Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Wensum Way - Dereham to Lenwade

River Wensum near Bylaugh

A 13 mile walk through the Norfolk countryside following the Wensum Way

Opened in 2012, the Wensum Way was the connecting link between the Nar Valley Way and The Marriott's Way to enable a Cross Norfolk Trail from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth. The name of the trail is taken from the River Wensum which it follows from Swanton Morley through to Lenwade. This is a picturesque ramble through the Norfolk countryside.

The Wensum Way Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
East DerehamView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
LenwadeView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
13 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy
Terrain
Footpaths and country lanes
Obstacles
The meadows below Swanton Morley can be wet and marshy

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
X1 - First Group X1 service Great Yarmouth to Peterborough linking Acle Norwich, Dereham, Kings Lynn
Timetable
Konnectbus - Bus Service
Service Number
8 - Konnectbus service connecting Norwich and Dereham
Timetable
Norfolk Green - Bus Service
Service Number
X29 - Norfolk Green X29 service between Fakenham and Norwich
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2013-09-15
Walk Time
11:00 to 16:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Overcast with some brighter intervals

Walk Notes

Something happened on the way to the walk...

Dereham, the start of this walk, is easily reached with both Konnect Bus and First Bus offering regular services from Norwich. On this particular occasion we also needed a connection into Norwich from Cromer. Organising any walk always involves contingency planning for bus services either being late or not turning up. It is not always the bus companies fault with excessive traffic, mechanical faults or other things out of their control that affect the normal running of any service. On this particular occasion the bus showed up promptly on time, the early Sanders X44 service from Sheringham to Norwich and used by workers and students alike. We had boarded, payed our fares and were ascending the stairs to the upper deck when a violent shudder knocked me off balance and sent my hands clinging to the hand rail to prevent myself from falling back down. The immediate thought of the cause was the driver's fault. He didn't appear to be particularly friendly and so first impressions determined that he had somehow dropped the clutch or something similar. But then this idea was dispersed when a girl sitting upstairs started yelling that the bus had been hit. She led the way to the back of the bus and sure enough, a white van was embedded into the back of the bus.

At this point it seemed wise to get off the bus although the rest of the passengers and the driver seemed pretty ambivalent to such an action. At the rear of the bus the full extent of the accident revealed itself. A long black skid mark along the road led up to the van. The bus's engine compartment had been pushed into the bus although the engine was still soundly running. The vans bonnet had crumpled. Luckily, the van driver appeared to be physically ok as he was standing by the roadside and making a call on his mobile phone. It was obvious that fluids were leaking underneath the accident area. At this point the bus driver joined us. He lit up a cigarette and mumbled something in broken English. The fact that his English was not totally comprehensible prompted the assumption that he was probably one of the many eastern European immigrants that had flooded this part of the country. We asked him if he had called the emergency services. No. He had called the depot. We emphasized that at least the police should be called. He told us the depot would deal with it. He stood idly surveying the situation. He puffed away on his cigarette. Fluids were still leaking, dribbling down into the gutter, probably inflammable fluids. We questioned his action of smoking a cigarette in such a situation. He grunted. We advised him to at least turn the engine off. He grunted. Then he turned and idly wandered back to kill the engine. He returned. He continued to smoke. It is quite alarming that as a foreign worker he did not have a clue about basic safety and certainly knew nothing about British safety standards and was complacent about the welfare of both his passengers and the van driver. This does not fill one with confidence as a fare paying passenger. The girl even stated that it had scared her and would consider driving into Norwich in future.

The cause of the accident was unknown but one could not help but wonder that this driver was on his phone whilst driving. Without even the suggestion of this assumption he was denying that he was on his phone and that he had been blinded by the sun and had not seen the large bright yellow, double decked, tri axle stationary bus. It is true that in the autumn, as it was, the sun rises directly over the coast road at this point which certainly presented a hazard. One could attest this from the previous day when the Mundesley bus had to break hard to stop as the driver had not seen us waiting because of the blinding sun. I would be wrong to judge at this point.

After half an hour a replacement bus arrived. The police had not turned up. We was assured the depot was dealing with it. The bus driver was still smoking when we departed the scene nearly an hour late. A missed connection in Norwich and late to start the walk. Unfortunately we never found an outcome to this accident.

