A circular walk through coniferous forest and across rolling meadows to the village of Hempstead.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Forest paths, tracks across fields, some paved lanes, 2 stiles
Landscape Forest and woodland, meadow and farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 251 Norfolk Coast Central
Start/finish TG 082375
Dog friendliness Dogs can run free
Parking Country park visitor centre signposted off B1149
Public toilets At visitor centre
1 The walk begins at the country park car park. There are four waymarked walks through the country park itself. Follow the blue route through the pines until you pick up the circular walk markers. The route takes you along a footpath that runs parallel to the B1149, but is shielded from it by trees. In this part of the forest you can expect to see Corsican and Scots pine, which you can tell apart by the fact that the needles on the Corsican pine have a twist and are much longer than those of the Scots.
2 The path leads downhill until you leave the forest and enter a meadow. Bear left, following the path, and cross a wooden bridge into another meadow with woods to the right. Continue with the river to your left, then follow the footpath sharp right to climb a hill. You emerge on to a farm track. This ultimately leads to a barn, just past which you jig left, then right, and continue walking east along a track known as the Holt-Mannington Walk. Go right at the end of a field and then turn left after a few paces until you reach a holly bush. Cross the stile, which takes you through the hedge. The path then leads through the centre of a field and is easy to follow.
3 The track ends in a T-junction at Church Farm (as you walk past, look into its manicured garden to admire the ornamental bridge). Turn left along the paved lane, and then go left when you see All Saints' Church, which has a thatched apsidal end. The footpath is marked 'Holt Circular Path'. Enter a scrubby meadow that can be full of nettles and thistles that make walking in shorts a tentative business. The path meanders, and the only way to make sure you are going in the right direction is to look for the markers.
4 Eventually you cross a tiny wooden footbridge and meet a paved lane. Following this lane to the left will take you to Hempstead Hall, which has won prizes for farming in an environmentally sensitive manner. As you pass through the farmyard, with its densely populated duck pond, look for a stile on your right. Cross the stile and walk through a neat meadow inhabited by walker-friendly donkeys and ponies. After the meadow, go up a grassy hill and bear left by the oak tree at the top. At the end of this farm track you meet a lane where you turn left.
5 The lane enters a wooded area, crosses the River Glaven and climbs a hill. When you reach the summit, start looking for the footpath sign on your left. When you reach it, turn into the wood and follow the green and yellow circular trail markers along the forest trail that seems to meander through the fern-carpeted plantation. You go downhill for a while and then climb back up, ultimately heading in a direction roughly at right angles to the lane you have just left.
6 When you reach the tyre swing, your route home is along the wide track ahead of you, as you follow signs for the blue waymarked forest trail. Listen for woodpeckers, because dead trees are left standing specifically to encourage them to stay. The path turns to the right, then the left, but keep following the blue markers. Eventually, you will see metal glinting through the pines as the car park comes into view.
In 1979 North Norfolk District Council bought 104 acres (42ha) of coniferous woodland to provide residents and visitors with an area in which they could enjoy informal countryside recreation. Norfolk County Council fully supported the scheme and has laid out a number of circular trails, one of which you will be following part of the way. The circular trail waymarkers are green and yellow, and are generally well maintained - which can be a blessing when the footpaths disappear under burgeoning vegetation in early summer.
The Queen Adelaide and the King's Head in the centre of nearby Holt serve bar meals. There is also an excellent greengrocer and a supermarket for supplies if you want to enjoy the picnic facility in the country park. In high summer, an ice cream van can be found near the park's visitor centre.
Holt owes its 18th-century grandeur to a devastating fire in 1708, which destroyed much of its medieval heritage. It is best known for Gresham's School, founded in 1555 by Thomas Gresham, Lord Mayor of London. North Norfolk Railway steam trains run from Sheringham to Holt, while nearby Letheringsett has a water mill.
Most trees in the country park are pines - firs, spruces and larches - but also look for native oak and introduced rhododendrons. When you find the oaks, look for evidence of gall wasps. These insects induce a variety of growths on oaks, which are named according to their shape: marble, artichoke, oak apple and knopper galls. Resident birds include robins and goldcrests.