A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel StoriesSandringham 2011 - By Ren Withnell

Sandringham 2011 - The Ride South And Sandringham Campsite

Everyone asked "Why Sandringham?" whenever I mentioned where I'm going this weekend.  It was as though I'd told them I was going camping in the middle of a roundabout in Skelmersdale, not taking a ride to East Anglia.  So...why am I going to Sandringham?  To see what's there, that's all.  It is 6 weeks since I went to France and there's another few weeks until I go to Cornwall so I figured I couldn't handle 3 months without a trip somewhere.  I'd opened my map and I was looking for somewhere I've not been before, I've been to East Anglia often enough but I'd never been around the Sandringham area and that is the only reason I can provide for making this trip.

I'd have been quite happy to make this trip alone but it is good to have company.  I'd mentioned this trip to SL at work and sort of hinted he could come along if he wanted.  SL rides an Aprilia Shiver, has been in the TA in the past and is not afraid of tents or a few miles riding.  After asking "Why Sandringham?" he cautiously agreed to come along.  I also invited a friend of mine, IW, who I've ridden around Scotland with before now and who I also know is a happy camper.  IW was up for it too, much to my surprise.  It seemed we have a trip on.

So it is I’m standing outside a McDonalds in Whitefield at 1330 waiting for SL and IW to turn up.  SL will be on his Aprilia but IW’s done his back in so he’s taking his car, dammit.  That said it does mean if I want to dump any of the luggage in his car I can.  By 1333 I’m wondering how late they’re both going to be when I hear “REN!” shouted across the car park. It seems they’ve both got here in plenty of time but we are all distributed around the car park.  I don’t know how but IW and SL are already acquainted, I can only assume IW spotted SL’s Aprilia, made the connection and introduced himself. 

Gold and Black Yamaha Fazer 600 with camping gear, saddlebags, tent and bike jacket
The Fazer ready to roll in the glorious sunshine.  This...is a light load.  I really do think I need a Gold Wing.

After further more formal introductions we consult my faithful and rather well thumbed map.  There are plenty of good routes from Whitefield to Sandringham but really we need to follow the motorways.  It’s already 1345 and if we’re to make camp and have time to spare then we can’t spend all day getting there.  Our route is to be M62, A1M and the A17.  I just hope there’s not too much traffic.

The M62 is busy but moving soundly.  We rise over the Pennines and into my home county of Yorkshire.  Just before we drop down towards Halifax I’m in the outside lane doing 70 and I notice the cars in front slowing a little so I roll off the throttle.  It’s just the traffic, it’ll speed up soon.  Hang on, them cars are pretty close together to be travelling at this speed.  They need to SLOW DOWN!!!  I grab a handful of brake and the forks collapse and I pray the tyres grip as I head rapidly towards the rear of a silver Daewoo Matiz.  Those strangle little red lights get very large as I get closer…and then the Matiz move forwards a little.

SL flies past on my nearside, the central lane, looking at me.  I can’t see his face but I assume it’s wearing that look of “What the hell are you doing?”  I don’t need to stop as my lane is now rolling at 15 mph, if it had not started to move I reckon I’d have parked my fully loaded Fazer into the Matiz and that would have been the end of my holiday, my no claims bonus and the Fazer.  I chastise myself and promise to concentrate harder and leave more space, silly boy.

Slightly more nervously I ride on.  The weather forecast this weekend is pretty poor but so far we're having glorious sunshine.  SL passes me, then IW, then I pass back in front, we’re just swapping places until we reach the A1M.  On the dual carriageway of the A1M it’s a lot harder to stick together, if one gets stuck behind a truck the others can be miles ahead by the time the truck’s cleared.  However we manage to stick together for the most part.

That is until we reach a long queue of traffic.  SL smiles as he puts the bike in rain mode which makes moving through the stop start traffic a lot smoother…damn the fancy modern motors.  We stick with IW in the car for a little while but this looks like it could be a long haul.  I wave to IW and he waves us off so SL and I set off filtering through the traffic.  I’m concerned as I’ve got a full compliment of saddle bags making the bike twice as wide as normal, but I manage to avoid scraping cars and SL has no trouble keeping up.   I imagine he's behind me wishing I'd go faster actually.

