Tread in the footsteps of wealthy medieval weavers as you explore ancient sheep-rearing country.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Easy public footpaths and some paved country lanes
Landscape Woodland and agricultural land
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL40 The Broads
Start/finish TG 301260
Dog friendliness Dogs can run free
Parking On Church Plain
Public toilets In pub car park (follow signposts)
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1 From Church Plain, in the centre of Worstead, turn right into Front Street with handsome 14th-century St Mary's Church behind you. Bend to the left, then immediately right, by the house called Woodview, and continue walking out of the village. The road veers to the left, then to the right. The mixed deciduous plantation to your left is called the Worstead Belt because of its long, thin shape. Pass Worstead Hall Farm (originally 16th-century) on your right before plunging into shady woodland.
2 At the house called White Orchard, turn left. Ignore the two lanes off to the right, but follow the road round to the left when it bends sharply through woods and up a hill. At the T-junction turn left on to the unmarked lane and continue down it until you reach the sign 'Private Road'.
3 Turn right and walk along the wide track (marked as a public footpath) that leads in a straight line through a tunnel of mixed woodland. This is Carman's Lane, and it emerges on to a quiet country lane after about ½ mile (800m). Cross the lane, heading for the footpath opposite. There is a hedge right in front of you, with fields on either side, and a footpath sign that is a bit vague about where to go. However, you should keep to the left of the hedge and walk along the edge of the field until you see signs for another footpath off to your left.
4 Turn left along this path, walking until the decaying red roofs of Dairyhouse Barn come into view. Just after this, there is a T-junction of footpaths. Take the one to the right, a farm track called Green Lane, and walk along it until you reach a paved road.
5 Go left, along a lane that is bordered by tall hedgerows which are filled with nesting birds in the spring. You pass a few neat houses on your left before the lane ends in a T-junction.
6 Turn right opposite Rose Cottage and Windy Ridge on to Honing Row, and walk for a few paces until you reach Geofferey the Dyer's House on your right. This dates from the 16th century, and has unusually tall ceilings in order to accommodate the merchant's looms. The site of the old manor house lies up this lane, too.
7 Turn left opposite Geofferey's house to return to the car park and the start of the walk.
Edward III was blessed with a faithful and loyal wife, who bore him 12 children and exerted a moderating influence on his fiery Plantagent temper. Her name was Philippa of Hainault and she was the daughter of William, Count of Hainault and Zeeland. Her Flemish background made her something of an expert on the weaving trade, and it was because of Philippa that so many experienced weavers settled in Norfolk and Suffolk, and in Worstead in particular.
As far as medieval marriages went, Edward and Philippa's was made in heaven. He was not faithful and she was not beautiful, but they maintained a close attachment throughout their long liaison. Their children included the Black Prince, who died just two years before his long-lived father without ever taking the throne, and the intelligent, powerful John of Gaunt, who was easily one of the richest men in the world in his lifetime. All the King's children remained on surprisingly good terms with each other and the King himself, something largely attributed to Philippa's gentle nature.
As soon as she had settled in England, Philippa realised that it did not make economic sense for vast quantities of fine wool to be produced in East Anglia for export to Flanders, where weavers made it into cloth and sold it back to the English at inflated prices. She encouraged Flemish weavers to settle in England, so they could train Englishmen in the mysteries of cloth production. Worstead was one of several villages that profited from their expertise.
The so-called 'Worstead villages' included North Walsham, Scottow, Tunstead and Aylsham, as well as Worstead, but it was Worstead that gave its name to the light, relatively inexpensive cloth that made these places far richer than their neighbours. By the end of the 14th century it was not the weavers of Ypres and Ghent who were setting world standards in cloth excellence, but those of Norfolk and Suffolk with their worsteds. John Paston, one of the letter-writing Norfolk Paston family, wrote in 1465 that 'I would make my doublet all worsted, for worship of Norfolk.'
In 1379 the weavers' guild was so wealthy and powerful that its members pooled their resources and built the Church of St Mary, declaring that the original St Andrew's Church was neither large nor grand enough for their village. The result is one of the loveliest parish churches in the county, with a tower that is 109ft (33m) tall, and the church itself 130ft (40m) long - astonishing proportions for a village church. Weaving in Worstead continued until the late 19th century and is practised on a much smaller scale today by some locals.
The pleasant and friendly New Inn in Worstead offers real ale, occasional hog roasts and excellent burgers and chips. It is fairly large and has an endearing village atmosphere. Children are welcome, and there is some outdoor seating, which is pleasant on a warm summer day. In the winter, the pub is filled with the scent of wood fires.
Worstead House was built by James Wyatt in 1791-7 for Sir George Berney Brograve and was a grand affair with three bays and a big central bow. By the 20th century it had become a little shabby and in the 1930s it was bought by Harold Harmworth, Viscount Rothermere, the newspaper mogul. He demolished the hall, intending to rebuild it, but the war changed his plans and Worstead remains without its hall.
Nearby North Walsham (about 3 miles/4.8km to the north) was a centre for the wool trade in the 14th century, producing 'Walsham cloth' that was lighter than worsted. This allowed the villagers to build handsome St Nicholas' Church near the Market Cross. Horatio Nelson attended the Paston School here. A battle took place near by on 22 June 1381, marking a bloody end to Norfolk's part in the Peasants' Revolt.