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Fowl for the Prior's Table

Walk along the Little Ouse River from medieval Thetford and see geese, ducks and a silent forest.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mostly earth tracks, some concrete footpaths and meadows

Landscape Riverside water-meadows and forest

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 229 Thetford Forest in the Brecks

Start/finish TL 868830

Dog friendliness Dogs on leads in places

Parking Free town car park near courthouse

Public toilets At car park

1 Park near the courthouse and head for the lovely red, gold and green bridge (from 1829). Cross the road and go down the peaceful river path opposite with the river on your right. When you reach the Blaydon Footbridge (built in 1970 and named after a local dignitary), take a few minutes to head to the main road and turn left. Here you will find the ruins of the little medieval Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and opposite, the site of Red Castle, Thetford's second fort, raised in the 12th century.

2 Return to the footbridge and cross over it, keeping the river on your left as you stroll through lovely water-meadows and past a weir. When the path bears right to meet a road, continue straight ahead along a grassy track. You are now on the Little Ouse Path to Brandon, which is rich with the scent of meadowsweet in springtime. Go beneath the roaring bypass, and past the still, brown lake where local folk sit to fish.

3 You leave the sounds of the town behind you as you reach Abbey Heath Weir. When the path bends, keep to the river track, which is littered with sandy molehills. You may see one of these elusive creatures if you are walking near dusk - but plenty of owls live in the woods, so they usually remain underground. When the path veers to the right, keep walking through pretty woodland owned by the Forestry Commission. You will eventually reach a pair of battered council signs warning of the danger of fire. Turn right on a sandy track that leads up a slight hill.

4 When you reach a T-junction, turn right along the dirt road used by Forestry Commission vehicles. You will notice that the trees on one side are taller than those on the other, evidence of planting in different years. Stay on this track until you hear the bypass traffic thundering to your left. The track ends at the main road, but a path to your right leads you through a gate and down an incline, where you will find yourself at the underpass again.

5 Retrace your steps along the river to Blaydon Footbridge, but do not cross it. Continue across the grass straight ahead. Eventually, you reach the remains of Thetford Priory, open any reasonable time, free of charge. Go towards the electricity station and under the subway to Minstergate. Walk past Kwik Save and the Charles Burnell Museum until you reach the Bell. Turn right and walk to the bridge. The car park will be on your left.

On 1 September 1107, an old warrior friend of William the Conqueror called Roger Bigod stooped down to lay the foundation stone of what he hoped would be a great priory church - also hoping that the Cluniac monks who lived in the buildings would pray for his immortal soul. He had left it not a moment too long, because he died a week later. He wanted to be buried at Thetford, but was not in a position to argue when the Bishop of Norwich took his body off to his own cathedral for burial.

Today, the silent ruins that stand beside the peaceful River Ouse belie the fact that this was once a powerful and wealthy community. Besides the large church, there was a huge cloister, a warming house with a sleeping room above, an infirmary, a dining room and a number of kitchens and parlours. The Cluniac monks lived a comfortable life, compared to many.

In the 13th century, a very ill local craftsman prayed to the Virgin Mary to make him well; she appeared to him in dreams and told him to build a Lady Chapel. When the prior ignored the craftsman's pleas, the Virgin is said to have gone to a local woman instead, paralysing her arm when she did not inform the prior of the message immediately. The chapel was built and, while an old statue of the Virgin was being cleaned to be its centrepiece, a hole was found in its head. Inside the hole were relics, which were said to have fabulous healing powers. For many years, the sick and desperate paid the priory handsomely to be allowed near the miraculous statue.

While you're there

Visit nearby Thetford Forest for a variety of outdoor activities including cycle hire and an adventurous rope course. Three miles (4.8km) south east is the pretty village of Euston. Splendid 18th-century Euston Hall (with limited summer opening) is the country seat of the Dukes of Grafton. It's notable for its fine collection of pictures by Stubbs, Lely and Van Dyck.

What to look for

Take a stroll by the River Ouse to see the waterfowl, but the geese and swans can be aggressive when they have young to protect, so give them a wide birth. While in the town, look for the old pump room on Spring Walk (built 1818), and the early Tudor timber-framed Ancient House, now a museum with an exhibition on Breckland life. Outside the King's House is a statue commemorating Thomas Paine, revolutionary author of The Rights of Man.

Where to eat and drink

Thetford offers a wide range of places for dining, from quick, simple fare at Hogg's Deli and the Bridge Street Café, to bar meals at the Anchor Hotel and the Bell Hotel. Families are welcome at the Bell, which offers home-cooked food.


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