THREE days, two cyclists, one master of light entertainment.
With the summer fading fast Sutcliffe and I decided to finally get our act together and organise a cycling tour.
The Normandy landing beaches were too much to arrange in a week, so we went for something a lot more achievable: Norfolk, the home of Alan Partridge.
On Friday 6 September we found ourselves on a train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich mid-morning. Matters of accommodation and route had been taken care of by Sutcliffe.
We would take in the Norfolk countryside so eulogised by the fictional broadcaster, as well as a couple sights made famous by his work.
The account below will hopefully provide some useful advice to anyone planning a cycle trip in north Norfolk. It also contains references to Alan Partridge.
Day 1 – Norwich to Sheringham – 31 miles
Having taken a few minutes outside Norwich rail station to inspect a map showing the extent of the city centre’s pedestrianisation, we set off heading north on the A140. I was on my Trek 1 Series road bike, Sutcliffe his mountain bike with slick tyres.
Just after passing Norwich Airport we bared left onto the B1149, going six miles past Horsford before turning right towards Oulton Street.
Three miles, a right and a left turn later we arrived outside Blickling Hall, or as Alan Partridge once tried to convince his Ukranian girlfriend, Bono’s house.
The Bucks Arms next door served adequate sandwiches – the bread was a little dry – and a good pint of Aspall cider. Or two.
Fed and watered we took in the National Trust property which boasts “the biggest collection of hatchbacks in the country” and “the sort of dog the Nazi’s used to chase Steve McQueen”.
We were still taking photos and worrying other visitors when it started to rain. Continuing north we went through Erpingham, Aldborough and Suested.
There is plenty of woodland here, and it was wet going in the narrow lanes as the raindrops dripped from the leaves above. By the time we got to Metton we were soaked.
A brief consultation in the pouring rain led to the decision to forego a visit to Cromer Pier, scene of the epic finale of Alpha Papa, and head straight to the youth hostel Sutcliffe had booked in Sheringham.
A soggy climb up through Great Wood vindicated the choice.
Pubs in Sheringham
Asking where was good to go in Sheringham at the counter in the youth hostel, the man behind it proudly informed us there were fishermen on the coast who couldn’t read or write. The enquiry was modified to include pubs.
It’s been a long-held view that seaside towns produce the worst pubs because they don’t need to produce good ones. When it’s sunny and everyone’s on holiday they’ll drink anywhere. Unfortunately we discovered this to be true of Sheringham.
The public bar in recent CAMRA winner the Windham Arms was the scene for first pint of the evening where there was a good range of beers and an excitable group of tradesmen playing pool.
Pint number two was in The Lobster, a pub more tourist-friendly but insipid. The Two Lifeboats on the seafront gave views of the sea, but the beer, the interior and the food all felt like it was assembled, fittingly, by Allen key.
We stopped into the Robin Hood for a nightcap on the way back – plenty of memorabilia on the walls, but like every other pub we visited lacked Friday-night zing.
Back at the hostel it turned out we were sharing the dormitory with a middle-aged man who spoke very passionately about welding. Sleep came in no time.
Day 2 – Sheringham to Hunstanton – 40 miles
Don’t take the croissant option for breakfast at Sheringham youth hostel. Just don’t.
A seven on ten fry up and a bright, sunny morning were an excellent start to day two.
Before leaving town I popped into the brilliantly-named Fudgetastic to pick up a present for the war office – whose indifference towards to middle-distance cycling is dwarfed only by her indifference towards Alan Partridge.
It turned out the friendly lady in the fudge shop was a huge Partridge fan. Apparently some of the cast of Alpha Papa stopped by after filming had finished at Cromer and she’d met Sean Pertwee. I got the impression she’d wanted to do a lot more than sell him fudge.
Setting off at 10am west along the A149 we reached Weybourne after three miles up and down along small rolling gradients.
Just after Weybourne is The Muckleburgh Collection, a private museum of tanks and other military hardware. With quite a few miles to cover that day, we decided not to part with the £8 entry fee and settled for a peek through the fence.
This was fortunate. Sutcliffe gets a bit intense around tanks…
At Kelling we bared left onto Wood Lane and climbed up to join a national cycle route. It was around six miles from Sheringham I realised my waterproof jacket was still in the youth hostel drying room.
Rather than add 12 miles to my day while Sutcliffe gloated and dozed in a hedgerow I decided to get them to post it to me later (which they did). Anyway, the weather showed no signs of rain…
We passed through Wiveton, Langham, Binham, stopped for some Terry’s Chocolate Orange on the River Stiffkey at Warham and headed into Wells-Next-The-Sea.
The rest of the coast may have gone into hibernation for the winter, but Wells was alive with tourists.
On the sea front we stopped at The Golden Fleece for refreshment. It was Sutcliffe’s round so I didn’t really see the inside. It gave the impression of being a bit ‘dog on a string’. Sutcliffe quite liked it.
An aperitif later we decided to dine on the Albatross, a pub pancake Dutch boat moored at the quay. It was full of families and the crepes took 45 minutes to arrive. Sutcliffe seethed and I lost count of the number of times he used the phrase ‘sh1tting out kids’.
