Explore the diverse landscapes and wildlife of Suffolk's largest country park.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Well-marked country park trails
Landscape Heathland, grassland, woodland, meadows, river
Suggested map Map of country park available from information office
Start/finish TL 955807
Dog friendliness 'Well-controlled dogs' welcome in country park
Parking Knettishall Heath Country Park main car park
Public toilets At car park
1 Start by following the Riverside Trail, clearly signposted from the information office and toilet block. The trail takes you down to the banks of the Little Ouse River, that divides Suffolk from Norfolk. After about ½ mile (800m) the trail turns away from the river between areas of woodland and meadow. When the trail turns sharp left after crossing a footbridge, leave the Riverside Trail and go half-right instead, to head towards the woods.
2 Now you are on the green Heathland Trail, though frustratingly the waymarking posts are only marked on one side and you are walking in the opposite direction. Turn left at a junction of paths and continue down to the road along the western boundary of the park. This is the end of the Peddars Way, a long distance trail that follows a Roman road to the North Norfolk coast, and the start of the Icknield Way, possibly the oldest route in Britain. Cross the car park and continue along the path that soon arrives at open heathland covered with purple heather in summer. Turn left along the edge of a line of fir trees and bear left, still on the green trail, around the edge of the heath. Turn right at a junction of paths to reach the remains of an 18th-century rabbit warren. Keep straight ahead at a crossroads and continue to the end of this path, then bear left towards Hut Hill, a Bronze-Age burial mound that dates back to 2000 bc and is easily identified by the lone Scots pine at its summit. Keeping the burial mound to your right, walk down the hill, then turn sharp right at a junction to join the yellow Woodland Trail. For a short cut you could keep straight ahead to return to the car park at this point.
3 You now stay on the Woodland Trail for the remainder of your walk as it weaves its way through the woods past silver birch, oak and Scots pine. The path briefly joins a horse route and passes a barrier to reach a road. Cross the road and continue on a path to your left. Towards the end of the trail you pass an area of grazed heathland where Exmoor ponies and Hebridean sheep are kept. Cross the road again, turn right through a woody glade and continue to the car park, where there is a small playground and a weir where children splash about in the river.
This is the only walk in this book that is situated entirely within a country park. Although this might seem an unadventurous choice, the landscapes of heathland, grassland, woodland and river are considerably more varied than you are likely to encounter on most walks in rural Suffolk. Unlike farmland, which is expected to produce a profit, a country park can be managed for both conservation and recreation with the result that a wide variety of habitats can be protected. On this walk you will see semi-wild Exmoor ponies grazing on the heath, you may spot lizards, butterflies and muntjac deer, or see wild flowers such as red campion, rock rose, honeysuckle and wild thyme in summer.
Knettishall Heath Country Park is found in the far north of Suffolk, in the area known as the Brecks. Whatever it may look like, this is a landscape created by human activity over many thousands of years. Bronze-Age farmers kept sheep on the grasslands and cultivated the fields. More recently, rabbit warrens were built to breed rabbits for their meat and fur, helping at the same time to keep the grass down. It's only since World War Two and the arrival of myxomatosis that the heath has been left to its own devices. Without careful management it would revert to woodland and scrub within about 50 years.
This walk follows the waymarked trails that have been set out in the country park, and which are clearly marked on a map available from the information office in the car park. The Riverside Trail is waymarked in blue with the symbol of flowing water. The red and green Heathland Trails are waymarked with the sign of a rabbit, while the yellow Woodland Trail takes an oak tree as its symbol. The walk covers sections of all three trails, but you could easily design your own walk instead.
The Exmoor ponies that graze on Knettishall Heath are the surviving descendants of a breed of wild horse that arrived in Britain more than 130,000 years ago. These hardy creatures have survived almost untamed and have adapted over the centuries to develop thick coats and large teeth that help them to cope with their conditions. They are kept on the heathland because regular grazing helps to prevent the invasion of bracken and scrub.
There are no facilities in the country park, so you should take your own food and water. There are picnic benches available near the start of the walk. The nearest pub is the Swan at Coney Weston, 2 miles (3.2km) south of Knettishall Heath.
Bardwell Windmill, 5 miles (8km) south of Knettishall Heath, is a 19th-century tower mill whose sails were unfortunately torn off during the great storm of 1987. It is currently being restored to full working order and is open to visitors.