Things to do in the Brecks
The Brecks is an area brimming with history. From the first human settlement 500,000 years ago, through the times of the Iceni tribe and its flame-haired warrior queen Boudicca, to the 18th century radical Thomas Paine, whose thinking encouraged American independence and the abolition of slavery, the area boasts some of the most fascinating sites of historical interest in the country.
Once burnt down by a marauding Viking named Forkbeard, in the 10th century the town of Thetford was the Saxon capital of East Anglia and even had its own mint, from which coins have been found as far afield as Scandinavia. By the 11th century it had become one of the biggest towns in England, ranking alongside York, Norwich and Oxford.
The charming town has a riverside location, with the Little Ouse running through the centre, providing pleasant walks by the banks towards the 12th century Thetford Priory, extensive ruins of what would have been one of the richest medieval monasteries in the county, or further out to Brandon in the heart of Thetford Forest, roughly a two-hour journey.
Perhaps the town's biggest modern claim to fame is as a double for Warmington-on-Sea in the popular British TV comedy series Dad's Army – the town centre has a life-size statue of pompous Captain Mainwaring (pronounced Mannering) and a Dad's Army Museum in which you can buy a replica of Pike's 'stupid boy' scarf. Another statue to look out for in the town centre is Thomas Paine, perhaps the town’s most famous son who was born here and educated at Thetford Grammar, just across the river.
Close by is the timbered Ancient House, dating from 1490, and now home to the Museum of Thetford Life. Inside you'll find displays to Thomas Paine and also Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab during the British Raj who settled at nearby Elveden Hall in 1863. In fact, Thetford has a long history of immigration, from Vikings to Portuguese to Cockneys (the town became a London overspill area in the 1950s), and had Britain's first black mayor, Allan Minns, an immigrant from the Bahamas).
You won't want to miss St George's Distillery, home of the English Whisky Co, the first in the country in the last 100 years! Not only can you see how whisky is made, but you can pick up a few bottles of their award-winning fare.
The historic town of Swaffham, centred around the triangular Market Cross, is a good base to see the sights of the Brecks. More recently it's become known as the fictional Market Shipborough in the Stephen Fry TV series Kingdom (he lives nearby), but you can revisit its roots at the Swaffham Museum and discover a display celebrating the famous Egyptologist and Tutankhamun archaeologist Howard Carter, who lived in the town as a child.
As well as the old, Swaffham is also home to the modern Green Britain Centre, an environmental visitor attraction with wind turbine and viewing platform, café, shop and organic/heritage garden.