Peddars Way: A Walk, With Wildlife

Peddars Way 1st stage1

Path: a society that never meets. Its walkers share a citizenship linked by the thinnest line; their footsteps overlap, and thoughts of travel bind them.

Peddars Way has witnessed human doings for thousands of years. Like so much in northern East Anglia, it is entangled with the life of Boudica – queen of the Breckland-based Iceni. Her ferocious revolt against the Roman invaders in AD60 shook the British world as it then was. The Balkerne Gate down in Colchester (then called Camulodunum) has stood for nearly 2,000 years as a reminder of how the town was rebuilt after Boudica’s forces obliterated it.

Roman gate Colchester

In Breckland, too, the Romans clearly wished to build something new: a road of order, rather than a tribal land of rebellion. Peddars Way is drawn with classic Roman straightness between Knettishall Heath and the wild northern coast.

That path still lives. But today you hear no hobnailed Roman sandals on the march. Buzzards cry over an autumn putting on its golden coat.

Peddars Way 1st stage2

And spindle berries brighten the hedgerow.

Peddars Way 1st stage3

England and Wales are threaded through with a mind-boggling 140,000 miles of rights of way, and a select few have been waymarked as our showcase National Trails. Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path form one of them: 129 miles from the harshly grand Brecks to marshes and saltwater.

The Brecks is everything: farmland, military range, commercial forest, beech plantation. Chalky, sandy, hot and cold, open and shadowed – Neolithic mines and modern conservation. Whatever light forest grew on the sand at the end of the Pleistocene was cleared into steppe thousands of years ago, and endured by generations of farmers. My own ancestors are part of that story: they worked a small part of the Brecks from at least the 1400s onwards, inadvertently helping to create the tumbling mosaic of habitats that support such an incredible array of wildlife.

I don’t know precisely where their land was, but like much of the Brecks, it was acquired by the Ministry of Defence after World War II, and today probably lies within the huge Stanford Training Area Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Peddars Way 1st stage7

And the path goes forever on. Ten miles done, and much more of the Peddars Way lies ahead.

Peddars Way 1st stage5

14 thoughts on “Peddars Way: A Walk, With Wildlife

    1. Thanks Lynette. What part of England was she from?

      It’s not uncommon for people to make new findings here when digging! Especially for construction projects. Some rare Roman statues were found recently on the HS2 rail route project.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was watching an unusually good YouTube podcast about Roman Britain yesterday and someone had commented underneath: “I am going shopping in York and it looks a little different today.” Learning history gives so much depth and casts familiar things in richer light.

      Norfolk is full of historical trails and I’m looking forward to trying more of them 🙂


    1. The last six thousand years have certainly been very complicated for this island! And of course directly shaped the wildlife we have too.

      Even after 2,000 years, major finds from the Roman era are still turning up. We didn’t know that they’d built a circus here until one was uncovered in Colchester in 2004. I went down there to have a look at the ruins the other day.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. North Norfolk is one of our favourite places to visit, a great mixture of countryside, wildlife and history. Hopefully we’ll make it back there next year – as your post reminds me, there’s so much still left to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Northern East Anglia is such a varied area and even when on public transport I’ve had some surprises – I saw a goshawk from the train the other day!

      If you do Peddars, I’d recommend starting at Stonebridge. If you begin at Knettishall, as I did, there are two very aggressive dogs by the Little Ouse that seem to think it’s great fun to hunt hikers along the fenceline for several hundred metres. I made a complaint to the council, but one thing they cannot do much about is four miles further down the path where you are supposed to cross the A11…on foot!! Er, no. Definitely no. I got a lift in a car across the road and continued from Stonebridge. But apart from that, thoroughly enjoyed the hike. The Brecks is a fabulous landscape to see up close.

      Liked by 1 person

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