If you need an excuse to get out and enjoy the fresh air, then look to get off the beaten track by finding these unusual spots in Norfolk. Check these out and you’ll get a good walk too…
Dating from a similar time as Stonehenge, it was obvious what an early Bronze Age timber circle revealed on Holme Beach in the Summer of 1998 after a night of shifting sands was going to be called, wasn’t it?
At its centre was an upturned tree stump, believed by some scientists to be a platform for an important dead person – the body was laid out for animals to pick it clean. Nice. That said, we’ll never know for certain what the exact purpose of the site was.
From scientific dating techniques, we do know that the structure – a ring of timbers 21 feet (6.6m) wide and comprising 55 tight-fitting oak posts, each about 10 feet high (3m) – was erected in the Spring of 2049BC.
To preserve it from decay, the newly-exposed Seahenge was removed from its original site and after years of treatment, the timbers were put on display at Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn along with a full-sized modern reconstruction of the site.
Visit the lovely beach at Holme-next-the-Sea, enjoy the nearby Holme Dunes nature reserve, run by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and then take a trip to Lynn Museum.
Burgh Castle Roman Fort, Great Yarmouth
Built in the late 3rd century on a low cliff above the Waveney and close to Breydon Water, the fort defended the estuary from Saxon marauders and the approach to the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund near Norwich.
As you look out over Halvergate Marshes towards the Berney Arms, with the three remaining walls to your sides and back, try imagining that when the Romans were here the mouth of the estuary was a mile wide and Great Yarmouth didn’t even exist!
There’s a nice circular walk that takes you by the waterside and past the Saint Peter and Paul Church before returning to the car park.
SS Vina, Brancaster
Beach-goers at Brancaster have long wondered what the odd rusted metal sections of a hull in the watery sands close to Scolt Head Island are. So here goes…
The SS Vina was built in 1894 and spent her working life travelling the Baltic Trade routes. Requisitioned for the war effort in 1940, she was used as a naval blockade ship at Great Yarmouth. Filled with concrete and wired with explosives, the idea was to blow her up and block the river Yare should enemy forces try to use the port in their invasion.
In 1943, with the tide of war turned against the Nazis, the SS Vina was towed and anchored off the coast at Brancaster to be used as target practice for RAF planes testing out new shells. One night, in a gale, the ship was driven into the entrance to Brancaster Staithe Harbour where she sank and has remained ever since.
Today, you can see the ghostly remains of the shipwreck in the distance but she remains a hazard to navigation for boats. She’s also a risk to life for anyone who tries to get close so please don’t. The tides and shifting sands are far too dangerous, so observe from a distance.
The Devil’s Punchbowl and Pingos, Breckland
The Brecks are a unique landscape and have features unknown to anywhere else in the country.
The Devil’s Punchbowl, a mysterious and near-perfect 430-feet diameter circular crater that looks as if it was created by a meteorite impact, has a spooky tendency to be full of water in dry periods and empty after it’s rained. Naturally, this was attributed to the Devil. The real reason is more prosaic: the round depression, also called a ‘fluctuating mere’, was formed by a dissolution of the underlying chalk bedrock which eventually collapsed to form a surface sinkhole called a doline, and the levels in it correlate with the rise and fall of the water table. The chalk bedrock acts as an aquifer but can take months to filter through.
The Punchbowl isn’t easy to spot from the road, but it’s close to the junction of Harling Drive with Wyrley’s Belt. Down a forest access road signposted ‘64’ there is an informal car park from which the crater is visible. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, there is an information board on the western lip of the Punchbowl to explain the crater.
There are two more examples of ‘fluctuating meres’ at nearby Ringmere and Langmere, on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s East Wretham Heath reserve.
Nearby are a series of pingos, originally low hillocks that rose 20,000 years ago during the last ice age that collapsed when the thaw came and created unique shallow ponds.
Grime’s Graves, Breckland
Grime’s Graves is probably Europe’s first industrial centre, an eerie pocked landscape of what was 400 digs for hard black flint to be fashioned into all types of blades, such as knives, axes and spearheads. At nearby Lynford, a mammoth butchery has been found, so we know what Neolithic man was up to 4,500 years ago.