After lunch we took the tourist cycle route around Pinewood Holiday Park, which boasted many static homes but to the ear no air bass being played.
The ‘cycle’ route became very sandy. It would be inadvisable to attempt this on a road bike. Even Sutcliffe’s mountain bike struggled.
Back on tarmac, we took the A149 to Burnham Overy Staithe rather than the more well-cycled route through Holkham Hall because Sutcliffe wanted to revisit the holiday cottage of his youth. One flashback to his first experience with an older man later, we turned left up to Burnham Market.
Most of the local folk we’d met in Norfolk had been friendly, helpful and even glad to see us. The women in the shop in Burnham where we stopped to get ice cream had such appalling customer skills it felt like we hadn’t given her a much-hoped-for second series.
The weather was fresh and sunny for most of the day, but somewhere along Burnham Road near Cresent Wood the heavens opened.
Having brought two waterproofs with him, Sutcliffe was overjoyed as I pulled on his budget poncho. We took refuge in a hedgerow for 10 minutes as the shower passed over.
Needless to say, I didn’t have the last laugh.
At Ringstead we turned right and having nearly completing the day’s ride stopped at a cafe by the lighthouse in Old Hunstanton for tea and cake. In Hunstanton we checked in to the youth hostel and hit town.
Pubs in Hunstanton
Yet further evidence to prove the ‘seaside town pubs are rubbish’ theory was to be found here.
We started with a pint in Waterside Bar which was full of all sorts of human life clinging on to the summer season. The pub did offer a good view from Hunstanton’s west-facing coast and the sunset.
Feeling peckish we dined in Fishers of Hunstanton – a fully-licensed fish and chip shop – for a mountain of tasty food and bottled Peroni. It being the interval, we washed down dinner with a couple of drinks at the Princess Theatre bar nearby before heading over the green to the Golden Lion Hotel.
Sitting amongst the retirees in the hotel bar, we were quietly enjoying that most precious commodity in Norfolk, free wifi, when an unusual noise came from behind Sutcliffe which for once didn’t originate from his alimentary canal.
The only other time I had heard the metallic, vibrating sound was during an episode of Alan Partridge when he meets the Hamilton’s Water Breaks video production team in the bar the night before filming.
I surpressed a few moments of inner mirth as it dawned on us that a man was using an electrolarynx. He left with his wife before we had a chance to offer him a pint of lager, a G&T and a Baileys.
Day 3 – Hunstanton to King’s Lynn – 20 miles
Observations on youth hostels
Having not stayed in a British youth hostel since a school trip to Stone Henge, by Sunday morning I made some curious observations of that particular accommodation.
Youth hostels in Latin America and south east Asia, likely due to climate in those regions, are full of dark, exotic, young people, bright eyed and smiling. As ready to swig the local jungle juice as buy a pillow case full of marijuanua from friendly locals.
From the available evidence in Norfolk, the inhabitants of English hostels share the same wide eyes, but it’s more of a fixed stare, growing more vacant as drops of rain gather on the windows.
In place of bikinis, ethnic jewellery and ‘holas‘ are Berghaus jackets, Ordnance Survey maps and awkward social skills. Sutcliffe was in his element.
After crushing Sutcliffe’s morale over 18 holes at Blackbeard’s Adventure Golf, we followed the A149 south (Lynn Road) for a couple of miles before turning left at the Norfolk Lavender Centre.
A brief push uphill to Sedgeford and we rejoined the national cycle route through Ingoldisthorpe, on to Sandringham House. We stopped to get our picture taken with an oversized squirrel.
The cycle route struck through a forest before hitting the A149, or a tarmac way parallel to the main road. Peeling off right the last few miles went through the quaint village of Castle Rising before the suburbs of King’s Lynn and the train station. We hadn’t seen a single BP petrol station in three days.
Pubs in King’s Lynn
Enjoying status as an historic port, strategic coastal town and the birthplace of Alan Partridge, I always thought King’s Lynn would be a classy, Cheltenham-on-sea type of place. I was to be heavily disappointed.
Our chief concern was to find a good pub for lunch to celebrate the completion of our tour. Even with technology at our fingertips this was an impossible task.
Upon request a chubby policeman on duty in the pedestrianised town centre suggested Weatherspoons. The sun has certainly set on King’s Lynn’s glory days.
We decided to try the Crown and Mitre next to the River Ouse. Aside from the interesting pint of obsucre German lager, a poor choice. We weren’t from around those parts.
And so we fell into the beer garden at The Globe, a Weatherspoons pub bursting with the living wage and all the finesse of turning up to a funeral in a Castrol GTX bomber jacket.
Two beers and a burger later, with the theme tune from Black Beauty in our ears we returned to the station to bring our stay in Norfolk to a close.
For those thinking right now that a visit to Blickland Hall and a weekend cycling round Norfolk hardly constitutes a ‘Tour de Partridge’, I’ll leave you with the words of Alan himself: “You could try Watchdog, but I think they’ve got bigger fish to fry.”