A 17 mile walk along Norfolk's Weavers Way from Cromer to Aylsham
Historic halls, stately homes and ancient commons and villages are what typifies this northern section of the Weavers Way. This really is a typical old English scene throughout making a most pleasurable all day walk. There are numerous pubs along the route which serve both ale and food.
Weavers Way Cromer to Aylsham - Essential Information
Sanders Coaches - bus Service
- Service Number
- 44 - Linking Sheringham, Cromer, Aylsham and Norwich
- Sanders Coaches Website
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 08:30 to 16:00
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- Overcast with some sunny intervals
When the wind blows off of the North Sea along the Norfolk coast then even on a would be sultry day it can bring a definite chill to the air that can niggle the bones. This particular walk was undertaken in early springtime and despite a previous day of blue skies and sunshine, this day started overcast with that chill breeze blowing in from the sea. Therefore the plan to follow the Weavers Way inland was a good choice as once away from the immediate coastal area then the breezes abate and the weather becomes more amenable.
This section of the Weavers Way is typical England in all its Englishness, in such abundance that if one could bottle it and sell it to tourists, then a fortune could surely be made. Ancient English Commons. Stately English Halls. Villages that typify everything that is English with old houses, village greens and laid back hostelries. It is, and I unashamedly quote from the words of Sir Henry himself,
as English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere. And Sir Henry is a worthy choice to quote considering the tales that emerged from 19th century Felbrigg Hall that is soon encountered along the trail. For during the latter 1800's, the house of Windham, was inherited by William 'Mad' Windham whose antics would easily befit Vivian Stanshell's fictional creation of Sir Henry of Rawlinson End.
Now read on, dot dot dot
Towered and turreted, feudal and reactionary, the great house of Windham endured for for many centuries... that is until Mad Windham inherited the estate. The full story of Mad Windham can be found in the features to this walk. Unlike Sir Henry, who would out-rightly state
frankly, once I've eaten a thing, I don't expect to see it again, old Mad Windham had a habit of showing off his last meal to distinguished ladies by depositing the regurgitated contents in their lap. As well as impersonating railway guards and policeman he also had a habit of presenting himself naked, screeching like a demented imp and telling blatant untruths. Suffice to say he was described by many as being either mad, a loony, a buffoon, an imbecile or all of these at once with a few additional adjectives to emphasize the fact. Naturally his family thought it best that he did not inherit the hallowed halls of Windham and attempted to convince a court of his madness and dissolve his right of inheritance. They failed. The court found him of sound mind and he inherited the hall, the estate and the fortunes of Windham. It was not long before he had lost the lot.
It is said that his ghost still rampages across the grounds of Felbrigg with his random howling and shouting in abusive and profane tongue. Maybe one can catch a hint of this character as the trail leads down and around Felbrigg lakes. An adaptation from the halls of Rawlinson comes to mind here:
Do not venture into the lake my son
Great pike will have your alls
And I need potent sons of Windham
To throng our Felbrigg Hall
Alas, Mad Windham lost the lot without needing a pike to have his alls.
So we leave those lands of Windham and head across the fields, to the round towered church of Sustead that is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul with its flint lined walls intermixed with a variety of red brick from various ages. The Sustead village sign is located on a small triangle of grass at the first road junction beyond the church. This humble sign consists of a square wooden shaft with seating around its base and topped with what appears to be three fish standing upright on their tails and leaning their heads together. They are not fish. They are dolphins. They represent the coat of arms of the Damme family who were lords of the manor in the 15th century. Two brass plaques are fixed to the square post of the sign, one to decree that it was unveiled by Steve Howman on 1st May 2000 and the second to record the details of the designer, the carver and the many others who were involved in creating this work of art, including the three men who dug the hole to root the sign shaft in, Jim Spurling, Colin Going and Tony Hyde, those true masters of traditional Norfolk hole construction. However there is no mention about the fish. There is a brief mention of the wood for the dolphins which was provided by the village Hall. Wood for dolphins? I thought they ate fish. They are not fish. They are dolphins.