The Wensum Way

The Wensum Way is the missing link to the Cross Norfolk Trail linking Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth. Starting with the Nar Valley Way, the Wensum Way now links to the Marriott's Way and by way of the Norwich Riverside Path and the Wherryman's Way the trail is complete. The Wensum Way was opened to the public in 2013 and uses a mixture of public footpaths, old permissive paths and country lanes. It is not currently marked on OS maps so it is worth taking a copy of the route from the Norfolk Trails website. The trail also has a link from East Dereham up to Gressingham where the Nar Valley Way meets the Wensum Way. It then heads to Swanton Morley from where it follows the River Wensum through to the Marriott's Way at Lenwade.

The 12 miles distance makes it an easy day walk with some great views along the Wensum valley. At Swanton Morley the impressive All Saints Church stands above the valley, dominating the skyline from its commanding position. Further along the humble church of St Mary at Bylaugh sits across the river with its distinctive Norman round tower and at Elsing is the 14th century St Mary's church. The final section of the walk takes one through the Sparham Pools nature reserve, former gravel works which have been flooded to provide a rich habitat of both flora and wildlife.

On this occasion the Mermaid at Elsing made a convenient lunchtime refreshment stop. Given the right timing one could also visit Darbys at Swanton morley although on this occasion it was too early. The end is at Lenwade where the X29 Norfolk Green bus service connects back to Norwich. For the dedicated walker, you can always walk the Marriott's Way into the city but this is another 10+ miles.

Sparham Pools nature reserve
Sparham Pools nature reserve

Directions

The Wensum Way is well marked out by the distinctive waymarkers throughout the trail. Unfortunately it is not depicted on current OS maps. Although the footpaths are clearly marked the permissive path between Swanton Morley and Elsing is not referenced.

From Dereham town cntre head northwards out of town along Quebec Road. Beyond the housing and at the point where the road bends and junctions with another on the left, take the track directly ahead through the woodland and then onto open farmland. Continue along this until it meets a crossing footpath where a Wensum Way waymarker points both straight ahead and to the right. The way ahead goes to Gressingham where it meets with the Nar Valley Way, so take the right and keep to this path, crossing over three roads and the railway until it ends at a road junction. Carry on along the road straight ahead, past Hoe Hall and then take the lane on the left. Follow this around until it passes a wood on the right. At the far end of the wood there is a track marked as Green Lane on the OS map. Take this and keep to the track. It changes into Harkers Lane after crossing a road which leads down into Swanton Morley. Turn left on the road through the village and head north to the church where a footpath leads down to the meadows.

At this point the path, although waymarked, is a little ambiguous. It is not depicted on the OS map and the waymarker just points across the field. So, take a diagonal route over to the right hand hedgerow of the meadow. Keep to the hedgerow until there is another waymarker. This leads across the field, across the farm track to Castle Farm, and then down the far boundary, through a farm gate and down to the river. Keep to the river through to Penny Spot Beck, a water course that leads away from the river and is marked by a metal bench. The path leads away from the river and follows the beck down to the road. Turn left along the road and where it sharply bends to the left go straight ahead on the track. At the end of this track turn left on the road into Elsing, heading down to the church and the Mermaid pub.

Departing the pub, head up the road on the left. Continue on this road, past the crossroads until there is a footpath on the right through the woods. At the road, turn left and follow the road onto the next piece of woodland on the right where a waymarker points The Wensum Way down a track. Keep to the track until a footpath departs on the left. This crosses a road and leads past two ponds and out onto a road, Turn left and follow the road into Lyng. Turn right onto the main road and keep to this over the river and up to a footpath on the right. This leads through the Sparham Pools nature reserve. Keep to the footpath throughout this section. It eventually exits by the side of Walsis farm, then cuts across a grassed area and down a track to the main road. A bus stop to Norwich is located on the far sie of the road. The Marriott's Way can be found by walking through Lenwade, across the river bridge and then turn left where there is access to the old railway track that the Marriott's Way runs along.

Swanton Morley church overlooking the Wensum valley
Swanton Morley church overlooking the Wensum valley

Pubs

Mermaid Inn, Elsing View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Church Street, Elsing
Website

This 16th century free house offers ales from Woodfordes, Adnams and Wolf breweries with additional regular guest ales. Food includes authentic indian and thai curries. Walkers and dogs are welcome. There are beer gardens foir the summer and roaring log fires for the winter. A cosy and friending village local.

