Muddle And Go Nowhere
by Molly Naylor
This is part of the Walking Norwich series.
You have this friend who lives in Wales. They share daily pictures of their idyllic surroundings. Coast, bright sky, lighthouse, mountain. Their casually posted missives from the sublime leave you thumb-tired and spooked, obsessed with what you haven’t got.
You moved East to get better. It was supposed to be temporary, but now the barman in the Alex knows your name. It looks like you’re staying.
At the end of restless days, you walk. Knowing you should move more, you drag your bones out for an hour-long stomp. A one-hour walk not far from town with a mix of things to witness: appealing parkland by the Wensum, deals on Dolphin bridge, municipal details, remnants of industry. Mistle thrushes. Kingfishers. Once, an otter in the darkening. A man who lives under tarpaulin all year round.
You slip down the cut-through off Heigham, cross the Wensum before it flows south through the city and out to meet the Yare, then turn left along the Marriot’s Way. Whenever you do this three mile section your feet wonder if they could follow the old railway all twenty-six to Aylsham. William Marriot was chief engineer on the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, locally referred to as the Muddle & Go Nowhere. A low-priority railway, but notable for its safety record – not one fatality in its history. It finally closed in 1985. Mile-marker sculptures made from old track help walkers chart their way.
You pass the alleyway up to Lidl, greet the sad ponies grazing Anderson’s meadow, head on under the tunnel below the ring road. Then it’s the gloomy corridor, trees on your left stooping to meet barbed wire on your right; behind it the clank and hum of the chemical plant. Skittish squirrels watch you pass, defensive.
You turn left along Hellesdon then left again past a ghost pub: the boarded-up Marlpit. Further along there’s the Gatehouse; still serving, a Fosters/John Smiths relic. Listed, eclectic, atmospheric; built between the wars on the site of an old tollhouse. Arts and Craft meets neo-tudor and a lazy garden sloping back down to the river.
You steel yourself for the ring road roundabout that’s always hard to cross – your gait is a bouncy almost-run just slow enough to show the driver your apology-face. Then it’s down Dereham; past gnome house, nail-bar, bakery, Thai takeaway. You smell garlic, hot fat, lemongrass… covet, then resist. Commit to bland leftovers at home, to eat in front of inbox.
You turn left at the Tesco – once a pub, The Dial, and then a bed shop – and head down to the bottom of Old Palace. You almost manage the whole thing without checking Instagram. Your Welsh friend has just seen an osprey while river-swimming in a golden valley between two snow-capped mountains. Good for them. You’re back where you started.
Today, you don’t go home. You’re not ready yet. The clouds have given in to evening sunshine, and that feels like a present. So you do the walk again. The whole thing, knowing that this is an odd choice, but wanting to take the gift. Here we go: bridge, Lidl, hey ponies, river, a heron this time, gloomy corridor, manic squirrels, the Marlpit, Gatehouse, the roundabout dash, gnomes again, bakery again, Thai food… you’re sweating and laughing – you’re being weird – as you turn left at the Tesco again. You walk down Old Palace again and decide to be happy for your friend in Wales.
In order to love places and people (and by love, you mean bare) you sometimes have to put them into a story. Not for swagger and romance, but with measured, kind functionality. It helps you cease your reaching and enables you to stay. And you may as well. The barman in the Alex knows your name.
There are other walks. You could drive to Wells or Walberswick but this one fits; it only takes an hour and it’s close to where you live. The story you choose is this. Mountains should be rare. They should loom like distant weekends. Tonight the sky above the flats is streaked with crimson. This has to be enough. Lucky you. Lucky us.
Molly Naylor is a writer and performer. She is the co-writer and creator of After Hours, a six-part Sky One comedy series directed by Craig Cash. Her first
solo show, Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010 to critical acclaim. Her adaptation of the show for BBC Radio 4 was described by the Guardian as ‘a brave, funny, tough and beautiful piece of writing’. Her second live show My Robot Heart sold out at
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012. Her debut poetry collection Badminton is published by Burning Eye. Her play LIGHTS! PLANETS! PEOPLE! embarks on its national tour in 2019. Ruby Rock have commissioned her new TV comedy drama and her first feature film, I’ll See Myself Out, is in development with Jeva films. She is currently working on a second poetry collection and a graphic novel.