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Review written in September/2009
Now a non-smoker going on nearly 2 years, I decided, seeing as I can actually walk a goodly distance without dropping to the ground and gasping for air (seriously), that I needed to become more active. Luckily for me, my husband absolutely loves the outdoors, and was more than happy to join me in my endeavours... which ended up taking us back to Knettishall for what we hoped would be a nice leisurely stroll on the heath.
We had good memories of Knettishall. When the boys were younger, we used to pack them in the car on hot summer days and take them down to the 'watering hole', as we used to call it. The 'watering hole' was exactly that - a sandy-bottomed swimming pond naturally created by the Little Ouse River. The boys used to love jumping off the short rock ledge and into the water, which, in turn, drove our poor dogs crazy with worry as they swam after them.
The 'swimming hole' was the perfect FREE (free being the operative word) family getaway, a place to soak up the sun whilst the children played in the water with the dogs, and when hunger struck, we retreated to one of the numerous picnic tables with our packed lunch - and if we had a few extra pennies in our pockets, the children were treated to ice cream cones or lollies because the ice cream van was always present on weekends.
After a nice lunch, we would wander down the nice path that ran alongside the river, and then cut through the heath on our way back to the car.
Yep... both myself and my husband possessed some pretty amazing memories of the 'watering hole' - unfortunately, things have changed somewhat...
Arriving at the 'watering hole', we were greeted by a barrier and ticket machine with a large sign stating that our beloved 'watering hole' had become the 'Knettishall Heath Country Park', and that in order to enter, we needed to part with £1.00. Granted, Suffolk County Council weren't charging a fortune for entrance into the 'park', and if we were somewhat put off, it was because our beloved 'watering hole' was no longer a well kept secret by the dozen or so people who used to show up on weekends with the children and family pets. The 'watering hole' was no longer unspoilt beauty, it had been seized and was now under the dominion of Suffolk County Council - this mightn't be such a bad thing we thought to ourselves, forking over the pound coin and parking the car.
At first glance, not much had changed... the parking area blended in with the countryside, complete with mesh floor covered in what looked to be pine needles and fenced in by tree trunks. The 'watering hole' was visible, and we could see a few children enjoying the water, and the ice cream van was present as well.
A toilet block had been built a few yards away from the swimming area, and possessed an exterior drinking fountain that had a hole in it so that the 'wasted' water could fall into a bowl placed beneath for all those hot dogs out there... no pun intended... all in all, the block, although somewhat modern and appearing out of place, was a nice addition to the 'watering hole' and appeared to be well maintained.
Alright then, so why were we both feeling so disheartened... can't say for certain... we paused at a large sign that showed the different walks that were available within the park, and were somewhat... grieved... to discover that the walks had been charted out. The pleasure used to reside in the fact that we could just wander - walks had been an adventure, not a plotted course. Ah well, choosing the river walk, we noticed that our old path was still present and swerved off the new path in order to take the old one. The old path which had been created ages ago by walkers wanting to get closer to the river, was separated from the new walk by tall shrubs and trees. We thought this odd at first - why create a 'river walk' that didn't afford a view of the river? - the reason for this was downright shocking... we couldn't see the water because of the thick layer of phosphorescent algae growing on the surface, and the banks were littered with plastic bottles and rubbish.
We were gutted. What we couldn't understand was why the river was in such a state... the water in the swimming area had appeared clean, and when our path overlapped onto the new path we realised that the river views from this new vantage point were actually algae and rubbish free. It was obvious to us that the river had been cleaned in the 'visible' areas. Needless to say that if I'd gone swimming, I would have been upset to realise just how disgusting the water source had been. I couldn't help but wonder if the parents' of the children now swimming in the 'watering hole' had seen the condition of the river. Probably not.
Disgusted, we continued our walk past the riverside meadows, noticing the addition of black sheep in the first enclosure, Jersey cattle in the middle enclosure, and Exmoor ponies in the third enclosure. We weren't quite certain what to make of it. A petting zoo of sorts? Something to look at during our walk? It was all a bit disturbing because I noticed that there was an electric wire running just inside the enclosures, but the signs warning of the danger were few and far in between. Another disturbing fact was that there was no grass inside the enclosures, and that the sheep, cattle and horses were actually digging for roots in the dirt. The meadows surrounding the enclosures were thick and lush with wildflowers and tall grasses, but there wasn't a speck of green inside the enclosures. I felt sad for the Exmoor ponies who were scraping the soil with their hooves in an attempt to unearth something edible.
Continuing on the dirt path which circled the animal enclosures, we entered into a copse of trees and inhaled deeply... very nice... the shade was refreshing - needless to say that it was a glorious day, hot and sunny, not your average September day when the chill of autumn should be preparing us for the arrival of winter. Exiting the small forest, we noticed a path (not part of the plotted course) that led to the Exmoor ponies' enclosure. Unable to resist, we made our way to the enclosure and were immediately greeted by two curious Exmoor ponies.
Pulling a thick shank of grass and wildflowers from the ground next to the river, I offered it to one of the ponies who immediately made a grab for it and starting chewing... the second pony just looked at me, its soft brown eyes telling me it wouldn't mind a quick snack so I obliged. I was appalled at how fast they gobbled up their snack, and was tempted to jump the fence in order to open the gates on the other side of the enclosure that led to another meadow that possessed grass and wildflowers. Instead, I asked my husband to pull more grass and wildflowers for the ponies. When we left the ponies, they were happily chomping away at the nice little pile of grass that we'd picked for them.
Nearing the end of the riverside walk, we came to a car park on the West side of the park and were angered to note that this car park, just a few yards away from the one we'd used, was actually free! This car park didn't have a barrier - instead, it possessed a ticket machine that was covered with a tarp. We weren't certain if it was broken or if it was covered because we were visiting out-of-season. Either way, the prices quoted were far cheaper than the £1.00 we paid. This car park cost .20p for 2 hours parking... which is more than sufficient as the park is quite small, and the longest walk only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.
We were disappointed by the state of the river, the parched animal enclosures... and by the knowledge that our 'watering hole' would never again be as beautiful as it had once been.
For those who have never visited the area - therefore would have no prior knowledge as to just how unspoilt and beautiful it had once been - Knettishall Country Park has a lot to offer:
Heath - meadows - woodland.
Little Ouse River
Redwings, Fieldfares, Barn Owls, Willow Warblers, Kingfishers, etc...
Bronze age round barrow dating from 2000BC.
Exmoor ponies - Jersey cows - Black sheep.
Red Heathland Trail - 1 mile (30 minute walk)
Green Heathland Trail - 2.5 miles (1 hour 30 minute walk)
Riverside Trail 1.5 miles (45 minute walk)
Woodland Trail - 2.5 miles (1 hour 30 minute walk)
My disappointment with the park had all to do with the fact that not only had it been turned into a park, but that the river had been turned into a dumping ground. The children were swimming in an area that I am not certain was entirely clean, and the only bins to be seen were near the toilet block. There were no signs warning pet owners to pick up after their pets, and nowhere to dispose of the mess even if they did pick it up. Also, there should have been more warning signs posted on the enclosures telling people that there was an electric wire running through the fence... and... I still begrudge the fact that I paid £1.00 for parking when the second car park, located a few yards away, was free.
Knettishall Heath Country Park is situated in Norfolk - 6 miles east of Thetford. It is signposted from the A1066, B1088 in Euston village and B1111 in Barningham.