Review

A friendly hostelry and a very welcome pint of beer. Although only September they nonetheless had a roaring open fire on the go

Castle Farm, the location of Morley Castle
Castle Farm, the location of Morley Castle

Features

Folklore of All Saints Church, Swanton MorleyView in OS Map | View in Google Map

There is a mention of a church at Swanton Morley in the Domesday Book of 1086. Presumably this was at the present site, on the top of a hill at the north end of the village and overlooking the meadows of the River Wensum. It is thought the present church dates from 1379 when sir William de Morley bequeathed the finance for the churches construction. IT is a splendid site that domineers the landscape being a huge church for such a small village.

One interesting tale about the church is described by in an article by Samuel Pyeatt Menefee entitled 'Circling as an Entrance to the Otherworld' in which he quotes

At Swanton Morley, in Norfolk... he who ran round the church as midnight struck and then whistled through the keyhole would see the Devil.

The reference for this is quoted as being 'Collected by L.V. Grinsell from C.H. Lewton-Braine, 1950. Notes of L.V. Grinsell.'

Some interesting research has been undertaken by the Swanton Morley church website to establish that the C.H. Lewton-Braine was probably a local resident Charles Henry Lewton-Braine who was born on 28 December 1890. Confirmation of the folklore was found in another resident, namely Ted Peachment, who states that as a boy, he would run round the church several times and then look into the grille which lights the old crypt in order to see the devil, although there is no statement of whether he actually succeeded.

This ritual of moving around a sacred object or idol is commonly known as circumambulation and features in many legends throughout East Anglia and the rest of the country. A memorable instance of this is the Druids Stone in Bungay churchyard which has a similar legend which states if you run around it 12 times anticlockwise at midnight you will summon up the devil who will ask you your business. I remember relating the legend to my brother, and as a dare, being the kind of person he is, he carried out this very deed. I cant remember if it was quite midnight, but I can report that in this instance no devil appeared to which he seemed somewhat disappointed.

This instance is probably where such legends originate, purely childhood dares.

References

Swanton Morley Ghost StoryView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Although not strictly on the Wensum Way, it is worth noting a ghost story concerning the old RAF Swanton Morley airfield which is situated to the north of the village. The story is recorded by Martin Caidin, a pilot who has documented ghostly aerial phenomenon in his book Ghosts of the Air. The airfield dates from WWII when it was used by Bomber Command who had their headquarters at the nearby Bylaugh Hall which can be seen on the top of the hill above Bylaugh church. The airfield finally closed in 1995 when it was taken over as an Army Barracks.

The tale is from the summer of 1981 and concerns the father of one the stationed airmen, Bill Greaves, who was visiting his son. On the day in question, Bill was taking a walk with his dog around the perimeter of the airfield. His attention was caught by the dogs barking and whining and he turned to see what was upsetting his companion. The cause of the dogs agitation was an airman dressed in overcoat and military head-ware who was frantically running down the runway, his boots clearly crunching across the gravel. Bill turns to see where this figure could be heading to and to his surprise witnesses a crashed aircraft, its tail clearly visible within the flames and smoke billowing out of the wreckage. The curious thing was that there was no sound apart from the airmans boots on the gravel. Bill starts to run in the same direction as the airman and it is then that the scene fades into invisibility. The crash, the fire, the smoke and the airman disappear into thin air. Then the realization comes that there is no gravel as the runway surface was made up of solid tarmac.

This is a curious tale and there are discrepancies. The most obvious conflict with reality is that Swanton Morley was a grassed airfield and therefore there was no solid runway, whether tarmac or gravel. There is a perimeter track with 31 loop hardstandings so maybe we could speculate that the ghostly airman was running along the perimeter track rather than the runway and this misplacement is just a product of the retelling of the story. The book does suggest that the perimeter road was where Bill Greaves was walking and this would support such a speculation.

One would expect such a ghostly vision to be accompanied by a tragic historic event but there is little in the way of evidence of any major air accidents at this airfield. One accident reference is from December 31 1943 when a plane named Jungle Princess, a Ford B-24H-1-FO Liberator, crash-landed at Swanton Morley after returning from a mission to St. Jean D’Angely, France but all crew members escaped unharmed after the plane came to a standstill in front of a house. Another incident featured a Mosquito which was written off after crash landing in 1943 with the crew slightly injured.

