English Heritage looks after more than 400 historic monuments, buildings and places in the country, with lots of them in Norfolk, including a Roman fort and the only Neolithic flint mine open to the public. Here’s our top picks to visit and get a real sense of the magnificent history of Norfolk.
Discover this unique landscape of 4,500-year-old flint mines near Thetford. There are more than 400 of them, making this one of Europe’s earliest industrial centres, and one of them you can actually do down!
57 feet below ground discover how Neolithic man mined hard black flint to make all kinds of blades, tools and weapons.
You probably think the title refers to burials, but actually the word means pits or mines, named after the Devil’s holes of the pagan god Grim.
Castle Acre Priory, Castle and Bailey Gate
Close to Swaffham, this is one of the largest and best-preserved monastic sites in England, founded after the Norman Conquest in the 1070s by William de Wavenne, who was awarded the land by William the Conqueror. Together with the priory and walled town of Castle Acre, this comprises one of the best examples of Norman estate planning in the country.
It wasn’t just the Normans who built castles in Norfolk. Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth, was built by the Romans to hold cavalry as a defence against Saxon marauders. Three of the rectangular castle’s four walls are still intact, the other having collapsed over time into the marshy Breydon Water. Just imagine what the scene was like in Roman times, when the water in front of you was a giant estuary, three miles wide and galleys could sail all the way to the Roman town Venta Icenorum near Norwich.
Castle Rising Castle
One of the largest, best-preserved and most lavishly decorated keeps in England, and surrounded by 20 acres of mighty earthworks, it was started in 1138 by William d’Albini for his new wife, the widow of Henry I. In the 14th century it became the luxurious exile-place of Queen Isabella, widow (and alleged murderess) of Edward II. Just outside King’s Lynn, Castle Rising comprises three baileys, each defended by large earthworks, covering a total area of 12 acres.
The Thetford Castle mound, one of largest man-made mounds in the country, comprises the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle, built by William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, soon after the conquest of England, and dismantled in 1173. You can climb to the top for views of the town.
Also in the area are Thetford Warren Lodge, built to protect hunting parties from armed poachers, and Thetford Priory, burial place of the earls and dukes of Norfolk for 400 years.
Visit the extensive ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle, near Holt, a moated and fortified 15th century manor house, that are a testament to the rise and fall of a prominent Norfolk family, the Heydons. Over 200 years, successive generations of this ambitious family built, then enlarged, and finally abandoned this castle. Sir John Heydon probably built the strong inner gatehouse during the turbulent Wars of the Roses period, and his son Sir Henry completed the fortified house. In more peaceful times, their descendants converted part of the property into a textile factory, and then added the turreted Elizabethan outer gateway, inhabited until 1920.
One of the most complete and impressive monastic ruins in Norfolk, this Benedictine priory on the north Norfolk coast was founded in 1091 by Peter des Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror. It’s said many of the priors were unscrupulous and the priory’s history is one of almost continuous scandal!
The nave, with splendid 13th century west front and fine tiers of Norman arches, is still used as the parish church.
One of the earliest purpose-built blockhouses in England, this brick tower by the River Wensum in Norwich was built in the late 14th century to command a strategic point in Norwich’s city defence. The tower was designed to hold a garrison and high artillery positions would have allowed it to fire on Mousehold Heath, useful when William Kett quartered his rebels up there in 1549.