Updated: Sep 28
WORDS & PHOTOS | Lisa Koninx
Lisa leads us along one of Cambridges many gravels trails, bikepacking her way through sand, spraying tractors and nettles in the pursuit of ice cream.
Picture this, you’re lying on the side of some field, nestled into the depths of a bivvy bag with your best friend lying to your left, your bike lying to your right and nothing but the vast, open night sky painted above you. Classic scene from any bikepacking trip write-up.
Those write-ups forget to mention the strange sounds you heard during the witching hour: the screeching of birds wandering through the fields; the three farm dogs barking, sounding like they’re always getting closer; the random rustling in the trees which makes you think someone is sneaking up to you. But it is at this exact moment where the magic happens, where you’re teetering on the edge towards embracing the thrill of being alive, outside and close to nature. Or you can fall into the spiral of terror, where your imagination runs wild with every odd sound, and pictures the worst. Leaning into the thrill is hard but that’s exactly what makes bikepacking so special.
How did I get here? Well, let's rewind to answer that question.
The Peddars Way is a Roman road that starts in Thetford (for cyclists) and heads straight North towards Holme-next-the-Sea. It’s a “gravel” route that stretches 80km, containing actual gravel, but also single track, double track, sand, chippy rock, jungle, and everything in between.
Keen to do some bikepacking close to home and knowing that the South-East isn’t very much renowned for cycling, when my flatmate, Audrey, and I stumbled across this hidden gem we thought we had hit the jackpot.
We excitedly watched YouTube videos of other cyclists riding the route and read reviews of the route online. Having done the research, we were confident that we would be able to manage this weekend bikepacking overnighter.
The day finally arrived, and our bags were packed and snacks ready. We started at 6am to catch an early train, as the weather forecast was predicting sun and blistering temperatures. We arrived at Thetford station bright eyed and bushy tailed, looked around and were immediately…lost.
There was a distinct lack of signage on the Peddars Way, an issue we struggled with for the first 15 kilometres or so, as we wound our way through Thetford Forest paths, roads and the occasional pig farm. (Side note - Norfolk has a ridiculous amount of pig farms!) You can imagine our exuberance when we spotted the first arrow pointing out the Peddars Way! We finally felt confident that at least directionally, we were on the right track.
The track itself though was a whole other ballpark. Initially we were a bit confused: how was it after all the hours of scrolling the internet about the Peddars Way, we hadn’t read about the part where we needed to push our bikes through some sandy parts? Or where the note been about the muddy lanes that had giant craters in the middle of them? Or the single track that was so deep and narrow that it was impossible to pedal because the pedals would hit the ground and you’d go flying off?! Or the thick jungle that spilled over onto the double track gravel? Our legs and hands were sacrificed to the nettles that weekend.
This type of gravel riding was decidedly tougher than anything we’d done together thus far. And having picked the hottest weekend of the year, it tested us physically, emotionally, and mentally.
As it started to get towards the late afternoon, our thoughts turned to where we were going to sleep for the night. The plan was to wild camp using our bivvy bags, something that neither of us had done before. Considering all the advice we had read about wild camping (find somewhere out of the way, don’t be visible, leave no trace) we started our search for a suitable spot. We hiked our bikes through some fields away from the roads and tracks and set up camp for the night. A quick wipe down of the legs and arms with a wet flannel left us feeling (a little) refreshed and ready to settle down with dinner for the night. By this point, our beers that we had taken out of our freezer that morning were at the perfect temperature to be drunk. We watched the sunset and the stars rise and congratulated ourselves on a tough job well done for the first day.
That wild camp, with nothing but the bivvy bag between ourselves and the elements, made the trip so worthwhile. There’s something very invigorating about being able to get from point A to point B under your own power, be self-sufficient for a night and then power onwards. Despite the lack of sleep (or maybe because of it) you feel on top of the world.
There’s nothing quite like waking up in a random farm in the middle of Norfolk to the sound of mounted tractor sprayers roaring past your head. Feels good to be alive!
Feeling pretty sure that the farmer had seen our little camp, we gulped down the rest of our tea and finished off our porridge. We broke down camp, made sure to leave no trace and hoisted our sore bums back on to the saddle for the second day. As we got closer and closer to Holme-next-the-Sea, the air started to change and the sea breeze brought a welcome relief to the relentless heat. The thought of ice-cream boosted the spirits and I think sheer adrenaline pushed us on for the last few kilometres, knowing that we were getting closer and closer to the sea and our final endpoint in Hunstanton.
The big ice cream in Hunstanton was much needed and the shade of the beach café allowed us to recuperate and rest our tired legs after two intense days of cycling. The gravel that we had come across pushed us outside of our technical comfort zone but made the achievement of completing the Peddars Way that much sweeter and more special. The cherry on top of the weekend was managing to cycle back in time to Kings Lynn and boarding the train home with 60 seconds to spare! Finally breaking our bikepacking curse of just missing the train home by being 30 seconds too late.
When I asked Audrey for a final comment on this article about what she thought of the weekend, she said “Well, we certainly have a story to tell about it!”.
If you’ve ever done the Peddars Way, let me know your thoughts!