Get your Indiana Jones hat on and get out on The Great Eastern Pingo Trail. It’s a gentle 8 miles (12.9km) of tracks and trails exploring the eastern edge of the Brecks.
Pingos were originally low hillocks that formed in permafrost (tundra) conditions 20,000 years ago during the last ice age when water beneath the surface froze to form lenses of ice pushing soil upwards, forming a small hillock. During the summer thaw, the soil on the surface would sludge off and accumulate around the periphery of the hillocks. Shallow craters were left when the ice finally melted, causing the hillocks to collapse.
These depressions have persisted in this location, producing a series of unique shallow ponds and excellent habitat for wildlife.
The trail continues down through Stow Bedon Common, where beautiful flowering plants and butterflies can be seen in abundance. The heath then opens up as it crosses Stow and Breckles Heath, with views over farmland and forest. Then, down through Cranberry Rough SSSI, a basin mire that has developed on the site of a former lake. Watch out for dragon and damselflies, as well as several species of waterfowl.
By heavens, I think we’ve spotted a Pingo!
The track then passes along a cutting and up some steps onto Hockham Heath, where vibrant displays of heather make a colourful scene in late summer. It’s then onto the Peddars Way and past The Battle Area, known as Stanford Training Area, which is the country’s main battleground and amounts to 17,500 acres of unofficial nature reserve.
Thompson Water is owned and managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust and is a shallow lake of 40 acres which was artificially created in 1845 by the draining of a tributary of the River Wissey. Yellow water lily is abundant on the open water, as well as wintering wildfowl. Thompson Carr is damp woodland with alder and oak and you may be lucky enough to spot an elusive roe deer through the trees.
There are many small natural ponds on Thompson Common, the best location in the country to see the Scarce Emerald Damselfly, among other more common species.
Thompson Common is lowland grassland, which is enhanced by the open water and fen communities of the pingos. Parts of Thompson Common are grazed by a herd of Shetland ponies. The trail then continues back to the car park for a well-earned rest.
Please note that the pingo habitat is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, so insect repellent is recommended, especially in the summer.