Great Walshingham and there’s way more history here than you might expect. World renowned Wurlitzer organ collections, a shell museum, seafront mammoth murals and the Royal holiday residence of Sandringham are all part of the random charm of this eclectic eastern loop too.
Countless live and ruined medieval churches, castles, prehistoric barrows, Palladian, Tudor, Jacobean stately homes and even the prettiest ammunition store in the world provide the architectural aesthetic. Pretty Georgian market towns, historic sea ports at Kings Lynn and Wells Next the Sea, and the lively capital city of Norfolk where the route starts and finishes provide obvious, regularly spaced stopping and refueling points. Plenty of pubs, local produce specialists and several breweries en route mean you’ll be really well fed and watered on the way round too.
Norfolk's not for hurrying
Plenty of varied accommodation options all the way round mean you can take as long or as short a time as you want on the tour too. I used the long days of summer to ride it in two days while still making ample use of the many tea and cake and farm shop food stops, taking plenty of pictures and filming a video diary. If you want a more leisurely approach though, the naturally slow pace of Norfolk could easily lull you into a relaxed week's worth of riding. Either way, it’s another route that proves that bikes are the perfect, uniquely nature and atmosphere immersive way to explore the fascinating history and landscape of the UK.
The Rebellion Way launches today, for more details head to the Cycling UK route page, where you’ll find details and GPX files for the loop. For the full story, get a copy of the guidebook (£14 from Cycling UK's online shop (opens in new tab)) which will give you routing information, real maps and loads of stories and facts about what you'll see along the way.