I walked this, the 13th stage of my Grand Norfolk Hike, on Sunday 6th – Monday 7th April 2012.
I arrived in Diss at about 1pm after a lengthy train journey via Norwich and quickly picked up the Angles Way path towards Harleston.
My intention had been to wild camp in a small wood (well, copse actually) on the banks of the River Waveney. However, as I started to walk along the Waveney it fast became apparent that the land either side of the river was very boggy and fen-like. My boots and socks were quickly waterlogged and I had to adjust my wild camping plans.
Of course, this is a clear lesson in not mistaking the map for the terrirtory, what looks great on Google / OS maps might be very different on the actual ground.
By 8.0pm I was well past Harleston and beginning to feel very tired. I knew I needed to find somewhere to pitch within the next hour or so.
Trudging past a field I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. I stood still and watched an owl swoop down into the field and a moment later take off with a mouse held tight in its talons. I followed the owl with my eyes as it flew off in the direction of a wooded hilltop, it was then that I noticed a public footpath sign pointing up into the wood.
‘This is it’ I told myself and taking a swig of water began the hopeful march up the hill and into the wood.
It was a small, young wood. The map does not give a name so I gave it one in honour of the owl I had seen earlier on. Nettles covered most of the ground but towards the back of the wood I found a clear space in front of a birch tree just right for setting up a camp. It was now about 8.30
I spent the first 10 minutes worrying that an angry farmer/landowner was going to walk into the wood and order me out. I countered this train of thought with some straight-forward rational thinking:
‘What is the likelihood of anyone (apart from myself) entering this wood tonight? Almost zero! Stop worrying!!’
I went through this routine half a dozen times or so, until I eventually stopped worrying and got on with gathering tinder for a much needed cuppa tea and some dinner.
With food and tea out of the way I set up camp, climbed into my very snug sleeping bag (inside a bivvy bag and on top of a light-weight blow-up pad) and listened to the sounds of the night. First the birds stopped singing, then some foxes began barking but after half an hour or so they also stopped.
The night was quiet, there was no wind. The sky was obscured by cloud but a silvery-shimmer gave away the presence of the full moon. I spent some time just gazing up at the night clouds, willing a break to appear so I could see la luna…but without luck.
I shot a bit of video and tried to sleep:
I doubt I managed more than four hours sleep. I was warm and comfortable so it wasn’t that that kept me awake. I think it purely the uniqueness of what I was doing, sleeping outside, vulnerable but safe, close to the ground, the trees and wildlife.
At about 4.30 I woke to the dawn chorus and watched the wood turn from dark greyscales to deep green, the sun slowly rising in a pink haze. At five I boiled some water up and drank a lovely cup of tea.
By 6am I had packed up camp, carefully keeping to the wild camping code of ‘leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos’
I left the wood and started the 10 mile hike to Bungay. The sun was out and I was amazed by the wonderful, sharply-focused early morning light. Everything looked utterly beautiful and vibrant, despite my tiredness I felt refreshed and energetic.
An hour or so later I reached the river Waveney.
By this point my lack of sleep had caught up with me and I began to feel dog-tired. The final 6 miles were a bit of a forced march. I reached Bungay with an hour to wait until the 1pm bus left for Norwich. I found an cafe and joyful downed a very welcome cappuccino.
I arrived back in Ely for 2pm, stood in the shower and then had a nap. A wonderful 24 hours and a first ever wild camp that I’ll never forget.