Excerpt from Book:
The road to Newmarket, Thetford, Norwich, and Cromer is 132 miles in length, if you go direct from the old starting-points, Shoreditch or Whitechapel churches. If, on the other hand, you elect to follow the route of the old Thetford and Norwich Mail, which turned off just outside Newmarket from the direct road through Barton Mills, and went instead by Bury St. Edmunds, it is exactly seven miles longer to Thetford and all places beyond.
There are few roads so wild and desolate, and no other main road so lonely, in the southern half of this country. There are even those who describe it as “dreary,” but that is simply a description due to extrinsic circumstances. Beyond question, however, it must needs have been a terrible road in the old coaching days, and every one who had a choice of routes to Norwich did most emphatically and determinedly elect to journey by way of that more populated line of country leading through Chelmsford, Colchester, and Ipswich. Taken nowadays, however, without the harassing drawbacks of rain or snow, or without head-winds to make the cyclist’s progression a misery, it is a road of weirdly interesting scenery. It is not recommended for night-riding to the solitary rider of impressionable nature, for its general aloofness from the haunts of man, and that concentrated spell of sixteen miles of stark solitudes between Great Chesterford and Newmarket, where you have the bare chalk downs all to yourself, are apt to give all such as he that unpleasant sensation popularly called “the creeps.” By day, however, these things lose their uncanny effect while they keep their interest.
There are in all rather more than fifty miles of chalk downs and furzy heaths along this road, and they are all the hither side of Norwich. You bid good-bye to the chalk downs when once Newmarket is gained, and then reach the still wild, but kindlier, country of the sandy heaths.
Cromer was not within the scheme of the London coach-proprietors’ activities in the days of the road. It was scarce more than a fishing village, and the traveller who wished to reach it merely booked to Norwich, and from thence found a local coach to carry him forward. To Norwich by this route it is exactly two miles shorter than by way of Colchester and Ipswich. Let us see how public needs were studied in those old days by proprietors of stage-coach and mail.