A Desert Rats Tale

We’re back in Nelson’s county, good ol’ Norfolk, but not anywhere near the Broads this time; we’ve come to Thetford Forest to enjoy the English summer which, this year, appears to be about a week between 15th and 23rd July. Let’s hope we may be treated to a bit more later.

The Caravan Club has a campsite situated in Forestry Commission land; an area that was, in 1944, the base camp of the 7th Armoured Division, better known as the Desert Rats. Following the division’s heroic exploits in the North Africa campaign against Rommel, the division was in England for only five months of its existence to prepare for the invasion of Hitler’s Europe. Most of their training seemed to be concerned with becoming familiar with the Cromwell tank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Cromwell tank named Little Audrey I, somewhat sadly a replica, now stands guard on a memorial plinth at the entrance to the approach road. It looks small, as if a German Panzer would’ve made mincemeat out of it. Driving in past the tank is just a little surreal. Today’s campsite is secluded being surrounded by trees but the approach road feels decidedly military – flat, straight, utilitarian concrete.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArriving just after midday, Guillaume found a very pleasant, tree-shaded pitch that didn’t stare at other units. In worse weather this would’ve been a very drippy pitch but given our forecast, we felt very lucky to find it vacant, shady as it was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2-mile memorial walk has been created through the forest that now surrounds the modern campsite. After the business of getting installed, we went off for a leg stretch to follow the Desert Rat symbol; really a Jerboa (it says here). The jerboa itself left after that first signpost, the remainder of the walk being marked simply by arrows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’re a few information boards scattered along the early part of the route, though nothing terribly scintillating. What I found most interesting were the couple of earthworks remaining showing where the army’s favourite Nissen huts had been. It was fascinating to see an example of nature reclaiming territory after the disruption caused by the construction of an army base, or any other human activity, has gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of Nissen huts remain to remind us what they were like. This is what remains of the NAAFI as was.

The remainder of the route was really just tracks, gravel roads and concrete paths that led us on a loop back through the surrounding forest to the campsite. A pleasant enough leg stretch, except maybe for the gravel road.

Posted in 2021-07 Norfolk

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