Tony & Cynthea explore the 'Old Country' travel blog

PhilliChillies - Phil grows around 37 varieties of chillies

Thetford, film set for the Dad's Army TV series. There is a...

This building was used a lot in the filming, it is now...

The local butcher has kept the name and colour scheme used in...

We visited an exotic garden in Norwich, they had a cool tree...

Grimes Graves is an ancient flint mine, one of the old shafts...

Grimes Graves

Market Day at Great Hockem, photo courtesy of the local daily paper...

During a walk through the bird sanctuary I spotted an otter in...

A pair of swans with their "babies", the grey cygnets are as...



Beach Huts, Wells-Next-the-Sea






While Cynthea is in the Cotswolds, Tony is East Anglia, a wee village called Great Hockham.

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Thursday 1st September

Happy Birthday Margaret.

It is going to be fun (not) getting to the coach station today, with luck leaving around 9.30 will mean the tube is not packed, but there is no joy there. The tube at Russell Sq was packed, and Tony had trouble getting on with his packs. At least the train emptied out a lot at the second stop. He had to change to the Victoria line at Green Park, it was quite a bit of a hike there through the tunnels, it felt more like a marathon actually… hot, sweaty, humid, yuk. The next train was not so busy, and it was only one stop to Victoria. Then came the real hike, why oh why can they not have a tube station at the coach station? Or how about an underground moving walkway? At least plenty of time had been allowed, but even so Tony did not realise how much of a hike it would be getting there. He arrived feeling knackered with about 45 minutes to spare.

The bus to Norwich left around 11am, it is a nice day and hard to stop nodding off in the sun as we travel along. We arrived in Thetford around 1.15, and while Tony is talking to the bus driver a woman interrupts and tells the driver to turn the radio down. He says the radio is for him to listen to, but agrees to turn it down. That is not good enough and she goes off on one, and the driver gets really annoyed with her. She was being unreasonable, and was going to make a complaint to the police because he shouted at her. Stupid cow.

Thetford is better recognised as Walmington-on-sea, it is the fictional town where the TV series Dad’s Army was filmed in the mid ‘70s. A lot of buildings are familiar, and Captain Mainwaring can be found sitting on a park bench by the river.

Tony telephones Eileen, she is able to come in the next few minutes, and will there around 2pm. It is a pleasant day here, and with nowhere to leave his pack, Tony takes it with him on a short walk along the river bank. There are a couple of big fat river rats on the bank, lots of geese, swans and ducks. He spots a tea kiosk on the other side of the river, so walks back to cross the bridge for a coffee and sandwich.

Eileen arrives soon after 2pm, and we visit the local dump to dispose of garden rubbish. We also visit the supermarket before dropping off Eiolia, the other HelpXer at the railway station. She is off to London for a couple of days.

Great Hockham is a small village 8 miles away. The house is quite big, five bedrooms upstairs so plenty of room for everyone, and there is a big garden out the back. Eileen and Phil live here with their son Kieran, a relative, Paul, and the cat (who doesn’t seem too fussed at having another stranger in the house).

Phil grows different varieties of chillies, including the REALLY hot ones, and makes chutneys, vinegars, pickled garlic, etc, to sell at market days. He also has a website to sell from. Eileen also makes lots of jams and jellies for the market days and is also busy with organising a few of them. She is a teacher, and takes in students to teach English as a second language, they live in for two weeks of lessons.

Friday 2nd (Happy Birthday Hayden!)

Great Hockham – Week 1

There are a lot of military bases nearby, an army camp is just along the road and there is a huge military training area, similar to what we saw in Salisbury. There are several air bases close by as well, so there are a lot of military aircraft about.

Tony has a range of jobs during his time here. Helping out in the garden, painting the garden fence, painting a bedroom, and even housemaid duties to earn his keep. The soil here is very sandy, and when going for a wander around town Tony sees lots of piles of dirt on lawns and football fields – moles. The little buggers are a huge pest here, the problem is so bad that the local football field has been closed for matches in case someone injures themselves in a mole hole.

