South of the Trent, east of the A6, north of London and the Thames Estuary. Slight adjustments here and there, eg the Icknield Way Path runs from Norfolk to the ‘southern’ Chilterns but the whole route is mostly ‘eastern’ so it’s written up here.
Why walk here
It’s all too easy to start with the negatives. No hills. No drama. Agriculture: no sheep dotted around, or not many anyway. Just one big field after another.
In truth, that is perhaps the most common response to the offer of a walk in eastern England, and like so many easy prejudices, it’s a clumsy stereotype and plain wrong. Precisely because eastern England is often overlooked by the tourist in general and the walker in particular, it’s a remarkably quiet patch for the traveller.
It’s a quarter of England, with no cities bigger than Peterborough and Norwich, both well under the 200,000 of a typical London borough or northern town. The M11 is its one motorway, Stansted its one large airport. So there are vast tracts that remain undespoiled by the industrial revolution, if not the agricultural. And while big-field syndrome can still be found, the rights of way through the region as often as not follow ancient hedgeways that happily remain.
Sky is good, and the lack of heights mean there is a lot of it, and given the dry climate it’s more likely to be a clear sky, blue with cloud, than elsewhere. Big sky merges effectively with sea: the long coastline, over centuries more subject to sea-incursion than anywhere else in these isles, remains a testing-place for the forces of water. The flats of north Norfolk and Essex remain internationally-important nesting grounds; the shingly Suffolk coast inspired the vision of Benjamin Britten. The region’s rivers, most notably the Stour, give purpose and meaning to the draining of water from within the lanscape.
Lack of sharp contours does not mean lack of interest. A church can pop out unexpectedly from over a little hill. A valley-basin lends distance, a sense of a place to be traversed; precisely what the intelligent traveller looks for. The churches often show the wealth of centuries long gone, as at Lavenham or Long Melford, quasi-cathedrals celebrating the centrality of the region in England’s mediaeval prosperity. The churches mark too where you are going, villages perhaps deserted, perhaps now populous, but often inheriting their street-pattern unchanged across the years.
One might not spend idle days wondering which ridge to which summit, but in eastern England, if you have a discerning eye, it will be rewarded.