Monday, 20 July 2009

The last leg

The going is easier today. After yesterday’s 22-mile dash from Castle Acre, the final leg of our walk along the Peddars Way is a gentle stroll over the seven remaining miles to the coast. With our heavy packs left behind at our last overnight stop, it feels more like a normal walk through the Norfolk countryside. This part of the Peddars Way runs through some of the county’s most beautiful countryside. At times the route is a wide green lane, straight and showing its Roman origins, that slips through gently rolling hills and cuts between small woodlots and arable crops. In places the path is alive with butterflies; clouds of newly emerged Small Tortoiseshells (a welcome sight after several difficult summers for the species), a profusion of Meadow Browns, the odd Small Copper and the occasional Painted Lady, the latter tattered remnants from the extraordinary influx of earlier in the summer.

Seen on a map, the original path of the Peddars Way is undeniably straight, deviating just twice (and then only very slightly) along its length but our modern route takes a less direct path thanks to the accumulation of land into private hands. The straightness and position of the Peddars Way suggests that it was a military road, established through the heartland of Prasutagus’s Iceni kingdom in the aftermath of Boudicca’s revolt. A show of strength by the occupying Roman Army perhaps but also facilitating the movement of troops should the need arise to quell further uprisings.

A great deal has been written about the Peddars Way and its purpose, with many authors seemingly frustrated by the lack of any obvious destination – ‘roads must go somewhere’. There is no hill fort at Holme or any major settlement, leaving some authors to suggest that it might have ended at a ferry, which crossed the Wash into Lincolnshire. However, there is no evidence for this and there is no reason to suppose that the road did anything beyond allowing troops to move quickly through potentially hostile terrain. The road avoids most of the known Iceni settlements by passing to the east of the more ancient Icknield Way.

Dropping down towards the sea from Ringstead we can see our destination, the village of Holme and the signpost that I know awaits our arrival just beyond the golf course and before the dunes. ‘Knetishall 46 miles’ it will say, with its wooden finger pointing back along our route to where we had set out just two days before – just beyond a small ford on the Little Ouse. This last leg has been a pleasant way to bring our journey to its end, delivering a sense of connection with an ancient landscape and those who travelled its highways.

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