Gravel in Norfolk: how much would you like?

In Cycling, Norfolk
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These three mixed surface cycle routes vary from a little to almost all unpaved surfaces. They’re not particularly gnarly, and certainly not technical, and could be completed on a hybrid or road bike with suitable higher-volume tyres. Cyclocross, adventure, all-road and gravel type bikes would probably offer the best balance between comfort and speed.

As circular routes, they can be accessed from any point on the loop and may be completed in either direction. I start and finish in Melton Constable, where I’m based. The on-road paved sections are almost all quiet lanes, with brief crossings of main roads where necessary. Each loop represents a day ride in its own right but they also potentially function as extensions to the Norfolk long distance Forest to Sea (F2C) routes.

Although I write during the unusual times of a Covid-19 pandemic, under more normal circumstances there are a multitude of opportunities to buy refreshments and provisions en route, some of which are highlighted on the GPS tracks below.

Melton Constable and Wells-next-the-Sea (44km; 12% unpaved)

A mainly on-road route through some of North Norfolk’s finest countryside and a selection of its most picturesque villages, with three miles (5km) of gravel linking Wells and Wighton. This can be easily avoided by using Warham Road and creating a 100% tarmac ride, if desired. It takes in two Norman abbeys and numerous churches, and I’m never without binoculars due to the wealth of birdlife usually encountered. Look out for barn owls, marsh harriers and red kites in particular. In winter, they’re joined by other birds of prey and many thousands of wildfowl.

Ruin of St. Mary’s, Melton Constable

From Melton Constable it’s a net descent to the coast via Binham, where you’ll encounter the first of the two priories. In Wells, you’re spoilt for choice for food and drink. You can enjoy a take-away on the quay or head to the beach through the pinewoods.

Binham Abbey
Warham
Wells quay

Leaving Wells along Market Street, past the high school, you’ll take a wide greenway south to join the gravel track linking Holkham and Wighton. You can divert slightly into the village to admire the church and visit the pub.

South of Wells
Track to Wighton
All Saints, Wighton

More amenities are available in Little Walsingham, where the Farms Shop is worth a stop if you’re hungry, or towing a trailer as we sometimes do on pedal powered shopping trips. It’s also home to the second Medieval abbey.

Little Walsingham
River Stiffkey at Great Walsingham

After crossing the ford at Great Walsingham you’ll wind your way to Melton Constable via back lanes and quiet villages.

Melton Constable and Aylsham (49km; 29% unpaved)

This route begins on higher ground in Melton Constable and descends to Foulsham (it’s surprising how much temperatures can drop over this short distance, with frosts relatively rare in Melton but much commoner down the ‘hill’ in Hindolveston). It follows the northern section of the ‘Themelthorpe loop’, part of Marriott’s Way, to reach Reepham and Aylsham, returning via small lanes through the Heydon area to Briston.

Melton Constable to Hindolveston road
Forwater Road bridge, Themelthorpe loop
Marriott’s Way, Themelthorpe loop
Marriott’s Way near Aylsham
Aylsham town centre
St. Michael and All Angels, Aylsham

You’ll leave Aylsham via the Heydon Road toward Oulton, crossing the Norwich-Holt road and taking a track through Park Farm. The adjacent gravel road through the Heydon estate to the village is marked as private and signs at the gate near Heydon church state that walkers are welcomed but don’t mention cycling. If you have any more definitive information on cycling on estate paths I’d be grateful if you’d comment below.

St. Peter and St. Paul, Oulton
Park Farm, Heydon

When the Village Tea Room is open it’s well worth a detour. Otherwise, you’ll skirt the estate walls and continue along quiet lanes to meet the Reepham Road south of Briston.

North of Heydon

Marriott’s Way and Bure Valley via Coltishall (62km; 82% unpaved)

I get to this route from Melton Constable, riding to Themelthorpe via the country lanes in the loop above. It’s also handy for Norwich and the Broads, and, with a national rail station at Hoveton and Wroxham, you can reach it from almost anywhere. If you’re in West Norfolk, take a look at the F2C long-distance route from the Peddars Way through Aylsham to Great Yarmouth.

Themelthorpe loop, toward Aylsham
Themelthorpe loop
Forwater Road bridge, Themelthorpe
Marriott’s Way beneath the Forwater Road bridge

It includes most of the Marriott’s Way, omitting only the section between Norwich and Thorpe Marriott (of course, Norwich is a possible diversion, adding 12 miles’ round trip), and the entire Bure Valley Railway cycle path linking Aylsham and Hoveton (for Wroxham). The latter is narrow and best enjoyed at quieter times. Early morning is ideal, with misty sunrises as a reward.

Red Lion street, Aylsham
Bure Valley Railway cycle path near Aylsham
Approaching Hoveton

A paved interlude of around seven miles (11km) in length links the gravel and woodland sections that form the vast majority of this route. Take care on the short section (about 400m) along the A140 Norwich-Cromer road between the village of Newton St. Faith and Green Lane, the main access through Horsford Woods.

Horsford Woods

The route takes one of the many paths upon which cycling is permitted through Felthorpe Common. Do please show the usual courtesy to other users of the area.

Felthorpe Common

If travelling clockwise (south-west in this case), you’ll exit the Common to meet Norfolk County Council’s ecocidal abomination, the Norwich Distributor Road. Take care in using one of its pathetic cycle ‘crossings’ to join the paved cycleway parallel to the hideous traffic sewer, rejoining the Marriott’s Way at the footbridge and heading toward Lenwade and Reepham.

Marriott’s Way near Lenwade

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