Devised by Cycling UK, The Rebellion Way is a 232-mile/373km cycling adventure around Norfolk, starting and finishing in the county town of Norwich. Perhaps Norfolk is not your first thought when it comes to a multi-day bike-packing route, but it’s one which deserves your attention with it being so close to ‘home’.
The Rebellion Way has stormed to prominence over the past 12 months within bike packing and ultra cycling circles, and I thought what better way to suss out the hype than by giving the route a go myself.
Cycling UK has done a fantastic job of creating this route, offering a microscopic level of detail to the rider before you start your adventure. An 80-page digital guide is available, detailing all you could possibly need to know about every mile of the 232 that awaits you. Cycling UK has split the Rebellion Way up into 5 bite-size chunks, I, however, thought better of what they stated and decided to give it only 2 days.
Here’s my journey on the Rebellion Way:
232 miles over 2 days was more out of necessity, rather than choice. With just a weekend to complete it before work called again on Monday, it didn’t leave much wiggle room if things went wrong. The plan was to join the route at East Harling and ride the loop from there, rather than starting at Norwich train station as the route is designed.
10 a.m. rolled around and we set off, 1 hour later than planned… what did I say about wiggle room? With 140 miles to complete, we were thankful for the route starting off with some easy rolling gravel tracks and fire roads through the start of Thetford forest. Life moves slower in Norfolk, but we found the terrain easygoing with a quiet network of roads before we found ourselves in the centre of Thetford, by following some well-connected cycle paths.
Lynford Arboretum quickly followed – a fantastic forestry area covering 18730 hectares, noted for its variety of bird life, spring flowers, and autumn fungi. There’s even a surprisingly flowing singletrack section to follow, keeping your bike handling skills sharp. You are quickly chasing history on the Rebellion Way, not long after this tranquil hideaway, you stumble across the Desert Rats Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to all who served in the 7th Armoured Division throughout history. And if you’re into your wartime history (and quirky World War Two comedy), you may know that Dad’s Army was actually filmed in Thetford!
We continued to scoot along, crisscrossing more villages steeped in history such as the captivating Castle Acre. Batting a stiff headwind, we knew once we hit the Norfolk coast our fortunes would turn and we’d have the wind on our backs for the remainder of the day. After what seemed like an age of (albeit very nice) cycle network lanes, we took our first stop of the day in Kings Lynn, 113km into the day and ticking along nicely with an average speed north of 25km/h. Kings Lynn is rich in maritime history, once a significant shipping port serving some of the major cities of northern Europe. As much as we would have liked to take in more of the surroundings we stumbled across, we had destinations to reach.
Wells-Next-The-Sea was our next designated stop but before then we still had plenty of tracks to traverse, historic locations to pass, and peace and quiet to enjoy. Initial thoughts of the route were incredibly positive, the route so far provides the ability to relax and roll out the miles with minimal strain, with perfect riding on or off-road.
Following Royalty, the Rebellion Way passes right through Sandringham Estate, the king’s home away from home. If you don’t fancy stopping in Kings Lynn, then there’s a bustling cafe at the entrance to the estate where you can sit back and refuel in relaxing surroundings.
My legs decided they wanted to desert me after our lunch stop, whether it was the meal deal selections or the Kings Lynn air, the pins weren’t turning as easily as they were a few hours earlier. Cycling further towards the Norfolk Coast and Hunstanton, the nature of the terrain started to change and it became more undulating, enough to heighten the sensations of – as we say in cycling – bad legs! No stop in Hunstanton would fix that, so we avoided the lure of the amusements in sunny hunny and cracked on inland.
As the road pointed East, the gravel tracks made way for plenty of ‘quiet lanes’. The Norfolk Quiet Lanes project deliberately tries to reduce and calm traffic so people can enjoy the beautiful and rural landscape, no matter their mode of traffic. Truth be told, over the next hour we could count on one hand the number of vehicles we came across – what I would call perfect cycling country!
Peeling off one of these lanes, we came across peak palladium poshness with the stately home of Holkham Hall. An 18th-century country house, it features a tea room, museum, silversmithing, guided bike routes, and walking routes in the walled garden. Holkham Hall is another that holds fascinating history with surprising stories that make the Rebellion Way a marvelous introduction to multi-day riding for anyone.
Next stop. Wells-Next-The-Sea, one of the most famous North Norfolk holiday destinations, Wells is packed full of quaint and narrow streets full of independent cafes, bars, and shops. If you have time, you could even head out on one of the popular seal-spotting trips! Time, however, wasn’t something we had. A quick pit stop and refreshment, followed by a pubic toilets shower, and we were back on the road in no time.
It was gone 6:30pm and we were still 50km short of our final destination to round off Day 1. Re-energised with some simple sugar, we headed north up some double track to Gallows Wood, although thankfully, no sign of any criminals or hanging apparatus in 2023.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love gravel? It can take you even further off the beaten track to places you would otherwise never get to any other way, which is both unexpected and wonderful.
On the Rebellion Way there are several sections of double back, but don’t be fooled – these are not GPS errors, these are well-planned deviations taking you to historic monuments or Stone Age settlements. Often down tracks that have been used since the dawn of mankind, this particular track takes you to Warham Camp Iron Age Fort. A circular hill fort, we didn’t open the gate into the site to have a further look but I would encourage anyone else to spare time to explore these sections.
