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Wymondham Figure of Eight

Break your exploration of nature in a lovely market town.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Town pavements, meadows, steps and 1 stile

Landscape Water-meadows, lovely old town and disused railway

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 237 Norwich

Start/finish TG 109014

Dog friendliness Dogs must be kept on leads in reserves

Parking Free car park off Market Street in Wymondham

Public toilets At car park

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1 Come out of the car park on Market Street and turn left. To your right is the Market Cross (built in 1616) and now a tourist information office. At the bottom of the road is Church Street, leading past the chapel of Thomas Becket, founded in 1174. It is now a public library. Go past the Green Dragon pub and the Abbey Hotel until you reach the abbey churchyard.

2 Exit the abbey churchyard through the gate by the north porch and turn right on to Becketwell Road, which becomes Vicar Street. Pass the Feathers Inn and walk along Cock Street, then straight across the roundabout and up Chapel Lane. A few paces will bring you to a track on the left called Frogshall Lane, although it may not be marked. This gravel track leads past the backs of gardens, then narrows to a path, eventually reaching a stile.

3 Cross the stile. This is part of the Tiffey Valley Project, grazing pastures restored and managed using traditional methods. Its 91 acres (37ha) are managed by Norfolk County Council. Walk across the meadow to a kissing gate and a wooden footbridge across the river, then turn left and walk along the stream bank. Eventually, you reach the area known as Kett's Country, then Becketwell nature reserve, and on to White Horse Street and Damgate.

4 Turn right at Damgate, past 19th-century cottages, then cross the B1172 and head for Cemetery Lane, and prize-winning Wymondham Abbey railway station. The peaceful lane ends at an industrial estate.

5 Cross the main road and head left of the Railway pub. After passing under a railway bridge, you will see cars on the left-hand side of the road.

6 Take the path to the left leading to the Lizard, a conservation area that derives its name from an old English word for open fields. A boardwalk takes you across the meadow to where steps lead up to a disused railway embankment. Turn right, descend more steps, and walk towards a gate.

7 Go through the gate and cross a meadow, turning right again when you pass a second gate. The path leads along the hedge, then crosses the meadow and leads back past the Lizard entrance. Retrace your steps under the railway bridge until you reach the main road. Turn right up Station Road to the traffic lights, then aim for Fairland Street, which will lead back to Market Street and the car park.

It is difficult to believe that peaceful Wymondham was once the site of a bitter dispute between its parishioners and the Benedictine monks who lived in the abbey. These two parties could not agree on anything. They did not like the times when each other rang their bells and they did not like sharing the church. Matters came to a head in the 14th century, when the monks began to build a church tower, making it clear that this was going to be for their use only. In retaliation, in 1447, the townsfolk began to build their own tower - and then installed a peel of 10 noisy bells. The result is a church with a tower at each end.

The dispute dragged on for many years and was only laid to rest during the Dissolution, when the abbey buildings were destroyed and the monks expelled by Henry VIII. The people of Wymondham were allowed to keep the nave of the church, although they had to pay handsomely for it. The chancel, where the monks prayed, was demolished.

Today, the abbey church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury is well worth a visit. The first thing you notice is that the grand central tower is nothing more than a shell, with the great arch that once led to the abbey buildings open to the elements. This was the monks' tower, completed in 1409. It effectively divided the church in half, and left the parishioners staring at a blank wall, while the monks enjoyed the chancel. The east wall remained blank until the screen was erected in the early 20th century.

Inside, the church is a delight. There are Norman arches in the nave and an angel roof, all drawing the eye forward to the gold extravaganza of the altar screen on the east wall. This was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and was begun in 1919. Plans had been mooted as early as 1911, but fund-raising was suspended because of the First World War.

The monastery was originally founded in 1107 by William d'Albini, who also built the castle at New Buckenham and was Henry I's chief butler. The monastery was put under the stewardship of the great Benedictine abbey at St Alban's. However, when the charters were drawn up, there was a certain amount of ambiguity about who had various rights, which eventually led to the disputes of the 14th century. It became an abbey in its own right in 1448, the year after the parishioners started building their west tower.

While you're there

Six miles (9.7km) west is the attractive Georgian village of Hingham, known for its connections with the USA. A rebellious rector called Robert Peck left the village in the early 17th century and founded the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. One of Abraham Lincoln's ancestors was also a Hingham man. To the east is Gowthorpe Manor, a charming late 15th-century house owned by Anne Boleyn's grandfather.

What to look for

Look for water mint, butterbur, wild angelica and rushes and sedges in the pastures of Tiffey Valley Project. The Green Dragon is the oldest inn in town (15th century). Train buffs may like to take a ride on the volunteer-run Mid-Norfolk Railway, opened in 1999 and linking Wymondham with Dereham.

Where to eat and drink

You are not short of places to eat and drink in Wymondham, which has several pubs and a number of cafés. Try the Cross Keys, the Heart or the King's Head, all of which offer bar meals. The Wymondham Consort Hotel has a restaurant. The Lemon Tree Café is in the old fire station, which operated from 1882 to 1967. The Giovanni Café has a pleasant garden.

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