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Earsham to Harleston

Walked by Sally and Richard, 8th September 2011
12 miles of walking, about 11 miles progress along the Angles Way.
Up until now, our walks along long distance paths have either involved someone else transporting our luggage from B&B to B&B or have been completed in a series of one day legs. Today we tried something different - we (well, mostly Richard) carried our own stuff, with the aim of walking halfway from Earsham to Diss today and the rest of the way tomorrow. We were only away for one might mind, and the few things we need in order to stay overnight in a B&B are a far cry from what Helen and Tom carry when camping. But we did it! Furthermore we had a lovely walk.
We left the car in the station car park at Diss (a bit expensive - £4.90 per day - but we wanted somewhere where we knew we could leave the car for two days ; it turns out that the NCP car park just the other side of the station is cheaper). We walked into the town centre and were reassured to see the number 580 bus sitting at the bus station in good time for the scheduled departure time of 10.00am. The problem was, there was no sign of a driver...He eventually sauntered up around 10.15 - we reckon that he was banking on making up time on the journey and the other passengers (just one from the bus station) didn't seem bothered. The bus fare seemed extremely reasonable (£3.20 each for all the way from Diss to Earsham) and we rattled along, passing some places we would return to today or tomorrow - including our B&B in Harleston, Chameleon House - and some attractive villages which the Angles Way doesn't pass through, in particular Scole, with an interesting old Inn. The bus had a display screen which sometimes showed the road in front of us, sometimes showed adverts and sometimes showed most attractive photographs of the Norfolk landscape by John Duckett - there's more at http://www.jduckettimages.co.uk.
We were further delayed by roadworks on the A143, so it must have been at least 11.45 when we got off the bus in Earsham. We walked past the village hall and  houses and turned left past a nice Angles Way signpost, though this tells you that it is 12 miles to Harleston which is not correct - 11 miles is nearer the mark. We passed the Church, with a tall spire (unusual for these parts) and left Earsham by way of a narrow path next to a drainage cut. We crossed the River Waveney and then crossed a meadow, with a fiddly bit at the far side, over several electric fences, in order to get to a further bridge and out onto the road.
We crossed the road and took a path up Constitution Hill. There was a rickety stile at the top but there were also excellent views to the Waveney Valley, with the churches in Bungay and Earsham as notable landmarks. I'd expected the next few miles of walking, on the higher ground, to be boring, especially when I saw the words 'disused airfield', but it was actually very enjoyable walking. The ground undulated attractively and the walking was comfortable, at best (between Shadowburn Farm and Sternacre Farm) on green 'corridors' between the crops. It was however a bit depressing to realise that at Shadowburn Farm (at least 2.5 miles walking from Earsham), we were actually further east than when we had got off the bus, having walked predominantly to the south. This is certainly a circuitous route from Earsham to Harleston. It was also quite windy on the higher ground, so we decided to wait for lunch until we'd descended a little.
After completing our circuit to the south, we returned to the Waveney Valley to the west of Flixton Hall (now ruined but we went past Home Farm), descending through fields of maize. Whilst I had been pleasantly surprised by the higher ground, the opposite applied to the 'Sand and Gravel Pits' at the bottom of our descent - I'd formed a mental image of water-filled pits, complete with wildlife, and surrounded by picnic benches, but we found that extracting was still going on at the first 'pit'. The next pit was more as I'd imagined, with water and wildfowl - and there was even a landing stage and boat. However there was also a large 'no entry' sign. We ate our lunch sitting on the grass opposite.
Homersfield came next; a pretty place with thatched cottages (some being re-thatched), a delightful church in a wooded setting and a curious millennium memorial - it's a tree, sculpted by Mark Goldsworthy, and at the top there is a man in a boat. Round the base are the words 'I dreamed of a beautiful woman who carried me away'. So what's it all about?: apparently the River Waveney at this point was once called  'Alveron' which means 'beautiful woman' (This information comes from Avril Pierssene's 'Wayside Art in East Anglia'). Homersfield has another flooded gravel pit - again no public access, but this one was extremely attractive.
We meandered our way out of Homersfield on country lanes, close to the River Waveney, then turned down a track through woodland on the edge of the Waveney's flood plain to Downs Farm (with a mill visible in the distance) then on around Target Hill. The route wasn't always clear but it was very attractive and, more by good luck than anything else, we emerged onto the road at the right place and walked down into Mendham. We stopped for a rest by the village sign, then passed the grand looking All Saints Church, crossed the river and took a very short diagonal 'short cut' to another road.
We crossed the road and we climbed out of the valley again, then crossed the A143 and walked into Harleston, a lovely little market town, with many buildings which appear to be Georgian but are apparently, like Chameleon House where we stayed, actually Tudor. We'd made good time on the walk and were in Harleston soon after 3.30pm, so we had a cup of tea at 'Number 5' before going on to Chameleon House, the home of Ginni and Peter Ashken and their children. It's an amazing place, stylishly and comfortably renovated, with rooms described as 'spaces' and more like suites. We were in Room 2001 which is huge. Before their children were born, Ginni and Peter ran a restaurant in the ground floor of Chameleon House, then it became a Japanese Restaurant, but sadly that too has now closed, leaving Harleston with a selection of rather mediocre-looking eating places. Rather than trying any of these, we opted to visit KM Fish and Chips. Richard had seen good reviews and they weren't wrong. The fish was cooked to order and was probably the best fish and chip shop fish I've ever tasted. All in all, we were very impressed by Harleston!
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