The Lakenham Way
by Emma Healey
This is part of the Walking Norwich series.
I grew up in London, in a carless household. To get out into the country, properly into the country, you need a car, so I’ve spent my life in scrubland, patches of forgotten heath, concrete-threatened commons and improvised community gardens. I learnt to make do, to see the beauty in those in-between places.
As humans encroach more and more on the landscape this is something we must all learn to do.
Of course, part of the reason it’s so hard to get to the country without a car is because of the number of railway lines that were shut down in the twentieth century. Railway lines like this one.
The Lakenham Way can’t claim any links to famous authors or characters, but I can’t be the only one who finds an abandoned railway line atmospheric and inspiring. And walking this path feels like writing in itself. It’s a route to train (ha!) your noticing skills. In a photograph it would look pretty dreary, in a photograph you’d be stuck with whatever fitted in the frame. Writing doesn’t have to worry about that, writing can pick and choose.
Sainsbury’s, where this walk begins, is built on what would have been the coal yard for Norwich Victoria station, which closed to passengers in 1916. I want you to be comfortable, so I suggest you buy drinks and snacks and use the loo before you start. Then go out past the café and turn left. You’ll soon see, or perhaps feel, a vast red brick wall on your left. On a sunny day it is a source of billowing heat.
Pass under a bridge, and announce your presence with an echoed exclamation or, if that makes you uneasy, just a cough. If it’s late summer or early autumn you could pick a few fat blackberries from the tangled brambles by the path.
It’s straight on from here till you reach Asda (for another supermarket experience). Then you’ll just have to turn and come back. Listen out for the bicycle bells of impatient cyclists, but also for the throaty coo of wood pigeons. Birdsong rings along the walk, as so many sparrows, blue tits, robins and blackbirds make their nests in the dense foliage.
Buddleia thickens along the path. Network Rail has complained of the resources needed to remove this insistent plant, which interferes with overhead lines and signals. Lucky then that there are no longer trains here, and in August you’ll be enfolded in purple, in damp honey scent, in clouds of butterflies.
In winter, melting ice drips rhythmically from the footbridges above, and in late spring puffs of cow parsley breathe out their misty aniseed perfume. Obviously there will always be a shopping trolley, pushed into the undergrowth whatever time of year it is. A material cliché, an accessory supplied by the props department for that air of authenticity.
Towards the end of the Lakenham Way you might hear the prickling sound of electricity, it’s like a handful of stones being thrown along the rails, and suddenly: a train! There is a working railway line nearby, as if to mock this filleted one.
And perhaps, if you’re lucky, you will be stopped in your tracks, as I once was, by an arrangement of fag ends. Three hundred at least, and not in a pile, but in a perfect cigarette circle, a Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy for the edgeland jungle.
Emma Healey grew up in London where she completed her first degree in bookbinding. She then worked for two libraries, two bookshops, two art galleries and two universities, before graduating from the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was published to critical acclaim in 2014, became a Sunday Times bestseller and won the Costa First Novel Award. Her second novel, Whistle in the Dark, was published in 2018. She lives in Norwich with her husband, daughter and cat.