Day 7 looked to be a good day. 10 walkers to start, 3 to join us along the way. And a forecast of warm, dry weather.
We met at Icklingham and then shuttled some of the cars to the start – at Cheveley. From the left, Richard, Steve, me, Lara, Bev, Den, Jean, Jane P (and a glimpse of Winnie), Rachael and Jane T. Jane T had come all the way from North Berwick to join us. It was wonderful to have her there and an enormous thank you to her for making the effort. I am sure she won’t mind me mentioning that some years ago, Jane had the support of a Home-Start volunteer in Edinburgh – not long after her twin boys were born. Perhaps that had been a factor in her show of solidarity for me, as I know that she had found the support very helpful at that time.
Setting off through the village, we passed the church before picking up the Icknield Way on the right.
The countryside had changed so much since we had walked along the Icknield Way a month before. Although it had been a beautiful, sunny day, it had felt like early spring and the hedges and trees were still quite bare. Today, they were mostly covered with new leaves and the fields were vibrant green and yellow, bursting with new growth. My favourite time of year.
The path took us to Ashley and then on the Gazeley Road towards the River Kennett.
The path followed the river to Dalham with lovely views across the fields.
Pausing on the bridge over the River Kennett in Dalham.
…where even the Flood Gauging Station was charming.
Passing by an old malt kiln we continued in the direction of the church and then turned on to a beautiful chestnut-lined avenue that led us to the splendid Dalham Hall.
According to the guidebook, Dalham Hall had been owned by the South African, Cecil Rhodes. I later found out that he had never lived there, as he died the year after he made the purchase (1902). The house had been built at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and had originally consisted of 3 floors, the top one of which was destroyed by a fire in the 1950s. Today it looked very beautiful (and in perfect proportion), as did the surrounding landscape and we paused here for a drink/snack. It was already getting quite hot and Winnie seemed to be feeling it. Nearby a smartly dressed family with young children were posing (‘naturally’) for a professional photographer. Hope we didn’t get in their way….
I could have stayed there for a while, but we didn’t want to get too comfortable, as there was quite a way to go, so we set off again, past the church.
And then to Gazeley.
Following the Kentford Road out of Gazeley and on to Needham Street.
Perfectly prepared fields reminded me that I still hadn’t planted my potatoes…Such fine soil. Slight mistake with the route here, we should have been on the other side of the field!
We crossed the B1506 and walked along it for a short distance, before turning to pass under the A14, which seemed strangely out of place in the otherwise traditional surroundings.
The path then took us under a railway bridge and along Slade Bottom byway, passing the works entrance to Higham Lafarge – aggregates and concrete.
The road soon became a track and we noticed how much the landscape had changed since we had crossed the A14. Rolling chalk fields had given way to the dry, sandy-soiled Brecklands with the characteristic Scots pines.
Feeling slightly desperate for lunch, we found a shady spot and stopped for a break.
I made contact with Sally, Susan and Rowena, who were due to meet us at the next village – Herringswell. We had agreed to meet at the church. I had worked with Sally & Susan many years ago in Ipswich and was very touched that they had come out to support me and join us for some of the walk.
Restored by food and drink, we continued on our way, passing many pigs!
And through a beautiful wood to Herringswell where we met our new companions walking towards us. Onwards to Tuddenham where we hoped there may be a pub for an icy drink and a loo stop. We could see the White Hart down the road, and Sally kindly went to see if it was open (so many pubs in this area have sadly closed down). Here we are waiting, hoping for a signal that we might be in luck.
We were being watched, as we waited.
So welcome was the signal that the pub was indeed open that we walked down the road with a spring in out step – to the welcoming White Hart, run by some very friendly people, determined to keep it open. There was hardly anyone about, so we could fill the small garden.
It was very hard to leave this pub, but eventually we picked ourselves up and, feeling refreshed, continued on our way, across Cavenham Heath National Nature Reserve.
We crossed over the River Lark and I became aware of the presence of other people – it felt like this was for the first time all day. Like us, they were out enjoying the warm afternoon.
The track led us into Icklingham – and here we are back where we had left the cars earlier, in front of another closed pub….
What a lovely day’s walking in gorgeous weather, at a perfect time of year. Although not the longest stretch of the Icknield Way, the heat of the day had made it quite tiring and I think we were all pleased to reach our destination.
As ever, a huge thank you to my companions for the day. And apologies to Winnie if it was a bit warm.
I look forward to the next walk on June 4th and hope that some of you will be able to join me for that final stretch.
For donations, please visit: http://www.mydonate.bt.com and type “Juliet Greer” in the “Sponsor a Fundraiser” box.