South Norfolk has some of the county’s most scenic and peaceful countryside, with winding lanes, thatched cottages, welcoming pubs and picturesque villages and market towns.
Nestled between the meandering Waveney Valley, the cultural delights of Norwich and the Norfolk Broads, south Norfolk is a wonderful location for that get-away-from-it-all break where there is still plenty to see and do.
There are also the welcoming market towns of Diss, Harleston, Loddon and Wymondham – enjoy the warm hospitality while delving in delis and antique shops, buying local produce, or stopping off at a traditional tea house or characterful pub.
The area is also dotted with the rich architecture of Saxon and Norman churches, including Wymondham’s 12th century Abbey, at one end of the Mid-Norfolk Railway.
South Norfolk has excellent long and short distance walking and cycling routes, and there’s a lot to do for outdoor enthusiasts, anglers and nature-lovers.
The countryside is gently rolling with an abundance of woodland, farmland and narrow country lanes with grassy verges which are filled with wildflowers in the summer. There are 51 conservation areas in South Norfolk ensuring that village greens, historic buildings and ancient woodland are protected for future generations.
Here you’ll still see ‘narrow’ or ‘street’ commons and greens, a reminder of the linear network of grazing verges that were used to sustain livestock on their way to market.
Explore the Waveney Valley
Running along the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, linking the Brecks to the Broads, the Waveney Valley is an unspoilt haven of wildlife, idyllic villages and unique market towns.
Characterised by its slow-running river, rolling countryside and wide skies, and with acres of natural habitat, the peaceful and picturesque landscape presents a wonderful opportunity for sightseeing, walking, cycling, canoeing and many other leisure activities.
Moving toward the coast, six miles north-east of Beccles is Burgh St Peter. Surrounded by the River Waveney and marsh lands to the south and east, the village has a rich history. Afloat or ashore, if you enjoy being close to the water then the award-winning Waveney River Centre is a must. And look out for the Ziggurat-towered church of St Mary’s.
John Betjeman famously declared to Harold Wilson’s wife how it would be ‘bliss, to go with you by train to Diss’.
Diss makes the perfect gateway to the Waveney Valley and is host to one of the deepest natural inland lakes in the country, known locally as the Mere. The history of this lovely market town can be traced back to the Domesday Book.
The town has an eclectic selection of medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings, whilst the Mere Park offers the perfect place to relax.
For a distinctive shopping experience, why not visit Diss Auction Rooms or farmers’ market? The Grade II-listed Corn Hall offers a diverse cultural mix. For an insightful view into the town’s history visit Diss Museum.
Diss is also the start of the popular Boudicca Way walking path to Norwich, which goes past the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum, literally ‘the market place of the Iceni’.
Visitors can while away an afternoon browsing the independent shops in the ancient town of Harleston. Old coaching inns, like the Swan Hotel, remain as a legacy from the days when Harleston was on the main coaching route from London to Great Yarmouth and the town was an important trading centre. You can visit many of Harleston’s distinctive historic buildings by walking the town’s Discovery Trail.
Local traders have always been an important part of community life. Wednesday has been market day in Harleston since 1259, when the town was granted charter status. Harleston remains a vibrant, bustling market town and has been voted Norfolk’s town of the year due to its excellent array of individual speciality shops and eating places.
Wymondham (pronounced Win-dum), on the Norwich to Cambridge railway line, is full of ancient buildings including the Market Cross and the ruins of the 900 year old Benedictine Abbey in the Tiffey Valley. Just outside the town is Kett’s Oak, named after landowner Robert Kett who led a peasants’ revolt against enclosures of common land in Norwich in 1549. After giving the Kings’ men a bloody nose he was eventually captured and executed at Norwich Castle with his brother William. The Wymondham Heritage Museum has an exhibit on Kett’s Rebellion. The town is also the eastern terminus of the Mid-Norfolk Railway to Dereham. A very different form of transport also finds its home close to Wymondham – the sports car manufacturer Lotus.
Nearby Hingham is a small but elegant town with a variety of Georgian and other period houses overlooking two pretty greens together with a stunning church.
The delightful market town of Loddon is located on the River Chet within the Norfolk Broads, a National Park and Britain’s largest protected wetland.
Centred around the beautiful 15th century Holy Trinity Church, Loddon has many fine Victorian and Georgian buildings, reminders of a time when it was a link between Norwich and Great Yarmouth, and had close ties with Wroxham, Bungay and Beccles. The town has a good variety of specialist local shops, eateries and pubs.
Nearby is The Wherryman’s Way, a 35-mile walking route that follows the River Yare.
Closer to Norwich, explore a modern man-made Broad, Whitlingham Country Park, which has an outdoor activity centre, a cafe and camping.