“Very flat, Norfolk” – a famous author’s curse on one of England’s most under-rated counties. It might not have mountains, but Norfolk has lots else: wild coast partly on a chalk ridge, seaside resorts, bustling ports, old towns, large areas of forest, rolling heath, riverside rides, rail trails, some of the earliest Quiet Lanes projects and, yes, flat land reclaimed from the water. It is almost southern England in miniature.
This circular route around Norfolk (with a few small dips into Suffolk) is a good showcase for the smaller towns and varied countryside, both often picture-perfect.
The 231 miles could be done on a long weekend, but would be better over a week to allow time to visit some of the attractions en route — and there really is a lot to look at.
Mostly easy rolling country, but there are lumps either side of Cromer and the climbs into Sandringham, Snettisham and Sedgeford can be unpleasant surprises for riders leaving the Fens. Also, the Fens and Broads can be challenging in unfavourable weather, with little shelter from wind, rain or sun, so keep both waterproofs and sunscreen handy. Riding clockwise offers a good chance of favourable winds.
The route is nearly all paved and mostly quiet roads, so any sort of road or touring bike should be fine. The longest gravel/sand section, in Thetford Forest, could be bypassed by riding a quarter mile of fairly quiet A road.
Plenty, with most larger villages having a pub and shop or two, but there are two sections with few shops: Wells to Cromer and Eye to Thetford each pass one village shop in 25 miles.
Yes, although it switches between 1, 30 and 11 on the way round. It's National (red) Cycle Route 1 from Lynn to Wighton near Wells, then Regional (blue) Route 30 to Yarmouth, National 1 or 517 to Lowestoft (except for any Ness Point and Marine Parade detours), Regional 30 to Weeting near Brandon, Regional (30) to Denver near Downham Market, National 11 to Watlington, 30 to Lord's Bridge and then 1 back to Lynn.
Some signs on the Cromer to Yarmouth section are smaller than usual (or just stickers on fingerpost arrows), and there are occasional missing signs.
It could be extended easily into a longer tour by heading south into Suffolk from Bungay along Regional Route 42 then NCN route 1, then west from Ipswich to Cambridge along NCN 51 and finally north on NCN 11, using either its former route through Welney or the obvious minor roads through Littleport to Ten Mile Bank and rejoin this tour at Downham Market — but then you would miss Thetford Forest.
National Cycle Route 1 connects from the north-west and Midlands at Lord's Bridge between Watlington and Lynn, or from the south-east at Beccles. Route 1 can also be used to make a shorter loop (or longer 8 shape) by connecting Wells to Beccles via Fakenham and Norwich.
More direct access from London and Cambridge is offered by Route 11 which joins the route at Denver near Downham Market (but this has been declassified by Sustrans in July 2020, so its exact route may change). Finally, Route 13 from Colchester crosses the route near Thetford and connects to Route 1 at Fakenham, while the Peddars Way MTB route connects Thetford to Sedgeford near Ringstead.
King's Lynn, Watlington and Downham Market on the west of the loop are served by direct trains from London King's Cross. These don't require reservations; bikes are usually left in only a couple of multifunctional spaces or unused doorways, which can mean moving them around during the journey. For visitors from the Midlands, change onto these trains at Ely.
Starting at King's Lynn station means you’ll begin with the famous route to Sandringham, and finish with a great view of the town.
On the south of the loop, Diss is served by direct trains from London Liverpool Street towards Norwich. These do require reservations, but have recently been upgraded to have six spaces per train and level access from platforms.
Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have trains from Norwich, while Thetford and Brandon can be reached from both Norwich and Ely. Most of these use regional trains that are a shorter bi-mode version of the London trains that still have six bike spaces, but do not offer reservations. These services may be more useful if you have to cut your trip short, rather than as a planned start/end point.
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Ride reports & comments
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I rode the section from Thetford to Hunstanton and my verdict is: Utterly brilliant. The only exception was the busy road out of Brandon. The cycle.travel gpx worked perfectly.
Rode most of the northern three quarters of this route in April 2022 (for the southern side took a slightly more northern parallel through Swaffham to Kings Lynn, and cut the SE corner by coming down to Reedham and crossing on the chain ferry). From Kings Lynn round it's a gem, Castle Rising, Sandringham, through the estate at Holkham and along the beach to Wells (path is good enough for sturdy road bikes). Then a fantastic quiet cycling route a few miles inland all along the North Norfolk Coast, but the warning about the shortage of pitstops is good advice, there's almost nothing between Wells and Cromer despite the number of villages you pass through, so its either forty-fifty miles on your own supplies, or a detour down to the coast for refreshments, and the wind direction can make quite a difference. I'd recommend a more inland route via Reedham and Raveningham rather than going via Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft - very picturesque cycling except for a mile of fast A-Road into Acle.
The Feathers at Dersingham, and Dairy Barns nr Hickling both bike friendly stop overs.