From Sustead the paths take us to Hanworth Common. This is a village that time has seemingly forgot, or maybe misplaced as times memory is not very good these days. The common covers 35 acres and is protected by cattle grids and gates and the villagers still have a right to graze their cattle within its confines. At one of the gates leading away from the green is a notice that clearly states in bold capital letter, 'Cattle Grazing at owners risk'. You don't often see signs like that. Beyond the gate and across a stream known as Scarrow Beck, is a landscaped garden on the right which includes several cut down tree trunks topped with pebbles and skulls. Are they a warning? Are they a sign? Are they purely a work of art? There is nothing to decree their purpose other than to be a curiosity to passers by.
The next village is Aldborough which is made up of a triangular green surrounded by houses and pubs. You cant get more English than this. One can imagine laid back summer afternoons with the sun beating down in a blue sky and light breezes caressing the willows and the sound of bats whacking leather whilst the mind is slowly comatosed under the heavy weight of a lashing of scrumpy from the hostelry facing the green. This wasn't the case on this occasion. The sun mostly hid, occasionally peeking out when it thought we were not looking. There were no wickets on the green, just a football goal post looking lost as if its pals had got the hump and gone home with the ball, and had taken with them the players,... and the crowd,... and the other goalpost. In this vacant landscape one could easily think that the local mole was taking every opportunity to peek out in defiance and blight the green with strategic molehills much to the frustration of the absent cricketers of Aldborough.
The village sign is a depiction of the villages Midsummer’s Day fair, an annual event since the days of King John. In modern times this has now turned into a travelling fair but an ancient bylaw still stands, stating that if they fail to arrive by midsummer's day then they can never come again.
The route continues across the Norfolk countryside until it meets a church which stands without any community surrounding it. This is All Saints church of Thwaite, a parish in the hundred of South Erpingham. This round towered church dating from the 12th century sits alongside a country lane but it is noticeable that the main entrance is on the far side, away from the road and facing a footpath that leads across the fields and down to Thwaite Common. One can only assume this must be an ancient track that parishioners used to get to the church. These days it is no more than a grassed edge to the field boundary, and the route of The Weavers Way.
The trail now leads across Thwaite common and through Erpingham where the Erpingham Arms is a worthy place to stop off for a pint of ale. It then crosses the River Bure, which is no more than a stream here, and enters the grounds to Blickling Hall. This official path skirts around the top end of the lake and then joins the main track down to the entrance. However it is worth walking around the lakeside itself where there are some good views of the hall to be had. This area can become very busy during holiday periods with many visitors, as can the Buckingham Arms pub opposite the hall. Grockles is the term that is used to describe such hoards around these parts. There is much history and a few ghost stories to the hall with arguably the most told being that of Anne Boleyn who was said to have been born here and who is said to arrive up the drive in a ghostly coach drawn by headless horses, each year on the anniversary of her beheading. It clearly does not put off the grockles.
There is one last treat before we end the walk at Aylsham. Along the country lane, at the small hamlet of Silvergate, one encounters a waymarker for a footpath across the fields. Do not follow this. Ignore the waymarker for all but its art. Peruse and inspect it and one will discover a crocodile crawling up its upright and on its finger a bird taunting the crocodile. Quite why this has been adorned in such a fashion is a mystery but it is well worth appreciating and certainly a photographic opportunity. Only the English could come up with such decoration. But then this part of the Weavers Way is Englishness in its full glory.
The Weavers Way is a well marked long distance trail. The distinctive way markers are provide guides throughout, although an OS map is worth taking for clarity.