A tragic crash did occur in 1944 in the nearby village of North Elmham when Flight Lieutenants John Paterson and John Mellar lost control of their Mosquito aircraft which nose dived into a piece of land just off Back Lane. The aircraft had a failed port engine and had already attempted one landing at Swanton Morley and was about to circle around for a second attempt when it lost power and crashed. This location is some way off of the airfield and it certainly couldn't be judged to have been part of the airfield from walking around the perimeter road.

However, there is a report from Tim Inder who maintains that there is an area on the north side of the airfield where the grass doesn't grow properly and he was told that it was contaminated ground from a Mosquito crash although he doesn't elaborate on where he obtained this information. There is one record of a Mosquito crashing after take-off. This was on 2nd January 1945 when the an engine failure caused the aircraft to belly land near Swanton Morley although a specific location is not given. The two Flight Lieutenants, Harold White and Michael Allen were pulled to safety from the burning wreckage by a farmer and his labourers. Maybe this was the source of the ghostly vision.

References

Morley CastleView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The path from Swanton Morley church leads down to the marshland and onto Catle Farm. It is here that Morley Castle was located, behind the present farm buidlings and next to a curve in the river. Very little is left of the structure apart from a few foundations and these cannot be directly viewed without entering the farm.

The river formed the north and west sides of the castle moat with the south and east sides being man made. The south eastern side is now part of the farm track and little else can be seen, the area being landscaped over the years.

The farm dates from the 18th or 19th century and the castle is thought to have been built in the medieval period although there is no clear indication as to exactly when

References

Lyng Balor's PitView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A ghostly coach pulled by four horses are said to haunt a location known as Balors Pit just outside the village of Lyng. Local folklore states that the coach was going down the old road when the horses took fright and went into the pit, drowning all inside.

Water filled pits seem to harbour old folk tales throughout East Anglia. There are similar stories from other pits and watercourses in the region such at the Reckford Bridge in Middleton, Suffolk and the numerous shrieking pits around North Norfolk. In most cases it is difficult to believe that such small pits are deep enough to submerge a horse let alone a whole team and its carriage. It may be postulated that such stories of ghostly entities were created by parents who didnt want their children playing near such ponds in case they fell in and drowned.

This particular story comes from the Lantern journal, a magazine from the 1970/80s dedicated to the mysteries and curiosities of East Anglia. There is a brief mention of the tale on page 9 of the No. 35 Edition of the journal in an article written by a John Copsey of East Dereham. One assumes this is taken from his own local knowledge as there appears to be no additional online reference to this story other than replication from this original article. There is also no reference to the time period this was supposed to have happened or any specific details of the haunting or those who have witnessed it.

The specific location of Balors Pit is also not totally certain. It is confusing that the original article states the location as 'at the top of the Cadders Hill' yet then goes on to say the coach was going down the hill which, if this was the case, would be going away from the pit. It seems logical that a water filled pit would be located at the bottom of a hill rather than on top so this may be purely a typing error or oversight. Cadders Hill, on modern maps, is the road that leads south out of the village of Lyng, at the bottom of which there is a pit known as Collen's pit. On older maps, even those from as recent as the 1950's Cadders Hill is depicted not as the road name but as the land west of the road and closer to the present day footpath to Elsing which in days gone by could have been classified as the old road. At the bottom of the hill where the footpath turns west there are two ponds and the footpath, which the Wensum Way uses, passes between these. Older maps do not have either of these ponds depicted apart from the 1881 OS map which clearly shows a single pond. Therefore we may well conclude that one of the ponds at the foot of the hill may be the likely location of Balors Pit.

As is the case for a lot of pit ponds, these are probably old marl pits, marl being the london clay that was dug up to fertilize the land. The surrounding area is littered with old marl pits, therefore it would seem highly probably that this is the case. In this particular instance a stream feeds into the ponds, yet there is no apparent outlet.

References
Balor's Pit
Balor's Pit

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2017-02-05

  3 comments:

  1. Hello,

    Such a lovely and detailed post about your walk on the Wensum Way. Would you mind if we shared your experience on our blog, particularly the 3 paragraphs of general Wensum Way text and photos? Of course we would include a link back to this full post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your appreciation. Please feel free to use both the text and the photos, it will be an honour to be included on your blog.

      Delete
  2. Thank you, keep an eye out for it in the next week or so.

    ReplyDelete

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