The traffic is not as bad as it could have been, a mile or so of standing traffic then a few miles at slow speeds, another brief spell of stop and start then we’re off again.  The only problem is IW must be a good few miles and a good few minutes behind us.  To give IW chance to catch up I do a favourite trick of mine, I tuck in behind a lorry and settle back in cruise mode.  I can feel SL behind me, willing me on, it feels like he’s pushing me without touching, but I stand firm and relax into the ride.

I look around.  It’s already a lot flatter than the Pennines we’ve passed over but it’s not billiard table flat as I remember East Anglia to be.  It’s certainly agricultural, broad fields roll between lines of trees and smart large metal barns.  My stomach’s rumbling as I’ve only had a small breakfast so far and it’s already 1530 and I wonder where my next meal will come from.  My ass is starting to ache.  I hope IW catches us soon, I need a break.

It doesn’t seem too long before a familiar silver motor’s flashing it’s headlights at us.  IW’s caught up, and just in the nick of time as we approach Blyth Services.  I pull in.   The A1M is a funny old road, part motorway and part busy A road.  This means the services are funny places too, much the same as a typical motorway services but smaller, more rural.  We take turns to get drinks whiles someone keeps an eye on the bikes and then talk as we drink.  I'd kill for a proper meal but I don't want to waste too much time here, I comfort myself with a Snickers to keep me going but it's not exactly health food is it. 

IW and SL looking at SL's Aprilia Shiver in a plain car park at blyth services
IW and SL discussing the merits of the Shiver at Blyth Services. 

Back on the road I'm rested, toileted, watered and sort of fed so I feel a lot better.  I've got new 30mm handlebar risers on the Fazer and it seems to make the riding position a bit easier on the wrists which is another bonus.  I'm still unsure about how much it's affected the handling but for the moment on the dual carriageways and motorways it's to the good.  Our next junction is Newark where we leave the A1M and join the A17.  The distance signs for Newark seem to be falling at a satisfactory rate, we're all together on the road, the weather's still good, the bike feels good and all seems well with the world.  I hate that feeling, something's sure to go wrong.

There is one concern.   The A17.  I've had the dubious pleasure of riding this road twice before.  It carries the same volume of traffic as a motorway, but with only one lane in each direction.  It has corners that make overtaking dangerous but are not tight enough to provide pleasure at legal speeds.  The scenery is flat...that church spire you can see is the same one you've been looking at for the last 5 miles.  I'm concerned I'll be bored, but I'm more concerned my comrades will be pissed off with me for taking them down such a dull and uninteresting road.  Buckle up Ren, they're grown men and I didn't force them to come on this trip. 

The A17 does not fail to fulfill my worries.   Sure enough we're soon stuck behind a large tanker travelling at 45 mph whenever he can reach that speed.  We're in a long queue of cars all winding like a bored snake across this slab of tarmac with nowhere to overtake.  In the opposite direction more lorries lead more long rows of cars in much the same manner and each driver looks either angry, bored or both.  On the occasional straight the lead cars move out excitedly then pull back in as another train of cars behind a truck comes in the opposite direction.  After what seems like forever I feel elation as the lorry pulls of and the snake speeds up a little, only to catch the back of another snake behind another lorry.

SL and I are itching to get going, but IW in the car simply cannot.  My patience runs out when I see a sign stating that Kings Lynn, where we lose the A17, is still 60 miles away.  At each roundabout SL and I hop the traffic where we can.  There are a few brief stretches of dual carriageway but every other vehicle, including the lorries, are trying to overtake the slow lorries.  We use the superior acceleration of the bikes to pass where we can on the occasional straight bits and take advantage of being slim at traffic lights and junctions, but progress is still grindingly slow.  We are occasionally passed by the odd biker or even hot hatch as they make suicidal overtaking maneuvers, which explains the signs all along the road that tell you just how dangerous this road is.

IW must be miles back, but we did agree at Blyth Services that we'd meet up again at the last roundabout on the A17.  I think I've found it, well near enough.  SL and I pull in and I can see SL's become somewhat saddle-sore and stiff.  I half expect him to bollock me for taking him down such a road, instead he just moans a little then sits down one some grass to remove his boots and rest.  I call IW to tell him where we are, he reckons he's only 8 or 9 miles away.  For all our traffic hopping it's seems we've gained 10 minutes in well over 60 miles. 