The trail starts at Cromer pier. Cut through Garden Street and Chapel Street, then across the car park and golf course to Hall Road. Continue up Hall road, past Cromer Hall, there is a gate just beyond the entrance to Hall Farm on the right. A path leads across the field and up to a bridge across the railway. Keep to the path through to the road where a track continues on the opposite side. The track emerges onto the Felbrigg road. Turn right and follow the road until it turns to th eright where there is a little green with a village sign. Take the path down the side of this and keep in a straight line across the field towards Felbrigg Hall. Follow the track around the front of the hall before navigating down to Felbrigg Lake. The footpath heads to the woods on the Hall side of the lake. Follow the path through the woods and up to a road. Take the track on the opposite side until it meets a road. Turn left and follow the road around the bend. At the point where a road junctions from the right, there is a footpath across the fields on the left. The waymarker was missing here but the apth is clearly defined and emerges at Sustead church.
Exit the church onto the road and turn left. Follow the road, past the junction on the left with the village sign, then past a junction on the right. Beyond this there is a track on the right. Follow this through to the end after which there is a footpath through to a road. Turn right and follow the road through to Hanworth Common. There is a gate across the road and a cattle grid to get onto the common. Follow the road past these and bear left, then right past the lakes at the bottom. Continue on the road out of Hanworth. Beyond the wooded area, there is a track on the left, take this through to the next road. Turn right and follow the road aroudn until there is a footpath on the left which leads through to Aldborough. The Black Boys pub is on the west side of the green.
Leave Aldborough on the road southwards until there is a track on the left. Take this which leads onto a footpath and out onto a road. Turn left and follow the road down to a junction. Almost turn back on oneself here to follow a footpath across the footpath that emerges opposite Thwaite church. Cross the road and walk through the church yard to the far side where a footpath follows the field boundary. Where it emerges onto a road, turn right and then look for the footpath on the left across Thwaite common which leads out onto the road into Erpingham. Turnright and follow the road until it meets a junction with the Erpingham Arms pub on the left. Take the road on the far side of the road and keep to this until it junctions with another road. Continue straight ahead onto a footpath which leads onto a track. /turnright along the track throguh to a road. Turn left and follow the road until it turns sharp left where another track leads off to the right. Take this then follow the paths across the meadows to a bridge across the River Bure and up to the road. Turn right then follow the track into the car park. A path leads from the far end of the car park throguh the woods and out into the gorunds of Blickling Hall. Follow the lake around towards the hall. At the far end of the lake follow the paths out to the main entrance to the hall. The Buckingham Arms is on the right just before the main entrance.
Continue along the road from the entrance to Blickling Hall and take the road opposite the church. Just beyond the next junction, on the left is a path across the fields. This makes a slow curve to the left and at this point there is a path out onto the road with a Weavers Way marker pointing to Aylsham. Take this and follow the road into town. At the road junction turn right and this will lead into the town centre and the market square. The Black Boys pub is on the left and the bus stop to cromer is in front of the market place
Black Boys, Aldborough View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- The Green, Aldborough
Overlooking Aldborough Green, this pub dates from the early to mid 1800's. Local feel offering food and ales including Adnams and Woodfordes
Very quiet at the time we visited on a Saturday lunchtime. Adnams and Woodfordes on offer and we went for the Adnams Southwold Bitter, a refreshing pint for a walk, accompanied by a cheese baguette. On this occasion we sat inside but it would have been idyllic to have a warm sunny afternoon with a cricket match on the green to have sat outside and admire this typical English scene - mind you, with such temptation then it would have been difficult to tear oneself away
Erpingham Arms, Erpingham View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Common Road, Erpingham
The building started life as a cottage in the 18th century before being licensed in 1760. By the mid 19th century it included a bowling green, kitchen garden, a small meadow and two arable fields and was known as The Spread Eagle. In 1983 the Woodfordes brewery moved their operations to the premises and the pub became their brewery tap. This lasted until 1989 when they moved to their present site of Woodbastwick. The pub subsequently closed for business in 2009.
By late summer of 2011 the established reopened as the Erpingham Arms and has been internally renovated to include woodburners and sympathetic furnishings. a childrens play area, courtyard and ample parking this makes for a popular family oriented pub offering food and ales with Lacons, Woodfordes, Elmtree, Humpty Dumpty, Buffys, Norfolk Brewhouse, Golden Triangle being amongst the list of brewers who supply their five pumps.
