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A Victorian Eccentric at Somerleyton

A walk around the delightful estate village designed by a flamboyant Victorian railway magnate.

Distance 6.3 miles (10.1km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Farm tracks, field-edge paths, country lanes, 2 stiles

Landscape Farmland, village and River Waveney

Suggested map AA Walker's Map 22 The Norfolk Broads

Start/finish TM 484972

Dog friendliness On lead across farmland, off lead on Waddling Lane

Parking On-street parking in the village

Public toilets At marina

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 With the post office behind you, turn left and walk past estate cottages towards the village green. Turn left to walk around the green and continue around the outside of the school. Return to the road, turn left and walk along the pavement opposite the red-brick wall of Somerleyton Park.

2 Follow this road round to the left and turn right on a lane signposted 'Ashby'. There are glimpses of Somerleyton Hall across parkland to your right. After 300yds (274m), turn right past a thatched lodge at the pedestrian entrance to Somerleyton Hall. Pass through the gates and keep on this lane for 400yds (366m), then turn left on to a field-edge path.

3 After 300yds (274m), turn right on to a farm track. Stay on this waymarked path as it swings left through the farmyard and continues alongside two fields then turns sharp right towards a wood. Turn left to walk along the edge of the wood and keep to the path as it bends around a pond and enters a small belt of woodland. Keep right through the woods and cross a stile then look for a gap in the hedge to your right and bear half-left on a cross-field path to reach a lane.

4 Turn right and stay on this lane for 1 mile (1.6km). Just before a road junction, take the meadow-edge path to your left and follow this round to a gap in the wall. Cross the B1074 and climb a stile to keep straight ahead on a field-edge path for almost ıı mile (1.2km).

5 Turn right at the end of this track along Waddling Lane. The path drops down towards the water-meadows with the railway and River Waveney to your left. When the path divides, fork left to climb around the edge of Wadding Wood. Keep right when a track joins from the left to head uphill and away from the woods.

6 Turn left opposite Waveney Grange Farm and walk down towards the station. Turn right opposite the station entrance on a wide track. When the track bends right, keep left on a grassy path to drop down to a boatyard. Turn left around the boatyard buildings to reach a marina and a swing bridge over the river, then turn right past the marina and climb the access drive to a road.

7 Turn left at the telephone box and walk along the pavement as far as the Duke's Head pub. Stay on this road as it bends to the right with views of round-towered Herringfleet church over the hedge to your left. At the next bend, by the black railings of a cottage, turn right on a waymarked path. Follow this path along the edge of the field and turn right beyond a telegraph pole to return to the start of the walk.

The story book of Suffolk is filled with interesting characters but few had a more colourful life than Sir Samuel Morton Peto (1809-89) of Somerleyton Hall. At the age of 21 he took over his uncle's building business and he went on to become one of the great Victorian entrepreneurs. Together with his cousin, Thomas Grissel, he was responsible for many of the most familiar public buildings in London, including Nelson's Column, the Houses of Parliament, several theatres, hospitals, prisons and even the brick sewers that are still in use today.

Despite this, his first love was railways and he is best remembered as one of the pioneers of steam locomotion. During his lifetime he built more than 750 miles (1,206km) of railway line in Britain and 2,300 miles (3,700km) abroad, from Canada to Russia and Australia. During the Crimean War in 1853 he built the world's first military railway at Balaclava, completely without profit, an act for which he was rewarded with a knighthood.

He is also remembered locally as the father of modern Lowestoft. It was he who turned a small fishing village into a busy port with the construction of a harbour for 1,000 boats, and he built seaside hotels and a holiday resort on deserted marshes and scrubland. He built the railway link from Lowestoft to Norwich, opening up the town's fishing trade and fulfilling his promise that the morning catch from Lowestoft would arrive in Manchester in time for tea. The railway line still survives and there is still a station at Somerleyton, the village he made his own.

In 1843, Sir Morton Peto purchased Somerleyton Hall and proceeded to rebuild this Jacobean mansion in the Anglo-Italian style favoured by wealthy Victorians. At the same time, he built the thatched red-brick estate cottages for his workers which contribute so much to the village's charm. He also provided the village with an unusual thatched school, which must be the prettiest school in Suffolk. The village as you see it today is almost totally the creation of Sir Morton Peto and his eccentric tastes in architecture.

Sir Morton also found time to be the Liberal MP for Norwich for 20 years. However, in the best tradition of flamboyant entrepreneurs, it all went wrong in the end. In 1866, he was declared bankrupt with unpaid debts of ıı1 million. Somerleyton Hall was bought by the carpet manufacturer Sir Francis Crossley, whose son became the first Lord Somerleyton. His great-grandson, the present Lord Somerleyton, still lives in the hall and can be seen riding around his estate on misty mornings.

While you're there

Somerleyton Hall and Gardens are open on certain days in summer, usually Thursday and Sunday. The hall contains fine state rooms and carved woodwork, while the gardens are famous for the yew hedge maze, planted in 1846. There is also a loggia tea room serving light lunches and afternoon teas, and a miniature steam railway which young children will enjoy.

Where to eat and drink

The Duke's Head serves pub meals and has large gardens and a children's play area. Teas are served in the courtyard garden of the post office in summer.

What to look for

On Waddling Lane, look out for the small memorial stone to American airmen Lt J Black and Lt T Aiken, who died when their plane crashed here while returning from a mission in November 1944.

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