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Meandering Around the Massinghams

These charming rural villages have medieval churches, a pretty duck pond and friendly country pubs.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Country lanes, tracks and footpaths

Landscape Gently rolling farmland and common

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 250 Norfolk Coast West

Start/finish TF 792241

Dog friendliness Dogs can run free, but clean up any mess

Parking On lane outside church in Little Massingham

Public toilets None on route

1 From St Andrew's Church in Little Massingham walk towards the phone box. Go to the end of the lane and turn left at the T-junction. After a few steps you reach a farm, The Paddocks, on your right. Turn towards it and follow the track that leads through its buildings. You will know you are on the public footpath when you pass the pond on your left.

2 The track eventually runs into Rudham Road, where you turn right towards Great Massingham. Go up a small hill between towering hedgerows, vitally important for breeding birds in the spring and that possess a very vocal population of dunnocks. When you reach the end of this road, cross over and turn left to walk on the footpath. This is Great Massingham.

3 The road eventually reaches a charming village green complete with duck pond. St Mary's Church stands on the green, with a splendid 15th-century tower and a simple 13th-century porch. Look for the menagerie of carved animals standing guard over the south aisle. When you leave the church, walk across the green towards the sign for Abbey Road. Next to this is a track leading up the side of the quaintly named Hoss Chestnut House. This will bring you out on to the rather wild common, where the foundations of the priory (it was never an abbey, despite its name) are supposed to be, although they are almost impossible to find.

4 Paths run across this common like a maze, but just look for the tall radio mast ahead of you, and aim for it until you reach a field. The footpath runs along the edge of this. Turn right along it until you reach the track that passes the mast and an Anglian Water storage tank. Once you have reached the mast the track becomes pleasantly rural and the verges are full of red campion and violets in early spring.

5 This track meets the Peddars Way, and is well signposted. Turn right, and continue walking along this straight track for about a mile (1.6km). This bisects a huge field landscape and climbs to reach about 300ft (91m) above sea level, while mature oak trees rustle their leaves in the breeze. There is a Peddars Way Norfolk Songline sculpture here, partway along, evoking images of an ancient land and the walkers who have used this track before us.

6 When you reach a public bridleway, turn right with the trees of Nut Wood to your right and rolling fields to your left. Keep right when you reach another track and follow it through Middle Farm to a quiet lane, where you turn left. A lake, perhaps with squabbling moorhens, lies to you right. The lane ascends a hill and you will find yourself back at St Andrew's Church again.

In medieval times Norfolk and Suffolk were among the most densely populated and important regions in England. Today, Norfolk is one of the least populated counties and rural depopulation in particular has been a problem, with people moving out of the villages to work elsewhere.

Evidence of a more prosperous era in Norfolk's history can be seen in the huge number of ruined priories and abbeys that are scattered across it. One of these was the Augustinian priory that was founded at Great Massingham in the early 1200s. The canons evidently saw the fertile land, conveniently located on an ancient line of communication, the Peddars Way, and decided it was a good place for a small community to live. Today very little survives of what was probably a set of handsome buildings and a small forest called Hartswood. There are some fragments of masonry in and around Abbey Farm and a few woodland plants have survived the clearing of the forest.

One of Great Massingham's inhabitants in the 16th-century was Stephen Perse, who later studied medicine at Gonville and Cauis College in Cambridge. He founded a school there, called The Perse, which still thrives.

The great stone tower of the church, which is visible for many miles across the country, was an important landmark for pilgrims navigating their way on foot or horseback to the shrine at nearby Walsingham. In medieval times, when the shrine was at the height of its popularity, Massingham did rather well out of weary travellers who wanted a bed for the night and a hot meal.

While you're there

Sandringham House and gardens and the Norman keep at Castle Rising are within easy reach of the Massinghams. Castle Acre castle and priory are also a short drive away. Since the Peddars Way passes just to the west of the village, this is also a good place to start the long-distance Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail.

Where to eat and drink

The Rose and Crown in Great Massingham is the last of the village's six pubs. It dates from about 1600, and was previously a slaughterhouse and a blacksmith's forge. It serves a variety of ales and home-cooked food, which can be consumed in the beer garden or on the area overlooking the green. Children and well-behaved dogs are welcome.


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