The last time we passed by here, the pub was called the Spread Eagle and it was closed down. It's good to see it open again and judging by the number of families who were using it as an eatery then hopefully it will do well in the future. The bar staff appeared to be under considerable pressure and appeared grateful for the fact that we only wanted a drink and that we had the right change for the drinks. There were several Norfolk ales on offer but the one that attracted attention was the Erpingham Arms Ale. This was brewed specifically for the pub by Norfolks Buffy's brewery. A hoppy 4.1% pale ale which was refreshing and satisfying.
Buckinghamshire Arms, Blickling View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- opp Hall Entrance, Blickling
The Buckinghamshire Arms is a handsome 17th century coaching inn opposite Blickling hall. The pub features a delightful snug, bar and dining room featuring wood burning stoves, rich fabrics, heritage colours and for further interest original paintings from local artists. There is also a courtyard garden with fragrant kitchen herbs and sunny aspect. Local meat, Cromer Crab and local vegetables all feature on the food menu and ales are supplied by Woodfordes, Wolf and Adnams breweries. Accommodation available.
With this being the weekend of a bank holiday then the whole area around Blicking was very busy. It was early afternoon when we arrived so most of the dining was finished and we were able to get a drink fairly swiftly. Grain 3.1.6 was on offer along with Adnams and Woodfordes ales. This is an excellent offering from Grain, a hoppy light coloured ale and one of their best brews in my opinion.
Black Boys, Aylsham View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Market Place, Aylsham
The building can be dated back to the 15th century although it has only been a pub since the early 1650's. At this period of time a Richard Andrews was the landlord, and he died following a fight with one of Oliver Cromwells men who were billeted in the premises. /local folklore says that he was buried in the ground and his ghost still haunts the pub.
The pub claims to have catered for several notable people during its history including Daniel Defoe, Horatio Nelson and Princess Victoria. It has been used as a courthouse and as a coaching inn.
It is uncertain where the name of Black Boys was derived with two possible theories are that it was the nickname of Charles II or that it was named after the black slaves who were used as servants in the 17th century.
The present day pub operates as a busy market square in offering bed and breakfast accommodation and a range of food from simple snacks to an a la carte menu. A selection of ales is on offer with Adnams and Woodfordes being the mainstay and a guest ale also available.
I was glad to find that this pub had improved since the last time we visited. It is now a clean and inviting place that does not require a certain amount of courage to enter as it did on our previous visit. Sharps Doom Bar was a guest ale and this dependable drink was the choice for the day.
Mad WindhamView in OS Map | View in Google Map
The grounds of Felbrigg are named after the Felbrigg family who possessed the estate from the 11th century. However, is is arguably better known as the seat of the Windham family who took on the estate in the 15th century, for which Thomas Windham is accredited to building the house that still exists to this present day. Legend states that if ever the estate should leave the family then the spirits of Windham would not rest. And so it was, for in the 19th century the entire estate was seized by the bankers for the debts that had been accrued by William Frederick Windham, more commonly known as Mad Windham. The estate was then bought by a wealthy Norwich merchant by the name of John Ketton, who, for sometime endured ill health causing him to have restless nights. His servants would often remark that the cause of their masters restlessness was the ghosts of Windham who would not suffer the purchaser of their ancestral home.
The story of how the Windhams lost the estate is a tale worth telling. The downfall came with the birth of William Frederick Windham in 1840, the only son of William Howe Windham and therefore the natural heir to the estate. From the outset William Frederick, born with a harelip, did not appear to be a normal child, even to the extent that his father had sought advice from surgeons for his behavioural problems. A quote from one of these doctors had stated that Windham was
not a perfect idiot, though he was of extremely feeble mind and had concluded
his defective organisation of brain and imbecility from not being able to articulate perfectly. A normal child born in such class surroundings should have adopted attitudes and manners from their parents but William preferred the company and the chores of the servants, often waiting at tables or helping in the servants quarters. His father even bought him a footmans costume to appease his strange cravings for uniforms of those of the lower classes. His father died when he was 14 after which he appeared to get worse, becoming unruly, dirty and somewhat obnoxious.
