A long and straight trail across lanes and tracks to Castle Acre. Once at Little Cressingham the Peddars Way draws a long straight line through across the landscape. Gentle undulations provide little in the way of changing scenery and The Blue Lion at North Pickenham provides a very welcome half way point to rejuvenate ones energies and rest ones weary legs and feet from the hard tracks and metalled lanes. Castle Acre is a novel little village with its castle and priory ruins, both of which are well worth exploring.
Date of Walk: 2008-06-01
Start point: Watton 52.571199 0.812017
End Point: Castle Acre 52.702963 0.689164
Start Time: 09:00
End time: 16:00
Distance: 15 miles
Walkers: Griffmonster, Steve M, Martin M, Steve W
Weather conditions: Clear blue summer skies, warm
Path taken: Take the B1108 out of Watton towards Little Cressingham - there is a pathway along the field edges for most of the distance. It is worth taking a little time to carry straight ahead into the Little Cressingham to explore the church before returning to take the road named 'Pilgrims Way' northwards. This is a metalled lane that leads all the way to Houghton on the Hill where is a footpath through the fields and across the River Wissey and back up into the village of North Pickering. Some of this path was a little boggy but the fields are open and it is easy to navigate around the area. At North Pickering the Peddars Way turns left at the T-junction but it is worth while turning right and walking into the village for refreshments at the Blue Lion and a look around the church. Out of North Pickering the trail uses a farm track until it crosses the A47 and turns back into a metalled lane then back onto a farm track into Great Palgrave. From here it is all road through to Castle Acre.
Walk difficulty: Tough on the feet with a lot of road walking
- The Blue Lion, North Pickenham: 52.627792 0.753647 A most excellent pub. We passed the landlord walking his dog and in the fields and he directed us to his establishment. Guest ales, including Humpty Dumpty. Friendly atmosphere and he allows rough camping in the garden. Well recommended.
- The Ostrich, Castle Acre: 52.703443 0.687190 http://www.ostrichcastleacre.com 16th century coaching inn with interesting features. According to their website it is slightly haunted - not quite certain how somewhere can be slightly haunted. Greene King ales and good food.
- The Albert Victor, Castle Acre: 52.703693 0.687842 Intimate little pub. Greene King ales.
- Little Cressingham church: 52.565966 0.760471 It is worth taking a look at St Andrews church at Little Cressingham. Its prominent feature is the church tower which has completely collapsed on its south side. This event occured at the end of the 18th century together with the western half of the nave. Repairs took place in the 1780s with a new west wall built across the nave.
- RAF North Pickenham: 52.62658 0.73338 The former Royal Air Force base, RAF North Pickenham, hosted American B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II. In the late 1950s and early 1960s three PGM-17 Thor nuclear missiles were based here which resulted in CND acts of civil disobedience. The airbase is now the site of a turkey farm owned by Bernard Matthews, a karting circuit and an eight-turbine wind farm run by North Pickenham Wind Farm LLP. The sound of old aircraft engines warming up has been reported coming from a hanger on this site, even though the building in question is empty.
- St Marys Church, Houghton on the Hill: 52.613954 0.759484 St Marys Church at Houghton on the Hill has stood for at least 1000 years, and was built over the remains of a Roman building. The use of Roman bricks in its structure, together with the remains of a villas close by suggest that this was once a roman settlement. The church was rarely used after the 1930's with the last service being held in 1944. On the walls of the nave are many ancient paintings with an image of the Holy Trinity on the east gable. More recently the font was discovered in a rectory garden being use as a plant pot, whilst the holy water stoup from the nave was being used as a bird bath in another local garden.
- Castle acre Priory 52.700506 0.683609 William de Warenne the son the 1st Earl of Surrey founded Castle acre Priory in 1089. Originally the priory was sited within the walls of Castle Acre Castle, but this proved too small and inconvenient for the monks and the priory was relocated to the present site about one year later. The priory was dissolved in 1537 under Henry VIII, and when the King gave the dissolved priory to the Duke of Norfolk complete with its estates and the remaining monks were turned out. The estates eventually passed to Sir Edward Coke, whose descendant, the Earl of Leicester now owns the ruins and Castle Acre Castle. The present day ruins are impressive with the great west front of the building almost complete, and the prior's lodging in a similar condition. The priory is now in the care of English Heritage.
- Castle Acre Castle: 52.703526 0.690712 Castle Acre Castle was founded soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066 by William de Warenne, the first Earl of Surrey, as his most important estate in Norfolk and is strategically placed at the point where the Peddars Way crosses the River Nar. The castle was of motte-and-bailey construction; on the summit of the motte was the residence of the owner, and the last refuge in the event of an attack. The baily below contained living quarters, stores and workshops. A strong curtain wall with wall walks surrounds the motte summit, and a lesser wall tops the bailey banks. It is local legend that Cromwell is said to have stood his guns on nearby Winchester Hill, to the east of the castle, in order to demolish the structure. An old rhyme says "Had it not been for Winchester Hill, Castleacre Castle would ha' stood still". The Castle is now in the care of English Heritage.
Notes: The start of the day was a relaxing look around the church at Little Cressingham. From then on it was a long straight lane with little of interest untill the modern wind turbines on the horizon marked the airfield at North Pickenham. As we walked across the fields to cross the River Wissey, which was more of a stream than a river, we met the landlord of the local pub, The Blue Lion. He introduced himself and advertised his hostelry which we had planned to visit anyway. The visit was well worthwhile as the ale was excellent and we were tempted into a second pint! On leaving, we found the village church just behind the pub and sat there to eat lunch - pasties of course! The rest of the journey was more straight lanes and hardened farm tracks which was taking its toll on our feet. On the approach to Castle Acre, the River Nar is forded with a little footbridge by the side. We stood there for several minutes to watch a couple of blokes suspiciously look at taking their LandRover through the ford which looked pretty impassable due to the large boulder placed in the middle of the road leading into it. Eventually they decided against the task and reversed back up the road. Both Castle Acre Castle and the priory were well worth the visit. The grounds of the priory had closed by the time we got there so we sneaked along the perimeter and hopped over a fence to take a closer look!
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Equipment: 65l rucksack with full camping gear.
- OS Explorer Map Sheet 229 Thetford Forest in The Brecks
- OS Explorer Map Sheet 236 King’s Lynn, Downham Market & Swaffham
Accommodation: The Old Red lion, Castle Acre former pub now a hostel. Basic dormitory accommodation but totally sufficient for walkers ( 52.702963 0.689164 )
View Peddars Way - Watton to Castle Acre in a larger map
Last Updated: 2014-01-02Z