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The Pulhams and the Pulham Pigs

Walk through fields from Pulham Market to Pulham St Mary.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Country lanes and paths, nettles a problem, 2 stiles

Landscape Farmland and meadows

Suggested map OS Explorer 230 Diss & Harleston

Start/finish TM 196862

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept on leads across farmland

Parking Pulham Market, at car park on Falcon Street

Public toilets None on route

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

1 Go left out of the car park and walk up the main street until you reach Barnes Road, where you turn right. Take the waymarked footpath to the left. Cross a field, and take the right-hand route when the path forks to come out on Barnes Road again. If this path is closed, just stay on Barnes Road. Either way, Barnes Road eventually reaches the junction with Poppy's Lane and Duck's Foot Road.

2 Take Poppy's Lane, and after a few paces look for the wooden public footpath sign to your left. The path runs along the side of a ditch, with wide, open fields on either side. Here in this immense space you can see, and be seen, for miles. Larks breed here, and you may hear their twittering song. The path bears right and you head to the outbuildings of North Farm.

3 At North Farm, walk down the lane to your right, North Green Road, a pleasantly meandering road that offers great views of the stocky tower of Pulham St Mary. Pass thatched cottages and barn conversions before taking the first turning to your left. This is Kemps Road and takes you towards Church Farm. Before you reach the farm, take the public footpath to the right, which hugs a hedge for a short distance and then marches boldly through the centre of a field. Go through a hedge and across a stile, keeping to the left-hand side of a meadow that occasionally contains over-friendly horses. At the end of the meadow you may have to don long trousers, because this is nettle country. Cross another stile, which may be difficult to locate in the nettles, and make your way along the backs of houses until you come out by the side of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, which has fine carvings on its porch.

4 Turn right, when you emerge from the church, and fork left by the village sign and the Pennoyer Centre. This turning leads you down an attractive lane with modern houses. Continue straight on past Dirty Lane, so named because the sewage works were once housed here.

5 At Semere Lane, turn right and follow this narrow lane until it meets Station Road (a different one from that in Pulham St Mary).

6 At Station Road, turn right, crossing the disused railway that gave it its name. You are now back in Pulham Market, where you will see the handsome 15th-century tower of St Mary Magdalene. Return to the car park.

In 1915 the name Pulham was known to every schoolchild interested in aircraft, because it was the home of the great airships that were used to attack German shipping in the First World War. Competing with the huge German Zeppelins that were terrorising the North Sea coast, some of the ships were over 600ft (183m) long, with gondolas slung precariously underneath them. The gondolas bristled with guns and bombs and brave crews flew these machines over the North Sea and harassed enemy U-boats. Because of their shape, they were known as Pulham Pigs. You will see one of them if you look closely at the Pulham village sign. The Pigs were stabled at a large site to the south of the village.

When the war ended, some of the airships were retained and one, the R34, completed the first ever there-and-back-again transatlantic air journey in 1919. The gigantic R33 broke away from its mooring in 1925, carrying some of its crew with it. The hapless men were carried out across the North Sea before they could complete enough emergency repairs to begin a homeward journey. Fortunately, 29 hours after the disaster, the ship limped back to Pulham, where it was safely secured and its crew were given a heroes' welcome.

However, Pulham has a far more ancient history than the Pulham Pigs. The Romans decided this fertile valley was a good place to farm and there has been almost continuous settlement here ever since. Pulham St Mary Magdalene was granted a charter to hold a weekly market in 1249 and the villagers must have been relieved to change the name to Pulham Market, to avoid confusion with nearby Pulham St Mary the Virgin. A market has not been held in the village for about 300 years, but the village still keeps its name.

The grandeur of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, with its handsome arch-braced roof, indicates that the village was wealthy in the 15th century, with plenty of benefactors who were happy to spend their money on fine buildings. In the 17th century, the rich, Puritan cloth merchant William Pennoyer bequeathed money to the village school, which continued in use until it closed in 1988. One of the classrooms was built inside the old flint Chapel of St James, which dates from 1401. The school bell was given to a descendent of Pennoyer, who passed it to Harvard University in the USA, which had also received Pennoyer funding.

What to look for

In Pulham St Mary there is a village pump, outside Pump Cottage, and The Forge was once a blacksmith's shop. The village sign depicts the airships for which it was briefly famous. Recently restored, the Pennoyer Centre dates from the 1670s; it was formerly a school built into the chapel of the Guild of St James, which was suppressed in 1547. Pulham Market has picturesque cottages that make it quintessentially English.

While you're there

Harleston, to the south east, is a good village from which to explore the lovely countryside around the River Waveney. Harleston is also famous for its rose nurseries, especially during summer, and 2 miles (3.2km) further on, the little village of Mendham is the birthplace of the painter Alfred Munnings (1878-1959). To the south is Diss with its wide mere and smattering of Victorian, Georgian and Tudor houses.

Where to eat and drink

In Pulham Market, the Falcon Inn has an outdoor seating area and serves home-cooked food. The Crown is about 400 years old and offers an imaginative choice of local and exotic dishes, along with several local and guest beers. Food and drink is available at the Pennoyer Centre's café (open 9.30am-4pm, Mon–Sat).

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