Four hours work a day leaves time for other things, sorting the photos out when the weather is rubbish outside has been the main task. The cat has become friends, and usually can be found in the conservatory on the chair with Tony.

Friday nights are “fish and chip” nights. There isn’t a chippy in the village, so a van parks in the pub car park, and we head over to order tea. Big pork sausages, chips and curry sauce, yummm.

We have an occasional drink at the local pub, the Eagle is on the corner, nice and close. There are opportunities to see around the district. Trips in to Thetford to see the town, and the Dad’s Army museum has a map of local highlights from when the series was filmed. There is a lot of forest in the area, if the weather was a bit better it would be great for some long walks…

Eiolia returns from London, and takes the long way thanks to the local transport system. Her train to Cambridge keeps breaking down on the way, and when she finally gets there she is directed to the wrong train, and ends up heading to Ipswich, not Norwich. When she realises the mistake she gets off at the next station, but the hour is late and she is unsure how to get to Thetford from there. She chooses to take a taxi to Great Hockham, an expensive ride at £50. She was supposed to be home by 7.30, and it is well after 10pm when she finally arrives. A complaint is sent to the rail company, hopefully there will be compensation.

Kieran is starting back at college, so Tony goes with the family to Norwich, about 20 miles away. We visit an exotic garden, and many of the plants here are very familiar to Tony. The garden is lovely, and there is even a tree house built in an oak tree, and a cat is in residence. He looks a bit like a burmese, and turns out to be a Hunna ? think that is right… Whatever he is, he is very friendly and hops on laps as soon as anyone sits down, and then follows us down to the car park.

We go to a large cash and carry store to pick up supplies for Phil’s chillies, and then take Kieran to his college. We take the road down to the college, but there is a big concert on. The road is blocked off to direct traffic to parking, so Eileen just drives around the cones and carries on, haha.

Eiolia heads back to London, she is taking the Eurostar home on the 8th, we here from her that day to say her ticket was actually for the 7th, bugger. Another expensive mistake. No refund on this either, and she has looked up a ride share site and will get a lift home, crossing over on a ferry.

We take a trip to Grimes Graves, an amazing site from Neolithic times, dating back to 4300BC. Some 5000 years ago the locals were digging holes in the ground with deer antlers to recover flint. They would dig a shaft some 10 metres deep, and then branch out into tunnels to mine the flint. When they finished with the shaft they would dig another next to it, using the diggings to back fill the old hole. Well over 400 mine shafts have been found, each leaving a big dip in the ground. The place looks like meteor shower has hit it, and the sight is more impressive from above.

Great Hockham – Week 2

Three markets this weekend. Saturday morning is the Farmers Market and Food Festival at the village hall along the road. The local press turned up, and the reporter interviewed Tony (who was manning the meat stall, selling the pork products we picked up earlier in the week).

On Sunday we have two markets, so Tony goes with Phil to the dog show about three miles away, while Eileen is off at another elsewhere. Both markets were pretty hopeless as far as numbers go, not many people at either. Didn’t help that the Dog Show people didn’t push that the craft fair was even on. We were there from 9am for a 10am start, and didn’t head away until after 4pm, but sold much more in three hours the day before. Some customers recognised Tony from the meat stand the day before (he gets around!). The weather on Sunday managed to stay dry for us, but it was very windy and also cool when the clouds came over.

On Tuesday Eileen and Phil took their grand daughter to the local bird watching site just out of Thetford, and Tony tagged along for the ride. We had a nice walk in the area, and got to see a few birds – mainly ducks! Two highlights of the day was the pair of Swans who had managed to raise five cygnets, the grey “babies” were almost as big as their snowy white parents. While watching the swans Tony spots an otter in the water, a rare sight around here, and we spend many minutes watching.