There is still one shaft open to the public which you can climb down 57 feet below ground to get a sense of how the flint was mined.
Grime’s Graves is a misnomer. Rather than burials, the word graves comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘graben’ meaning quarry and Grime’s comes from the pagan god Grim.
Later, flintlocks were mass-produced here for use in the Napoleonic Wars.
Wellesley Road Grandstand and Venetian Waterways, Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth is home to the world’s first football stand that’s still in regular use, the grandstand at the Wellesley Recreation Ground having opened on June 11 1892.
Designed by the borough council’s engineer JW Cockrill, otherwise known as ‘Concrete Cockrill’, the grandstand is an open timber frame from which you can cheer on Great Yarmouth Town FC, nicknamed The Bloaters after the type of herring that used to be smoked in the town.
Nearby on the seafront are The Venetian Waterways, Ornamental Gardens and Boating Lake, set up in 1919 as a way to find work for married unemployed fathers following the first world war.
Restored a few years ago with help from the National Lottery, the waterways, with their serpentine ‘canals’, are a throwback to Great Yarmouth’s past but a lovely way to enjoy a seafront walk, crossing the bridges to islands and taking in the ornamental features and structures.
Mausoleum Pyramid, Blickling Hall and Estate
Blickling Hall and its gardens are worth a visit any time, but why not park and stride out a little further. Head into the Great Wood and you’ll be delighted by the sight of a large pyramid, a mausoleum built in 1794 for the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire and modelled on the Roman tomb of Cestius. For trivial pursuit fans, the Earl had a self-inflicted death – he put his gout-ridden foot into cold water. His mortal remains are inside with his two countesses.
For the architects amongst you, the pyramid is made of 200,000 bricks faced with limestone, a material so porous it turns black in the rain. Interestingly, for an English grandee, there is no Christian symbolism on the pyramid, but a stone coat of arms above the main door and, at the back, a memorial tablet of the family crest of a bull.
100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, Thorpe Abbotts
Located in the original control tower and remaining buildings of the RAF Thorpe Abbotts airfield close to Diss, this museum is dedicated to the servicemen of The Bloody Hundredth (such were their losses) and the more than 300,000 servicemen of the US 8th Air Force who transitioned through the East of England from 1942-45.
See it now while it’s relatively quiet. In the next two years, Apple TV, working with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s production companies, will stream Masters of the Air. The last in Hanks and Spielberg’s wartime trilogy, after Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Masters of the Air is based on the book by Donald L Miller, with much of the action based on The Bloody Hundredth.
If you want to see how big the original runways were, head to Attlebridge, north-west of Norwich. There’s a nearby memorial to the 466th Bomb Group.
St Benet’s Abbey, Ludham
Park up at Ludham village or Ludham Bridge in the heart of the Broads National Park (or take a bus there) and take one of the walking routes to St Benet’s Abbey, the only monastic site in England that was not officially closed down by King Henry VIII.
St Benet’s was the first Benedictine monastery in Norfolk, founded on an island site surrounded by marshes around AD 1020 by King Cnut. Monks from here helped set up St Edmundsbury Abbey, which had the shrine of St Edmund the Martyr to attract pilgrims.
The Monastery survived the Dissolution but by 1545 it was abandoned. That said, the abbey was never suppressed and the Bishop of Norwich still to this day has the title Abbot of St Benet’s and, indeed, leads an annual service at the abbey. He arrives by wherry boat.
The best surviving feature of the medieval monastery is the imposing 14th-century gatehouse, close to the River Bure, and there are some interpretation panels.
Plantation Gardens, Norwich
We know the city for its vibrancy, its buzzinesss and its crowds, but did you know you can escape the throng even here… and that’s at the Plantation Gardens.
This restored Victorian town garden is a gem that’s just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre. Tucked behind St John’s Catholic Cathedral, this Grade II English Heritage Listed garden has a 30ft Gothic fountain, an Italianate terrace rustic bridge and woodland paths, with superb planting providing year-round colour.
While away some time wandering Norwich’s very own Secret Garden.