Our inaugural ‘triathlon’, last year, had clearly sorted the wheat from the chaff, and so a smaller, more committed, lycra-lite team assembled at Beeston Regis caravan park, perched on top of the ever receding cliffs: the Matlaske Benefice Rector David Longe and Sara, his mermaid-like wife (in swimming ability, she has no scales…), Thomas Abbott (Saxthorpe) and his son Theo (aged 8) and Harry Steel (Baconsthorpe).
After being rightly ticked off by the church warden for not having our dog on a lead, we signed in at All Saints Beeston Regis (church 1) and with a good deal less faffing than last year, set off on what was our warm up leg of a mile or so, over Beeston Bump to Sheringham, which is where we were to start our swim. Trainers and T shirts were removed and handed over to the seasoned support team of Delphine Steel (very helpful), daughter Constance (less helpful) and spaniel Panda (unhelpful); then we climbed down the sea wall into the spray of high tide (last year it was a leisurely jog onto the beach at low tide), whilst Thomas and Theo acted as press corps.
The swim was quite hard work, possibly psychology played a part as we were well out of our depth, especially for someone who never quite reached 5 ft 9 (still trying) so no chance of a cheeky feet down and a rest, but the sea was not too cold, so a slow pace did not matter. Sara Longe left David and I in her wake and beat us to the narrow strip of beach at the bottom of the steps up the Beeston Regis cliffs by a good couple of minutes (we had been in the water for 25 minutes or so, covering a kilometre). We emerged feeling pleased with ourselves, but a little disappointed not to be greeted by Delphine and her ‘helpers’. A sign at the bottom of the steps told us why we were alone on the beach: they were closed due to cliff erosion and should not be climbed. Our options were either swimming back to Sheringham, which we really didn’t fancy, or risking the steps. We didn’t swim.
After a less than Olympic changeover from swimming gear to biking gear in the car park, we were rejoined by the Abbotts and set out for Holy Trinity West Runton (2) where we admired the poppyhead carvings in the pews [Poppyhead is not a reference to flowers, but supposed to be from a nautical term puppis or popeys = poop, the raised deck on the stern of a ship]. We then retraced our route and headed for the target-rich Sheringham, where we knew we could clock up three churches in quick succession, and very possibly have a seaside ice cream: the Catholic church of St Josephs (3) (locked but decent flapjacks outside), the Quaker Meeting House (4 )and St Peter’s (5) (cheerfully manned and well stocked with refreshment). From Sheringham we climbed the famous (infamous for cyclists) Cromer ridge to Upper Sheringham, a very pretty village of flint cottages and signed in at All Saints (6), a large church with enormous, clear windows and thus superbly lit. Here, there are wonderful 15th century pew ends, in particular, one of a mermaid (Sara had by this stage left us to play her violin in gig). After tipping our hats to a WW2 American aircraftman’s grave, we wound our way west, picking some particularly luscious blackberries as we went. The ‘coast road’ (A149) has spectacular views down to the sea (and a steam train if you’re lucky – we weren’t this time), but also some unpopular inclines, which we puffed up, followed by a line of cars who seemed rather wet about overtaking our slow moving peloton. All Saints, Weybourne (7) is an ancient Saxon church, attached to what was a priory (until Henry VIII’s intervention). Here we waited for our reinforcement, in the form of Rebecca Hill (Barningham Winter), who had started the day with a puncture, but caught us up in an impressive feat athleticism given her bike only had three gears. Before she could catch her breath, we set off up the ridge towards Holt, where we reached half an hour later, pretty out of breath, but we were much fortified by a cheerful welcome, penguin biscuits and orange squash at St Andrews (8) .
On leaving Holt, we soon entered the Benefice and reached familiar territory in the form of All Saints Hempstead (9) (delicious home-made ginger bread), and finally at 1pm, St Mary’s Baconsthorpe (10), where what could be better than a greeting party of Tessa McCosh, Corinne Youngs, Victoria plums and the sight of home…for some us at least: our intrepid Rector, drawing on impressive stamina, toured the Benefice spreading his usual cheer.