Week 3

Time has gone quickly in the small village. The long fence has been painted, as has the ceiling in the bathroom and the bedroom next to Tony’s. This weekend is a pirate festival in Wells-by-the-sea, to the north of here, about 40 miles away. Phil and Eileen are taking their chilli products, as well as earings (shells and crabs for the seaside theme, and yes they have chilli shaped ones as well!). All the stall holders are dressed as pirates. Tony is going along for the ride and will spend the day exploring the town.

We arrive in good time and soon set up the stall in the hall. It is not a good forecast weather wise so everyone hopes it will stay nice and bring the crowds out. The town is a nice wee place, with VERY narrow streets. Tony heads down to the quay where there is a lot going on, all the shops are decked out in pirate themes and many people are dressed up for the day as well. There are a lot of people on the quayside fishing for crabs. The tide is in, but as we were to see later, Wells-next-the-Sea is only next-the-sea at high tide. Following coastal flooding in the 1950’s a sea wall was built to protect the town. Tony heads out along the track to the beach, a good mile distant.

The tide is receding very fast, and leaving huge areas of sand at the beach front. There are around 150 beach huts lining the coast, and Tony heads along the beach for a good long walk. Around midday the thunder starts, and the rain is not far behind. The thunderclouds soon go, but it is still wet, and Tony takes the track back through the forest behind the beach, it is a bit more sheltered. Back at the sea wall Tony is surprised to see how much land is now showing, there is a huge marsh area where the sea used to be.

Back in town at the quay the boats that rode high above the docks are now very low in the water, (apart from a few boats tied up at the quay, all the others will eventually be left high and – almost – dry on the mudflats). Here it can be seen that there are several metres between high and low tide, quite impressive.

Tony has a wander around the shops, and then looks at the bus timetable to see what the coastal service is like. But as it is Saturday it will take more than a couple of hours to take the trip, so he decides to take a walk back to the beach instead. It is just on low tide when he arrives, and the water seems miles away. The only water close by is from the main channel, here it has been recently dredged to a metre deep at low tide. There is a wind farm offshore, some 17km away and there is new industry springing up to support it. A new marina has been built at this end of the channel for the boats servicing the windfarm, the deeper channel means boats have more time available to come and go (still impossible at low tide though).

Back in town things are still busy. A group of belly dancers are making their way up the street where the market is being held. The weather is cooler, and there are not a lot of people around after the entertainment finishes. It is nearly 5pm, time to pack up, and as we take gear to the car the rain arrives, it fair pelts down and we get soaked.

Sunday, and another market. This one is the re-launch of a Farmers’ Market at Swaffon, about 15 miles away. Another early start, and we are set up well before the 10am start. Many stall holders are here from other markets, so there are some familiar faces about. Trade is brisk, and gets underway well before we are “officially” open. It is a very busy day, and it is around 1.30 before Tony gets away for a walk around town. There is a wind farm just along the road, and in town there is an eco-centre with a wind turbine. Here, we are told, is the world’s only guided tour of a wind turbine, and you near it you can see the observation centre perched near the top of the turbine. You can also see a ladder attached to the outside… Tony hopes it is the emergency exit, and that you can take a lift to the top! He never did find out, the centre is only open week days, and there was a special open day – yesterday. Bugger.

Back at the market things are still steady. There is a cooking demonstration bring the crowds in, and a climbing wall for the kids. Trade is still brisk, and the chilli stall has sold out of some lines. Tony serves a customer who buys a jar of chutney, Tony asks “just one?”, and the guy buys two. Tony points out that there is only one left of that line now, so he may as well buy that too, and he does! The market is supposed to run until 5pm, a bit long, and the crowds are thinning out. By 4pm when the last cooking demonstration is over the are not many about, and the organisers tell the stall holders they may pack up, many have had a sell out day. -

On Tuesday it is back to London - another cheap ticket, the bus trip is only £4.

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