SL consults his ageing Sat-Nav to see how far we need to go.  15 minutes is the reply, seems a little short to me.  I consult my trusty map, hmmm, maybe he's right, we're not far off at all!  IW rolls into the car park and he's pleased to be off that damn road and able to stretch his legs.  It's good we've come this far, all I hope now is that there's space at the campsite.  SL suggests I call the site...what a great idea.  I use my fancy phone to get on the internet to find the number then give them a call.  Yes, there's room at the inn for 3 weary travelers, thank god for that.  SL's Sat-Nav is quite right, it doesn't take long at all to get to Sandringham.  There is a little confusion as to which junction to take off the A149, we end up turning around on some gravel layby, indicating then not turning and all the usual things lost people do, but only for a few minutes. 

The campsite appears to our relief.  A gravel and dirt track takes us to a small parking area with a small wooden office and 3 groundsmen type chaps sat on the fence outside.  There’s always a part of me that fears 3 lads, some with motorbikes, will be turned away from such a quiet and smart campsite, they won’t want our type here.  On the contrary, the groundsmen politely guide us to 2 ladies in the office who relieve us if £16.50 per night…each.  Not cheap so I hope it’s a good site.  One of the groundsmen grabs a nearby bicycle and leads us across the site to a suitable pitch then points out the toilets and water.  Sorted.

caravans and tents seen through several large straight tress at sandringham campsite
If this is to be our home for the next 2 nights, that's just fine with me.

We pitch.  My trusty 3 man Vango turns out to be the biggest and most luxurious abode, complete with airbed, porch and petrol powered stove.  SL’s tent has been a source of humour to his friend for years, a 3 man dome tent named “Beaver Creek”.  I’ll leave to your imagination the kinds of innuendo such a title can bring.  IW’s tent is a 3 man Vango too, but his is much more serious then mine.  It’s low and broad for the hardiest of camper who may find himself on the windswept slopes of some mountain or glacier.  That’s all very well and good but it means getting in and out is difficult, that can’t help IW’s bad back.


a blue done tent with and inlay image showing the beaver creek logo
It really is called Beaver Creek. Either they are nieve or downright rude...

The evening’s wearing on so we decide to find somewhere to eat.  The ladies in the office have provided a list of local shops but we really can’t be bothered to cook and we only have my one stove and 1 billy can, not enough for a full 3 course meal.  There is one good thing about IW bringing the car, SL and I can just hop in…so we do. 

Sandringham is an area, there’s no village to speak of.  IW drives us into Dersingham, a small pleasant village 3 miles down the road.  We follow the main road and see houses and shops, but no pubs whatsoever.  The next village is Ingoldisthorpe.  Another local shop or two, a kebab house and a closed garden centre café, but no pubs!.  We come to the conclusion this part of the country must be teetotal.  In reality there must be a pub or something nearby but they’re not on the main road.  The next town of Snettisham appears as an oasis with 2 or 3 pubs in close succession.  We settle on The Rose And Crown.

It’s an old pub filled with small rooms, curious corners, beams and narrow corridors.  We all choose Chicago Chicken with chips, IW has some local brew, SL has a lager and I stick to my coke.  The meal costs £11 which is a bit costly but it does taste very good, especially as this is the first proper food I’ve had all day.  Having eaten I feel a whole lot better and we sit and talk bikes, work, travel and life in general over another round.  It’s still not dark by the time we leave.

On the return trip we stop at the local shop in Dersingham and grab supplies.  Milk, more beer for the drinkers and I grab a tin of soup just in case I get hungry again.  Back at the campsite I siphon some petrol out of SL’s Aprilia and fill the stove.  SL’s impressed with the stove and we proceed to make a brew.  It all goes well until I pour the milk out.  It’s well within date, only purchased half an hour ago, but it’s well curdled and nasty.  No brew for me and the midges are starting to bite.

The rest of the evening’s spent talking in IW’s car.  The car’s comfy to sit in and the doors keep the midges out.  At around 2300 we retire to our respective tents and settle in for the night.  It’s been a good day today, the trip went well, the campsite’s fine and it’s been good to have some company on the trip.  Lets hope I can sleep well and the weather continues to hold out.

Sandringham 2011 - The Ride South And Sandringham Campsite
Sandringham 2011 - Hunstanton, Sandringham House and Snettisham Beach
Sandringham 2011 - Heading Back Home

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Home Travel StoriesSandringham 2011 - By Ren Withnell

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