As you can see from the photo, the sun wasn’t far off the horizon so we stepped on the gas, meandering down yet more majestical quiet Norfolk lanes. Passing through Walsingham, Barsham, and the aptly named Great Snoring. Beautiful churches, cobble, and brick buildings, super picturesque farmhouses – check! Norfolk has plenty.
After what was an uncharacteristically hilly entry into Holt, we made it to our overnight stop. Near on 9 hours of pedaling, since we set off at 10 am, we just about made it before the sunlight faded over the Norfolk skyline. We made a beeline for the first pub that we saw and never has a half pint tasted so sweet. Not just any half pint, it was its very own Byfords Lager. A nod of approval was given, and the 3-course set menu quickly followed and was, quite frankly, delicious. They even didn’t mind two tired, smelly, and sweaty cyclists trampling through their 5* hotel to get to the loos. When you pass through this charming Georgian town, I couldn’t recommend Byfords more – just try to get there during the day when the Gelato hatch is open!
It was at this point, that I was ruing that extra hour of faff in the morning. Leaving no wiggle room is never ideal with such a long day ahead, and it wasn’t until gone 10:30 pm that we set up camp just outside of Holt and tried to hunker down for the night. 5:30 am alarm set, with the remaining 160km ahead of us.
Day one left the sensation of the Rebellion Way being an introduction to why you should do gravel, being pretty hard to beat. Day two started off equally enthralling, out on the road at 6 a.m. with the sun rising off the east coast and rolling past sleepy Norfolk villages, diverting to see Baconsthorpe Castle as we rode. Sheringham came quickly as morale was high, picking up some breakfast just as the shops were opening.
It’s out of Sheringham where you come across the hardest climb on the route, a really steep and rooty single-track climb up to Beeston Regis Common. The climb is only classed as 320m at 8.7% average, but what it doesn’t tell you is the 17% ramps towards the top. Every pedal stroke is worth the view, so make sure to follow what looks like another dead-end and a stunning view of Sheringham will present itself to you!
From here, you pass through the fantastic Felbrigg Estate and into yet another stately home, this time Blickling Hall. Heading straight into a park run hoard of runners wasn’t on our agenda, but it gave us a slight rest bite to take in the magnificent views the parkland offers.
One of the highlights of this half of the route is the Bure Valley Path. Linking with the Marriott’s Way at Aylsham it is a 14.5km footpath and cycle path running through to Hoveton and Wroxham. Do be mindful of walkers and runners as it’s not the widest of paths, so approach this with respect as you’ll likely encounter both runners and dog walkers on this section. It runs alongside the Bure Valley Railway, a steam train tourist attraction that opened in 1990, and now welcomes over 100,000 users each year!
Thankfully, this day of riding was steady terrain, as the legs from yesterday had deteriorated further much to my dismay! The wildlife-rich landscape, with butterflies flitting about and skylarks hovering above, done its best to keep my mind from spiraling too much into a negative mindset. The hedgerows were bursting with different flowers and fauna, with nothing but panoramic blue skies above. This is the beauty of Norfolk, there’s nothing that will bring you to your knees or become mega strenuous, meaning you can cycle much further than you normally would. Even with those ‘bad legs!’.
Popping into Norwich from the broads, you again zig-zag through a network of cycle routes, just like Kings Lynn. You pass the famed cathedral and end up at Norwich train station, where the route officially starts and finishes.
A not-so-luxury Londis lunch stop, with a double espresso to boot, was quickly hoovered down in the hope it would turn my fortunes around. With 60km left, following some of the Boudicca Way, you’re following yet more historical footsteps from those who walked before us.
Those prayers of good legs were not answered. The going gets tough when you head south of Norwich, following some steeper roads and lanes through Caistor St Edmund into Saxlingham Nethergate. Anyone who has road raced in the region may be familiar with the course around those villages, and the hilltop finish on Norwich Road. In this instance, it felt like a climb that lasted forever – which can be rarely said in Norfolk!
The last thing a rider needs when they’re not feeling great on the bike is any kind of mechanical mishap. A snapped gear cable greeted me just as we crossed the A140. Sod’s law, am I right? We managed to bodge the rear derailleur as much as possible to keep it in rideable gear and plodded on the remaining kilometers.
Truth be told, there was not much to write home about between these sections. Notable exclusions to this are the St. Mary’s Church ruins at Tivetshall, and the Forde crossing just outside of Diss. There’s a bumpy meadow or two to cross, which isn’t the best on a rigid cyclocross bike!
We hacked on and completed the route, a great sense of achievement in such a short time span, heading back to the car at 2 p.m., a mere 28 hours from departure!
Stats include the following: 28 hours total time, 377km, 15h:30m ride time, 2105m of climbing, 7161kj burned.
So the Rebellion Way then. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, to everyone, regardless of your history or journey in cycling. It’s a route that offers something for everyone, whilst being incredibly beginner-friendly. Would I advise speeding through the route? Probably not… I think there’s some unfinished business with this route for me, it’s one to revisit to take time to stop and take it all in, as there’s plenty of it to enjoy!