Dear fellow travellers
Deep in the heart of the country, very far distant from the noise and the bustle of the city, a rabbit keeps watch by the side of a brook. Behind the Georgian windows of the great red house, once the home of the Abermarles and now a convent, a score of veiled women mark with prayer the passing hours of each day.
The brook babbles and bubbles down from the mere, past lazy meadows and soaking fens until it reaches Quidenham. In summer there are kingfishers and dragonflies, shy deer, meadowsweet and irises. By winter, there is often dank cold or hard rime. There are places where the mist of spring mornings might linger till after the midday bells for Angelus have rung out from the nearby convent.
Cut off the main highway to Norwich, dive into the countryside through meadows full of deep green grass and you will reach Quidenham - a cluster of cottages and uneven lanes that were never meant for fast cars. Across England there are a thousand Quidenhams, each one a byway in the maze of English history.
So when a book called Slow Norfolk and Suffolk arrived on our desks this week, we leapt on it with delight - a volume devoted to two East Anglian counties which have more than their fair share of out of the way gems. The book's author, Laurence Mitchell, also writes regularly for hidden europe magazine. No mention of Quidenham in the book, but certainly no worries on that count, for Laurence surely had a tough time deciding what should be included.
The book is one of three volumes in a new series launched this month by Bradt Travel Guides. The other two titles in this first trio of books are Slow Devon and Exmoor (by Hilary Bradt) and Slow North Yorkshire (by Mike Bagshaw). We shall review the series in hidden europe 31 which will be published in mid July, but meanwhile, having delved a little into Laurence's book, our first impressions are wholly positive. This is a fitting handbook for slow travellers.
Slow Norfolk and Suffolk is an antidote to modernity, a reminder that there really still are a thousand Quidenhams, outposts of an England where life has not been wrecked by cars and supermarkets. And a reminder that jackdaws still roost each winter at Buckenham Carrs, that the sands are as smooth as ever on Holkham beach, and that East Anglia happily still has spots with locally owned grocers and butchers' shops selling a rich variety of regional produce.
This new series from Bradt evidently puts into practice many of the slow travel principles that underpin hidden europe magazine. Laurence Mitchell delicately unpicks quite what makes each small community distinctive. His pace is unhurried, just like ours.
Which brings us back to Quidenham. Deep, deep in the forest, way beyond the edge of the heath, far from the noise of the main road, the afternoon sun brings out the scent of lavender and rosemary. A single bell tolls from the convent clock tower, and the note hangs suspended for ever in the peace of a summer day. One petition, one prayer, one moment of history. Quidenham has never rushed. Nor will it now.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)