The Brecks has one of the most distinctive landscapes in the UK and boasts its best overall climate with low rainfall and hot summers. This is the place for eco-adventure.
The area comprises vast forests of native coniferous softwood, unique lines of Scots pines called ‘Deal rows’ that are derelict hedgerows, patches of classic historic heathland that were formed thousands of years ago by the felling and burning of forests for grazing land, and wide arable fields. Also unique to the Brecks are the prehistoric Pingos.
Pingos and meres in Thetford Forest.
The gateway to the Brecks is the ancient town of Thetford, which is a perfect base from which to begin your exploration of the area’s diversity, its outstanding wildlife, rich history and fun outdoor activities. This is the birthplace of 18th century radical Thomas Paine, whose thinking encouraged American independence and the abolition of slavery, and where the BBC’s Dad’s Army was filmed – look out for statues of Paine and Captain Mainwaring in the town centre.
Moated Oxburgh Hall is run by the National Trust.
To the north is the beautifully-preserved market town of Swaffham (where Tutankhamen archaeologist Howard Carter grew up), the National Trust’s moated Oxburgh Hall (in the village of Oxborough), Gooderstone Water Gardens and Castle Acre Priory, run by English Heritage.
There are lots of activities and events at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.
To the east is Dereham, the centre point of the county, where you can ride the Mid-Norfolk Railway to Wymondham Abbey. Close by is Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum of Norfolk Life.
Feeding the giraffes at Banham Zoo.
Explore the village-like Attleborough and close by is the renowned Peter Beales’ Roses, winner of many Chelsea Flower Show awards, Bressingham Steam & Gardens, the English Whisky Company at St George’s Distillery, the only one in the country, and the thirty-acre Banham Zoo, where you can see big cats including snow leopards, as well as giraffes, apes and monkeys.
Hit the heights in Thetford Forest.
Thetford Forest, planted just after the First World War by the Forestry Commission, covers 20,000 hectares and, just like the rest of the Brecks, is perfect for cycling on quiet lanes and off-road, walking, birdwatching and orienteering – or enjoy a picnic while trying to spot red deer. Start at High Lodge where you’ll find lots of activities including Go Ape and bike hire.
Thetford Forest has an open access policy for horse riders making them welcome throughout the park.
From at least the fourteenth century, large areas were used for warrens, and the intensive grazing of rabbits lead to the formation in places of mobile sand dunes. In the 1760s the area was described as ‘sand, and scattered gravel, without the least vegetation; a mere African desert’. Dickens mentioned how barren it was in David Copperfield. It’s very different now!
The Brecks also has Peddars Way, which runs for 63 miles from just outside Thetford at Knettishall Heath to the north Norfolk coast via Swaffham. The route eventually meets the Norfolk Coast Path at Holme-next-the-Sea.
Grime’s Graves is one of the earliest industrial sites in Europe.
The Brecks boasts some of the most important sites of historical interest in the country, not least 5,000-year-old Grime’s Graves, the only Neolithic flint mine open in Britain.
The site of Lynford in Thetford Forest, where a group of gravel pits are located on a flood plain terrace on the south bank of the River Wissey, is one of the best preserved late Middle Palaeolithic sites in Britain and the most important Neanderthal site in the whole of the British Isles.
In 2002 archaeological investigation revealed evidence of early human activity in direct association with mammoth bones dating back 65,000 years. Black flint hand axes were found within the same layer of sediment as the remains of at least nine woolly mammoths, marking Lynford as the only recorded mammoth butchery site in Britain.