Diss sits on the Suffolk border in a rich farming and forest landscape well away from the busier broads and north coast.
While there are some busy main roads in the area, we’ll take you along tranquil back roads and designated ‘Quiet Lanes’ where cars come second to riders, walkers and cyclists. The lack of hills in the area means the miles come easily too, making it ideal for riders of any fitness level or experience.
Surprisingly Diss doesn’t have much early archaeology, but as the Anglo-Saxon name comes from ‘ditch’ or ‘rampart’ and the way it rises above the surrounding land definitely suggests this was a significant defended site in earlier times. It’s only a handful of km east of ‘Pye Road’ which dates from at least the Roman period when it was the route taken by Celtic Norfolk Queen Boudicca on her way to destroy Colchester, St Albans and London. The area - including nearby Thetford - was very important throughout the post Roman, Anglian, Saxon and Viking periods and was a Royal ‘hundred’ by the time of the Norman invasion and the Domesday book.
It continued to grow in prosperity throughout the medieval period with the Friday market first given a charter by Richard the Lionheart. Architecturally much of the town is Georgian and while - like a lot of Norfolk - its fortunes ebbed in the last couple of centuries it’s revived dramatically in recent years. That included the cleaning up of the beautiful ‘mere’ in the centre of the town and a more gentrified, independent shopping and foodie environment. This small south Norfolk town also gained worldwide fame when Hip Hop superstar MC Hammer came to the same conclusion in his smash hit “You can’t touch Diss”. The local Corn Hall theatre still punches way above its weight in terms of visiting performances too.
Thetford: Sands and trees (48.5 miles)
The first route from the Diss Experience Hub is for more adventurous riders on off-road capable bikes. Like most of Norfolk there are no nasty hills and the off-road sections certainly aren’t dangerous in any way. The sandy sections through the forest can be challenging to ride in very wet or very dry conditions though so it makes sense to wear shoes that are OK to walk in.
From Diss it heads west towards Thetford past nature reserves, river meadows and Roman Roads to the beautiful eastern edge of Thetford Forest on off road ‘gravel’ trails. Pedalling past prehistoric sites and beautiful farms you enter the historic town of Thetford on a traffic free cycle path. Looping round the dramatic Norman castle mound takes you to the market place and shopping area which are a perfect place to rest and refuel.
The homeward leg of our route avoids the busy roads around the town by heading north through beautiful medieval villages before turning east into the forest again. Sandy tracks through the trees link mysterious ancient sites and the unique meres of this fascinating nature rich area. The deep human history of South Norfolk is reinforced again as you follow the Hereward Way to the Roman and prehistoric road of Peddars Way north before looping south to sneak safely under the main road to Norwich. Then it’s time to roll back into Diss itself and make full use of its many foodie delights and useful amenities.
Kenninghall: Zoolander (20 miles)
This route is entirely on road and so it’s suitable for any bike or level of rider experience. It’s short length and almost totally flat profile are forgiving of fitness and age and the fact it goes to a zoo makes it a fantastic option for families. It’s entirely on quiet back lanes apart from a 200m section of low-speed limit B road and a crossing of the same B road a few km later. It’s certainly not short of interest though with stories of Royal Tudor intrigue, princesses and treason at Kenninghall and secret World War II mission disasters that changed the course of US presidential history at Fersfield. There are pubs and shops at Kenninghall and Banham too so you won’t go hungry or thirsty enroute either.
Tivetshall: Two churches (15.5 miles)
The shortest of the three routes from the Diss Experience Hub is designed as an ideal introduction into light off road or ‘gravel’ riding. To achieve that it mixes short and easy sections of farm track (the only ford has a footbridge option) with deserted back roads. The short distance and the flat profile also make it a great option for all ages of riders who want to try some ‘rough stuff’ but only have a basic bike or skill set.
It takes you in a completely different direction to the other two routes as well, heading out of the town centre eastwards onto the Anglian way. You soon swing north though, jinking along roughly parallel to the Roman Road to Norwich. Sandy centred single track back roads and broad all-weather farm tracks link together past ancient trees and farms to take you to the village of Tivetshall. Here you’ll take a leisurely lap of the villages scattered layout to visit the churches of St Mary and St Margaret. Bird busy copses and prosperous farmsteads are your companions for the next couple of back road km then it’s up and over the London to Norwich railway and into the charming village of Gissing. Then it’s on to Burston with its fascinating modern social history before taking the final section of off road singletrack down a tunnel of trees before the final km into Diss.
For a small town Diss has a really good range of amenities and shops. Delicatessens like Benedikts and Anandines plus a wide range of restaurants from traditional to boutique and worldwide make it easy to find a place to eat and there are lots of takeaways as well. There’s a decent range of accommodation locally too, although most places are in the surrounding area rather than town itself.
Madgetts Cycles or the Cycle Shack can take care of most bike maintenance or forgotten bits and pieces and there’s a Screwfix if you need more general tools. Tesco and Morrisons superstores south of the Mere should cover most food and grocery essentials and there are several pharmacies too. There’s a leisure centre with a pool as well. The local theatre is a thriving cultural centre, often hosting significant performances from big names.
If you’re heading to Diss by train it’s a 90 minute journey on the Norwich line from Liverpool St station in London. Alternatively, you can route to Norwich from Peterborough on the east coast mainline and then jump onto a train south to Diss.
Driving from the south take the M11 then A11 to Thetford and then follow the A1066 east to Diss.
From the midlands head for Cambridge and then join the A11 to Thetford
From the north head for Kings Lynn and then follow the A10 and then A134 to Thetford.
More cycling experiences in Kent, Cornwall and Norfolk
Diss is just one of our highlighted locations that's perfect for cycling. Here's Cycling UK's full set of cycle-friendly hubs, with accredited facilities and promoted routes
Cornwall: Bodmin; Helston; Penzance and Marazion
Kent: Canterbury; Dover; Lenham and Hollingborne; Otford; Wye
Norfolk: Cromer; Diss; Fakenham; Hunstanton; Swaffham; Thetford; Wroxham and Hoveton
EXPERIENCE is a €23.3 million project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, €16 million) through the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme 2014-2020, boosting visitor numbers in six pilot regions across England and France. This project will harness the experiential tourism trend to extend the season (October – March), generating 20 million new off-season visitors spending €1 billion across the Channel region by June 2023.