9 long walking trails to explore in Norfolk
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Norfolk has hundreds of miles of long-distance trails, some almost as old as the landscape they travel through, others new this summer.
It’s been a year of walking. As the pandemic took hold, the pace and scope of our lives slowed and contracted; we could no longer race across the world, but however strict the stage of lockdown we could always go out for a stroll.
During the first lockdown I discovered bluebell woods and riverside water meadow paths I never knew existed, within a couple of miles from my city home – and soon the phrase ‘within walking distance’ had stretched to adventures out along the Tas Valley Way and the Wymondham to Cringleford route which is relaunched this summer as Kett's Country long distance path.
They are the perfect roadmap out of lockdown (with fewer roads and more paths) – holidays from home, supporting the local economy, combining outdoor exercise and the chance to enjoy adventures alongside an ever-changing background of landscape, wildlife, history, architecture, and more than 1,000 miles of glorious countryside.
Norfolk is circled and crossed by a network of long-distance paths and pre-pandemic I had walked several, sometimes in one fell-booted sweep, staying at pubs and B&Bs, sometimes dipping in and out of a trail over months or even years.
Later this month a waymarked pilgrimage path from Norwich to Walsingham will be officially launched. “It really is lovely,” said Rev Peter Doll, the canon librarian at Norwich Cathedral and one of the people who has helped establish the 37-mile Walsingham Way. Beginning at either of the city’s cathedrals it follows the river Wensum upstream, before branching out across higher ground to reach the river Stiffkey and flows with it along what was once one of the great pilgrim routes of Europe, to the shrine at Little Walsingham. For more than 300 years, until its destruction by Henry VIII, almost every King and Queen of England visited. Now modern pilgrims follow in their footsteps. Peter Doll explained the power of such a walk saying: “The gentle and persistent rhythm of walking while surrounded by the beautiful sights and sounds of creation can have a profoundly healing effect on both body and soul. These experiences also unite us in spirit with those who will have walked the Walsingham Way in centuries past.”
Even older is the 46-mile Peddars Way which unfurls from south to north across Norfolk through forest, heath, meadow and river valleys. Parts of the route from Thetford Forest across the unique heathland landscape of the Brecks were ancient even before the Romans seized the lands of the troublesome Icenis, whose rebellion almost defeated an empire.
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The remains of Roman villas and temples have been unearthed all along the Peddars (or pedestrian) Way. Over the past few thousand years it has been used by traders, invaders, pilgrims and tourists.
Today the route links wildlife havens too, with rare species flourishing all the way from Knettishall, five miles east of Thetford, to Holme-next-the-Sea on the north coast. It was here that Seahenge was revealed by shifting tides and sands in 1998. The concentric circles of split oak trunks around an up-ended oak trunk was possibly a temple, created more than 4,000 years ago.
Seahenge is also on the Norfolk Coast Path which unspools for 84 glorious miles of cliffs, dunes, saltmarshes, shingle banks, pine woodlands, wide sandy beaches and picturesque seaside settlements. between Hunstanton and Hopton on Sea.
Another mighty long distance walk now stretches right across Norfolk, stitching together almost 100 miles of paths, tracks and lanes from King’s Lynn to Yarmouth. The Cross-Norfolk Trail begins with the Nar Valley Way, along the river Nar to Gressenhall, near Dereham. Alongside the quiet waters of the Nar are the ruins of abbeys and castles Pentney, West Acre and Castle Acre. The Cross-Norfolk Trail continues along the 12-mile Wensum Way to Lenwade, joins the Marriott’s Way railway path into Norwich, picking up the riverside walk through the city and finally sails off along Wherryman’s Way to Great Yarmouth.
The full Marriott’s Way route connects Norwich and Aylsham, via Reepham, along 21 miles of an old railway line. Walkers can connect with the pretty path alongside the narrow-gauge Bure Valley Railway for an additional nine miles from Aylsham to Wroxham.
The 35-mile Wherryman's Way follows the Yare valley from Norwich to the sea at Great Yarmouth. For centuries the Yare was the main link between Norwich and the rest of the world. Today the riverside path takes walkers through some of the most isolated landscapes in lowland Britain. Only boats, and walkers, can reach many of these wild places. Highlights include Berney Arms where the railway halt is marooned in the marshes, with just a track leading to the windmill and cluster of cottages; vast Breydon Water which is closer still to Yarmouth but seems a million miles from seaside crowds; the ferry crossing at pretty Reedham; dozens more staithes and windmills, and a constant flow of folklore, history and wildlife too, plus Loddon which is well-placed for an overnight stop.
More long-distance paths include:
The Angles Way runs through 77 miles of the Brecks and southern Broads, linking Thetford and Great Yarmouth. It meanders along the river Waveney crossing between Norfolk and Suffolk through peaceful countryside and pretty villages packed with wildlife and stories from thousands of years of history.
Boudicca's Way is a 40-mile route of woodland, farmland and water meadows between Norwich and Diss, named for the heroine warrior queen of the Iceni tribe. A very achievable two-day adventure.
The Weaver’s Way runs from Cromer to Great Yarmouth, heading inland as far as Aylsham, before striking out for the coast via Acle and Halvergate. The 60 mile route is named for the cloth industry which was once the life-blood of Norfolk, and passes many of the exquisite churches and manor houses built with money made in the medieval wool and cloth business.
All the routes pass through towns and villages with pubs, cafes and places to stay. For more information on routes, public transport options, linked shorter and circular walks see Norfolk County Council's comprehensive maps and information.