At the age of 14 he was sent to Eton in the hope that it would improve his mental capacity and personal habits. However it was soon concluded that he could not be educated. It was also noticed here that he would tell the most blatant and transparent untruths which was put down to a lack or mental and moral power. His behaviour soon gained him the reputation of a buffoon and also the name of Mad Windham was gained for his unruly and disgraceful manner and conduct. He would eat like an animal, often so fast and far too much that he would throw up on the nearest lady he could find. This was not his only trick, he could produce strange noises, hoots and howls akin to a demented imp and it was said that he could imitate a cats mews better than anyone else in Christendom. His cleanliness was almost non-existent and he displayed no ability to manage his financial affairs.
Despite being passed around different tutors and guardians who attempted to change his way, his habits remained the same. It was said that he had no ability to dance yet would often display this inability by dancing on the billiard table. He also had a penchant of presenting himself naked or when dressed having his buttons undone and placing his hands in his pockets and playing with himself. At society occasions he was said to jump onto his mothers shoulders and to pretend to ride her like a horse. He would also organize huge dinners and then not invite anyone including himself. One of his great delights was the railways and he would often come home filthy after assisting on trains at the local stations much to the annoyance of station staff. He would also dress up as a guard and usher people onto the train and blow whistles at the most inappropriate times.
By 1861 he was lodging in London. Here he managed to scoff 17 poached eggs before throwing up on the lady of the house. It was also at this location that he came to be known by the local constabulary for he had the habit of masquerading as a police officer and apprehending people and taking them into custody. It was also in London that he started to keep company with a glamorous girl of poor standing named Agnes Willoughby, often described as a notorious Rotten Row courtesan or a pretty horsebreaker. Windham showered gifts of jewellery and cash on her and promised her an annuity of £1,500 per annuity if they were to marry. The eventually married on 30th August 1861 and it is at this point that Windham’s uncle, Charles Ash Windham, became concerned, seeing that this alliance would damage the family name as well as fearing that she was no more than a gold-digger. The course of action he took was to prove in court that his nephew was insane and was not fit to inherit the estate of Felbrigg and the inheritance should fall to himself. He had a point. The antics of Mad Windham were somewhat unhinged.
The court case commenced on 16th December 1861 and included witness accounts from servants, surgeons, clergymen, military men, relatives and acquaintances all who had come into contact with Mad Windham throughout his short life. They described his eccentric actions, his strange habit and peculiar mannerisms. His lack of education. His profane tongue. His uncouth behaviour. His outright lies and false claims. After 34 days of witness accounts the jury was asked to reach a verdict. It took them no more than half an hour to declare Mad Windham to be a person of sound mind and 'to be sufficient for the governance of himself. The entire case is recorded in a book called The Great Lunacy Case of Mr. W. F. Windham which is well worth reading for the entertainment factor of the recounting of Windhams various activities.
Charles Windham had failed to save the good name of the family and the estate continued in the hands of William Mad Windham. As expected and foreseen by his uncle, the debts soon started to pile up to such an extent that after only two years the estate was seized by the bankers. Mad Windham did not fare well after this. Agnes had been having an affair with an Italian operatic tenor named Antonio Giuglini throughout this time and after losing the estate she ran off with her lover. As for Windham, he ended up in business driving a coach from Norwich to Cromer. However, his eccentric ways did not stop. Woe betide anyone who cared to travel with him because he would, on a whim, decide to take the coach to destinations other than that which his passengers had intended to go, leaving the stranded traveller in the likes of Great Yarmouth without any way or means to get to where they wanted to go. He would frequently ride the coach in such a reckless manner that it was said that you had to be as mad as Mad Windham himself to ever travel with him. For reasons unknown, his business failed!
Windham passed away on 31 January 1866, aged just 25, after being taken ill in the tiny room that he lived in at the Norfolk Hotel in Norwich.
Links and Bibliography:
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